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Clever marketing from an unexpected source

We’re all about interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, corporal-disciplinary art at the Walker, and that ethos stretches to the individual programming departments. When we crafted our Year of Trisha, folks in our visual arts and performing arts departments, otherwise separated by off-white walls, colored chiffon curtains and preferences in footwear, joined flavors in a melange of dance and […]

gober-1994224.jpgWe’re all about interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, corporal-disciplinary art at the Walker, and that ethos stretches to the individual programming departments. When we crafted our Year of Trisha, folks in our visual arts and performing arts departments, otherwise separated by off-white walls, colored chiffon curtains and preferences in footwear, joined flavors in a melange of dance and charcoal — like a contemporary art Reese’s peanut butter cup.

The good will has continued. With Angus Fairhurst’s The Birth of Consistency (2004) insisting upon spending the summer outside — and really, who’s going to argue with a gorilla? — visual arts curators saw the empty space in the Dolly Fiterman Garden Gallery as a chance not only to clean up after our bronzed primate (don’t ask!), but also promote a performing arts program — by exhibiting a giant plaster seashell by Robert Gober (Untitled, 1982).

What, you may ask, does this sculpture have to do with the performing arts? Place your ear to the opening of a seashell — what do you hear? No, silly Lima bean — that’s actually the sound of the blood rushing through your brain. But much like your lingering, senseless faith in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Minnesota Vikings, you believe you’re listening to the ocean, its sonic waves embedded for the ages in this wayward remnant from the sea. I won’t rid you of that belief. Quite the contrary, we’re counting on it.

It just so happens the Walker is preparing to sail an Ocean of a different kind — of Merce Cunningham’s and John Cage’s creation — September 11-13 at the Rainbow granite quarry near St. Cloud. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime production and we want people to see it. Most of our marketing tells you just that — it’s unique, it’s cool, it’s an experience, etc. Leave it to our thoughtful curators for taking the highroad and crediting our visitors with the wits to make this connection. Of course, we don’t want you to actually place your ear to this seashell. If the foreboding rope in front of the piece doesn’t deter you, our judo-trained guards will. Just look at the seashell, let it rekindle your memories of the ocean, step back down to the box office, and buy a ticket.

A poster is worth a thousand blogs

Two weeks after the foofarah (I can now cross that word off my “to use” list) stirred by The New Yorker’s Barack Obama cover, bloggers are now blogoplectic over a poster advertising Obama’s speech tonight in Berlin. One conservative gasket-blower has compared it to a poster of Adolph Hitler, though a blogger at Mother Jones […]

Two weeks after the foofarah (I can now cross that word off my “to use” list) stirred by The New Yorker’s Barack Obama cover, bloggers are now blogoplectic over a poster advertising Obama’s speech tonight in Berlin. One conservative gasket-blower has compared it to a poster of Adolph Hitler, though a blogger at Mother Jones is doing his part to balance the hyperbole, saying the poster “may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I’ve ever seen.” Read into it what you will — and many are reading into it — at least the Obama poster, unlike this one for John McCain, doesn’t communicate he’s a candidate to become God.

Progressive political candidates should reach out more to the deep pool of world-class artists already down, at least in spirit, with the cause. It would probably take one phone call to get Eddie Vedder to write an entire album of tunes implicitly, if not explicitly, pointing the way to Obama. One artist didn’t wait for the phone to ring. Celebrated street artist Shepard Fairey, known chiefly for his Obey Giant guerilla public plastering efforts, approached the Obama campaign earlier this year about “appealing to a younger, apathetic audience” through a new series of posters. Fairey got the go-ahead. Here’s a point-by-point detail about what he went for in his design.

Still, as with the Berlin poster, some saw something more insidious. Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times opined: “There’s an unequivocal sense of idol worship about the image, a half-artsy, half-creepy genuflection that suggests the subject is (a) a Third World dictator whose rule is enmeshed in a seductive cult of personality; (b) a controversial American figure who’s been assassinated; or (c) one of those people from a Warhol silkscreen that you don’t recognize but assume to be important in an abstruse way.”

For his part, Obama seemed pleased. In a personal letter to Fairey, Obama wrote: “I would like to thank you for using your talent in support of my campaign. The political messages involved in your work have encouraged Americans to believe they can help change the status quo. Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign.

eavesdrop 07.15.08

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7GadXJLcJ0[/youtube] Sights, sounds and, if you press your nose really close to the screen, smells from the opening night of the Walker’s Summer Music & Movies series, with music from The Alarmists. The series continues every Monday, in Loring Park, through August 18.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7GadXJLcJ0[/youtube]

Sights, sounds and, if you press your nose really close to the screen, smells from the opening night of the Walker’s Summer Music & Movies series, with music from The Alarmists. The series continues every Monday, in Loring Park, through August 18.

Value added

Last month, Michael Stipe passed through the Walker a few hours before R.E.M.’s concert at the Xcel Energy Center. Now, R.E.M. is introducing a value-added offering — a museum ticket with every purchase of a concert ticket. Coincidence? We think not. The New York Times reports that those attending R.E.M.‘s performance Tuesday in Dresden, Germany […]

Last month, Michael Stipe passed through the Walker a few hours before R.E.M.’s concert at the Xcel Energy Center. Now, R.E.M. is introducing a value-added offering — a museum ticket with every purchase of a concert ticket. Coincidence? We think not.

The New York Times reports that those attending R.E.M.‘s performance Tuesday in Dresden, Germany — a stop on the band’s 40-date European tour — get free admission to select art museums. Tickets for the concert are also good for entry to any museum connected to Dresden’s state art collections.

We can only hope inspiration works both ways and that the Walker is cooking up a similar “two-fer” when Judas Priest throws down at the Myth.

The Art of F***ure

One lesson I’ve learned in my short time at the Walker is there’s no such thing as failure. Artists explore. They experiment. They take risks. They take paths best (and often only) left to art history PhDs to decipher, let alone interpret. Artists don’t fail. Same goes for programmers, curators and designers. That’s why I’m […]

One lesson I’ve learned in my short time at the Walker is there’s no such thing as failure. Artists explore. They experiment. They take risks. They take paths best (and often only) left to art history PhDs to decipher, let alone interpret. Artists don’t fail. Same goes for programmers, curators and designers. That’s why I’m an immediate fan, sight unseen, of The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale, a documentary premiering Monday on HBO.

You can be forgiven for not knowing Connelly — he’s not in the Walker collection — but the synopsis from HBO describes the film as “the unusual story of the rise and fall of a major talent, along with Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat, from the 1980s art world. Though he was extremely talented with a profitable collection of work, Chuck Connelly ended up alienating every collector and gallery owner he worked with. This 63-minute documentary follows the life of this brilliant yet enigmatic painter, who had great success as a young artist but who now sees his career fading.” The New York Times caught up with Connelly for an amusing, pre-premiere profile that ran over the weekend.

I don’t know why there’s such a stigma about owning up to or assessing one’s own work as a failure. Throughout my years in newspapers, I instigated many long conversations with colleagues about why this or that story didn’t work. Some of those stories were even mine. Some people don’t have the stomach for such flagellation, and some workplace cultures don’t leave room for it. I’ve worked for newspapers that turned the daily “critique” of that morning’s rag into a platform for editors to praise their own team’s work. Actual criticism was viewed as heresy.

The art world is even more insular and self-congratulatory. It’s easy to see why — there are more fragile and tightly wound egos, reputations to uphold and donors and collectors to mollify. I get it. But while this documentary seems to view Connelly’s so-called failings more off the canvas than on, I find it hard to imagine anyone in a creative pursuit not, at least privately, beating him/herself purple over self-perceived misfires.

This isn’t about emptying the hamper or awaiting any mea culpas. I just think a little more open-door intellectual candor would only make artists and their art — and the institutions that house them — better. And our audiences would take us more seriously when we, far more often and rightfully, claim success.

IMAGES: All by Chuck Connelly — Self Portrait (1995), Acid Rain (1998), Lesbians #1 (2006)

The Arts and the President

War, energy, humanitarian intervention, public education, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty … somewhere on the long list of policy positions among the presidential candidates is the arts. Or at least for one of them. Americans for the Arts asked the presidential candidates to provide their positions on the arts and culture in America. Barack […]

War, energy, humanitarian intervention, public education, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty … somewhere on the long list of policy positions among the presidential candidates is the arts. Or at least for one of them.

Americans for the Arts asked the presidential candidates to provide their positions on the arts and culture in America. Barack Obama provided three: A list of legislation he sponsored or co-authored in support of the arts, a list of policy positions on arts issues, and a proposal to create a National Arts Policy Committee.

The Obama campaign’s policy initiatives include: Reinvest in arts education, expand public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations, create an Artist Corps (a la the Peace Corps), publicly champion the importance of arts education, support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, promote cultural diplomacy, attract foreign talent, provide health care to artists, and ensure tax fairness for artists. You can download details on these policy positions here.

John McCain has yet to provide any position statements to Americans for the Arts, but he could do worse than follow the lead of President Bush. McCain’s voting record in the U.S. Senate shows he’s not opposed to doing so. During a presidency many label the most disastrous in this country’s history, Bush has been somewhat of a friend to the arts. The Fiscal Year 2008 omnibus appropriations bill includes $144.7 million for the NEA — the highest level of NEA funding since 1995. The $20.2 million increase in support from the previous year represents the largest dollar increase in the NEA’s appropriations since 1979. The NEA reached its peak funding in 1992, at $176 million.

The Presidential election is yet another way you can Vote Yes to the arts, November 4.

eavesdrop 07.02.08

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5eHlW2AQgs[/youtube] Without a vehicle like “American Idol” to discover the next great voice-over talent, programmers at the Walker turned to their own colleagues to pluck the voice for upcoming radio spots to promote the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Ocean. Here’s a glimpse from the casting couch at Wednesday’s auditions.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5eHlW2AQgs[/youtube]

Without a vehicle like “American Idol” to discover the next great voice-over talent, programmers at the Walker turned to their own colleagues to pluck the voice for upcoming radio spots to promote the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Ocean. Here’s a glimpse from the casting couch at Wednesday’s auditions.

The UnConvention: Unscripting the Political Convention

    From the moment the Republican National Committee chose to coronate its 2008 presidential candidate in St. Paul, hundreds of strands of people mobilized to have a presence. Republican Party officials populate one of the spectrum; on the other, the broad swath of individuals and interest groups driven to protest the convention. Somewhere in […]

 

 

From the moment the Republican National Committee chose to coronate its 2008 presidential candidate in St. Paul, hundreds of strands of people mobilized to have a presence. Republican Party officials populate one of the spectrum; on the other, the broad swath of individuals and interest groups driven to protest the convention. Somewhere in between are the minds behind The UnConvention, a wash of art and alternative media hoping to make a public splash through the run over the Republican convention, September 1–4.

The Walker is both a sponsor and active agent, collaborating with lead partner Intermedia Arts, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Carleton College, the University of Minnesota’s Institute for New Media Studies and The UpTake.org, an online citizen video site focusing on politics and the 2008 election. Together, they hope to present “ a counterpoint to the highly scripted and predetermined nature of the contemporary presidential nomination process and convention.” Artists are at the heart of this counterpoint, with most projects conceived for broad public participation.

“ We’re working with artists who are very adept at creating powerful messages that encourage people to get involved and think differently,” says Steve Dietz, a founder of The UnConvention. The founding director of new media initiatives at the Walker, Dietz now directs YProductions, which works with museums to build digital cultural programming, and Northern Lights, the entity he formed to drive The UnConvention.

“ The goal is not to sort of streak naked across the convention floor during a speech. It’s not direct action in that sense,” he says. “ But in an idea level, we’d like to crack the coverage open a little bit so participatory democracy (goes) beyond holding up a sign that says four more years.’ We’re interested in how the average citizen can use these new tools (of technology) to participate in a civic discourse about the direction of this country.”

Activities through the Walker began in the spring, through Insights series lectures exploring how design intersects with democracy. This summer, the Walker’s Summer Music and Movies in the Park centers on films portraying American democracy and political folly. Target Free Thursday Nights, the Walker’s weekly evening for adult education and free programming, is featuring artist talks, lectures and workshops related to themes of art and the political process.

Intermedia Arts is transforming into “ what I’m calling the UnConventional Gathering Space,” says Marlina Gonzales, programs manager at Intermedia and program director for The UnConvention, who describes that space as “ a cross between an alternative artist press center and an exhibition center.” Intermedia is opening its media suite to anyone working on convention-related videos. Its galleries will show digital media work and documentation of events related to The UnConvention. Its theater will host related performances, and muralists are coating the outside walls with UnConventional art. Intermedia will also host discussion groups, classes, a parade, and other public events.

“ It’s all about participatory democracy, which involves mobilizing our freedom of expression and encouraging people to think creatively in their methods of expression,” Gonzales says. “ We’re doing that by putting artists and community members together.”

Through the guidance and resources of Walker, people will create videos addressing the scripted nature of political party conventions. The Walker will host submissions on its YouTube channel. In a project in partnership with mnartists.org, artists and other inspired citizens are creating visual distractions from traditional political endorsement signs by creating and uploading their own yard sign designs. The best of them, as determined in online voting, will be available for personal printing and mass distribution.

In another project, in partnership with mnartists.org, artists and other inspired citizens are invited to declare My Yard Our Message by designing their own yard signs–to counter or distract from the traditional political endorsement signs staked into American lawns. The best of these signs, as determined in online voting, will be available for personal printing and mass distribution. Individual artists have already been tapped for specific projects. At both conventions, Sharon Hayes of New York and 100 local queer community activists will recite a speech developed by Hayes in a public demonstration of the relationship between love and politics. This project is presented by Creative Time, with the Walker and the UnConvention, as part of a national public art initiative called Democracy in America, which is being organized by Creative Time. Also, look for video artwork created and exhibited on the fly by artist Jon Winet, a new media artist and art professor at the University of Iowa, exploring the upcoming presidential election and democratic practice in America. In 2002, the Walker co-commissioned Winet’s Democracy–Last Campaign.

The UpTake, partnering with the Walker on I Approve This Message, plans to train and arm 100 “ citizen journalists” with video cameras to cover protests, community outreach, art projects, marches, and other elements related to the Republican National Convention (the UpTake is heading a similar effort for the Democratic National Convention in Denver). To help budding videographers participate, the UpTake is leading videomaking workshops at the Walker on Target Free Thursday Nights. “ We don’t want to have the stiff journalistic storytelling mode,” says Jason Barnett, executive director of the UpTake. “ Working with the Walker will help with that.”

Technological advances continue to play roles for both the political parties and the people countering and commenting on them. An example: the UpTake organizers have built their own social networking foundation and are aiming for live coverage through cell phones. But Dietz sees technology as simply providing tools to fulfill a larger mission. “ It’s more about taking advantage of what’s easily available and doing really creative things with it–to bring a format that makes the content more interesting,” he says. “ I’m not so interested in the newest technology as I am in how the average citizen can use these new tools to participate in a civic discourse about the direction of this country. That’s when really profound changes become possible.”

“ It’s more about taking advantage about what’s easily available and doing really creative things with it–to bring a format that makes the content more interesting,” he says. “ I’m not so interested in the newest technology as when technology becomes commodified and available on a very widespread basis. That’s when really profound changes become possible.”

eavesdrop 06.19.08

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3y6mtzYlgw[/youtube] For 15 years or thereabouts, the Walker Art Center’s frame shop has held a one-day sale, open only to staffers, to clean house of the dozens of hand-built frames from exhibitions past that are no longer usable. The latest was Wednesday — and my first here on staff — and I was stunned to […]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3y6mtzYlgw[/youtube]

For 15 years or thereabouts, the Walker Art Center’s frame shop has held a one-day sale, open only to staffers, to clean house of the dozens of hand-built frames from exhibitions past that are no longer usable. The latest was Wednesday — and my first here on staff — and I was stunned to see loads of sturdy, elegant wood frames of varied sizes for less than $10. Bargain-conscious staffers streamed into the Cinema, cash in hand, when the doors to the Walker Cinema opened at 10 am (My rookie move: Leaving my wallet at my desk). The smallest frames, which are the most functional and practical on living room walls, were the first to go. Some staffers horded a dozen or more, squirreling them into a corner to measure them, before committing to the all-sales-are-final buy.

eavesdrop 06.17.08

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qsLHOgMl0o[/youtube] The Walker Art Center isn’t just a home for the best in contemporary art — it’s also available for rent. One tenant is the annual Push Institute Conference. PUSH 2008 (tagline: “The Fertile Delta”) attracted business leaders, politicians, artists, economists and others for two of inspiration and future-gazing. The conference — or at least […]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qsLHOgMl0o[/youtube]

The Walker Art Center isn’t just a home for the best in contemporary art — it’s also available for rent. One tenant is the annual Push Institute Conference. PUSH 2008 (tagline: “The Fertile Delta”) attracted business leaders, politicians, artists, economists and others for two of inspiration and future-gazing. The conference — or at least the opening-night party — also attracted the intervention of Art for the People / Art on Wheels, a new course at the University of Minnesota led by Ali Momeni.

Look for Momeni and his students to roll-and-show somewhere during the 2008 Republican National Convention, through The UnConvention.

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