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From Pixels to Pavement

Communities are built on shared stories, not communication platforms. The activity of people coming together in common cause – for arguments, activism, person-to-person exchange of expertise and experiences – has little to do with the CMS or social media used to do so. Our modes of communication are evolving, certainly, but it strikes me that […]

PHONEBOOK-4-COVER-915x515Communities are built on shared stories, not communication platforms. The activity of people coming together in common cause – for arguments, activism, person-to-person exchange of expertise and experiences – has little to do with the CMS or social media used to do so. Our modes of communication are evolving, certainly, but it strikes me that the roots of community – real community – remain remarkably constant. That sense of belonging, of fellow-feeling, that comes from participation in a vibrant community is, as ever, firmly rooted in the realm of human connection first, even if those connections are made in digital rather than physical space. (Indeed, physical proximity matters less and less in the formation of communities, thanks to the ease of connecting with like-minded folks across great distances in real time. Everywhere is local online.)

The infrastructures of communication by which a group’s members engage one another don’t, in themselves, create communities. But look closely at the support systems and embedded interests of the platforms on which we assemble, and it’s just as clear how and where we house that human exchange – particularly online – matters deeply.

Who owns and operates the “free” social media platform your community uses for its gatherings? How is work and personal information you upload to your individual profile in a “community” database used by the website hosting it? Who moderates your conversations? Who created the algorithm that determines what is gleaned for the information feed you see from those you “follow”? And to what end is that data being shaped? If your community is using a commercially-owned, proprietary platform to conduct its conversations, who pays for it? Specifically, what (or who) is being sold in the process?

The various modes of communication we use now don’t, themselves, create our communities. But the media we choose for those interactions surely shapes them. Commercial media platforms are in the business of business: the for-profit social Web is designed with invisible fencing and incentives built-in, corralling and nudging its users’ energies and conversations (more or less adeptly) in profitable directions. There’s nothing necessarily evil about the arrangement. But we’d be wise to remember that when we gin up conversation around a community question on Facebook, mobilize around viral hashtags on Twitter, exchange “likes” and “shares” and clever GIFs on Tumblr, we’re effectively working someone else’s party.

For arts communities, in particular, issues of equity and access, inclusion and visibility in our shared stories are too important to leave in the hands of salesmen. I want to see more open-source platform creation, more web-savvy intention, from the code up, at the foundation of arts communities coming together online. I want artists and independent-minded cultural producers to build transparent, responsive digital spaces for themselves that might better connect community members in conversation, from pixels to pavement, in ways that reflect the values they hold in common. Our modes of communication, as conscious communities, need to reflect the shared stakes and benefits, arguments and activism that draw us together in the first place.

This essay was originally published in PHONEBOOK 4, (Chicago, IL: Threewalls, 2015). 

 

It’s Time to Expand the Field of “Regional” Arts Writing

  I like sociologist Alison Gerber’s definition of an artist. Her way of wrestling with the vocabulary of artistic practice and “field” resonates with my own attempts to wrangle the lexicon of contemporary art-making and criticism. For her short contribution to Temporary Art Review’s rolling Hand in Glove “social response,” she writes: “When I say […]

 

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Photo: Florian Klauer (Unsplash)

I like sociologist Alison Gerber’s definition of an artist. Her way of wrestling with the vocabulary of artistic practice and “field” resonates with my own attempts to wrangle the lexicon of contemporary art-making and criticism. For her short contribution to Temporary Art Review’s rolling Hand in Glove “social response,” she writes:

“When I say artists, I don’t mean you and your friends. I didn’t really know that, not in my bones, until I became a quote-unquote scientist, until I sat down for a year or two and puzzled out what, exactly, I meant when I said ‘artist’ – and, more importantly, what I wanted to mean, what world I imagined when I conjured these artists. For the past few years, I’ve defined ‘artists’ for my own purposes with a proxy for artistic practice: the exhibition of artworks in public. I’ve drawn on rosters I constructed from the kinds of places where we encounter artworks: diverse presenting institutions that include galleries and museums, to be sure, but also cafes, studio crawls, churches, city streets.”

That notion of making work to share, somehow, with others in a public sphere seems to me crucial. After all, the soul of art lives not primarily in the act of a work’s creation, but in the dynamic, conversational space where two minds meet in the experience of it. It doesn’t matter if that work is presented in a gallery or on a stage or in a derelict city lot; what matters are the stories we tell each other about what we see there, the human labor of the making and sharing of it for that purpose.

Art so made and presented for others’ consideration amounts to a kind of blind query, a call from one mind to others like it. And that call is what good arts criticism answers – it’s a completion of the work, in a sense, accepting the artist’s invitation to look, to argue, to parse meaning or mystery, to find affinity there, or not.

At Mn Artists, our mission and mandate has always focused, first, around the needs of the regional arts community and improving the lives of working Minnesota artists. And for 13 years, our organization has included among its offerings a dedicated space and budget for homegrown arts writing and critical dialogue. But local artists are hungry for more than just visibility in a digital space; they want criticism and arts journalism that goes beyond simply holding a mirror up to local arts activities. Minnesota’s artists are educated, talented, sophisticated makers looking to connect their own practices here with larger currents of cultural work and conversation. They’re eager to have eyes from outside looking at work happening locally, but also invested in looking up and out and responding to what’s going on beyond our state’s borders.

Arts publishing that is mindful of its regional roots and local relevance doesn’t preclude engagement with artists, organizations, and audiences who are like-minded but may be working elsewhere. Indeed, the local arts scene is only enlivened further by those more far-reaching connections. And thanks to stability afforded by support from the McKnight Foundation and our home within the Walker Art Center, Mn Artists’ editorial efforts can afford to take a long view, to incubate that wider-network of artists, critics, and organizations across the country over time. We also have the breathing room to build a deep archive of editorial content covering disciplines – like dance, new music and jazz, poetry, visual art, social practice – that aren’t commercially viable fodder for in-depth coverage in most for-profit publications. As communities of practice and interest coalesce in the digital landscape, strict adherence to regional geographical boundaries in our editorial coverage, as a web-based platform for artists, seems not only less desirable, but even counterproductive to serving their demonstrated interests.

And so our strategies for publishing “regional” arts writing and criticism have, over the years, broadened. In recent years, we’ve adopted a wide-angle editorial strategy that serves the regional arts community by bringing outside writers, artists, and viewpoints into the fold of our coverage. Ultimately, we’re after writing and critical response with authentic regional flavor, local relevance, and a distinctively Upper Midwestern voice, but which isn’t bound by provincialism or needlessly small spheres of coverage. To my mind, it’s a declaration that the writing and artworks made in Minnesota are clearly strong enough, broadly relevant enough to resonate with audiences both here and far beyond the region.

Read more contributions to the Hand in Glove “Social Response” on Temporary Art Review.

Hand in Glove: An Introduction and Recommended Reading

—The following is excerpted from an editorial statement for Hand in Glove written by James McAnally, Executive Editor of Temporary Art Review. Artist-centric practices have continued to normalize as a dominant way of working in response to economic necessity, socially-aware apertures and numerous other factors. Hand-in-Glove has been a formative platform for gathering in this emergent field […]

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—The following is excerpted from an editorial statement for Hand in Glove written by James McAnally, Executive Editor of Temporary Art Review.

Artist-centric practices have continued to normalize as a dominant way of working in response to economic necessity, socially-aware apertures and numerous other factors. Hand-in-Glove has been a formative platform for gathering in this emergent field since its first iteration, organized by Threewalls in Chicago in 2011. Now, paired with the launch of the nascent Common Field network, it is arriving at a pivotal moment for the field more broadly. Questions of the sustainability of this notoriously precarious activity, paired with latent institutionalization and professionalization within the field, are more pressing than ever as practitioners gather to consider the paradigms and platforms through which we engage.

Hand-in-Glove, in its own words, is “an itinerant gathering created by and for the practitioners in the field of alternative art spaces, projects and organizations” that “will investigate the contexts and conditions of artist-led culture across the country.”

As perhaps the only national gathering consistently focusing on the field of alternative art spaces, projects and organizations, the evolution of Hand-in-Glove also acts as a speculative narrative about the arc of this practice. It is “by and for” the field, offering an opportunity for necessary self-assessment about both its current dynamics and future shape.

The field, such as it is – this artist-centered, alternative terrain – is formalizing. It is inscribed in institutions mobilizing down and taking on more flexible forms, as well as small scale organizations organizing through networks of support. The field is also continually shifting – projects redirecting or shuttering, organizers moving and leaving their positions, questions of sustainability, growth, equity and access always on a precipice. Hand-in-Glove is a meeting point for these complex dynamics, offering a moment of reflection on both its own development since 2011 as well as the evolutions around artist-centric practice over the past several years.

Over the next several weeks, Temporary Art ReviewMn Artists, and Common Field are embarking on collaborative and cross-platform editorial project, a social response to Hand-in-Glove, featuring framing texts on the convening, commissioned essays, and critical responses to this year’s convening, September 17 through 20, in the Twin Cities.

With these conversations, in writing and in person, we’re attempting to open a porous space in which we ask these questions back to ourselves:

What is our common field of practice and how do we advance it?

What are models of growth that don’t use the mechanisms of institutionalization?

Can we articulate our position of artist-centricity in tangible terms?

Are we successfully embodying the kind of art world we wish to see more broadly?

***

Weigh in with your own thoughts here or in the ongoing conversational threads unspooling over the coming weeks on Temporary Art Review, in their section for the Hand in Glove “Social Response.”

To prepare for the Hand in Glove convening this week, we’ve been reading up, compiling resources and links to landmark articles in this burgeoning field. Below, you’ll find a selection of suggested articles and essays, notable web resources and books, that might help us navigate as we get the lay of the land for this emerging common field.

RETHINKING DIY, “RURAL,” AND ARTS-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

  • Robert Gard’s landmark essay on arts development in smaller towns as “a laboratory through which the vision for a region is reformulated and extended,” at the forefront of a larger, national renaissance in arts and culture: “The Arts in the Small Community: A National Plan” (aka “The Windmill Book”)
  • A chapter from the book, Building Communities, Not Audiences: The Future of The Arts in the United States, in which Maryo Gard Ewell offers valuable historical context for current trends in community-rooted, socially-engaged art: “Arts-Based Community Development: Where Did We Come From?
  • Burn the Maps” by Art of the Rural founder Matthew Fluharty on redrawing the maps of the cultural center and periphery to account for evolving demographic, cultural, and economic realities in “rural” America (Mn Artists)
  • Lane Relyea with Katy Siegel” on the historical and future implications of DIY, contemporary post-studio practices, and the M.F.A. as a rising art world institution (The Brooklyn Rail)

ART WORK AT THE INTERSECTION OF CLASS, MARKET VALUE, AND LABOR

  • Art Practical’s double-issue on “Valuing Labor in the Arts,” includes a wide-ranging assortment of essays – from writers working in economics, sociology, art history, performance studies, dance, film studies, and literature – which explore the intersections of art, activism, artistic service, compensation and labor.
  • Ben Davis’s “9.5 Theses on Art and Class
  • Sociologist Alison Gerber’s piece on art and the state, “The Nightmare Audit of an Indie Artist.” (Narratively)
  • Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy’s “Moral Views of Market Society” (The Annual Review of Sociology)
  • From Julia Bryan-Wilson’s book, Art Workers, the essay, “From Artists to Art Workers,” unpacks the implications cultural labor in the political sphere: “art work is no longer confined to describing aesthetic methods, acts of making, or art objects—the traditional referents of the term—but is implicated in artists’ collective working conditions, the demolition of the capitalist art market, and even revolution.”
  • Loren Nosan on carving out new pathways for successful artistic practice, outside the realm of “the immensely powerful consumerist machine” and the institutional and credentialing systems which perpetuate it: “Artists of the World, Unite!” (Galleryell)

COMPLICATING “SOCIAL PRACTICE”

  • Critic Ben Davis untangles some of the nuances in the question of what it means to be a political artist today in “A Critique of Social Practice Art” (International Socialist Review)
  • Is Social Practice Gentrifying Community Arts?Bad At Sports’ incisive dispatch from the Creative Time Summit (NYC), The Association of American Cultures (Providence, RI), and Hand in Glove (New Orleans): August – October 2013
  • In “Disasters Align,” Red76 founder Sam Gould makes the case for a rangier sort of socially-engaged art that forgoes easy, art world-friendly categories like “social practice” in favor of articulating a field of practice that embraces more disruptive, unabashedly irrational work and interaction. (Mn Artists)
  • An Xiao Mina writes on the nexus of artists, the internet, and social movements in “An Activism of Affirmation” (Walkerart.org)
  •  “Fighting Words: A Public Debate on the Relationship Between Social Practice and Arts Institutions”  documents remarks from a lively conversation at Assembly, a social practice gathering held last year in Portland, Ore., compiled by Ariana Jacob, on the question: Does social practice belong in museums?  (Mn Artists)

WHERE HAVE WE COME FROM, AND WHERE ARE WE HEADED?

Monica Sheets offers two suggestions, writing: “These are some oldies but goodies that seem to still be highly relevant regarding the danger for (neoliberal) instrumentalization of artists’ work and socially engaged art’s problematic relationship to the political.”

Seattle’s and/or organization founder, Anne Focke, writes: “In the late 1980s, several hundred people met twice at remote locations on two islands, one on the U.S. east coast and one on the west, to consider “the creative support of the creative artist.” Sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the first conference was held in May 1986 at Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York and the second in November 1988 on Orcas Island near the Canadian border in Washington state. These two gatherings brought together artists, arts funders, and dedicated people from organizations that serve artists. For two days (Montauk) or four days (Orcas) they talked, performed, argued, ate together, played together, and tackled critical concerns beyond the arts. They also built life-long friendships and professional relationships and provoked questions that remain today.”

Noteworthy websites and online resources:

Suggestions for further reading:

Many thanks to Maia Murphy, Maria Sykes, Alison Gerber, Shanai Matteson, Colin Kloecker, Andy Sturdevant, James McAnally, Monica Sheets, Abigail Satinsky, Jehra Patrick, Emily Gastineau, Anne Focke, Shawn(ta) Smith Cruz, and Paul Bonin Rodriguez for their contributions to the list.

Conference information:

Hand in Glove 2015 (#HIG2015) will take place September 17 – 20 at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis. For more information on topics, sessions, and related events, visit the convening’s website: http://commonfield.org/convening

Let’s consider this a working document – please feel free to add your own reading suggestions in the comments.

Artists are Vulnerable

Every few weeks, that TED talk by Brene Brown about the power of vulnerability makes its way across my social media feed, and for a moment I find myself thinking, “Yes, vulnerability! We need more of that around here.” But vulnerability is like failure and innovation, one of those neat ideas that catches like wildfire, sweeping through […]

Artwork by Timothy Cronin of Husbands Printmaking Studio

Artwork by Timothy Cronin of Husbands Printmaking Studio

Every few weeks, that TED talk by Brene Brown about the power of vulnerability makes its way across my social media feed, and for a moment I find myself thinking, “Yes, vulnerability! We need more of that around here.”

But vulnerability is like failure and innovation, one of those neat ideas that catches like wildfire, sweeping through leadership seminars and association conferences. For a moment we all profess to know what it means, and to see the value in it. We hurry to detail the ways in which we and our work exemplify the concept. We’re vulnerable. We’re innovative. We fail, and because we’re doing it right, we learn from our failures.

Then some time passes. We forget the wise words of Brene Brown and the other TED prophets, and we go back to business as usual.

In the business I’m in — socially engaged art and design—business as usual means competing for resources and recognition, even as we profess our collective community spirit. It involves putting a positive spin on even our most disappointing programs and projects, as we trumpet the virtues of failure. It means keeping an ear to the ground for opportunity, and working like expert operators to position ourselves to receive, even as we call ourselves advocates for others. It means working around the clock and professing to love our jobs, even though we’re tired and overworked and under-compensated. It means keeping our guard up against anything and anyone that might challenge our approach, even though we celebrate vulnerability.

This past week, a friend called me from a parking ramp. She was in tears, trying to regain her composure after meeting with an aggressive collaborator who has power over her work. She wondered out loud how she could continue working in what had become a toxic environment. She also wondered how she could stop working. The project in question was one she had conceived over many months of intense thinking and delicate relationship-building. She felt attached to it, and rightfully so. Not to mention that like so many others, my friend’s financial situation is precarious. She literally cannot afford to bail on the project, though she confessed to me that she hasn’t been happy in months, and isn’t making her best work as a result.

My friend is an artist, and she’s not unique in this experience, or in feeling this way about it. I’ve had countless conversations of this kind over the past months with peers: artists and other independent creative producers who work on what claim to be “artist-led” collaborative projects for the benefit of artists and communities, but which in practice seem to be business-as-usual non-profit programs.

Artists are vulnerable, and not in the Brene Brown sense of that word. When we collaborate with non-profit organizations or other groups, we have to navigate complex political and social landscapes, often without the insider knowledge that can keep one from inadvertently stepping in landmines. This kind of learning takes time. We go to lots of meetings, and we’re not paid for most of them. We share our creative thinking up the food chain, with good intentions and the expectation that we can trust those who claim to have our interests at heart. Once in awhile this results in a paid opportunity to create meaningful artwork, but often we see our ideas emerge watered-down or with strings attached. In the worst cases, we see our ideas or words emerge unattributed in the shiny new initiative of an organization that has little regard for us or our goals.

When we do create work, we usually do so with limited resources. This leaves almost no time for the important steps of synthesis and reflection, or for telling our own story of what transpired. Instead, we read about our projects and see photos of our work used instrumentally in the communications of non-profit organizations and funders, often without any consultation or consent.

I hear it expressed quietly all the time, that feeling that we have little power or authority over the conditions of our work, even as our work is used to gain larger grants and more recognition for leaders in our field. Meanwhile, we live with fear of retribution should we speak publicly about our concerns.

My friend, the one who left the parking ramp—she did what I’ve done many times in the past. She took a deep breath and went back to creating artistic projects, trying to stay true to her own values, vowing to do things differently should she ever be in a position of power. She said the hardest thing for her is the realization that as artists, we seem to have no one in our corner. Lots of people are champions for the arts, especially now that it seems more people recognize the important contributions of art to our lives and communities; but when it comes to standing up for artists, she didn’t know who to turn to except her peers.

I think there’s power in that realization, though it’s hard to know just what to do with it. Yes, we are vulnerable, and we’re not alone.

Republished from Medium with permission of the author. 

UPDATED 5/20/13: ArtPrize Pitch Night Cheatsheet

Minnesota artists: What would you do with $5,000, 400,000 people and an entire bridge to work with? This year, the Walker Art Center is teaming up with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan to sweeten the pot for Minnesota artists interested in participating in the prestigious annual international art competition. If you think you might have some […]

ArtPrize 2012 - photo courtesy of Brian Kelly Photography and the Walker Art Center

ArtPrize 2012 – photo courtesy of Brian Kelly Photography and the Walker Art Center

Minnesota artists: What would you do with $5,000, 400,000 people and an entire bridge to work with? This year, the Walker Art Center is teaming up with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan to sweeten the pot for Minnesota artists interested in participating in the prestigious annual international art competition. If you think you might have some compelling public art ideas to propose, get a leg up by attending tomorrow night’s ArtPrize info session in the Walker Art Center Lecture Room. In addition to some of the local panelists involved in the Minnesota contingent of this year’s competition, ArtPrize’s Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist, will be on hand to offer some background on ArtPrize and to answer questions from artists interested in getting involved.

What is ArtPrize and how does the competition work?

Every fall, two thousand artists from around the world come to Grand Rapids, Michigan to compete for half a million dollars in prizes – real money is at stake here. Participating artists’ installations fill the city — from museums and galleries to restaurants, banks, and city parks. During the two-and-a-half week ArtPrize exhibition, which annually draws some 400,000 visitors, members of the public will vote to determine which artist will win the big $200,000 prize. A panel of world-renowned jurors will also select a $100,000 Juried Grand Prize winner, as well as five $20,000 winners in various categories.

And this year, during the month of May, Minnesota artists are especially invited to create proposals for an installation on Grand Rapids’ Gillett Bridge, a highly trafficked pedestrian bridge in the center of the ArtPrize exhibition. After the month-long open submissions period has closed, at a “Pitch Night” event held at the Walker on May 30, five selected finalists will give a five-minute presentation using five slides a piece to make the case for their project proposals. A panel of five local artists and curators, along with members of the audience, will be able to ask questions of the artists following their presentations. At the end of the night, the five panelists will select a Minnesota artist from among the finalists who presented their pitches. That artist will receive a $5,000 grant to realize their proposal on the Gillett Bridge; the resulting work will also be in the running for awards given during the international ArtPrize 2013 competition and exhibition in September.

ArtPrize 2013, Grand Rapids, MI is an international art competition and exhibition that runs from September 18 through October 6 and awards more than $500,000 in prizes to artists selected through both public and juried vote.

ArtPrize 2013, Grand Rapids, MI is an international art competition and exhibition that runs from September 18 through October 6 and awards more than $500,000 in prizes to artists selected through both public and juried vote.

Dates and deadlines:

ArtPrize info session: Tuesday, April 30 at 7 pm in the Lecture Room (off the Bazinet Lobby) at the Walker Art Center

Open submissions period for the Walker/ArtPrize installation on Gillett Bridge: May 1 to May 22.

Any artist living in Minnesota who is 18 years of age or older is eligible to enter. Find the full call for artists on mnartists.org.

“Pitch Night: Take it to the Bridge” – Five finalists will each have five minutes to make a pitch before our local panel of experts and a live audience. One will be selected at the end of the evening to receive a $5000 prize with which to realize their proposal for public art project on Gillett Bridge during this year’s ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The 2013 “Pitch Night” panelists:

Chris Larson, a Minnesota-based multimedia artist and educator whose work has been shown all over the world

Ben Heywood, Executive Director of the Soap Factory

Sarah Peters, a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who currently works as the Director of Public Engagement for Northern Lights.mn (the collaborative arts agency behind the Northern Spark Festival)

Scott Stulen, mnartists.org Project Director

Sarah Schultz, Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice at the Walker Art Center.

Gillett Bridge in Grand Rapids, MI - in the heart of this year's ArtPrize exhibition and site of a specially selected installation by a Minnesota artist this year.

Gillett Bridge in Grand Rapids, MI is a venue at the heart of this year’s ArtPrize exhibition and set aside as a site for an installation by a Minnesota artist who will be awarded $5000 to realize a proposal selected through a competitive process on “Pitch Night,” May 30 at the Walker Art Center.

Tips from ArtPrize Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist:

What kind of work is most likely to get the ArtPrize panelists’ attention for this special installation on the bridge? 

The panel [evaluating submissions from Minnesota artists for this installation] will be looking for a proposal for one installation on the Gillett Bridge that is both compelling and feasible.

Some questions to consider: How will the artist(s) make use of this unique space? Thousands of people cross the bridge during the event, how will crowds affect the work? Is $5,000 enough to ship and install the work? If not, what’s the plan to cover additional costs?

When and for how long will the work be installed? How many works will be chosen in total for this Walker/ArtPrize partnership?

One proposal will be chosen on “Pitch Night” for the entire bridge. An exact installation date is not set, but it will likely be one to two weeks before ArtPrize begins on September 18. The work will need to be taken town within a week after the end of ArtPrize on October 6.

Why is ArtPrize partnering with the Walker this year? Why involve Minnesota artists in this Michigan-based competition? 

“Pitch Night” is a brand new initiative for 2013. It’s a way for artists from other cities to get funding to realize ambitious projects within ArtPrize. The partnership with Walker is the first iteration of this new initiative, but we hope to expand the program to include similar partnerships with other museums in other cities.

Minnesota artists should enter ArtPrize because it’s an international art competition. It takes place in Grand Rapids, but it’s fast becoming a global showcase for emerging artists. Last year ArtPrize featured artists from 39 states and 46 countries.

What’s in it for the artists who compete? Who have been some of the previous years’ winners (are there any names we’d recognize)?

Obviously, there’s a lot of money on the line — $560,000 split between 16 awards, ten determined by public vote and six of which are juried. Winning is great, but when we talk to artists, we find that the size and level of engagement of the ArtPrize audience is an even bigger reward. Over 400,000 people visited over two-and-a-half weeks last year, and the population of Grand Rapids is only 200,000. We also find that projects can be launched quickly and without the typical level of red tape that slows down a lot of public art initiatives. ArtPrize has been embraced by the community in a unique way, and the city looks forward to an infusion of fresh ideas from all over the world. It’s an environment for artists to experiment with temporary projects that benefit from a large, engaged audience.

A list of last year’s winners can be found here: http://www.artprize.org/visit/winners

ADDENDUM 5/20/13: More from Kevin Buist about the history and philosophy behind ArtPrize and this year’s partnership with the Walker

This fall, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan will be overrun by artists. For the fifth year, my colleagues and I will stage ArtPrize, the world’s largest art competition.

More than 1,500 artists exhibiting their works at nearly 150 venues, all competing for $560,000 in awards which are distributed by public vote and professional jury. More than 400,000 visitors came to the 2012 exhibition, and even more are expected in 2013.

New for the 2013 event, ArtPrize has partnered with the Walker Art Center for a regional grant program. One artist from Minnesota will have a unique opportunity to receive a grant to help them realize an ambitious project for ArtPrize. We’re calling it “Pitch Night: Take it to the Bridge.” On May 30 at 7:00 pm in the Walker Cinema, five Minnesota artists will give each give a five minute presentation to the audience and a panel of five judges, explaining why their project should be given a $5,000 grant to create their project at ArtPrize 2013.

Why Minnesota? Why the Walker?

ArtPrize has long admired the Walker Art Center’s programming, specifically Open Field. The more we researched what they were doing and how they were thinking about the program and its relationship to the museum, the affinity between the two initiatives became clear. This quote from the introduction of Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, by Sarah Schultz and Sarah Peters, sums up the shared sensibility nicely: “Open Field is about building a more responsive and responsible museum that sets out to produce something of collective value with the public, rather than for them.”

We started ArtPrize in 2009 as a radically open experiment in how to create a city-wide contemporary art exhibition. ArtPrize doesn’t curate the show, and we don’t select the winners. In lieu of central programming, we’ve built ArtPrize.org to act almost like a dating website for artists and potential venues. Additionally, we gave the attendees, rather than the organizers, the power to decide who wins. The first year, there were ten prizes, all decided entirely by public vote, with $250,000 as the top prize. Starting the second year, we began to add juried awards into the mix.

Just last year, ArtPrize launched a $100,000 Juried Grand Prize, and five $20,000 juried prizes in various categories. These are awarded alongside $360,000 for the public vote top ten, including $200,000 for the top vote-getter.

We decided to design the event this way for several reasons:

  • Engagement with the arts is vital to creating meaningful interactions within communities. The trouble is that the arts are often overlooked by large swaths of the population. We make art impossible to ignore to give artists more ways to interrupt everyday life.
  • The competition needed to be fun, because we believe that people learn more and are more receptive to new ideas when they play.
  •  We believe that debate is good. Rather than program an exhibition in private and deliver it to the public, we’ve chosen to invite the public to be intimately involved in the production and assessment of the show. The results are delightfully messy. People all over town feverishly debate what’s good and what isn’t, or what should be considered art. The debates, and the tensions they reveal, are good outcomes.

This design has turned Grand Rapids into a community that values art and respects the opinions of all people, with the public and arts professionals coming together in an epic conversation.

–ArtPrize Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist

What Makes a Healthy Art Community?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in […]

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in 1999: What do artists need to survive and prosper in our community?

This week an article by l’étoile arts columnist Nathaniel Smith (reprinted today on mnartists.org) raised similar questions about what is needed to sustain a healthy cultural community and, specifically, which of those things truly sustain artists.  Smith quotes  The Cool School, a film about LA’s influential Ferus Gallery, and the five things founder Walter Hopps cites as necessary ingredients for a healthy art city:

1: Artists to make the work
2: Galleries to support it
3: Critics to celebrate it
4:  Museums to establish it
5: and collectors to buy it

Smith points out in his piece that Minnesota is blessed to have the requisite artists and museums in abundance.  Certainly, the nearly 20,000 members of mnartists.org provide compelling evidence of the volume, diversity and passion of the artists in Minnesota. I am not going to reiterate all of Smith’s  assessments as to the needs of the community. You should read the full piece yourself: his essay raises several direct points of critique and debate related to the list above in relation to aspects of the current local arts support structure.

But what about a creative community’s other needs?  What do you see that is missing from Hopps’s admittedly visual arts-slanted list?  Or, perhaps this list is a completely outdated model? If so, what elements for a healthy arts community would you substitute instead?

Midwesterners are quick to praise and support Minnesota’s arts scene, which can be a strength, but knee-jerk self-congratulations lead to complacency and unrealized potential. We don’t want to live in a good art community, we want to have a hand in making an exceptional art community. We want an art community with strong local support and lively dialog that is not provincial but instead nationally, even internationally relevant.

So, let’s continue this conversation and separate needs from desires. Let’s have open discussion about what is working and what isn’t.  There are the obvious things that would sure help: like more financial support for individual artists, cultivating actively engaged patrons of the arts and involved audiences; cheap space and informed, lively critical response for artists. What’s important to you? What are some more specific, feasible things that we are overlooking as we think about the vitality of our state’s arts and cultural scenes?

Now, its your turn.  What do you think?

A Community Mourns and Celebrates SooVAC’s Suzy Greenberg

Last Thursday, August 16, Suzy Greenberg, founder of two beloved Twin Cities galleries, Soo Visual Arts Center and Rosalux Gallery, died unexpectedly. A mainstay in the Minnesota visual arts community, she was, for years, an unstinting advocate for emerging artists and a savvy curator with a loyal following, known for having a sharp eye for […]

Suzy Greenberg. Photo by Tom Sweeney of the “Minneapolis Star-Tribune,” courtesy of Soo Visual Arts Center.

Last Thursday, August 16, Suzy Greenberg, founder of two beloved Twin Cities galleries, Soo Visual Arts Center and Rosalux Gallery, died unexpectedly. A mainstay in the Minnesota visual arts community, she was, for years, an unstinting advocate for emerging artists and a savvy curator with a loyal following, known for having a sharp eye for as-yet-unknown but promising talent.  She’s proved to be a nimble entrepreneur, too, shepherding her well-regarded storefront gallery in Minneapolis through several years of difficult economic conditions with aplomb and ingenuity.

Losing her has left the Twin Cities’ tight-knit art scene grief-stricken. There’ve been a number of moving remembrances published in local media in the last week (you can find the links below). Now, we’d like to invite you — Greenberg’s colleagues and friends, artists and fellow gallerists and curators — to share your favorite anecdotes and memories, below in the comments section.

According to SooVAC’s Executive Director, Carolyn Payne, a gathering in her honor is planned for Monday, September 10. For the event, SooVAC will show an exhibition of Greenberg’s work, curated by Lars Mason; people are also invited to come by the CC Club to share stories and memories in celebration of a life beautifully and generously lived, if far too short.

Payne says there’s no formal program planned, “This is just a time to come and pay tribute to her life and art, and to have a drink together in her memory at her longtime neighboring watering hole.”

 

 

Some related links:

 

A tribute to Suzy Greenberg’s life and art is planned for Monday, September 10, from 4 pm – 10 pm, at Soo Visual Arts Center (2638 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis) and at the CC Club (just down the street at 2600 Lyndale Avenue South).

For updated information as the date draws nearer, check in with the gallery website: http://www.soovac.org/

Please share your favorite anecdotes and memories, your best Suzy-stories, in the comments below.

‘The Price of Everything’ – a guest post by Frank Bures

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in […]

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in recent years toward market-based cultural initiatives, which reframe artists and their work in terms of economic stimulus.

A few weeks ago, I published a story in the new Twin Cities culture and current affairs magazine, Thirty Two, called “The Fall of the Creative Class,” about the giant holes, as I saw them, in Richard Florida’s theory of economic growth.

Within a few weeks, the piece had nearly 50,000 page views: It burned through the social networks and got picked up by everyone from the Daily Beast to Real Clear Politics to Salon. (Florida has since reacted; and my response is here.)  But as the piece found more readers, one comment I began to hear again and again was that the story was a little “depressing.”

At first, this reaction caught me off guard, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But after some reflection, I think I understand better. I suspect it has to do with a shift in our attitude toward art and its place in our lives over the last decade or so — namely, the idea that if something is worth doing, it should also make money. Intrinsic value – in virtually every sphere– has given way to the metrics of financial return. Or as political philosopher (and Minneapolis native) Michael Sandel notes in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society.”

Obviously, I’m all for making a living, but this shift is something about which I’ve felt a growing unease, and it is part of the problem I have with Florida’s Creative Class theory. The fact that Florida launched his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class into this new market society was one of the primary reasons his theory that a vibrant cultural scene was the key to economic growth became so popular.  We were all happy to be told that the things we loved also happened to be profitable.

This is the assumption that underlies a current movement based on Florida’s theory, known as “creative placemaking,” which holds that public art and creatively “activated” spaces can help jumpstart a local economy.  Perhaps they can, perhaps they can’t.  Either way, I sense a trap. I’m afraid there’s a category mistake here: The arts were never intended to be good business, as any artist who goes into it can tell you.

Nonetheless, the belief that one worthwhile thing (art) leads inevitably to another (money) has given birth to projects like the Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI), for which Florida’s Creative Class Group was paid $585,000 to help turn three cities (Duluth, Tallahassee, and Charlotte) into “creative magnets.”  This goal was to be accomplished by way of a two-day seminar, at which 30 or so volunteer “catalysts” from each city were to form “action teams,” that would complete a set of unfunded projects: “ArtWorks” in Duluth, a film festival in Tallahassee, and a “creativity festival” in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as other Florida favorites like bike paths, recycling programs, and co-working centers. The final report showed less than resounding success:  Local organizers and “catalysts” complained about having to pay for Creative Class Group consultants’ limousines and about their lack of local knowledge and the poor quality of their data, remarking that the consultants were “more interested in the gospel of Richard Florida,”  than the “unique issues and needs” of the cities.

Most importantly, though, these projects resulted in little or no economic impact in the designated “creative magnet” communities.  In the end, the report concluded that “KCCI was built on an innovative theory of economic development. However, it lacked a clear set of connections between its specific projects and the broader changes it sought to achieve. In addition, the initiative did not articulate its rationale about the ways in which change could or would occur. In other words, KCCI knew what its destination was but did not have a roadmap for getting there.”

Frank Bures (photo courtesy of the author)

How does art become money?  How do vibrant creative spaces become vibrant economic ones?  The Creative Class Group doesn’t seem to know.  I don’t know.  No one knows, yet everyone seems to assume that one must lead to the other. Thomas Frank, writing in the Baffler, calls this mindset a “vibrancy Ponzi scheme” which has set off a “vibrancy arms race,” pitting cities like Akron and Indianapolis against each other.  “Vibrancy theory reveres the artist, but it also insults those who would take artistic production seriously,” he writes, adding that, “vibrancy theory treats the artist as a sort of glorified social worker, whose role is to please children and stimulate businessmen and somehow support the community.”

But more to the point, Frank contrasts the public art projects of ’30s, like the Federal Writers Project, with the Floridian mindset of today:  “[N]o one expected those artists to pull us out of the Depression by some occult process of entrepreneurship-kindling. Instead, government supported them mainly because they were unemployed. In other words, government then did precisely the opposite of what government does today: In the thirties, we protected artists from the market while today we expose them to it, imagining them as the stokers on the hurtling job-creation locomotive.”

My fear is this:  Once people realize that art may not be stoking a secret gravy train, they will simply want to get off it. If creative placemaking schemes don’t pan out, the false hope they engendered might do more damage to arts funding in the long run, because they will have shifted the focus away from our most compelling reason for support of the arts. We should fund art because it makes the space around us the kind of place we want to live.

Let me be clear: I am 100% in favor of public art and making creative places, like the cultural corridor planned for Hennepin Avenue, or the $750,000 Irrigate Arts plan to do the same in the heart of St. Paul. But doing those things as some sort of investment strategy may ultimately backfire. It’s just not why humans have ever made art, and it shouldn’t be why we make it now. I’ll breathe more easily when we can return to the idea that such things need to be created, simply because they should be brought into the world. I will be glad when we can stop cheapening art by expecting to monetize its practice. And I will be happier when we can go back to loving (and funding) art because it adds value to our lives, not just our livelihoods.

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About the author: Frank Bures is a writer whose stories have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, Outside, Bicycling, Wired and have been included in the Best American Travel Writing 2004 and Best American Travel Writing 2009.  He is a contributing editor at World Hum and Poets & Writers, speaks a few languages and has spent time in a few countries. He currently lives in Minneapolis.

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Read Frank Bures’ story for Thirty Two magazine: “The Fall of the Creative Class”

Read Richard Florida’s response to the piece on his blog, The Atlantic Cities: “What Critics Get Wrong About the Creative Class and Economic Development”

And finally, Bures’ rejoinder: “Still Falling: On Chickens and Eggs, Cause and Effect and the Real Problem with the Creative Class”

What Do Artists Need?

As mnartists.org works towards rebuilding our website in the coming year, we are also in an opportune position to refocus and reappraise how we, as an organization, can best serve artists. When my colleague, Scott Stulen, and I sat down to revisit our mission statement, we agreed benefiting artists will always be central to our […]

As mnartists.org works towards rebuilding our website in the coming year, we are also in an opportune position to refocus and reappraise how we, as an organization, can best serve artists. When my colleague, Scott Stulen, and I sat down to revisit our mission statement, we agreed benefiting artists will always be central to our mission. As we move forward with planning for the new site (new bells and whistles aside), Minnesota artists and their needs will remain core to our mission and our focus as an organization. No easy task, as artists needs vary depending on the stage they are in their career, their location, and have different needs associated with their discipline of focus.

So what is it that all artists need?

I can speculate; I’m an artist too.  Let me introduce myself: I’m Jehra Patrick and I work as Project Coordinator for mnartists.org.  I do everything from answering help-desk questions, to planning, promoting and managing our off-line programs like Drawing Club, CSA: Community Supported Art, MN Made, and mnartists.markerplace; I also assist in managing the McKnight Photo Fellowship for Photographers and work to direct artists and arts enthusiasts to the resources they need – online and otherwise. I am also a visual artist.  I’m an artist who loves to support other artists. In thinking about what artists need, I can speculate as both an artist and as someone who supports artists and interacts with artists regularly.  Here’s what I’ve got, but please feel free to chime in:

Artists need:

Exposure Artists need their work to be seen; they need an audience, they need coverage and feedback

• Community Whether it’s camaraderie with other artists, support from their local community or a network of followers

Resources Space to produce, the materials or expenses that make your work a reality and the time to make it

Professional development Artists need a plan, a business strategy to market themselves as professionals; they need the tools meet their ambitions

All of these ‘needs’ vary – and may mean different things – depending on the artist’s stage in their career. The form that each of these needs takes also varies by the artist’s discipline of focus, and another thing: What artists want. What artists want depends on their own goals, which also vary depending on where they are in their career.

Back in 1999, McKnight Foundation issued a survey to gauge the needs of artists, out of which mnartists.org was developed. So how does mnartists.org continue assess artist’s needs? Over the next year, I will continue to reach out through topical blog posts to gauge varying needs of Minnesota artists and post to respond to these needs. While there will be more formal surveys, we also welcome candid feedback and encourage you to respond!  We want to hear from you!

What do artists need? What do you need as an artist? What do you need to continue to produce your work?  To make a living?  To take your work to ‘the next stage’?

Also, how do artists’ needs differ based on what you have? What is already available to you? What is missing?

The state government shutdown – how is it affecting the local arts community?

(Last update: 7/15/11 at 11:00 am) UPDATE (7/15): A tentative deal between the principal negotiators – House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, and Governor Mark Dayton – was announced yesterday afternoon when Gov. Dayton reluctantly accepted the GOP’s offer of June 30, tendered just hours before the shutdown began. However, none of […]

(Last update: 7/15/11 at 11:00 am)

UPDATE (7/15): A tentative deal between the principal negotiators – House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, and Governor Mark Dayton – was announced yesterday afternoon when Gov. Dayton reluctantly accepted the GOP’s offer of June 30, tendered just hours before the shutdown began. However, none of the parties involved appear to be enthusiastic about the outcome of the budget agreement, which relies on a substantial education payment shift (in plain English: the state takes out a one-year IOU for 40% of the funds it owes local school districts), as well as borrowing from future state tobacco settlement funds. If it passes both the DFL and GOP caucuses in the legislature, the state will likely recall its workforce and resume operations in the very near future.

According to a newsletter announcement this morning sent by the advocacy group, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, included in the current budget agreement up for a vote are provisions which will release much-needed Legacy Amendment funds to the Minnesota State Arts Board and regional arts councils, and from there to the local artists and arts organizations awaiting their grants.

You can follow the developments in the budget talks and shutdown:

on MinnPost.com

in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

on Minnesota Public Radio

in the St. Paul Pioneer Press

in the Minnesota Independent

in the Minnesota Daily

in the Duluth News-Tribune

in the Rochester Post-Bulletin

in the Associated Press

*****

Well, here we are. Minnesota’s fiscal year ended at midnight last night, and without agreement between the legislature and the Governor on the state’s 2012-2013 biennial budget, we’ve officially entered the uncharted territory of the most sweeping government shutdown in Minnesota state history.

Confused about how we got here? Just below is an incredibly clear, three-minute explanation of the whys behind the shutdown, courtesy of the folks at MPR. Watch it. (I’ll wait.)

There’s little else in the news all over the state today, and there are a number of handy guides to what’s open and closed in a variety of media outlets. But here’s the thing: even with Judge Kathleen Gearin’s order in hand, while we now have a general sketch of which “critical core functions” of government will continue despite the shutdown, the more precise details about how this will all play out are still pretty murky. But if a state-run or –subsidized program isn’t directly tied to public safety and health concerns, it’s a safe bet that it’s shuttered and closed for business until a new budget agreement is signed and goes into effect.

Visit BeReadyMN.org for more information, including some answers to a few general government shutdown questions.

Closed for business during the shutdown

For artists looking to find out how the shutdown will affect them – in terms of grant information sessions, dispersal of Legacy funds, availability of regional arts councils’ services and programs, etc. the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) has the most complete information on their website. Below you’ll find the high points.

The MSAB will be closed and unable to respond to email or phone calls for the duration of the shutdown. Which means that until the state government is back up and running:

  • No Arts Board grant payments (including those affiliated with the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund) will be made
  • No contracts (or contract amendments) will be executed
  • No grant applications will be reviewed or approved (pertinent deadlines will likely be extended as a result of the shutdown)
  • No contact or meetings will resume until the shutdown is over

Regional arts councils, as independent nonprofit organizations, are not required to close down during the shutdown, but the State of Minnesota is the principal source of funding for most of them; since the legislature has not approved either the state general fund appropriations, or the arts and cultural heritage fund Legacy Amendment appropriations for fiscal year 2012-13, most of them will not have the funds to continue their operations. You can contact the regional arts councils in your area to find out more information.

Other arts organizations whose operations have ceased or been curtailed because of the state government shutdown include:

Minnesota Humanities Center

Minnesota Historical Society (including its museums, libraries, historic sites, and programs like the “9 Nights of Music” outdoor concert series)

Minnesota Zoo (although the IMAX showings and concert series will continue)

Perpich Center for Arts Education

All Minnesota state parks

A bright spot in all this bad news is that arts programs affiliated with the state’s colleges and universities, as well as those in independently operated and city- or county-run museums, programs, parks, and arts organizations, will for the most part remain open and largely unaffected by the state government shutdown. Among these are the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden and mnartists.org; neither is dependent on state funding, and both organizations will be open and operating as usual during the shutdown.

*UPDATE: Judge Gearin ruled this week that the Minnesota Zoo could remain open during the shutdown. “Gearin agreed with the argument posed by the zoo’s attorneys, who said it should be able to open using a state law that directs zoo gate revenue back to the facility. Because it has a standing appropriation, they said, it should be allowed to open.” (Via Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

*UPDATE (7/9): Northfield Arts Guild will remain open, in spite of the closure of the State Arts Board (via Northfield Patch)

*UPDATE (7/9): Ditto for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, which will tap their existing funds to remain open during the shutdown as long as they’re able

*UPDATE (7/12): The Board on Minnesota Film and TV is in operation for the time being, but they’re asking for donations to keep the doors open through July, as most of their funding comes directly from state funds still pending. UPDATE 7/14: MinnPost has a nice piece today about the effects of the shutdown on Minnesota’s film industry.

*****

If you’d like to make your voice heard at the capitol, find contact information for your district’s representatives here.

UPDATED 2 pm, July 1: Marianne Combs, “State of the Arts” blogger for MPR is covering the shutdown, with some good reporting from the regional arts councils.

*****

Check back next week. I’ll be following the developments as they unfold, and will post again when we have more information about the finer details on how the shutdown is playing out in arts communities around the state. In the meantime, all you artists, speak up in the comments below: How is the government shutdown affecting you?

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