I've left Chicago. I am now in New York.
I really never had the intention to leave wonderful Grand Rapids or at least, if I did, it would have only been temporary.
When I moved to Chicago, I quickly focused my civic pride on the windiest of cities, yet the Grand Rapids affiliation continued to remain on a connective tissue among my social, professional and educational relationships. I realize that this is not at all uncommon, connecting with familiar people when moving to a new city.
While driving from Chicago to New York (14 hours!), I spent time thinking about the development of immigrant communities during the early 20th century and the formation of ghettos based on national identity (i.e. Little Italy, Chinatown, etc) and how it compares to the movement of people in the United States today. For example, while living in Logan Square, I could walk down the street in any direction and quickly arrive at the doorstep of another member of the vast Grand Rapids diaspora. It's obvious that our social fabric still contains remnants of our grandparents, great-grand parents decisions to live in certain places, but what is the commonality that has replaced national identity? On what basis are communities formed in the 21st century? What is it about the Grand Rapids diaspora phenomenon?
In the beginning, G-RAD dot org was conceived with the intention of being both a tool for local residents and expatriates alike (see: hot air balloon). Due to my position as a local resident when starting the G-RAD, I was not able to appreciate the ways the site could function for a post-Grand Rapdian (or hopefully pre-Grand Rapidian! move to Grand Rapids!) audience. This network has yielded important relationships in my life and continues impress me for its ability to remain such a horizontally structured platform for discussion and civic issues. As I continue learning about the ways that communities organize themselves, I've yet to find an organizational structure that allows for the potential transformation of both self and society the way that G-RAD does. One of the ideas that continued to steer the formation of this network from the beginning, was the idea that this site would not exist as an autonomous immaterial entity, but as annotation of our lived experience. It's amazing to be part of building something that continues to evolve and remain relevant and foster a collective production of knowledge and shared identity.
I look forward to seeing how G-RAD evolves as the community of people that utilize it changes and grows and its potential for influencing municipal policies and animating democracy in the city.
What's next? Do we create our own welfare state?
On a separate note, I realized that I am not coming back to Grand Rapids and painfully filled out an interview on the INTERVIEWS! project page.
What are some other options?
In the introduction to The Revolution will not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, collaboratively written and edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Andrea Smith points out many of the complexities concerning non-profit organizations in their ability to perpetuate stasis, absorb resistance or change, and promote the interests of a wealthy contingent through the funding of family foundations and corporate donors. Though INCITES!'s text primarily focuses on organizations with visions of social justice, their critique of available funding models shares many of the same concerns with arts administrators such as Arthurs and Storr.
In addition, INCITE! addresses the ways in which the non-profit industrial complex, "promotes a social movement culture that is non-collaborative, narrowly focused, and competitive." Such competition also affects arts organizations and individual artists, who are obligated to divert both time and energy away from what are traditionally seen as creative processes in order meet financial obligations via the courting and cultivating of state and federal granting agencies, private foundations, wealthy individual donors, etc. This level of competition allows for minimal opportunities for collaboration among likeminded organizations, often competing for the same support.
How then do organizations and artists interested in social and political change move forward? Is an oppositional or autonomous approach the only solution? What can be salvaged from the current state of non-profit organizations? What are the possibilities for a hybrid approach? How can artists offer fresh perspectives on administrative and organizational approaches? What are some other options?
In the spirit of the Center for Working Things Out, for the next four months I will using this blog to post progress of large research project and paper about new ways to support artistic and cultural production in the United States.
My decision to make this research public is due to its timeliness and cross-overs with projects that are happening both with InCUBATE and in Grand Rapids with the re-structuring of the DAAC and possibly new cultural centers being developed. Feedback, disagreements, article suggestions, book suggestions, etc are all warmly accepted.
"Taking art seriously means defending the arts as a sector for action, decision taking,
and change making in our complicated world. It means putting the arts alongside politics, economics, policing, schooling, and medicine as a sector of serious significance." 1
In a post-Reagan United States, federal spending on the humanities has seen dramatic decreases, but funding for the arts has faced the most challenging obstacles. It has become apparent that the current debate over how culture in the Unites States should be supported is not adequately summarized by the overly simplistic and binary distinction of public v. private, and thus it is necessary for the administers of art and culture in America, as well as artists themselves, to seriously consider the historical precedence, theoretical parameters and real possibilities of working outside and in-between the established parameters of support in the United States.
With this research, I plan to raise the questions of how to develop, fund and support alternative infrastructure for commercial and non-commerical forms of art, culture and resistance that might be capable of fostering meaningful transformations of both self and society. Through an analysis of historical precedence and contemporary practice, I've observed models of support that address artists' needs in more effective ways by developing hybrid models as well as creating their own autonomous means of support. This research is presented here in a two-part sequence; an historical analysis of three artistic projects dealing with issues of infrastructure and an analysis of works presented in OTHER OPTIONS.
Problem of funding the arts in the United States
In the United States, the ability to fund artistic and cultural production (in particular the visual arts) is becoming increasingly more complex and problematic, especially since the "Culture Wars"2 of the early and mid-1990s halted a system that upheld and legitimized challenging contemporary art in the eyes of many individual patrons and private foundations alike. Today, the competition for funding from both public and private sources is quite fierce. Furthermore, the established public support structures can only offer minimal financial support.
For example, in 1995 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) eliminated individual artist grants, and soon after eliminated 13 of its 17 programs - which included the Visual Arts Program3. The individual artists grants were not only a source of income for living artists, but also served as a legitimizing force in contemporary artistic practices. Once the NEA was publicly criticized for sponsoring art that addressed challenging views of societal changes, particularly dealing with race and gender, institutions began to self-censor themselves, in fear of facing the same criticism brought upon NEA by Senator Jesse Helms and others4. The effects of the restructuring of the NEA in the 1990s resulted in an organization that no longer complies with the agency's mission written in 1965, "to help create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination and inquiry, but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent." Beyond the "chilling effect," instilled by the attacks on the NEA during the 1990s, funding for the arts saw a dramatic shift - looking towards both private foundations and corporate giving.
The NEA's changed policy and the dramatic shift in public funding was warned against almost immediately. In 1995, Alberta Arthur, then director of the Rockefeller's art and humanities division, pointed out in a report to the President's Committee on Art and Humanities that, "private foundations, corporate and family foundations do their funding by guidelines and goals which are special to their interests and institutional purposes; they fund to advance their corporate ideas."4 Furthermore, in "Illusions of Private Giving," (Washington Post, 1997) Robert Storr writes, "There are no substitutes for Government's contribution to cultural affairs. The coalition of support that has helped the arts to thrive in America is dangerously out of kilter." How can actual arts administrators working within arts institutions advance new ideas and ways of working when they are limited by the inclinations of family foundations and "corporate interests"? In a 1998 article, Michael Brenson points out, "It is important to keep in mind that there is no model for private support in the United States that indicates that it, by itself, could meet the demands of this or any future artistic moment," he continues, "the market system ignored exceptional artists earlier in the century, including many African-Americans, and it still gives little support to many exceptional artists, particularly those who prefer to work outside galleries and museums." The struggle to work outside the grips of private persuasion is not limited to cultural production.
1 Arthurs, Alberta. "Taking Art Seriously." American Art 10, no. 3 (1996): 2-7.
2 Zeilger, Joseph. Arts in Crisis. (1994) p. 67-78. Culture Wars in the United States began with the attack on Andres Serrano's Piss Christ in 1989 after receiving a SECCA grant which took his work on a short tour of other SECCA recipients.
3 Federalizing the Muse via Haithman, Diane LA Times 1995
4 Brenson, Michael. "Washington's Stake in the Arts"
Earlier this week I was riding the Blue Line from the California stop downtown, as I do everyday. The train pulled up and lined up with the subway door to hop on, but this crazy dude popped out right in front of me wearing a red beret, combat boots, cargo pants and a t-shirt that said Guardian Angels - Subway Patrol.
The doors shut and he stayed in the car and at the next stop he did the same thing. popped his head out and looked both ways followed by a thumbs-up. This is when I realized that he was not the only Guardian Angel on the train. When he was sticking his head out he was looking down the line for the other Guardian Angels also giving their approval of safety.
When I got down to school I searched the internet and came across this video of the same patrol I saw on my train:
During the train ride going through the Wicker Park neighborhood, the guy in this video with a goatee, was talking how the Guardian Angels were responsible for cleaning up the neighborhood and how "gang members can no longer afford to live around here".
A surreal experience, I almost thought I was imagining things.
The Guardian Angels is a non-profit, international, volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers. The Guardian Angels organization was founded in New York City in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa and has chapters in over 60 cities around the world.
Sliwa originally created the organization to combat widespread violence and crime on the New York City subways. The organization originally trained members to make citizen's arrests for violent crimes. The organization patrols the streets and neighborhoods but also provides education programs and workshops for schools and businesses."
Thesis time. The time I have been in graduate school has gone so fast. One more semester. Finish thesis. hopefully on time.
While doing research for some InCUBATE projects, we started to notice similarities in the artist's work that we were drawn to; work not in the sense of the Art they made, but in the work they did to support their Art.
We are in the process of attempting to better articulate these similarities through a traveling exhibition called Other Options, which looks at the work of artists who are re-interpreting, altering and creating infrastructure that affect their everyday lives and in particular their artistic production. Further, in an effort to understand the reasons why all these projects and modes of working are happening simultaneously, I have taken up Other Options as part of my thesis research.
The photo at the top is of Gordon Matta Clark, Carol Goodden and Tina Girouard standing outside of their restaurant called, simply, FOOD. The image is from an advertisement from Avalanche Magazine in the fall issue of '71.
FOOD was restaurant which employed mostly artists - according to this ad from '72, 84% were artists (and 708lbs of fish were fucked). It's here that I am starting to draw an art historical context for Other Options, looking at the reasons and forces behind these artists to start a restaurant as both a gathering point and an economic support structure for working artists; allowing them to have flexible schedules to attend to preparing for an exhibition or leave town for a gig.
I celebrated my 25th birthday on September 7 2007. Most birthdays up until now I've focused on being with friends and enjoying a good party, but for whatever circumstances this year was different. I've been extremely busy with grad school and other commitments - so the day seemed to creep up on me unexpectedly. Emma met me downtown and gave me a new house plant (just what I wanted!) and a homemade card telling me she got me a subscription to the New Yorker too (also, just what I wanted!). But that was the peak of the b-day celebration and I was totally fine with that. People often talk about loosing interest in their birthdays, or try to avoid celebrating them - I don't think either of these things are true for me. This year was much more contemplative and about remembering. I mean, it has been a quarter century.
Earlier this year my dad celebrated his 50th birthday (half-century), which means he was my age when I was born. I'm looking forward to having little children, but I'm sure now is not the time - I can't even imagine being a father right now. I wonder if my dad felt the same way. While digging through my closet, I came across half of a book of photos that I managed to salvage from my parents basement before I moved out of the house. It's funny seeing my dad like this - I think the 25-year-old version of him and I have similar styles. If only Emma wouldn't give me shit for growing a mustache.
While laying in bed that night, I was laying in bed thinking about the library I created in my parents basement [which I talked about in my submission to the PHONEBOOK that came out earlier that day] and tried really hard to remember exactly what that basement looked like - in hopes that it would jog my memory. I wanted to remember the ways in which I attempted to categorize things at such a young age, but that didn't happen. Instead I started to remember other rooms in other houses growing up, which turned into a game to put myself to sleep (like counting sheep). I began to reflect on different phases of my life based on the spaces that my life played out in. I remembered the living room of the house I lived in on Orville until I was 5 - I remembered coming home with my parents to see that our dog Sadie had destroyed the Christmas tree. I then recalled a scene that may be my earliest memory. While visualizing walking from the living room, through the dining room and into the kitchen I remembered the the faux red brick linoleum that covered the kitchen. Then all of a sudden, I remembered being in the kitchen sink facing my brother who was sitting in the opposite sink. Someone was giving us a bath.
For the last few days scenes of empty rooms keep popping up in my head, as I zone out and then begin to daydream - filling the room with really specific vivid memories. I'm into birthdays being like this from now on.
P.S. I can now legally rent a car.
This past Friday Green Lantern Press and Three Walls released a book entitled PHONEBOOK: An annul directory for alternative artspaces. The book is a directory of artspaces all over the country organized by region.
The project is described by Caroline Picard of Green Lantern, "At a time when it is increasingly difficult to produce and support independent networks, as independent presses, labels, magazines and bookstores find it struggle to stay afloat, alternative gallery spaces thrive. Perhaps because these projects tend not to rely on commercial income, they reflect vibrant and often idiosyncratic communities and artistic practices. Generally these communities are self-contained and self-reflexive, appealing to particular sub-sections of local interest." [read the rest].
It sounds like they will be releasing a new directory each year and they encourage you to submit information about your own artspace or ones you know of. The directory is accompanied by about 10 pseudo-biographical essays about why people choose to create and take part in independent infrastructures by people like Michelle Grabner of the Suburban, Daniel Tucker of AREA Magazine, Phillip von Zweck of VONZWECK and myself where I discuss InCUBATE.
Not only is this an inspirational little booklet, but it is the ultimate tourist guide. I wish I had this directory this summer while driving through small town New York, Massachusetts and Vermont.
P.S. The DAAC is listed in it!
Since I've been back in Chicago (one week now), I've been trying to find a part-time job for this upcoming year. Scouring idealist.org, school's career development office and craigslist.org - I've been spending more time looking for a job than working on things that really need to get done. Over the last week I've developed four different versions of my resume based on the four different job types I've been applying for - and have sent out about 20 different cover letters.
I was most excited to see this post on chicago.craigslist.org,
"quickly growing chicago based dot com needs dependable and organised, intelligent mac user to assist in a number of duties. the perfect applicant would have graphic/web design experience, excellent communication skills, mac based software proficiency, highly creative and resourceful. business is currently home based with off-site warehouse. you would work from home and have virtual and on-site meetings."
Work from home!? Virtual meetings!? Sounded super flexible and right up my alley. So I sent an email, very informal - no cover letter and the simple version of my resume. A day later I got a reply, it started out like:
Many thanks for your response to my craigslist posting. The projects i am working on are constantly evolving and deal mostly in the arts, both commercial, fine and erotic. I am building my business steadily and somewhat slowly so as to not become overwhelmed."
Hmm, sounds like it could still be promising - but "erotic"? I continued to read:
"Please go to see my ebay store. I can explain more of what needs to be done to create an independent website, representing artists, reselling high quality garments and other things. Really, what i do is rather complicated and is difficult to describe in an email."
Hmm, still seems like something I can do - nothing too weird, but WAIT:
"Finally, i also work in the adult film industry. You naturally would not have to be a model, but certainly be tolerant of some pretty colorful characters. Mostly i work in the distribution of films and related products (it's sure a lot more interesting than my old sales job). However, i have been in a film and will be in some others for a rather specific audience. Naturally, I keep the businesses totally separate and you would not need to tell future employers about this - i realise it's not everyone's cup of tea. Your work would include the handling of graphic materials."
Whoa, porn star!
Needless to say, even despite encouragement from friends, I did not reply. On Monday I received a couple of phone calls, and I have two interviews next week. Both jobs require clothing.
Last weekend I took a trip to see friends Sami and Hind in Montreal. They just recently returned to Canada after months of waiting in Casablanca and Istanbul for documents allowing Sami to return to Montreal. I drove into the city on Saturday night and on Sunday we drove up to Mount Tremblant [map].
I never really thought about what was north of Montreal, I suppose I imagined cornfields, French farmers and a little bit further north - polar bears. I was wrong. The Laurentides is the name of the region north of the city - full of mountains, small lakes, cottages, boulangeries and [uniquely Quebecois] depaneurs.
We spent most of the time driving through the mountains looking at all the little plots people have staked out over the last couple of hundreds years. Mont-Tremblant seemed to be more of a winter resort destination than a summer one. Seeing all of the small cottages with their own large ponds and gardens was very inspiring. The afternoon was spent talking about how amazing it would be to buy land up in one of these mountains and run a hostel, more or less, with a restaurant and bakery, an artist residency program and a garden with a fish pond that would provide food for ourselves our visitors. Sami also plans to make money renting out paddle boats.
After heading back to Montreal, we said our goodbyes and I started my back to Massachusetts via Route 7 through Vermont [map]. I crossed the bridge over the Saint Lawrence, realizing for the first time that Montreal is actually an island. Continuing down the highway I started to notice tons of hot air balloons in the sky, and as I exited onto Route 133 taking me south through rural Quebec I noticed that I was driving closer to where the balloons were landing. One by one [there were about 30 balloons] I would see the balloons disappear in the horizon, and then reappear as giant flowing structures peaking above the cornstalks or along side the road.
As I approached the area where it seemed the most balloons were landing, I noticed that people had pulled off to the side of the road and were out of their cars walking around. Immediately, I thought they had stopped to watch the balloons and I slowed down to pull over and do the same. About twenty feet away I noticed there had been an accident and people were rushing to the cars to make sure everyone was alright. I was going about 10 miles per hour and rubber necking, when all of a sudden a woman jumped out in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes and felt the adrenaline rush to my head when I noticed that the woman had a spider monkey on her shoulder. The monkey was wearing a leash around its neck and a diaper on its ass. I had to take a double-take, still with my foot on the brake completed stopped in the middle of the highway. It was then I realized what a surreal scene I was living in that very moment. Stopped in the middle of a highway, people yelling in French, cars thrown off the road from an accident on either side of me, a woman with a spider monkey wearing a diaper and technicolor hot air balloons landing in the cornfields during sunset. David Lynch could not have dreamt a more impressive scene.