Sound Co Lab Performance, RAC Convening, Nightingale Screening, and a Giant Picnic, oh my!
It has been a whirlwind weekend of activity. Thursday night went out to Gondo for Emily Hemeyer's Sound collaboration. I was impressed by the range of female St. Louis sound makers working with just pedals to achieve a multi-person sound. Each had their own voice as well; Suriyah combined a series of instruments with her astounding vocal range, Larva incorporated found sounds, Anah used homemade instruments, and Emily worked with her own voice.
Visitors! That night my friend Christy and her sister Jess arrived to prepare for their tour. Meanwhile Cam's child hood friend Dave arrived via train to embark on his STL move. We all met up at the courtesy dinner with my friend Ryan to discuss life endeavors, like the pros and cons for setting up a non profit and updates on romantic relationships.
That next morning I work up early to attend the RAC Community Arts Convening. The 1st session I attended was about the Police Poetry Project in Maine. Marty Pottenger explained her project mainly using stories to describe the process of creating her project. She initially worked with the police force to write poems that were compiled in a calendar. This project changed the morale of the police staff as well as humanized them for the broader community by way of their writings and poetry readings. The success of this program initiated several collaborations with other departments in the Portland governmental organizations. This project emphasized for me that we never know where a collaboration might be possible. We may underestimate never who might benefit or be changed by an artistic process. Sometimes an artist has to ask if they can go to spaces that they might perceive are inaccessible because in fact these are probably the spaces that an artist really should go to. One idea that she talked about that I would like to carry into my own practice was the notion of art "holding contradiction".
An all around enjoyable session was Handmade Community Action: A people's art studio movement lead by Janis Timms-Bottos. Her presentation included stories of her project Kitchen Table Arts, an actual art project, and a history of important female community art practitioners.
Janis is from Canada she discovered in her community that a thrift store was getting more t-shirts than they knew what to do with and in response were throwing them away or shipping them to Africa. First she set up a group of volunteers that began to sort the t-shirts. Then she set up a sort of crafting table within the thrift store so that people coming in the store might begin to think of ways to reuse the t-shirts. She invited artists to come up with projects as well. Next they began to resell projects and bags of t-shirts packaged with idea sheets on how they might be used.
After this rousing intro she brought out a bunch of art supplies so that everyone in the room might make their own t-shirt cuffs. People really got into the project I even saw one guy making five or six bracelets. After letting us get into our projects; she began to tell the history of an important community art activist Lugenia Burns Hope that was born in St. Louis. Enroute she linked this woman to Jane Adams, free schools, and the Civil Rights Movement. Janis is an advocate for free art spaces and her presentation suggested that these spaces are most successful when they not only offer free art classes but also offer job/skill training to help the community improve itself. She suggested that this first woman's practice inspired the folk school that trained individuals like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks as well as Bob Dylan and this was what led directly to the Civil Rights Movement. At one point there were many of these sorts of organizations all over the U.S. now the number seems to be much less.
At lunch Arlene Goldbard gave an inspiring presentation on the necessity for arts to reframe its own description, not in the language of business or politician, but as a matter of human necessity for survival and purpose. She called on us to question why there was so little funding for the arts and so much funding for the military going as far as to ask what does our nation want us to be remembered for the culture we created or the defenses/ arms we stockpiled?
After lunch I attended Partners for a Livable Community presentation "The Great Good Neighbor". This presentation was packed with information although not as interactive as the other ones. They asked institutions and museums, How can you become a good neighbor? Answers included develop relationships, know your neighborhood, and have follow through with your projects.
Arelene Goldbard continued her ideas of reframing in the afternoon session where she encouraged those attending the session to come up with an actual redescription for an arts project. My group had fun building a commercial aimed at tea baggers that related arts back to the beginning of U.S. history. Her whole project was aimed at getting to the heart of who makes meaning and then understanding the effects of that framing.
Finally I went to hear Theaster Gates and Robert Longyear talk about community projects. The main thing left in my head after that discussion was what constitutes a community interaction or artist? To what extent is the public involved or is it enough simply to be in the community in some capacity? Gates brings people together as a choir, at a meal, or in a shared space. Longyear works within a community and goes out and finds materials from the discarded environment around him.
I was inspired by how Gates entered the arts world as a non artist, (his training is in other fields), and in that way was willing to break down barrier notions of art that some institutions are not yet willing to address. i.e. ownership of work when there are multi collaborators, building community and ways to expand public interaction with museum spaces. That first day left my head churning.
That night I went to the Nightingale Film Screening at Fort Gondo. She showed a variety of Chicago shorts; stand outs for me include an animation by Jodie Mack, a short video where a hidden camera followed a package of sheets through the Wal-Mart conveyor system, and an abstract haunting video made using vintage European cartoon fairy tales.
Day 2 of RAC Convening was full of discussions. Using an open space technology facilitated by Bill Cleveland we met in small groups and discussed topics that seemed most important to us. Up to this point I had been feeling a disconnect about the people that I saw and did not see at the conference, anything from Northside anarchists to Wash U desk jobbers. A question in me was how to join artists, institutions, art supporters, and critics in a conversation and get rid of the intimidating presence of large institutions in the face of local artistic careers.
We came up with a plan to restart Spaghetti Dinners with a possible Sloup (mini fundraising) quality. The Spaghetti Dinners will meet up once a month with the intention to bring people together, especially those that might not normally be in conversation and to forge some common ground/community. A side project will be to maintain a blog that documents upcoming events as announced by people at the meeting!
The second session I attended was about how to reframe the WPA so that it might begin again. This was a very large discussion group of various backgrounds and opinions, I say that because many people that ran arts organizations were there and the first part of the meeting they vented their irritations with all the crazy funding structures of recent grant money. Then when we really got down to the discussion and it seemed like people were split between wanting to redescribe art using hope vs. using fear tactics (a world w/o art). Finally what it came down to was reminding the public the importance of arts. Looking at increased participating trends with dance and music, possibly because of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, I suggested a community arts challenge show. Sure, their is one in process for an Art Star but what about one that really hold the values of community arts instead not about an individual career? What if the values were collaboration, engagement with community, success of ideas and projects? This conference was all around inspiring and I look forward to sharing it with people in my actions and future projects.
To cap of an entirely busy weekend on Sunday we had the closing of Bric-a-leuring at Fort Gondo. Just having finished our quilt on Saturday night, we were sad to see rain on Sunday, but we made due and held the picnic inside. Twenty some people showed up and it was a pleasure to share some food and make some new friendships. Contact me if you'd like to know about more picnics in the future! Thanks to Jenny Murphy and my mom for sewing machine help. Lyndsey, Queen Bee, and Kayla for extra sew help and Miss Monica for coming through at the end with giant section.
Today I fast away in preparation for a colonoscopy. Two years late and with a family condition, I am happy to endure this process for a peace of mind on the state of my intestines. I am hopeful for some Obama health care as one of the hardest parts about my decision to be an artist has been purchasing health care with a pre-existing condition, its expensive and people don't want to cover my colon. This year is the first one I've been able to get a colonoscopy in part because of my high new monthly payment. But better a clean and empty colon then a cancerous one. I look forward to tomorrow with apprehension and hopefulness, but I am glad that I've been living my life they way I want to be.