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UCIRA Artist jesikah maria ross: Restore/Restory: A People’s History of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve

25 Jan
jesikah maria rossPhoto by fischphoto.com

jesikah maria ross
Photo by fischphoto.com

We are pleased to share some wonderful interviews on UCIRA artist jesikah maria ross’s project, Restore/Restory: A People’s History of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve

Restore/Restory explores the history of the Cache Creek Nature Preserve through the voices, views, images and experiences of a wide range of Yolo County residents. The project involved over 200 people in a collaborative effort to chronicle our diverse and changing demographics, traditions, and relationships with the land. University students, community members, and a media artist collected hundreds of audio recordings, photographs, and documents and curated them into the storymap, audio tour, digital murals, and historical timeline featured on this website. In many ways, the Cache Creek Nature Preserve is a microcosm of California and in telling its story we are revealing the larger story of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.

Restore/Restory was produced and directed by media artist jesikah maria ross and created in collaboration with the UC Davis Art of Regional Change and the Cache Creek Conservancy. The project aims to forge a shared “sense of place” that leads to just and sustainable stewardship of our natural and cultural resources.

Please click the below links to go to the interviews and articles on the project:

http://namac.org/idea-exchange/restore-restory-digital-media-education-community-storytelling-open-space-documentary

https://www.calegacy.org/making-nature-preserves-for-people-too/

UC Berkeley Artist Jeremy Fisher and the UC Design/Build Studio: Envisioning an Ecological Field Station for the 21st Century project

8 Jan

Since 2007, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) has developed experimental residency initiatives that offer opportunities for arts research to take place within the 36 sites of the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS). Primarily utilized for scientific investigation, these environments engage California’s diverse terrains, representing an untapped resource and opportunity for exploration by artists. Embedding artists within these field contexts offers new models that move beyond traditional methods of art and science, generating new forms of knowledge and practice through visual and material translation.

In 2010, UC Berkeley artist, Jeremy Fisher embarked on a project that did just that.  He was awarded a UCIRA Art+California Planning Grant for his project UC Design/Build Studio: Envisioning an Ecological Field Station for the 21st Century.  The Integrative Design Build Studio was proposed as an ongoing design/build studio for the UC NRS Blue Oak Ranch Reserve (BORR), organized by and for a team of interdisciplinary students from UC Berkeley.

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Over the summer of 2010, a week-long meeting was organized at BORR, which included 12 students, professors Mark Anderson and Bob Shepherd of the Architecture Department, Brent Bucknum from the Climate Clock team, the BORR reserve director Michael Hamilton, and BORR staff. The aim of this meeting was to gather information that would enable the team to plan the design/build studio.  Collectively, the team decided to simultaneously work on both the Master Plan and a design/build project, and to band together with Architecture Professor Mark Anderson’s Seminar scheduled for Fall 2010. In order to facilitate a collaborative design process among students in Building Science, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and the Information school, they formed the ideaBerkeley student group; IDEA is an acronym for Integrated Design Education in Action.

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Just before fall 2010 ideaBerkeley held a meeting in the College of Environmental Design at which both Mark Anderson and Michael Hamilton spoke to a group of 35 students and discussed the possibilities for the coming Seminar. They recruited a small group of interdisciplinary students who met for the seminar three hours per week as a group and more often in smaller groups. Each student was charged with inviting a visiting speaker who had important skills and experience for our two objectives at BORR, the Meta Plan (aka master plan) and the design/build project. Speakers included Michael Hamilton, Climate Clock Team, Bob Glushko of the Information school, a representative from AutoDesk, and John Crowley of MIT’s Design/Build program. Using online tools such as a blog, website and wiki, we tracked our progress and project permutations as the seminar went on.
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Two subsequent trips to BORR with the students, Professor Anderson, and the Climate Clock team were great additions to the depth and breadth of the overall integrated design process. The original goals of creating a Meta Plan as well as designing and building a project proved to be very challenging with the short timeline, small budget and variety of stakeholders, opinions and skills. After many design iterations and of both structures and infrastructure for BORR, The Meta Plan became a set of floor plans to renovate the existing barn to accommodate large groups, and a site analysis report from the landscape design students. The design/build project was decided to function as both a “Wired Wilderness” observation platform, as well as a usable camping platform for visitors to BORR.

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For more information on this project, please visit: http://ucberkeleydesignbuild.blogspot.com/

For more photos of this project, please visit:  https://plus.google.com/photos/116227821447596280338/albums/5478281307755069489/5551425508751509362?banner=pwa

 

 

(majority of text taken from project final report)

UCIRA Artist Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

19 Dec

UC Santa Barbara Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

Source: University of California, Santa Barbara
Thursday, December 13, 2012
UC Santa Barbara Brings Music and Mentorship to Local Schools

The notes float in fits and starts, bubbles of whimsy breaking the surface. A music lesson is under way.

Selena Ross, a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, is sharing her instrument and her expertise with Jasmine, an Isla Vista Elementary pupil and participant in the afterschool program that brought the pair together. Ross is mentoring Jasmine in music –– and tutoring her in math –– as a volunteer for a campus-based student organization and nonprofit called The MUSIC Club.

More commonly known by its acronym than its full name –– Musicians United in Supplemental Instruction for Children –– the club sends music-inclined college students into elementary schools, providing homework help and instrument instruction for underprivileged youth.

“It’s a wonderful experience to see all these kids so thrilled by music and instruments,” said Ross, a double major in sociology and English who is the club’s co-president and on-site coordinator for Isla Vista Elementary. “They love to learn. The fact that we’re able to work with these kids especially is such an important part of the program, and I feel we can have a true impact on kids who really appreciate it.”

And that’s the whole point. In 2006, on a $10,000 service-project grant from the Donald Strauss Foundation, founder Areo Saffarzadeh (’07, business economics, biology) positioned music as a means of academic motivation for underprivileged children: Bang out the homework, then bang on the piano.

The MUSIC Club functions exactly the same way today, partnering with established afterschool programs to deliver its vision to socioeconomically disadvantaged fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Goleta. Volunteers from UCSB –– the club averages more than 20 active mentors each quarter –– visit Isla Vista and El Camino elementary schools each afternoon. They have also served students from La Patera Elementary through an afterschool program at the Boys & Girls Club in Goleta.

“What makes being involved with this program so refreshing is these kids, because learning music, for them, is a huge privilege,” said David Lee, the group’s executive director and a UCSB alumnus (’11, biopsychology). “For them there is no entitlement. They love learning music and they know that when they work hard, behave well, and do their homework, they get to learn music. They don’t have to, they get to, and that makes teaching and working with them all the better for us. That’s a huge part of why we stay focused on serving an underserved population –– to open the opportunity to learn music to people who otherwise may not be able to.”

That opportunity may one day be available to additional children, and not just in the immediate area. Local growth is imminent, said Lee, but The MUSIC Club’s long-range goals also include expanding its efforts elsewhere by launching new chapters, or satellite operations, on other college campuses with underprivileged youth nearby. They also aspire to a capital project, aiming to eventually offer a music and tutoring site that could be shared by multiple programs.

The organization’s steadfast devotion to engaging kids through music has struck a chord with teachers, who credit the still-small club with big impact.

“As a music teacher, I know in my core that music is essential for the development of children –– for their neural development, for their social development, for their self-esteem, and for the pure joy that it brings them,” said Blair Looker, a music and art teacher at Isla Vista Elementary. “So when I see The MUSIC Club bringing both one-on-one mentoring, tutoring for children, and music, I think it’s the best of both worlds … It’s all part of a large dialogue between these excellent mentors and our young students, and I value it totally.”

Looker has known The MUSIC Club since its 2006 inception, when Saffarzadeh and four friends first showed up at her school. She has since become an active advocate for the nascent nonprofit, recently joining its board of directors, and, through her Looker Family Foundation, awarding the group a $10,000 grant.

“It is a strong organization that has grown into a really coherent program,” Looker said. “I’m really appreciative of their vision and I think it’s a model that can be used throughout the UC system –– at the minimum –– statewide, and possibly nationwide. It’s a beautiful, simple model that enriches the UCSB students that are giving of their talent, and completely feeds and nourishes our students.”

Such strong belief in the group appears to be growing. As a registered student organization and community nonprofit, The MUSIC Club has received a $2,000 grant from the UC Institute for Research in the Arts, and a $2,000 Community Arts Enrichment Grant through the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, in addition to the Looker Foundation award.

“Funding for arts education is oftentimes targeted as one of the lowest priorities when budgets are reduced for K-12 public education,” said Catherine Boyer, acting director of Student Affairs Grants and Development. “The Looker Foundation gift demonstrates a strong commitment to both nurture the arts and make arts opportunities accessible for all our children. It also inspires our UCSB students to live their dreams: our student musicians are teaching their love of music to the next generation.”

 

Americans for the Arts Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV

16 Oct

What is society without art?  On one very basic level, for 4.1 million Americans, no art means no work. For American businesses and government, it means that $22.3 billion in national revenue dissolves.  These figures (from the Americans for the Arts 2012 national study of the Economic Impact of Arts & Cultural Organizations) remind us of how much power the arts have on a region’s economic and cultural legacy.  The arts are not a luxury; THE ARTS MEAN BUSINESS.

On Thursday, October 4th, 2012, I attended the Forum on ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV (organized by the Santa Barbara Arts Commission) at the historic Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara to further examine the results of ARTS & Economic Prosperity IV study. This study (sponsored in part by the UC Institute for Research in the Arts) surveys 182 diverse regions from all 50 states and D.C. and is perhaps the most comprehensive investigation of the nonprofit arts and culture ever conducted.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider kicked off the forum with a Proclamation for Arts & Humanities Month in Santa Barbara (October being National Arts & Humanities Month). Randy Cohen (VP for Research + Policy for the Americans for the Arts) followed with an inspirational keynote that emphasized the critical power the arts have in a sustaining a thriving economic community. On a local scale, the arts in Santa Barbara County generate over $124 million in direct expenditures in the community and provide 3,587 full-time jobs (almost as many jobs as the entire county of Santa Barbara provides and twice as many as the SB School District).

Diverse artistic and cultural events bring people in from various areas and encourage them to stay longer which results in more out-of-the-region dollars to be spent locally (32% of average audience members are from out-of-town and they spend more than twice the amount of event-related spending than their local counterparts).  Kathy Janega-Dykes, President and CEO for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, presented supporting facts that re-emphasized how important the arts are to leveraging significant spending behavior both locally and nationwide.

The Americans for the Arts study is perfectly timed with the release of the results of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) 2011 UC survey.  The UC Institute for Research in the Arts oversaw survey participation of all the UC Campuses with degree-granting programs in the arts.  The research that comes from this survey provides the first national data on how those with both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in all arts disciplines develop post-graduation careers.  With the exorbitant out-of-state UC tuition (2012-2013 average out-of-state tuition is $55,578), it may come as no surprise that 97.4% of UC students are in-state.  After graduation, 75% of them stay in California and most work in arts industries.  Our arts grads provide unique skill sets that contribute to the rebuilding of a broken economy and the UC must continually adapt to be able to provide our students with the education and training they need to succeed.  As the only system-wide arts research unit, the UCIRA is devoting considerable effort to communicate the data from the SNAAP survey to a wider public and to integrate the outcomes of this survey into improved arts curriculum and administration.

For more information on these studies, please visit the following links:

Santa Barbara County Final Report:

 

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP):

 

Written by ZouZou Chapman
UCIRA Program Coordinator

What Do We Really Know About People Who Get Arts Degrees?

12 Jul

re-posted from http://blog.artsusa.org/

by Sally Gaskill On July – 2 – 2012

Sally Gaskill

 

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Since 2008, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) has surveyed graduates of arts training programs—people who received undergraduate and/or graduate arts degrees from colleges and universities as well as diplomas from arts high schools…people who majored in architecture, arts education, creative writing, dance, design, film, fine arts, media arts, music, theater, and more.

To date, SNAAP has collected data from over 50,000 arts graduates of all ages and nationalities. These respondents, as we call them in the survey world, graduated from nearly 250 different educational institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

In a few short years, SNAAP has become what is believed to be the largest database ever assembled about the arts and arts education, as well as the most comprehensive alumni survey conducted in any field.

Recently, we published our latest findings: A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About Their Education and Careers. The report provides findings from over 33,000 arts graduates who responded to the online survey last fall.

Our report has attracted media coverage from the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Inside Higher Ed and—we were gawked on gawker.com! My favorite may be Forbes, which compares getting an arts degree with getting a law degree—and recommends that prospective law students consider an arts career instead.

Here are some of the big questions that SNAAP data begin to answer.

1.      Where do arts graduates go?

  • First, they are largely employed. Only 4% of SNAAP respondents are unemployed and looking for work, as opposed to the national average of 8.9%.
  • 72% have worked as professional artist at some point in their career, and just over half (51%) do so currently.
  • Dance, music performance, and theater majors are the most likely to work as professional artists at some point in their careers (all at 82%). Design comes in at 81%. The lowest, not surprisingly, are arts administration (42%) and art history (30%) majors.
  • Between 10–20% of students in most arts disciplines never intended to become professional artists.

2.     What does a successful career look like? Is it all about income?

The more we learn about arts graduates, the more we confirm that there is little correlation between income satisfaction and overall job satisfaction. Sure, most of us in the arts would like to earn more, but the same can be said of doctors, lawyers, and shoe salesmen.

SNAAP data provide strong evidence that income is not the primary driver for job satisfaction for arts graduates.

  • Nine of ten (87%) arts graduates responding to the survey who are currently employed are satisfied with the job in which they spend the majority of their work time.
  • 82% are satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current job, whether working in the arts or in other fields.
  • 84% of employed respondents agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.

3.     How do outcomes differ for graduates from different arts disciplines?

One could write many blogs on this subject, so here are a few tidbits that have to do with earnings.

  • Dancers and choreographers earn the least but are most satisfied with their arts-related jobs: 97% of dancers and choreographers are satisfied with their incomes but only 9% earned more than $50,000.
  • Those graduating with a degree in architecture have the highest median income (at $55,000) while those majoring in art history, creative and other writing, dance, fine and studio art, theater, and “other” arts fields have the lowest ($35,000).
  • Sound and lighting engineers or technicians (79%) and K–12 arts educators (72%) are the most satisfied with their income while fine artists report the lowest rate of satisfaction (38%).

A view of part of the SNAAPShot interactive website.

These findings represent the tip of the iceberg. We ask arts alumni lots of questions about the skills they developed in school, how they use those skills in the workplace, and about their educational experiences. The vast majority would ‘do it again.’

Having said all that, we know that it’s essential to put our findings in context and dangerous to paint too rosy a picture. Of course, some arts graduates are employed in jobs that don’t adequately use their arts education, some suffer from heavy student debt, and some regret getting an arts degree. Many wish they had had a better education on the business of being an artist. But it’s still true that the majority are generally satisfied and happy with their life choices.

SNAAP’s primary purpose is to collect alumni data and report it back to each participating institution so they can assess and improve their curriculum, programs, and services. The deadline for institutions to participate in the 2012 survey is TODAY, July 2 (we can be somewhat flexible).

SNAAP is a big, collaborative project based at Indiana University and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt. We are advised by a terrific National Advisory Board. Everything we have accomplished to date is thanks to generous funding from Surdna Foundation, Houston Endowment, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and others. Our first-rate team, including Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann, is currently busy writing a report on the cultural workforce funded by our most recent NEA grant. (Thank you, taxpayers.)

“Like” us on Facebook and you can be among the first to learn about our latest work.

Did you get an arts degree? How does your experience fit in with our findings? If you are interested in digging in to the data, read our 2012 annual report. Play with our interactive SnaapShot. Encourage your institution to participate, so that your story can be added to those of your fellow arts graduates.

UCIRA Spotlight on Shahrokh Yadegari: Scarlet Stone

18 Apr

photo by Jim Carmody

A dazzling image emerges from Scarlet Stone, UCSD composer Shahrokh Yadegari’s fusion of music, dance, poetry, and interactive electronics. A long haired young man stands still, arms at his sides, as he is being slowly wrapped from the feet up in sheets of scarlet silk. The cloth flows from a bolt held by a woman in filmy black who declaims sonorous poetic cadences as she circles and immobilizes the anguished-faced youth.

In the ancient Persian story being told in Scarlet Stone, the young man, Sohrab—danced by Yadegari’s collaborator, French-Iranian choreographer Shahrokh Moshkin-Ghalam—is dying from a wound inflicted by his father. But another tale is being spun as well. In Yadegari’s version—based on a poem by the 20th century Iranian writer Siavash Kasrai and performed by members of the contemporary Iranian diaspora—storytellers and their subjects are engaged in a continuous dance. A hero is wrapped in the fabric of one era only to be set free to illuminate another—an image brought alive by the buoyant unfurling of the silk as Moshkin-Ghalam, left alone on the stage, whirls and whirls.

Like stories and storytellers, politics and culture are the warp and weft of Scarlet Stone. The story of Sohrab and his father Rostam was first written in Shahnameh (Tale of Kings) by the poet Ferdowsi at the end of the ninth century. Muslims had successfully invaded the kingdom of Persia two centuries earlier, and Arabic had become the dominant language. In collecting and turning into verse the tales of fifty mythic and historic kings of Persia—an enterprise that took Ferdowsi more than thirty years—he succeeded not only in creating a national epic, but in preserving the Persian language for continuing generations.

In Ferdowsi’s telling, the hero-king Rostam is wooed and seduced by the daughter of a neighboring king. She intends that their child be a force to bring their peoples together, but events conspire to separate the lovers. In time her son grows into a great warrior and is sent to battle against Rostam. The father does not recognize his son, and Sohrab receives a fatal blow

Poet Siavash Kasrai was born in 1927, two years after the Pahlevi regime took power. A leftist, he welcomed the end of the shah’s rule in 1979 but later was driven to leave the country. Mohre-ye Sorkh (Scarlet Stone), was the last poem Kasrai wrote before dying in Vienna in 1996. In his version of the ancient story, Sohrab confronts the poet Ferdowsi, demanding to know why his murderer-father seems to be the hero of the tale and what meaning his own death has in the face of his and his mother’s hopes of peace and brotherhood.

For Yadegari, Kasrai’s  poem remains a pertinent commentary on present events. Writing about his own Scarlet Stone which has been in production since the 2009 uprising in Iran, he notes: “For many years, the only option for defining a structural basis for a social or political movement was either leaning towards the left or the right. We feel the current movements in Iran, where all sections of people have come together to voice their desire for peaceful reform and freedom, are a living example of what Kasrai has presented in this work.”

One striking portrayal of changes that have already come: The roles of Ferdowsi and that of a modern storyteller in Yadegari’s production are both played by a woman, Fatemeh Habibizad (a.k.a. Gordafarid). Habibizad is recognized as modern Iran’s first female Naqqal, the name given to the professional storytellers who have, in the centuries following Ferdowsi’s writing of Shahnameh, recited its tales to rapt audiences in king’s courts and village coffeehouses—the latter, especially, a traditional male preserve.

When Habibizad as Ferdowsi in Scarlet Stone tells Sohrab that he is both responsible for his own fate and a hero to others, a story begun with the ancient oral traditions that were Ferdowsi’s sources, and shaped for the needs of fresh audiences by generations of Naqqali and poets, spirals up and outward like the scarlet silk on the performance stage. An unbroken line in a new figure.

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Ariel Swartley
San Pedro, CA
aswartley@att.net

SOTA: Report Back: Alternative Pedagogies and Uses of the University

29 Mar

SOTA: Report Back: Alternative Pedagogies  and Uses of the University

UCSD’s Sixth College Conference

Education in Action: Mobilizing the Next Generation for Social Reform

January 26, 2012

by Kim Yasuda (UCIRA Co-Director)

http://sixth.ucsd.edu/experiential-learning-conference/#more

A day-long event of concurrent panels hosted by UCSD’s Sixth College proposed numerous case studies in undergraduate and graduate education emerging out of the UCSD campus.  Cross-cutting “experiential learning’ projects from the arts, design, planning, education, media studies, STEM, social sciences and business contributed to thought sessions under an array of thematic frames, such as Public Dialogue, Digital Literacy, Global Education as well as Student Development, Business Opportunity and Campus-Community Collaboration.  Regardless of discipline, the integral role of the arts featured prominently throughout the presentations.

The conference was an outgrowth of the Sixth College Practicum ((http://sixth.ucsd.edu/) and its collaboration with campus and community partners. With close to 1,000 students engaged yearly, Sixth College Practicum promotes “civic engagement and global consciousness, satisfying general education requirements through alternative, innovative projects”.

Particularly striking and atypical of most academic conferences was the degree to which the student agency was valued as a critical part of the discourse.  Student-lead activism guides the work of Sixth College community and this was evident in the mixed panel sessions in which students, faculty, administrators and community members presented as co-investigators in research, repurposing the academic space as we know it and desperately need to rethink it.

Student presence was a primary goal for lead conference organizers, Sixth College Acting Provost and Professor of Mathematics, James Lin, Practicum Director and Diane Forbes , Director of Academic Programs, Liz Losh and Associate Director, Eliza Slavet.

The youngest of UCSD’s six college divisions, Sixth College was established in 2001 as a “21st century pedagogy” and alternative to “disciplined studies of the previous millennium”. Sixth College curriculum was designed to arm students with a distinctive skill-set in “self knowledge, technical know-how, interpersonal skills and cultural awareness” to become “effective global citizens who engage creatively and ethically with the complex issues facing the world”.

Experiential learning strategies emerging from Sixth College address the pressing need for larger institutional change on the part of the university to invest its intellectual capital beyond campus borders. Whether local or global, conceptions of classroom learning took place within vastly expanded fields, with students actively engaged in the broad and complex arena of public culture. Projects highlight student-centered research that confront emerging questions around the efficacy of current learning models in higher education, especially at a large public research university, pressed to educate its increasing and diverse California population.

Sixth College has undertaken its own ‘repurposing’ of UCSD’s existing academic structures and resources into more relevant instructional strategies. Through the College’s unique co-curricular programs, undergraduate students are encouraged to think nimbly across disciplines, while becoming “more engaged innovators within an ever-expanding global arena”.  For example, to address campus GE requirements, Sixth College Practicum courses have been combined under the CAT: Culture, Art+Technology program (http://cat.ucsd.edu/). CAT curriculum fulfills the basic writing requirement for graduation from UCSD, while providing a more relevant foundation for students to gain “an understanding of society in an integrated, interdisciplinary way”. Discussion sections of each course in the CAT program are led by graduate students from many different departments to encourage interdisciplinary discussion. Faculty are also recruited to CAT from across the disciplinary spectrum (anthropology, communication, history, literature, music, philosophy, sociology, visual arts, etc.).

As part of its expanded mission, the CAT learning model tackles research questions such as “In the 21stCentury, how do we shape the world and how does it shape us? What are the ethical questions raised by designed objects, environments and interactions? How do cultures manage change? How far back in time should we look? What forms of production and consumption do we take for granted in contemporary life? How do new solutions sometimes create new problems?”  These lines of inquiry shape CAT curriculum, programs and activities.

ARTiffact Gallery, housed in the public spaces in and around the offices of Academic programs at Sixth College, showcases works conceptually related to the courses in the CAT program.  Currently on exhibition this winter is Mapping Occupations, “an exhibition that explores our preoccupations with space through the practices of mapping, diagramming, modeling and speculating. The exhibit, curated by Associate Director, Eliza Slavet, features the work of UCSD arts faculty, Teddy Cruz, cog-nate Collective, Matthew Hebert, High Tech Media Arts program, David Kim, Stephanie Lie, The Periscope Project, Hermione Spriggs and Patricia Stone

With the support of a second UCIRA art-science planning grant for its curricular launch in the CAT program next year, “Something from Nothing: Audacious Speculations in Art, Science and Entrepreneurialism” CAT 3is a teaching-research initiative to explore “connections, overlaps and productive tensions” between conceptual/activist art, scientific research and business.

CAT program director, Liz Losh, recently appointed to UCIRA’s system wide advisory board, came to UCSD in 2010 to assume her interdisciplinary appointment as faculty and director of academic programs for Sixth College.  Teaching in 3 departments (Literature, Visual Arts, and Communications), Losh’s own research investigates multiple vectors across digital humanities, public culture, offering theoretical reflection on the role of democracy and new media.  Losh’s commitment to alternative pedagogies and creative practice translates effectively between her roles as researcher, program administrator and faculty member.

A interview with Liz Losh will be featured in an upcoming post of UCIRA’s SOTA blogpost.


Deracination, Artworld-Style (by Arlene Goldbard)

15 Nov

Deracination is a great word: it means to pull something up by the roots, to sever or isolate someone (or something) from its native culture. All week, I have been chewing on an example I encountered at last week’s arts conference, and still, I just can’t swallow it.

The meeting was convened by arts funders, part of a multimillion-dollar, multi-year initiative by the Wallace Foundation to expand participation in arts groups’ programs. It was packed in all ways: many interesting snippets of performance; human traffic jams in the lobbies and elevators; many competing sessions. Everything I heard and saw was interesting, offered by presenters who seemed both sincere and excited about what they were sharing. (Clayton Lord had an interesting take on the session I moderated, the one I referred to in my last blog.)

In the opening session, Josephine Ramirez of the James Irvine Foundation talked about a new report: Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation.

I started out as an eager listener, but quickly lost heart, and reading the report in its entirety hasn’t helped one bit. The report makes many important points, such as the essential need to see an ecology of culture, an “ecosystem” rather than isolated phenomena; but it falls far short of taking its own advice. I respect the people who commissioned and created this report, and honor their intention of deepening understanding of the phenomenon. But in some important respects, the report does the opposite.

Sometimes deracination is an intentional process—a forced assimilation that disappears troubling differences, a cleansing of certain ideas that rewrites history in favor of the authors—but I strongly doubt this was undertaken in that spirit. Instead, apparent gaps in knowledge and understanding on the part of those who commissioned and created this report were magnified into a rewriting of reality that has the unfortunate effect of severing insurgent practices from their liberatory roots.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: the way we shape our stories shapes our lives. This can be seen very clearly in the writing of history, of course, because the perspectives of victors and vanquished are so different, and by definition, the victors are more likely to shape history. The Ewe-mina of Benin, Ghana, and Togo have a proverb (loosely translated): “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always have the best part.” For the last few decades, the lions have been telling much more of the story (as haved the gazelles) in alternative histories grounded in first-person narratives that show there are many sides to truth. But not here.

The report is a thoughtful, thoroughly footnoted account of the expanding idea of participation in various art forms and practices, framed almost as reportage on an interesting new phenomenon, a “seismic shift toward a participatory arts culture” that occurs as mushrooms spring from the earth. Except for the value placed on participation itself, it is more or less value-neutral. With a few notable exceptions, the examples are drawn from the conventional artworld’s forays in recent years into expanded participation (e.g., pro-am symphony concerts, site-specific participatory dance in a museum, audience members affecting onstage action through hand-held controllers, and so on). The influences it describes—the economy, the internet and social media, a Zeitgeist of interactivity—are important, but by no means inclusive.

Here are some of the influences and concepts that aren’t explored in the narrative (a couple of these words appear just once, in a throwaway sequence): social justice; democracy; liberation; cultural development; Paulo Freire (whose analysis of speaking one’s own words in one’s own voice is a foundation for so much participatory culture); Augusto Boal (whose notion of the “spectactor” erased the theater’s fourth wall in so many places around the globe); theater for development and other forms of popular theater in Africa; and many, many, many others.

When I start mentally building my own list of inventors and formative influences on an expanding “participatory arts culture,” it is crowded with work from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. There are interesting examples in the report, but they are almost all from North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and overwhelmingly depict largely white organizations (while still omitting even from those categories most of the important work grounded in social justice: what about Roadside Theater’s systematic development of story circle-based participatory theater? What about the influential People’s Portrait Projects devised by Jubilee Arts in the West Midlands of Britain, and their many successors?). The Irvine report doesn’t purport to offer an exhaustive history, but it also omits present-day work that derives from these innovative, social justice-grounded projects.

It is more than a simple omission to elide huge categories of essential influence and innovation that include the lions and gazelles of the story, such as the aforementioned African popular theater, or the great and enormously influential Philippines Educational Theater Association.

But the real problem is the report’s failure to tell the deeper (and far more useful and enlightening) story behind the erosion of the barrier between artist and audience: how the evolution of meaningful participation, collaboration, and co-creation are all rooted in decades of brilliant, critical thinking and dedicated practice by artists working for deep democracy, social justice, and the development of community through collective solutions driven by those most directly affected by social problems; and how those artists and those they influenced are continuing to practice and expand this work today. The report leaves out the pioneers of participatory art, the people who were actually doing the types of work described long before the cited exemplars discovered it, indeed, whose R&D made much of the cited work possible.

I have been writing and speaking for a long time about the danger in focusing on participatory practices as techniques without understanding why to use them. (For example, in a 2008 study of higher education for community cultural development, I wrote of “concern about the degree to which techniques are taught without reference to the social-justice roots of community cultural development practice, to the deepest reasons to deploy those techniques.”)

A footnote to the Irvine report regrets “the omission of many, many excellent programs that will surface after this paper is released.” But of course, those programs have been in plain sight all the time for those aware of the current scope and history of participatory work through community arts; the community murals movement; the many worlds of social issue-based practice; theater for development and Boal-inspired theater in the developing world; and much, much, more. The heavy reliance on secondary sources—academics and researchers studying phenomena, with few primary accounts by practitioners and participants—means that much of the report redigests material that has already been processed through someone else’s filters, dimming the picture. When I look at the sources and informants cited, I can only surmise that gaps in the commissioners’ or creators’ own knowledge, understanding, and networks created the yawning gaps evident in the result.

A classic focus-group exercise illustrates this. Shown a picture of sick cattle in a field, people are asked how the animals got that way. People say that the farmer has neglected the cows’ nutrition, or a virus has gotten into the animals’ food or water. Then the picture is enlarged to show a factory just beyond the farm, belching black smoke and effluent. Suddenly, larger answers emerge. The way we frame our stories matters greatly.

Intentional or not, omitting all the things I’ve mentioned is not a minor oversight, but a severing of the roots of these practices akin to “The Jefferson Bible,” in which Thomas Jefferson excised all references to the divine and supernatural to achieve an account of Jesus’s teachings severed from the source to which Jesus attributed them. It makes me sad.

Now the people who commissioned and created this report really need to find a way to fix this—at the very least, through a meaty, substantial addendum to the report—before this distortion of reality becomes the definitive story for people who don’t have a way to know better.

The great Andy Bey on the necessity of critical reading:“It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

 

Visit Arlene’s blog: http://arlenegoldbard.com/

 

 

Anastasia Hill: Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism

8 Nov

Arguably, a psychonaut is anyone who’s ever experienced REM sleep—or more particularly, anyone who’s tried to pinpoint the coordinates of a city they’ve only visited in dreams. The term psychonaut, or mind-sailor, seems to have been first used–-admiringly—in a 1970 essay by Ernst Jünger on drugs and inebriation. Efforts to categorize and codify routes to trance states, however, date to early Buddhist and Hindu texts and possibly to the walls of pre-historic caves. They encompass philosophical investigations of Greek drama and laboratory attempts to discover why—physiologically speaking—Jimi Hendrix might have seen a purple haze and not an olive green one.

The course readings for Anastasia Yumeko Hill’s Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism (UCSB, Winter 2011) for the most part span only the 19th  through 21st centuries —an exception is Euripides’ Bacchae. But they cover the exploration of deliberately altered consciousness from a number of compass points: art, philosophy, chemistry, psychoanalysis, cybernetics, anthropology, spirituality, and media studies. To name some. Among the syllabus authors: sociologist/critic Walter Benjamin, dolphin researcher John C Lilly, painter and media artist Teresa Wennberg, and Zen Buddhist abbot Joan Halifax.

The kind of paradox encountered when the mind tries to study itself was elegantly stated by Benjamin in his 1929 essay, Surrealism (one of the course readings) “The most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance.”  Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism attempted both—pairing class discussion of “Trance and Form,” “Intoxication and Surrealism” and “Psychotechnology” with field trips to a variety of immersive experiences including a ritual sweat in a traditional sweat lodge and an acoustic sound bath in the Integraton, a geo-magnetically enhanced wooden dome built on the edge of the Mojave desert by aircraft mechanic turned ufologist George Van Tassel.

Hill’s survey of Psychonautic literature begins with psychedelic pioneers Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzger who faced a paradox similar to those Benjamin described when trying to program an LSD experience. A subject might have difficulty remembering an intention, or balk when reminded by the bodiless head of Ishtar. Altered realities demand altered language: Leary and his colleagues found it in Tibetan Book of the Dead whose specialized vocabulary reinforced the idea of trip as initiation. Hill pairs them with contemporary writers–Technosis author and Wired contributor Erik Davis (“Spiritual Cyborg”) and UCSD new media theorist, Lev Manovich—who look to digital paradigms to suggest broader questions of aesthetics, perception, and social reality.

Fittingly the course finale was an outdoor festival in Isla Vista—attended, Hill says, by about 200 people. The 19 students, whose backgrounds included film and media, art, philosophy, and environmental studies, presented group projects oriented around themes covered during the semester: Dionysia, 19th century Mesmerism, Surrealism, Psychedelia, and Techno-Spiritualism. The idea, Hill says, was to “give a sense of how we experience and construct meaning around culturally and historically specific variations” of altered consciousness.

Drawing on writing by Edgar Allen Poe and working  with a student outside the course who practices hypnotism, the Mesmer group “reproduced Mesmer’s salon wherein ‘patients’ could receive treatment from a hypnotist accompanied by two of the students dressed in 19th century garb. They also created an oversized see-saw with a large mirror erected in the center, blocking each see-sawer’s view of the other and creating a very disorienting spacial experience.”

The festival also had a guest star, artist Gary Hill.  In a workshop with students before the event he showed a piece of his concurrent NYC exhibition of surf, death, tropes & tableaux: The Psychedelic Gedankenexperiment—an installation of sculpture, painting and manipulated video, accompanied by mediated viewing devices. Gary Hill, a pioneer of new media art and “electronic linguistics” is also Anastasia’s father. As a girl she appeared in some of his works. In a time-honored generational reversal– though one that almost always involves some alteration of consciousness—he now appeared in hers. At the festival he performed sound and voice improvisations to student videos and invited visitors to experiment with handheld wands that transform the user’s gestures into a remotely synthesized music.

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Catherine Liu: Learning From Irvine

2 Nov

In 1972 “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” was filmed at UC Irvine—an apt choice not only because William Pereira, chief architect of  newly-built campus-on-a-hill, was a sometime Hollywood art director. To many, the movie’s scenes of shaggy but kindly-eyed slave-apes toiling in a landscape of stark modernist monoliths encapsulated a popular view of the campus and its surrounding community. Irvine was synonymous with sterile corporate planning, and both the university architecture and the Irvine corporation’s policies were seen as hostile to freedom and creativity along with unkempt appearances.

According to Catherine Liu, UCI professor of Film & Media Studies, that view has not changed much. “Usually people denigrate the plannedness of this community,” she says. “I find it visually not very stimulating, and it’s also kind of awful the way the Irvine company controls things. But you have to keep in mind that there’s a definite utopian aspiration—for green spaces, for public spaces. There’s a lot more park space and natural landscape here than in, say, Newport Beach And the vision that we have of homogeneity is really wrong. It’s become one of the most diverse small cities in America—because of the changing immigrant population.”

1972 was also the year that architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour first published Learning from Las Vegas, the book that inspired Liu’s and Cole Aker’s project, Learning from Irvine. Like the book’s authors, who carefully examined that most maligned and ubiquitous Western landscape, the roadside commercial strip—and suspended the usual judgments about visual clutter and vulgar ornamentation in order to understand how and why these features functioned—Liu’s ongoing  project takes a closer look at the supposedly bland or creepily authoritarian landscapes of suburban Orange County.

“Certain things shape the way Irvine looks,” Liu says. “The demise of the city and the rise of suburbia has often been deplored as the demise of the intellectual and the rise of the organization man. But if you actually look at the 50s and 60s—at the popular discourse as well as the academic discourse–there’s a lot of fear about conformity. Irvine is usually seen as a space designed for the white-collar worker -conformist, but I’m really interested in how and why there’s this incredibly robust support for a public university at this site, during the same period.”

Learning from Irvine grew out of Liu’s own interdisciplinary interests. She names post-1945 American intellectual history, the history of built environments, corporate modernism, visual studies. “And institutional history—that has been the basis of a lot of my work for the past 5 years, including the more political work I’ve done about defending public and higher education.” There was a time, she says  “when the public university actually stood on the side of the people of California, and it seems as if that has been sundered. I’m interested to see if we can read some of these histories against the grain.”

Among the things Liu is looking at in examining the Irvine Master Plan, and its early architects, Pereira and David Neuman, are “the ways in which we erase local histories” Part of her inspiration, she says comes from Joan Didion’s Where I Was From,  particularly  the essays about de-industrialization in Orange County, and California’s inability to think about itself as a place with a history.

For its first event, in April 2010, Learning from Irvine brought Neuman, now campus architect at University of Virginia back to Orange County for a talk titled “Learning from Denise, Bob, and Bill: A UCI Lesson.” Neuman, who was UCI’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Planning in the 1980s, commissioned buildings by well known innovators including Venturi (the Bob of his lecture) and Frank Gehry.

“These architecture-driven projects were deeply related to William Pereira’s buildings,” Liu says. “Neuman and Pereira both felt that architecture is meant to serve but at the same time Neuman was willing to give these young architects a chance to design something that would be challenging.”

One way he was able to relate the buildings—and perhaps cushion the challenge–was with green space. “Neuman,” Liu says, “spent probably a lot of his budget on landscaping and creating a context for his buildings.“ Nonetheless, the Gehry building he commissioned is a prime example of erased history. It was torn down in 2007, not quite two decades after it was built.

UCI has had only three chief architects in its fifty years, but that’s been ample time for styles and approaches—corporate modernism,  post-modernism, contextualism—to fall in and out of repute. Looking back at the building of the campus, Liu sees connections that haven’t always been recognized. Neuman and Pereira, she says, “defined a sense of the active, participatory white collar worker, someone who’s trying to forge aesthetically challenging, architecturally challenging spaces in this public university. That architectural vision—maybe it shapes a sense of visual conformity, but it also shapes challenges to and anxieties about visual conformity and large organizations. That’s something my students and I are really interested in”

Irvine’s unexpected challenges to visual conformity are also the subject of an exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum this fall: Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California 1964-1971. For artists including Robert Irwin, Craig Kaufman, and Frank Stella, the campus frequently dismissed as a corporate monolith served instead as a blank canvas. Located, Eden-like, far from the art world’s hubs—and blessed with California light and clothing-optional weather–it offered an ideal experimental climate. In their work of the period, materials, surface, line and political engagement took unexpected and influential directions.

Liu sees the exhibit tying in with Learning from Irvine’s investigation of what actually happened on campus in its earliest days. Partnering with the museum, the project will present films in the Humanities Gateway building’s McCormick screening. room by two of the exhibit’s artists: Richard Newton—whose performances and installations create luminous landscapes from stale bread or motel bathrooms–and Gary Beydler who turned familiar L.A. icons –freeways, the Venice pier—into lingering mysteries.  “The campus is not very accessible or open to outsiders,” Liu says, “so this seemed like a natural fit. Laguna Museum of Art has no screening facility, and we have this new bijou theatre”

Asked if her project’s various aspects can be described as “proximity studies,”—a term current in  several disciplines including art, physics, social science, and real estate—Liu  explains: “For me it’s better to think of it as local histories, institutional histories, political discourse–these are things that have been motivating me, and I think proximity studies is just a summary of all that. It translates into artistic practice. I’m not an artist and we’re not necessarily an arts organization, but we definitely have this very powerful interdisciplinary project. I like to  understand it as the organization of spaces and the organization of histories.“

The goal, she says, is not only establishing better links between the academic world and other overlapping communities, but identifying “what it is we’re defending when we’re defending public higher education and public space.”

From Spanish Land Grant to cattle baron fiefdom to embattled family trust to Donald Bren’s sole ownership, Irvine-the- acreage has a complicated history. “One of the things that Joan Didion points out” Liu says, “is that unlike the big ranch owners of Santa Barbara, the Irvine family never sold off its land piecemeal. This is why it was able to control this area of Orange County–because it kept it in the family. And now its president and CEO Donald Bren is one of the biggest donors to UCI. This has huge problems, but at the same time you have to look at the history of US philanthropy. If we de-fund public universities, these kinds of figures will have much more power in the future. But to say that it’s all bad is to forget the history of why the Irvine family gave this land to the state for a dollar so the UC could build a campus here.”

“I’m not defending the Irvine corporation, but I am saying that planning might allow for positive use of public spaces and preservation. Ever since there were these disastrous public housing projects built in the 50s, The trend in urban studies has been has been to denounce planning. To see it as the will of the elite being imposed on people. My question would be—what if there were a collective agency that had the power of the Irvine corporation to actually think through multiple needs, the uses of space. And to not go through these ad hoc reactive processes by which most of L.A. has been planned—or unplanned? What if we put the Irvine company aside and thought about a public agency, or  about a collective sense of the big picture?”

What if California reinvented itself instead of its history?

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Ken Rogers: Off Peak:

27 Oct

In 1924 when oil was discovered in Los Angeles’s Baldwin Hills, the city’s westward expansion was just getting underway, and the community of Inglewood, lying southeast of the oil field, was said to be the fastest growing city in the US. Fast but not crowded: Its biggest industry was chinchilla farming. Within a year the oil field was in peak production, its crumpled hills lined with bird-like pump jacks.

 

By 2000 the flow of oil and populations had reversed. The Inglewood field was a dusty hole in a donut of mostly residential development. Well production had dwindled and plans were laid for many of its 1000-plus acres to be reclaimed as parkland. It was a tantalizing prospect, as UCR’s Ken Rogers writes in Off Peak, the collaborative public practice project he’s organized around the oilfield debate. A giant swath of accessible open space would occupy “an elevated geological peak located at the geographic center of the city of Los Angeles.”

 

Instead, the flow reversed again. PXP, the site’s operator, used new prospecting methods to map access to deep reserves in a 21 square mile area. The discovery coincided with the rise in oil prices which led Los Angeles County to ignore plans for the park and permit 600 new wells. One result of the drilling was the venting of fumes that forced the evacuation of surrounding communities.

 

Rogers’ initial involvement with the oilfield was personal. As a resident of an affected neighborhood, he attended meetings that brought together various streams: concerned citizens, environmentalists and community activists. In 2006 a coalition of these group sued PXP and the County, charging violations of environmental standards. As the suit meandered through the courts, Rogers saw an opportunity to support the coalition in a more formal way, through his work with artists using collaborative strategies.

 

He invited Bulbo, a Tijuana, and now Los Angeles, media collective, to create a video documentary about neighborhood response to the oilfields. Bulbo’s methodology is participatory rather than distanced. For a piece about traditional Mexican pottery making, Rogers says, members of collective lived with the potters for several months. Community access to the finished product is not only via internet. In Mexico their videos are screened and distributed in local market stalls, racked beside pirated Hollywood films and telenovelas. Shooting a series of workshops and conversations at various locations around the Baldwin Hills, Bulbo has worked to create a record that will become part of the oilfield neighbors’ own history of themselves. Community screenings are planned for the end of the year.

 

Events took another turn this July when the lawsuit was settled, forcing PXP to drill fewer new wells Oil production, however, will continue until 2028, delaying park plans for decades. What happens in the meantime is the subject of Roger’s next planned event, Off Peak: Reclaiming the Baldwin Hills. The day-in-the-field, which includes an urban hike and a roundtable discussion, will look at means of sustaining the community that Inglewood field unintentionally created.

 

Participants bring expertise with different models of engagement. As a founding member of Los Angeles Urban Rangers, the hike’s leader, Sara Daleiden, creates guides and tools, including walking tours that foster a direct experience of the city’s landscape, both natural and cultural. Lark Galloway-Gilliam grew up in South Los Angeles, the area of the city surrounding the oilfields, and is executive director of Community Health Councils, an organization that advocates for consumer rights, public accountability, and quality healthcare for all residents. Bill Kelley jr. is an art historian, teacher, curator, and critic, whose fields include contemporary Latin American and collaborative art.

 

Fittingly, this art-health-environment colloquy—Rogers calls it a think-tank—will conduct its discussion at the Baldwin Hills Conservancy’s Scenic Overlook, the one piece of the envisioned great park that has materialized. From this green vantage point, with it views to mountains and sea, Rogers hopes a new kind of community action will arise. Instead of finding common ground in being against something, Rogers says, “there’s now the possibility of being for something. There’s the possibility of city residents taking ownership of their immediate environment.”

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 4)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

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Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their persepctives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

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PART IV

UCIRA: Jeff, you recently had a project funded on Kickstarter. Can you talk a bit about your experiences with the process?

Jeff: My campaign was for a project that I am still working on called Unlogo, and I actually started it twice.  It is going to be a community-driven video filtering service that filters logos out of videos. The first time it failed, but right after it ended, it was picked up by BoingBoing and a bunch of people contacted me saying that they wanted to support it, so I relaunched it. I felt weird about this because I thought it kind of betrayed the “all or nothing” spirit of Kickstarter, but I did it anyway.

My experience actually wasn’t ideal, but it was my own fault.  As you probably know, on Kickstarter you are encouraged to offer a range or prizes to contributors at different levels — kind of like an NPR pledge drive. I offered prizes like a simple credit on the site, t-shirt, stickers, to a private lesson in computer vision.  I had contributors at every level – I think close to 200 in all.  So I ended up spending over half of the money on the prizes that I had promised to people. So I didn’t really make enough to fund the project, but it did raise the visibility of the project quite a bit and generally got people talking about it, so that helped me in other tangible ways.

The biggest benefit, I think, was the inspiration that came from tons of strangers getting behind my idea.

UCIRA: You also responded to Steve’s question of a few weeks ago with the observation that Kickstarter (and others) may be introducing the concept of support for the arts to a whole new group of people. Who do you imagine this new group to be and how might their participation in arts funding change things?

Jeff:  I’m not sure I have any idea. In my case, I think it was mostly Vimeo and BoingBoing readers, but I don’t know how to generalize that for crowdfunding in general. But in terms of my comments about Steve’s purposefully inflammatory statement (Steve is good at that – like Fox News good), I think I was mostly just conforming to a reputation that I have worked to cultivate with Steve as a pro Internet flame-warrior and arguing against the absurdity of the proposition. To propose that people who contribute their own money to art projects are supporting some right-wing de-funding agenda is like saying that doctors who volunteer in clinics are supporting lack of universal health care. There is no causality there at all, and no proof offered. I don’t think Kickstarter is perfect. I think that it is a great idea, and I know that it has made lots of projects possible that otherwise wouldn’t have been, but in the end, it didn’t really do much for me. It was the statement itself that made me feel the need to defend crowdfunding.

UCIRA: Dan, since UCIRA initially funded your project Who’s Hungry West Hollywood (with Dan Hurlin), you’ve expanded the project to other cities, and have raised a considerable amount of money to support your work. I want to list the funders you credit on your website as introduction to my first question to you (see below). My sense is that individual artists are often in the position of having to raise little sums of money from a great many funders in order to see their work through to completion. Does this list represent the usual scope of fundraising you do in order to see a project happen? How much of your time and creative energy is spent on capital- as opposed to creative development?

Dan: Yes, artists are most often forced to slice the revenue pie into slender pieces.  Still, I firmly believe (and I tell my students and anyone who will listen) that there is enough money out there to fund projects.  Because I have been building this project over a number of iterations for several years, I have gotten better at articulating it to funders (though apparently not to presenters!). At the same time, the project has been building its own archive, and so appears to be more and more substantial, which seems to attract attention.  So, yes, this is the usual scope of grants that I apply for, but the percentage of successful proposals is getting larger and larger.  In addition to the reasons I stated above, I also think that I stumbled into a project that touches a lot of funders’ missions at this cultural moment, whose themes include community engagement, interdisciplinarity, food scarcity, and oral narratives.  I would say my time is pretty evenly split between ‘capital,’ as you say, and studio practice.  But those two things are not, of course, mutually exclusive.  I feel strongly that there is intrinsic value in every proposal, as each different one forces you to consider the value of your project from different perspectives.  The big problem for me is that I haven’t found a way to do both at the same time: to the extent that they are separate activities, they are in conflict with each other.

[the list] The National Endowment for the Arts, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, UCLA Center for Community Partnership, Southwest Oral History Association, MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Music scores commissioned by Meet The Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund.

UCIRA:  You were also recently invited to participate in United States Artists projects. Can you talk a bit about your experience with using this mechanism to fund your work in comparison to some of the others listed above?

Dan: I came to US Artists Project Site through my collaborator, Dan Hurlin, who is a US Artists fellow.  USA invited Dan to participate in the site, and he chose to raise funds for Who’s Hungry.  The system was (is?) still in its beta phase, and was not particularly user-friendly.  It took a long time to figure out how to set it up and operate it.  Dan and I chose to raise a small amount ($3,000). Somewhere along the way, we both were given the impression that this is what was expected of us.  Now, of course, I wish we had set a higher goal, as the $3,000 was easily reached.

Interestingly, my participation in the site attracted a lot of attention, way out of proportion to the amount we raised.  It seemed to be very well publicized; USA made excellent use of social media networking in this regard.

One really good thing about this site and others like it is that it is as much about developing and maintaining relationships around the work as it is about fundraising.  The maintenance part of that equation takes a good deal of work, ongoing, and it’s easy (in my case, for instance) to start out keeping those connections warm and then over the subsequent weeks and months allowing them to cool.

In a way, these kinds of sites are a logical extension of the ‘personal appeal’ letter that many artists send out in November/December of most years.  I think it’s a great way of asking yourself what the value of your work is to the communities it serves.  I also think that donor fatigue is no longer the exclusive province of the rich.  As Kickstarter-type sites have proliferated, they have democratized the field, so that anyone can easily and legitimately ask for funding at any time.  And anyone can be asked – and more and more often are.

UCIRA: After looking over the campaigns launched on various microfunding sites, it seems like artists are asked to present (even sell) their work very differently than they would to secure other sorts of funding. Do you agree? How do you feel about asking for money in this way? 

Dan: I don’t think so.  Like I say, it’s an extension of an existing practice that artists have been doing for a long time.  Personally, I tend to be very circumspect when it comes to this kind of direct fundraising.  I want to communicate to individual donors that I only ask when I feel it’s very important, and when their contribution will mean the most.  So, I feel perfectly fine about asking for support, because I will only do so when I truly believe the project deserves it – and can articulate why it does.

Jeff: My work is in a space between technology and art that a lot of traditional grant institutions usually don’t respond very well to.  I’ve only applied for a few traditional art grants in my lifetime, so I’m not sure I’m an expert, but I *always* feel like I am selling myself. I actually think it’s worse in traditional arts grants because you have to conform to the taste of a particular panel of judges. For instance, Rhizome and Turbulence are very different than NYFA and NYSCA, which means that you have to frame the same work differently. At least on the Internet you can be pretty sure that your work is going to appeal to someone out there. Although I toned down the nerdiness a bit in my Kickstarter campaign, I was more or less myself and just described the project as I would to a friend. It’s just a matter of finding the right community.

UCIRA:  Another characteristic of these kinds of campaigns is an attempt, at least, at relationship-building with donors who give at higher levels through the promise of continued communication about the project, or some kind of promotional schwag, from totebags to signed editions. What was your experience with this element of the process ? Did it (as some say it is supposed to do) build a better ‘fan base’, audience or community for your project?

Dan: It was definitely fun to imagine what might be a ‘reward’ for funders at different levels.  In the end, not so fun to follow through!  But people responded to the premiums.  Again, I think there is intrinsic value in providing swag for people.  It’s another way to brand yourself, and I don’t mean that cynically…. I am [also] still playing catch-up on this!  I’m not proud of this.  I’m interested to know if other artists find themselves in the same boat.  It may be a generational thing, in part, as well.  I’m still a neophyte when it comes to social media networking, and I find it difficult to be consistent.

Jeff:  I didn’t much care for this element of Kickstarter.  I am a very slow worker, and I didn’t want to feel like the donors were waiting by their computers for status updates.  And as I mentioned above, the prizes nearly broke the bank.  It was [also] a bad fit for me because I wasn’t making anything physical. I had to go out of my way to get t-shirts and USB drives printed and all that.  It did build a kind of fan base, though.  I actually ended up getting a completely separate grant from someone at the UN who found out about the project through Kickstarter for twice as much as my original campaign.

UCIRA:  I think that the situation of the artist working in the Academy is quite different from those who make their living through the market. How does the academic focus on research and practice fit with the hybrid nature of mechanisms like USA projects or Kickstarter? Is there a qualitative difference in finding one’s funding in this way as opposed to being funded through a non-profit or with government support?   

Dan:  I don’t find a huge qualitative difference in these different funding mechanisms.  Frankly, I try to keep my work in the university and my work in the non-profit sector separate as much as possible.  In general, I don’t feel it enhances my image as an independent artist to be associated with a university.  If anything, university funding is often the most difficult to deal with, as it is generally more restricted than foundation or government grants, and it is extremely difficult to pay out expenses through our department.

UCIRA:  One argument that has been made about this kind of group arts funding is that what will emerge at the end is a watered-down version of culture – that with ‘the masses’ deciding who gets funding and who doesn’t, more experimental and risk-taking work will go undone. Thoughts?  

Thuy: That argument is understandable and one that was considered very seriously during the research and development phase of USA Projects. In creating a micro-philanthropy platform, it was critical for us that caliber of artistic quality remained consistently high while being accessible to people everywhere. We believe that the vetting process ensures this level of quality and excellence. It takes the guesswork out of crowdfunding.

This platform allows artists the flexibility to do experimental and risky-taking work because they are not using traditional fundraising sources. New York filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris raised $11,500 to complete his documentary connecting the Black civil rights movement with the gay and lesbian marriage equality movement. Los Angeles furniture designer Tanya Aguiñiga raised more than $8,000 to launch Artists Helping Artisans, a collaboration with artisans in Chiapas, Mexico, whose craft traditions are at risk. Jim Woodring, a pen and ink cartoonist, manufactured a giant seven-foot-long steel dip pen and penholder. Jim mastered the mechanics of operating the pen—which weighs 30 pounds—at public demonstrations in Seattle.

Online fundraising also leverages the immediacy of the Internet. Zoe Strauss, a photographer in Philadelphia, raised over $5,000 for On the Beach, a photo series documenting the people and places affected by the Gulf Oil Spill. Zoe raised the money in just 4 days! Had she proposed funding for this project from an organization, it would have most likely taken much longer.

With USA Projects, artists can also raise money for different stages of a project. This provides valuable assistance at the naissance period. Success is more than just getting funding–it also means seeing the development of fresh ideas. Mickael Broth, a visual artist and writer, is currently seeking funding for the development phase of a print memoir about his time incarcerated for graffiti vandalism. It’s a story of art, graffiti, the legal system, and about taking risks in the pursuit of making art.

Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On the Ice is the first feature-length fiction film made in Alaska by an Iñupiaq writer/director with an entirely Inuit cast. Andrew successfully raised funds to help get the film to the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered this year. He was able to bring the actors down from Alaska, pay for food and lodging, and hire a publicist. Additionally, the Rasmuson Foundation generously matched the funds he raised.

Dan:  I don’t think that this kind of funding replaces, in theory or practice, the need for traditional funding in the arts.  And it doesn’t seem to me that the stakes are high enough to effect culture with a capital ‘C’.  I think the benefits of engagement outweigh the possible risks. However, I feel much more ambivalent about things like the A.W.A.R.D. show, in which live audiences decide who among a small group of artist who perform that evening get $10,000 of somebody else’s money.  That kind of competition sets up winners and losers and does not, I think, build community.

Jeff:  I think this is a kind of zero-sum view.  There was this idea that was brought up on Facebook that institutions (I like to imagine personified as a moustachioed fat guy in a top hat) would look at Kickstarter and feel better about cutting his contributions to the arts, but this is a made-up narrative. I haven’t come across any proof that crowdfunding sites are contributing in any way to the decrease of institutional grant giving.  And even if they were, it completely ignores the intention of the people contributing to crowdsourcing sites.  Rather than wasting energy blaming well-meaning people for contributing money to art projects that inspire them, wouldn’t it be better to think about how individuals and institutions can work together to find some model that allows both kinds of giving?

I’d also take issue with the fact that “the masses” never support experimental and risky ideas, or that grant-giving institutions always do.  At the risk of just sounding like a naive/bitter loser, I’ve had projects turned down by art institutions and been personally informed that it was for insurance reasons (a ParkingDay idea involving launching people into the air), because it wasn’t appropriate for children (Laborers of Love – a crowdsourced porn creation site).  I’ve had others that I think are strong ideas, but that I haven’t bothered to submit because they are legally dubious (DeleteCity – saves deleted YouTube videos), or it would be offensive to donors/board members (Praying@Home/GodBlock – critical of religion).  Kickstarter wouldn’t necessarily be constrained by these issues.

UCIRA:  I am also wondering what the proliferation of this kind of funding model might mean when we think about issues of sustainability. At UCIRA, we modeled our grants partially on what Creative Capital has tried to do – thinking through what our particular set of artists might need in order to support the life of their projects. We were tired of just writing checks and sending people on their way. Not that I think we have come up with an answer, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on question of arts funding and sustainability.  

Thuy: Unfortunately, government arts funding will always have its limitations with budget deficits. At United States Artists, a robust organization is envisioned with a 100+ year horizon, providing artists’ significant resources to do their work.  To meet this goal, USA hopes to permanently endow the USA Fellows program with $50 million. To date, $9 million has been raised toward the goal.

Dan:  I think that what UCIRA and Creative Capital are up to addresses the issue of sustainability much more than social media micro-funding.  I see the latter as one very small – and very positive -piece of the puzzle, but not one that can or should be relied on in an ongoing way.  I think that the model of combining non-monetary support with funding does a much better job.

 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 3)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their perspectives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

********

PART III

UCIRA:  What kids of shifts might we see in terms of the kinds of research, work, projects supported in this emerging funding climate? i.e. do you see a demonstrable difference in the kind of support offered through governmental versus private avenues?

Steve:  You’re asking about what kinds of projects will get supported and if that will change, but I am going to expand your question to both projects and the processes involved at the artist level and beyond.

First, I need to acknowledge the many advantages of crowdfunding because they are significant. For someone with a great idea and little track record crowdfunding can be incredible. I remember how hard it was for me in 2000, without even a complete slide sheet, trying to prove to a foundation that I could pull off an ambitious project. When an organization is fronting $12,000 dollars, they want to make sure it won’t be wasted. As a newcomer, this barrier can be discouraging. Crowdfunding gives more people access because arguably all you need is a good idea and the ability to communicate it well.

For me, I’ve been claiming ‘artist’ on my taxes since 2000. That’s 11 years of hustling, from being a newcomer, bending over backwards proving myself, and advancing to where I turn down opportunities I would have fought for in years prior. Having been through a variety of positions and situations, I like that I can sidestep the demands of the bureaucracy (the California Arts Council application process was the most elaborate I’ve ever navigated) and instead make a video, go straight to my base, and raise the money more quickly. That’s good.

Part of your question touches on a idea that ‘appealing to the masses’ for funding would mean that projects chasing the lowest common denominator will be successful, but I don’t believe art will follow the path of reality television. People are very smart, are able to learn, and have a variety of interests. Crowdfunding allows niche creators to find the niche audiences who love them.

I believe that what is funded depends much more on how well the artist can communicate why they are passionate about the project and why people should care. Ironically, this very thing is what I’m convinced destroyed the NEA. The NEA wasn’t able to communicate the value of funding artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley, and Andres Serrano. These were artists who made groundbreaking work, but had no place in the market. They deserved to be supported by the government because the market never supports such challenging, but valuable work. (See my video on why public funds should be used to support artwork that may be considered offensive:

( http://visitsteve.com/made/video-for-power-taboo-and-the-artist/)

Setting aside my skepticism I read an amazing interview were Serrano explained ‘Piss Christ’ in his own words. I was completely won over. I went from a skeptic to now advocating for Serrano when he comes up in conversations. This direct communication from the artist that turns the viewer into a supporter is exactly what happens in a Kickstarter video! The same communication with the audience doesn’t happen when the artist is isolated in their studio and issued a check. The viewer isn’t as likely to become an advocate.

So I’m not concerned about the quality or types of projects supported with this funding model. I think this is where public funding could learn a lot when if we could plan a successful hybrid.

However, focusing on the funding of projects is a mistake.

A friend argued that this direct funding meant that artists receive a higher percentage of the resources. They argued the bureaucracy of arts organizations is inefficient, stating only [fill in some horrifying percentage] reaches the actual artists. I won’t argue that any given arts organization couldn’t be more efficient. It probably could, but that argument is a red herring. Let me explain.

As artists, our job is to make art. If you make your living as one, you know being an artist is less hanging out at cafés and ruminating on the way the light lands on your danish and much more similar to managing the day to day operations of a one person small business. You are responsible for everything. Arts organizations and their ‘bureaucracy,’ when at their best, take some of these burdens away so artists can make art. I might need to get to a different location to focus on a new important project. A residency program, with all its overhead, helps do that. If I want to have an exhibition, I’ll need to work with a gallery, with all its overhead. The non-profit galleries and residency programs that receive NEA funds help artists accomplish things we couldn’t do on our own. In fact, some take on securing funding for our projects so we don’t have to – lets not forget fundraising is a lot of work and most of us would rather be in the studio.

Public funding doesn’t only mean supporting artists and projects financially, but supporting an arts infrastructure that is needed and wanted, but can’t exist in a strictly capitalist system.

If we move further towards privatized funding and crowdfunding, what happens to the infrastructure? I’ll gladly throw in a few dollars for an exciting project through crowdfunding, but what about a roof repair?

Art requires public funding because art simply doesn’t exist exclusively in the marketplace. Republican leaders and libertarian ideologues see things that don’t thrive under capitalism as weak, unnecessary, or inherently unpopular. We know this isn’t true, they’re simply using the wrong lens to look at the problem.

So why accept a perspective we know is false?

It’s time to create a vision, taking the best from every model, and work toward our ideals. Caring about culture means effectively communicating it’s value. It means engaging power by working to tax the wealthy and corporations at pre-Reagan rates and working to cut defense spending. It means advocating for, increasing, and securing public funding for the arts and our arts infrastructure now and for the future. It means instead of settling for short-term solutions, pushing to make our dreams reality.

 

CONTINUE READING: CLICK FOR PART 4

 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 2)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their persepctives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

PART II:

UCIRA: Steve, I contacted you about this topic after you made the observation that crowdfunding essentially equates to artists support for right wing tax cuts. Can you expand on this idea a bit?

Steve: In George H. W. Bush’s 1989 presidential campaign he began using the phrase ‘the thousand points of light.’ In his inauguration speech he explained the thousand points of light are ‘all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. [?] The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.’

Well that sounds good. It means community and supporting each other, I am for that. But I’d argue George H. W. Bush didn’t mean it exactly like I do. When George H.W. Bush talked about a thousand points of light, it led directly into talk about ‘balancing’ the federal budget – or, to cut to the chase, continuing the Reagan administration’s policy of smaller government. The idea being: when we cut government spending, everything will be just fine because all those wonderful community organizations and charitable people, the thousand points of light, will sweep in. Government programs aren’t needed because volunteers will do the work.

This brings me to my fear: how is what the right wing dreamed of years ago different than what we celebrate as crowd-funding today? The NEA hasn’t funded individual artists since the early 1990s and state art budgets are getting cut in record numbers to record lows. Kansas recently cut its arts funding entirely. On the other hand, Kickstarter has moved $60,000,000 for over 10,000 projects since it’s launch just a few years ago.

As someone who’s personally created various crowd-funding strategies and campaigns, I know from experience this support comes primarily from our own networks. While we individually route our money (perhaps losing some to Amazon.com along the way) to help support each other, public funding could use one dollar per taxpayer to each year quintuple the amount Kickstarter has distributed since it began. Even more if we taxed corporations at the rate we did a few decades ago. Don’t we all agree this form of ‘crowd-sourcing’ is less of a burden on our already strained communities and a better use of our state funds?

We’re artists. We’re independent, creative, and resourceful. When we see a problem, we find ways to solve it. But instead of using our skills to engage power and secure public funding of the arts for now and the future, we’ve accepted the right-wing paradigm and started working within it.

 

And we’ve done a great job. Crowdfunding is remarkable in solving short term problems: artists need to get paid, our culture needs (and clearly wants) these projects to exist, we want to participate in a community. But how are we solving our long term problems – our government should truly be a representation, a reflection of us as a people and support culture instead of conflict, artists instead of bankers – when looking at the much bigger picture, is crowdfunding exacerbating those long-term problems and enabling us to move government further from our ideals?

As crowdfunding solves the short term problem so well, does it pacify our outrage at the defunding of the arts and culture? After all, my project still got funded, so what does it matter where the money came from?? Does it stall our ability to envision improvements to public funding? Looking at the WPA or the NEA, these models had benefits and flaws. Instead of looking at the advantages of crowdfunding and other innovations to improve current and past models of public funding, I think most people may, more or less, accept the extreme right position that these past efforts are only failures to be abandoned.

 

UCIRA: It does of course seem interesting that so many crowdfunding platforms for the arts have come online in the last two years just as arguments over government support for the arts have again heated up (i.e. recent threats to/cuts from the NEA budget, as well as total elimination of funding for the Kansas arts commission, for instance). Does the emergence of new mechanisms for private support for the arts necessarily have to be linked to this re-emergent neoliberal dialogue or can we think about it differently? 

Steve: Well of course, you could argue both ways.

If one said ‘crowd-funding shouldn’t be paralleled with public funding, it democratizes philanthropy and makes it accessible to all instead of isolated to the ultra wealthy’ they’d be partially right. It does do that. There are many lenses to view crowd-funding:

• As a streamlined and democratic update to private philanthropy and foundations

• Pre-sales of market goods (i.e. a DVD of my band, a limited edition print of my photography) that allows the creator to gauge the market before beginning a project

• An innovation that better connects audiences to the process throughout a project’s life

If the arts were better funded publicly (and I mean qualitatively and quantitatively) we wouldn’t see private crowd funding emerge with such popularity. If the innovation that’s happening with even the concept of websites like Indie-go-go, Kickstarter, Eventful, and Artists Share happened in public art commissions, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are. There is definitely a link.

More than this, I’ve heard arts administrators say candidly ‘we lost funding for that program, so instead we’re going to do a crowdfunding thing.’ When the NEA stopped funding individual artists the Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital stepped in to give individual artists grants at the national level. More recently, after cutting the Kansas state arts budget to zero this year, to take its place the Governor established a private foundation to fund the arts. Conscious and not, there is a direct connection between the neoliberal agenda and the privatization of arts funding.

Certainly the core of crowdfunding is not new. Artists are resourceful by nature and we tend to support each other. Lots of people understand art’s tangible and intangible value and are willing to chip in and support us in our efforts. I remember being a student in community college and unable to afford Super 8 film to make my final film project. I wrote to family and relatives and asked for help and their small contributions of $5 to $100 allowed me to make a film I am still proud of. 15 years later we funded the $18,000 New York Times Special Edition a similar way. It works, it always has, though it works more efficiently than just a couple years ago.

A healthy culture has opportunities for artists from a variety of sources; private support, foundations, the commercial art world, and public funding. None of these pieces are new, but the shift in balance is. The defunding of arts programs at this level is new, and the shift from public to private funding is new. We’re moving out of balance.

For some perspective, imagine if we crowdfunded wars. ‘C’mon everyone, If we can hit 1.25 trillion dollars we can invade Iraq and Afghanistan!’ If you believe the government represents the people when spending trillions on nuclear weapons, the military, and international intelligence, but barely funding the arts, then great. For the rest of us, I can’t emphasize how important it is to remember: we don’t need to make these cuts to culture. Our country is overflowing with wealth and abundance, it’s just being withheld by the ultra-rich thanks to changes in our tax structure designed by the extreme right. (And paying for wars, of course.) When we accept the notion that ‘austerity’ is necessary, accept privatization as a solution, and abandon a long-term vision we play right into Grover Norquist’s bathtub fantasies.

Every organization working to solve the short term problem of lack of funding also has a duty to dedicate some energy to long-term thinking, innovation, and advocacy that will reinstate that funding.

 

CONTINUE READING (CLICK FOR PART 3)


 

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA) (PART 1)

20 Oct

Crowdfunding and the Arts: UCIRA Interviews Thuy Tran of United States Artists (USA), Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Dan Froot (UCLA).

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last April, an article appeared in the Seattle weekly The Stranger that caught my eye with the provocative title  ‘Could Kickstarter Be Evil?’ The very next day, Steve Lambert, an artist I’ve known for a while, posed a provocative question through facebook: ‘Crowdfunding: how artists help support right-wing tax cuts. Discuss.’ As an arts funder myself I am always interested in new ways of supporting artists, but was feeling some ambivalence about the steep rise in crowdfunding platforms. As an entry into this subject I gathered a few people with experience in crowdfunding together to see what this new strategy looks like from their perspectives. – Holly Unruh, UCIRA

PART I:

UCIRA: Thuy, you come to this question from an organizational perspective, as a Senior Program Officer for United States Artists. Can you tell me some more about how your organization decided to enter the crowdfunding field?

Thuy: United States Artists (USA) was founded in 2006 with a mission to invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society. USA operates from the premise that art can be the impetus for building enormous stores of social, political, and economic capital in the 21st century. It also affirms that individual artists are an important cultural resource and recognizes that the needs of American artists today are extraordinary.

USA is committed to addressing these needs. USA was founded in part to fill the gap left when the National Endowment for the Arts cut back its individual artist fellowships. Through the USA Fellows program, which annually awards 50 unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to outstanding performing, visual, media, and literary artists across the country, USA has put $12.5 million in the hands of artists in the five years since its founding.

Last year we launched USA Projects, the first microphilanthropy site dedicated exclusively to artists living and working in the United States, where anyone can discover original projects from some of today’s most innovative artists and make tax-deductible donations to support their work. Donations–of any amount, even $1–also support artist training, artist education, and the broader mission of United States Artists.  USA Projects was created to foster direct connections between artists and the public, catalyze new funding for artists, bring creative projects to life, and build community support for the most accomplished artists in America.

UCIRA: How are the artists chosen for the projects area?  

Thuy: In the course of developing this initiative, research showed that it was important both to artists and potential supporters to ensure a high level of experience and quality among the participating artists. The artists seeking funding on USA Projects have been vetted and recognized for the caliber of their work by USA or by one of more than 100 qualifying organizations across the country. Experts review projects within their fields of expertise for legitimacy, viability, artistic quality, and appropriateness of the scale of the project. Reviewers will change periodically.

USA Projects Partners include organizations such as Creative Capital, Austin Film Society, Penland School of Crafts, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC), National Performance Network, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, and the California Community Foundation. (A complete list of qualifying organizations, along with artist eligibility requirements and a brief application, are posted online at www.unitedstatesartists.org.)

UCIRA: How do you see this kind of support mechanism changing your relationship with the artists who participate?

Thuy: We believe USA Projects will be a game changing tool for artists and cultural philanthropy in this country.  We know that artists need more money for their work. It is a misconception to think that artists have the funding necessary to develop new creative work just because they have already received recognition. The unfortunate reality is that many of the finest artists in this country are struggling to make ends meet. Even in the short time since the USA Fellows program launched in 2006, there has been a rise in the number of artists who have used their $50,000 award to cover essential needs like medical bills, health insurance, and even housing. Particularly in this difficult economy, the other forms of employment or funding that most artists depend upon have grown scarce, and new sources of support are more critical than ever.

USA Projects was inspired by a desire to leverage the power of the Internet to extend its mission to accomplished artists everywhere. Some benefits for artists include:

–       Generate donations to support new projects

–       Participate in organization and group matching funds

–       Increase their following by showcasing their work to a community of art lovers, supporters, and premier art organizations

–       Build an ever-increasing database of donors that they can come back to time and again

–       Support at every step of the process; USA’s Artist Education and Support Program is designed to help artists thrive in an online fundraising environment (project development, budgeting, segmentation, video production and editing, donor relations, building an online following)

USA Projects offers a sophisticated matching fund system that gives any organization, foundation, group or individual the ability to create a matching fund, specify their criteria, and automatically identify and apply funds to appropriate projects. One of the site’s first matching funds was pioneered by visual artist Mark Bradford, who donated the proceeds from the sale of one of his own paintings to create the Artist2Artist Fund. Every participating artist benefits from this fund, which continues to grow through support from other participating USA Fellows.

This model has proven to be successful for the organization as well as participating artists. Since USA Projects began last year, 75% of all projects successfully reach their goal (another site averages under 50%); average donations are $120 (this is also quite high); and over $1 million has been raised for artists’ projects.

“One of the valuable things that I got from this endeavor was losing my fear to ask. Even though philanthropists slammed doors in my face I was determined to succeed. So the fear was gone and I used every opportunity to ask whenever possible. This led to 48 hours before the deadline and still just over a thousand dollars to raise, I find myself at the symphony where I run into a friend and colleague and decided to ask. The next day she donated $1,000. And as they say the rest is history. Thank you for all your help and guidance throughout this process, I needed your support every step of the way.”

UCIRA: How would you describe the difference between the USA process and others such as  Kickstarter or Rockethub?

Thuy: USA Projects builds on best practices in the burgeoning crowdfunding arena and represents the first online community where the public can find, learn about, and make tax-deductible contributions directly to highly accomplished artists in all disciplines.  USA owes a debt of gratitude to pioneering sites like DonorsChoose, Kiva, and Kickstarter for demonstrating how the web can foster new support for educational and creative endeavors.

What sets United States Artists apart is its network of leading artists in all artistic disciplines and geographic regions of the country; an esteemed annual artist fellowship program; relationships with leading cultural peer organizations; great brand equity among a focused group of committed donors; and an engaged and influential Board of Directors. Some of the key differentiators between USA Projects and the others are:

–       First online community exclusively for artists, their friends, fans and followers

–       Only accomplished artists are invited to post projects

–       Donors directly contribute to a project at any level and may qualify for a range of perks

–       All donations are tax deductible

–       Matching grants allow artists to raise additional money and donors to double their perks

–       Artists receive full-service support and education

–       USAP Partners are a powerful force to help artists advance their work

 

 

CONTINUE READING (CLICK FOR PART 2)

 

 

Some Birds

10 Oct

Like the sky-filling flocks of snow geese that descend on the Sacramento Valley in fall, Birds, Chico MacMurtrie’s kinetic installation which opened September 29th at UC Davis’s Nelson gallery, transforms a familiar landscape into a mysterious one.

Entering, visitors encounter ten large white fabric objects, tapered at each end —MacMurtrie has described them as recalling “the simplest line drawing of a bird”— hanging in the air above their heads. The installation has itself migrated up the Pacific flyway, having spent the spring at UC Irvine’s Beale Gallery. At the Nelson, curator Renny Pritikin calls the set-up “quite theatrical, with the only lights coming from underneath the birds.” Hung in a line, they fill one arm of the U-shaped gallery, then turn the corner.

Initially, though, the birds remain objects: pendulous, limp. For MacMurtrie, artistic director of Amorphic Robot Works (ARW), creation means bringing some thing to life. He and his congregation of artists, engineers, fabricators and software designers have spent two decades —first in the Bay Area, now in Brooklyn— devising sculptural machines that seem to be self-propelled, even self-motivated. An early example, Urge, in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens, sets a life-size bronze androgyne on top of a 12 foot globe. When a sufficiently heavy visitor sits on a facing bench, the figure flexes and lowers —via underground lever and counterweight—to a similar sitting position.

In Birds, the animating mechanisms that ARW formerly constructed from metal or wood have been re-envisioned in high-tensile fabric. Each bird contains an arrangement of flexible joints and textile “muscles” (some originally designed for military use but reshaped here.) With air valves and potentiometers under computer control, these featherweight pneumatic structures fill and gradually lift their enveloping material: a flock rising in answer to an in-borne call.

Fully inflated, each pair of wings at the Nelson stretches almost from wall to wall. Once the sculptures have achieved lift-off, rhythmic alternation of inflation and deflation can create a flapping motion and a breathing sound. What is not always apparent is that the entire process is impacted by its viewers.

The presence of people in the gallery not only triggers the birds’ inflation, but can also have an inhibiting effect. A computer vision system tracks the number of humans in any given space. Too much human presence—too many, too close?—initiates a different cycle. Flight can falter. The disruptive effects on one unit in time extend to the rest.

“As in most digital interaction,” Pritikin says, “there is not an immediate, one-to-one reaction. It takes a while for the sculpture to react, and it reacts subtly. So sometimes people are impatient and don’t wait or don’t appreciate the tremors that their presence sets off in the birds.”

In their earliest conception, robots moved via exterior controls, usually with a wild-haired inventor at the knobs. Later friendlier models like R2D2 activated their own built-in circuitry —a process sometimes known as intelligence. MacMurtrie’s new generations of robots reflect a world in which control is not simply a matter of power or will but a network of impulses, reactions, instincts, and information.

For Pritikin, though, MacMurtrie’s installation is “not primarily about the interactivity, but rather about the meditative, silent evolution of the birds, just as though you were watching a flock of swans on a pond, oblivious of you.”

Breaking movement down into its nuts and bolts —or, in the case of Birds, to a fabric, four-muscle universal joint— robots illuminate the similarities all species share beneath their startling diversity. Still, the puzzle remains: what exactly propels us?

####

Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

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