Endless Opportunities: Of the Job, Performance, School and Travel Sort

August 10, 2013 · Print This Article

hp-6-b9e8e9403a7a5eeaf99042373f3f2554

1. Oxbow Development Coordinator

Ox-Bow is seeking a Development Coordinator. This full-time position based in downtown Chicago with occasional trips to the Saugatuck, Michigan campus.

The Development Coordinator works with the Executive Director and Development and Marketing Director to implement and support key initiatives (appeals, events, cultivation and stewardship activities, etc). This position’s primary responsibility is to provide integral support for Ox-Bow’s fundraising and donor marketing efforts (with annual targets of $1.5 million and growing) and join a vibrant, creative Ox-Bow team. The Development Coordinator reports directly to the Development and Marketing Director. (more here)

about

2. New Urban Arts in Providence, Rhode Island  is accepting applications for a new Director of Programs.

We seek a candidate who believes in the power of creative practice and lifelong learning. The complete job posting follows.

Founded in 1997 with seed funding from the Echoing Green Foundation and Brown University’s Swearer Center, New Urban Arts is a nationally recognized arts studio and gallery for high school students and emerging artists in Providence, Rhode Island. Our mission is to build a vital community that empowers young people as artists and leaders to develop a creative practice they can sustain throughout their lives. We have been recognized as a national model for engaging underserved teenagers through the arts.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has given New Urban Arts a Coming up Taller Award, the nation’s highest honor for youth arts and humanities programs. We were one of only nine organizations selected to participate in ARTOGRAPHY, a multi-year national Ford Foundation-initiative documenting and disseminating the artistic and organizational practices of exemplary diverse community-responsive arts organizations. Each year we serve over 300 high school students, 25 emerging artists and 2,000 visitors through free youth programs, professional development, artist residencies, public performances, workshops and exhibitions. We have a permanent staff of six and an annual operating budget of over $450,000.

The Director of Programs designs, manages and oversees year-round arts mentoring programs for high school students and emerging artists. S/he connects with the community (especially high school students, artist-mentors, parents, and school personnel) to create a learning environment that conveys a sense of belonging, risk, and responsibility. S/he works closely with the executive director to assess the effectiveness and ensure the feasibility of programs. S/he strives to foster a rewarding workplace that is stimulating, trusting, and results-oriented, where the mission of New Urban Arts can thrive. The Director of Programs reports to the Executive Director. (more here)

20130301054424-Georgia_Fee_Residency_logo

3. Go to Paris and get paid for it via The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency.  Application period closes August 16th.

The Residency is open to visual artists of all mediums, art writers and critics, 24 years or older. Recent graduates are especially encouraged to apply. The selection will be made based on the merit of past work and the potential for future success, the ability to independently develop new work, and the proposed project’s relevance to the city of Paris. Recipients will be required to maintain a blog, which will be posted on ArtSlant.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency in Paris provides the recipient with lodging for 2 months in an apartment in the 14th arrondissement, travel to and from Paris, and a stipend to be used for studio space, materials, and other costs.

For Frequently Asked Questions on eligibility, submission guidelines and materials, please check here.

logo_apass

3. a.pass is an artistic research environment that develops research on performativity and scenography, in an international artistic and educational context.  NEXT CALL FOR PROJECTS: APPLY BEFORE THE 1st of SEPTEMBER 2013

 

a.pass offers a one-year artistic research training program at post-master level for artists and theoreticians, based on the principles of self-organization, collaboration and transdisciplinarity. a.pass participants develop an independent artistic research project, with a personalized curriculum in a shared and collectively created research environment. 
 
The a.pass artistic research center develops, documents and archives tools for qualitative and relevant artistic research practices. The research center uses this growing archive to communicate and interact with the artistic and educational field and functions as a forum for the development of a critical approach on artistic research. a.pass emphasizes the relation between the research practices and a broader societal field, and encourages engaged transdisciplinary practices.

In the context of its artistic research center, a.pass offers a tailor-made PhD trajectory fo
r doctoral students that gives the possibility to develop the practice-based part of their PhD research in collective research environment. More info here. 
VESTANDPAGE_workshop-performance-09-14-13
4. MAYDAY an intensive workshop on the praxis of PERFORMANCE ART by VestAndPage (VERENA STENKE & ANDREA PAGNES) at DEFIBRILLATOR GALLERY on Monday 9th – Friday 13the September 2013 from: 6 – 10pm each evening, with a final presentation of the participants on Saturday, 14th September. While the workshop does cost money to participate, there are a few select scholarships available, and those who sign up before August 17th pay $75. Thereafter it is $100. Space is limited to 15 students. Find out more about the workshop and instructors by going here. 
soma1
5.  SOMA: a different take on the MFA approach (and one that comes with funding). English speakers, there is a catch: you have to learn Spanish. Application deadline:  October 23, 2013

Calle 13 #25 Col. San Pedro de los Pinos, 03800 Ciudad de México.  SOMA offers a two-year program for training contemporary artists based on continuous exchange between young artists and established professionals through courses, workshops, one-on-one critiques and studio visits. SOMA’s faculty comprises artists, theorists, and curators with extensive experience in their fields, both nationally and internationally. This program is for students who have already completed a bachelors degree in visual arts or related studies. All students accepted into the program area are granted a scholarship of 80 percent of the total cost of attendance. Check it out here. (All classes are conducted in Spanish.)  

 




A Postulate of Friendliness: AS220 at last

November 30, 2011 · Print This Article

 

I never interviewed Founding Director Bert Crenca directly about AS220, so what follows is my recollection of a conversation we had, along with a description of the organization’s structure. This is the final segment of what has been weekly series of interviews and essays about artist run spaces in Providence, each of which I’ve posted here on BadatSports. My particular interest in Providence — the purpose of my residency — was to study via conversation the relationship between the city’s politics, it’s social/historical geography and the respondent culture of artist community and action. You can access my collection of writing on the subject by going here. 

I visited AS220 for the month of July as an artist-in-residence. During my stay, I lived on the third floor of the Empire Street building (above), the first in a series of three buildings that AS220 owns. With each building positioned less than a five minute walk away from one another, AS220 takes up 100,000 square feet of downtown Providence real estate. Every space represents a project of historic restoration and, with its mixed use status, contains 3 restaurants, 3 bars, a locksmith, a photo lab, a robot lab, a print shop, a youth program (with every opportunity you could imagine from a separate dark room to a recording studio), 4 galleries, a performance space and live/work studios for artists. The operation is massive. It sustains an operating budget of 2.6 million dollars a year, with a staff of 50 employees. To begin to conceive how a non-profit arts organization can maintain such a privileged place in a downtown commercial hub is to begin to understand how AS220 has influenced not just the cultural climate of Providence but also the city’s vision of itself as an artistic center.

AS220 is not simply an art space. It espouses a philosophical agenda as well. Every member of the administrative staff earns the same salary and health insurance; the minute you are hired for an administrative position, you get the same income as Founding Director, Bert Crenca, who’s been at the helm of this ship for the last 25 years. If you live in one of the artist residency studios, you are expected to volunteer up to 5 hours of your time every week. Volunteering offsets your rent while ensuring everyone share in the responsibility of the space. AS220 is also doggedly unjuried and uncensored. It is a platform for work to be exhibited, not a space with a pre-determined aesthetic vision. Anyone can show here. If you are from Rhode Island you sign your name on a list and so long as you are willing to wait (at this stage the wait is three years long), you get to share your work with a public. The mixed-use aspect of the organization’s structure is also part of its larger agenda: Crenca wanted to create an art space in a city that, 25 years ago, had more or less given up on itself.

AS220’s origin story is contextualized by what was then a particularly bleak post-industrial setting. It has made a point to champion ART — both as a vehicle for individual expression and as a means to develop a visible local community (via the shared experience of artistic production) — in order to transform its depressed surroundings into a viable social opportunity for youths and old folks and everyone in between. To accomplish that goal, it was in everyone’s best interest to create a space that facilitated community and discourse, not criticality. It had to promote an open place of nourishment, one that did not base its success on the whims of commercial art markets belonging to less intimate cities far afield. In other words, the focus had to be on a local level if it was ever going to improve local conditions. Of course the culture has a number of success stories: Shephard Fairy, for instance, and the constituents of Fort Thunder represent members of the Providence community who have had a tremendous impact on a national contemporary art dialogue. Yet also, there is a very concentrated local aesthetic, an often messy, sometimes Bacchic and excitedly peculiar scene. From my glancing view this seemed to manifest in costume parties, printed matter, a vested interest in education on all levels and the deep pleasure in idiosyncratic DIY culture, wherein high and low art (if those distinctions still exist) mix around in a big, impossible-to-parse soup of personality.

One evening in July, I happened to sit at the same table as Bert Crenca outside the AS220 restaurant. He told me he’d had to defend his non-juried agenda over and over again to board members. “They want to know how we ensure quality,” he said. He grinned, obviously confident in his forthcoming punchline. “I told them ‘We don’t know. Nobody knows. But at least we ensure the possibility of quality.’” It is that confidence which is so contagious. He is a warm man and I had the distinct impression that he was used to talking to a wide of range of people. He is totally game for any kind of discourse. He can swear like a sailor, indulging dirty jokes as though to see where they land, and seeks out the different interests or capacities, whether philosophical, practical or biographical, in a conversation. Almost every night he was out, I saw him talk to different people at the space, people eating food or drinking or hanging out. Regardless the subject he was always engaged. No doubt it takes that kind of person to build a project from the ground up: someone affable, flexible and sure with conviction.

Just as he is proud of his artistic practice, Crenca is proud of his working class roots. Somehow the marriage of those personal interests have lead to his path as an arts administrator. The project began in 1985 when Crenca received a terrible review about his own work. As is the case with many DIY spaces, he responded through a positive action. He turned around and wrote a manifesto with peers Martha Dempster and Steven Emma. “We realize that no artist can survive and grow without the support of both his peers and the public regardless of the artist’s unyielding belief in himself,” they said. “We challenge the pervasive notion that complete, unbridled, uncensored freedom produces mediocrity and that excellence rises out of repression. It does not!,” and then finally,  “Art has been removed from being an integral part of our society and has been relegated to mere processes which had lead to the production of dry, academic, pedantic, superficial, mechanical, and mass produced works of art devoid of all integrity, honesty, and meaning and has stripped art of its physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual impact necessary for the thriving and indeed the very survival of human culture. Art must be allowed to flourish unhampered because art is one of the last areas of culture where man defines his spiritual nature.”

There is much more to the manifesto, but the vigor and vim underlying its message is clear — something still palpable in the various constituents of AS200 today. As an example, I remember meeting two floor mates for the first time in the kitchen. I think I was nervous and feeling like the new kid, I tried to make a joke with more swagger than I possessed at the time. “Oh!” I said, instead of introducing myself. “So this is where the cool kids hangout.” Both joking and earnest, one of them replied, “There isn’t anyone of us who is cool here, everyone is just good.” In other words, open acceptance is in the water. And, indeed, everyone living at the space is creative. Many of them teach classes at the youth program one floor below. It’s a utopic vision: here you can still be a painter. You can inhabit a structured bohemia, one still complimentary to capitalism. It is sustainable. It is user-friendly. I realized upon arrival that had I moved here after college, I would have embarked on an entirely different artistic experience. (Isn’t it amazing when you discover the possibility of a parallel life?) Instead I moved to Chicago and had to answer questions about my own artistic approach: Why was I painting from photographs? What about my figure painting was different from or contributing to the canon of figure painting? And, even further: Why was I painting at all? Wasn’t painting dead? How did my own practice recover Painting’s Drowned and Beautiful Body from the river and bathe its corpse uniquely? (I’m thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story, The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World). Keep in mind, I feel especially grateful for the path I’ve come down thus far. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but gazing into the ecoculture of Providence, I stumbled upon the important realization that my artistic path thus far was not the only path. (It sounds obvious to say, but here : think about your own aesthetic positions and judgements, imagine conceiving another, auxiliary framework through which to engage with the world. Imagine, then, its ensuring consequence, some things difficult in the old regime will occur more easily, just as other things once simple encounter difficulty). Occupying the possibility of these two realities at once is like being a polyglot, to discover the shortcomings in one language while simultaneously appreciating its tremendously varied and peculiar (by contrast) vocabulary that opens up new worlds. For instance, I’ve heard the Inuit language has a huge index of nouns fitted to depict thousands upon thousands of kinds of snow.

Mercantile Building circa 1915

From its original manifesto, AS220 was born with an $800 check that paid the first months rent of a shared loft apartment. 2nd floor space above the Rocket, a local nightclub on Richmond Street. AS220 eventually took over the third (top) floor, which became studio space). Originally it was an illegal, unheated, living space but because the city needed something and because Bert  possesses a convincing charisma, he was able to solicit the ever infamous mayor “Buddy” Cianci’s help. “Cianci understood the potential of art and entertainment so he was open to suggestions.” Which is how Crenca secured AS220’s first space on Empire Street — a 22,000 sq foot property which, at the time was in great disrepair, surrounded by prostitution and drugs to such an extent that most locals avoided Empire Street altogether. Via whole sweat equity, constant fundraising and a countless number of events, AS220 provided a visible, above ground activity. Interestingly enough, a number of the original businesses that leased the space before AS220 bought the building remain. Crenca took them on as tenants and, in some cases, even helped rehab the business so that original tenants (for instance a locksmith, a barber shop and a gay bar) could move back in and carry on with updated working conditions.

It’s important to remember that projects like this aren’t simply acts of social service, selflessness or charity. They are necessarily self-serving and there is a way in which each member of the AS220 crew is committed to the project because of how it fulfills (and I’m sure sometimes frustrates) their own ideals. Crenca will say he had to “create a place for his own survival,” it just happens that identifying that need applied to a population larger than himself; his survival is contingent on the community he inhabits. As part of that testament, a handful of AS220 members put together a AS220StinkTank_Compost, How to Keep the Arts from Dying of Old Age in 2004, “You can grow things in a petri dish,” they write, “but they need special care, and may not survive on their own. If you want to find something healthy, lively and strong, don’t build a lab to grow it in; grow it in the dirt you make from your compost.”

There seems to be a correspondence between the aforementioned dirt and a bed of pessimism. Despite the rampant idealism that oozes out of AS220, neither Bert nor anyone I met there is a Pollyanna. The Youth Program I mentioned is born from bleak prospects for young people and the more general difficulty of time’s advance (how to keep AS220 forever renewed?). Apprehending a flanking darkness — perhaps even a larger sense of mortality — led the organization to establish a program for youth. Each kid enrolled (mostly teenagers from what I could see, they lolled about the stairwells from time to time, sometimes playing guitars, sometimes flirting with one another, sometimes grumpy and morose) makes a portfolio in whatever field they are interested in. They can use it towards job or college or professional applications. But as I said, this program is not charitable. It is essential. A frank realism regularly took hold most of my conversations over the summer and with Crenca in particular, I found we quickly went down rather dark passages — discussing the bleak potential of an abstract future that entertained global warming and economic crises. “Maybe that’s what humanity is actually best at,” he said. “Destroying itself.”

Mercantile Building, circa 2010

“It’s interesting to me that you would sound so resigned to the end of the world, but then at the same time you’re putting all of your effort into this very idealistic organization,” I said.

“You gotta do something,” he shrugged. “You might as well.”

“Yes, but you’re not just doing something, you’re specifically invested in the idea of a future because of the Youth Program,” I said. “I’ll be honest, I feel like obviously everything works well here, but I think that program is like the heart of this place. Because the kids aren’t just taking classes, their education here is totally integrated into the whole organization. They are kind of brought up in community that reinforces and values all the stuff they learn, regardless of whether or not it’s important in any other part of their lives. Here they’re around a host of people already converted to the idea of art and expression.”

“That’s right,” Bert nodded. “That’s it, exactly. That’s our insurance policy — the youth program. I mean, I’m getting old. Maybe I don’t know what good art is. I might have lost touch a long time ago, but they’re the ones that can carry this on. And you know it comes from my own background, I was a troubled kid. I had nowhere to go. We particularly want to serve people who don’t have opportunities, and you know we’ve got 150 kids engaged a week. The youth program is our insurance policy.” He cleared his throat. “As long as the base continues to swell, contrary to elitist notions around art.”

“Well I have to imagine too, I mean even just me in my life, I think it’s really hard to get outside of standard ideas of what one needs to feel OK—”

“Sure, sure. It’s absurd. All that garbage on TV it really just makes you feel lousy. It’s impossible to find places where you just feel good for being who you are. That’s what I’m trying to do here, with these kids, with everyone. You got to build something that’s independent of all that other stuff.”

“But then that’s the thing, that’s like this big irony,” I shook my head and probably guffed a little. “I mean it’s like culture is kind of just fucked, and you know that, but then here you are trying to promote culture. To facilitate it.”

“You have to. It’s not fucked here.”




Vernacular Knowledge : An Interview with the Steel Yard

November 23, 2011 · Print This Article


 

During the last week of my time in Providence, I came across another arts organization called The Steel Yard. It is what it sounds like — an old industrial complex that has been taken over by an arts organization. In keeping with the land’s original tradition, The Steel Yard offers ceramics and metalworking classes that among others include welding, blacksmithing and jewelry making. As part of their annual fundraising, they host a yearly Iron Chef competition and an Iron Pour which (as you can imagine/see from above) involves a lot of flying sparks in the dark. (At such times — even looking at the video — I catch for a moment the wild Romance of light, its seeming mysticism, glowering in the dark. Imagine what it must have been like before the age of electricity!) The Steel Yard converted this all but abandoned property into a vibrant teaching ground for metalurgy — what stands out in my mind as another instance of Providence’s intriguing utilitarian edge. While it’s participants and administrators are focused on building a community in the present, they utilize the resources of an industrial, American past. I had a chance to ask Executive Director, Drake Patten, about the organization.

Iron Chef

Caroline Picard: I know the Steel Yard started in 2002, when the founders decided to buy an all but abandoned steel yard. How has the organization grown and changed over the last 10 years? Did you expect it to be what it was now at in its inception?

Drake Patten: The Yard is really an incredibly fortunate experiment: our founders had vision and guts and took a huge leap of faith when they bought the former PRovidence Steel and Iron complex (which was, BTW, a brownfield). Our beginnings and our growth have been intensely organic and I think also importantly quite authentic — but certainly becoming a non-profit and getting above the radar did change some aspects of the DIY attitude we began with. What was once folks bringing their own tools together to teach a de facto group of neighborhood kids or adults interested in making things has grown into a strong, serious force in the local creative economy. This comes from our public projects (one of a kind street amenities designed, sourced, fabricated in RI) our workforce training (18-24 year olds learning a high skill trade) and our open enrollment classes and summer camps for a range of ages. The connective tissue is how we strongly we believe in the importance of scale and the value of vernacular knowledge and tradition. And there is much to be said for the fact that the site (which the non-profit now owns and is almost mortgage free on) is now an award winning cleanup project….this was work we had to do but we did it in a way that also engaged lots of new ideas around storm water management and design theory around creative place making. So programmatically and site wise we are trying to model good practice as members of our community. As far as expectations go, I would say that our founders did expect the essence of what we have become — their vision set the mission and we are very on mission — but in many ways we have exceeded what any of us imagined and I think this is precisely because we have really embraced building this organization to be agile and responsive and true to PLACE.

Ceramics

CP: I don’t know if this is a fair observation or not, but I at least was surprised by how central youth programs seem to be in Providence arts organizations. Obviously, AS220 has one, but I have also talked to a number of different artists who take arts education very seriously. I was wondering if you could talk about your youth program and how it came about?

DP: Again, I think it was based on need and interest — and that has changed over time — we do much less with the youth population that AS220 and other colleague organizations than we used to: our original more traditional-ages  youth focus has really moved in to 18-24 year olds (who do not consider themselves youth) with the exception of our summer program Camp Metalhead (14-18) and special programs we run with some of our longer term partners. This is because we recognize that younger youth (for lack of a better term) are being served much more universally than this older group — and we have something unique to offer them — so we have carved out a very particular area of service where we really believe we can have a large impact. We are very conscious of duplication and competition; we would rather see those more strongly focused on youth service getting the limited funds out there and using us as a provider (if that works for them) than competing directly with those programs. We work in a really amazing place for youth service and just as we feel strongly about not doing what colleagues do (ie: not adding art forms that are are well done by others say at AS220 or Riverzedge) we don’t want to compete in service. We seek to partner and complement, not compete.

Iron Pour

CP: Another observation I had was about a general openness in Providence. There seems to be an emphasis on doing and in the process exercising an aesthetic experience through a celebratory spectacle. Here too, I am thinking about the Wooly Fair that you all host. How does the Steel Yard fit into that scene (if it does)? 

DP: We actually just serve as the host site for Wooly Fair so we cant take an ounce of credit for that (or other happenings that use our space). We actually are just the  site for Wooly Fair so I  don’t think think I can answer this in the way you might like….and honestly ,while we have amazing off the wall events that are Steel Yard events (Iron Chef, Iron Pour, etc) we are probably best described as the geek events -all of our signature events are educational (and certainly fun) but  really are (just like the mission ) all about making-appealing to the maker in all of us.

Welding

CP: Another thing that seems really interesting to me is how your particular organization is especially tied to Providence’s industrial history. It seems like you are appropriating a site that once was intrinsic to Providence’s identity. By occupying that site, you give it new purpose; I wonder what you think about Providence’s identity now? 

DP: First, we actually don’t think of ourselves as appropriating at all, or adaptive reusing. Just reusing. This goes back to that vernacular thing. Providence is still an industrial place. You can put as many high end lofts into old manufacturing complexes as you want to, but the bones here are about manufacturing and production. And it is still the best thing  we do. Small creative businesses to factory production — it is all here. I think the hangover effect of talking about what we used to be is a problem for us sometimes — who cares about what was! — let’s focus on what we are now because the creative energy of this region is palpable. There is a generation that is embracing the roots of innovation that built this state and I think that is not only great — but it’s also the only way to recharge RI. As I mentioned above, it comes back to scale I think — choosing and embracing the one that is right for the place you work and live and aiming for striking just that precise balance.




Nomadic Corner Stones: An Interview with RK Projects

November 16, 2011 · Print This Article

X.V.:ATLAS currently exhibiting at the Perry & Marty Granoff Center for the Arts at Brown University

Often art spaces emerge in response to rumbling (and specific) undercurrents in a given community. In the Artists Run Chicago Digest — a book I put together with threewalls that examines artist-run art spaces in Chicag0 between 1999 and 2009— almost every interview conducted with gallery founders talk about how they opened a space because of some recognized lack. Miguel Cortez, for instance, when asked about why he started Antenna Gallery said, “Chicago has long had a history of ‘do-it-yourself’ art spaces and I felt that the Pilsen neighborhood was lacking in contemporary art spaces. I have seen alt. spaces come and go in the Pilsen neighborhood over the years. So I reopened a space on my own after Polvo closed.” In almost every case, founders feels something noticeably underrepresented — nine times out of ten it’s “good art” — and suddenly they takes it upon themselves to fill the niche. In this way, artist-run spaces create corner stones in an ongoing (and usually undocumented) conversation. Very often, whether as an unintended biproduct or a focused agenda, they reflect back on aesthetic, political and economic issues of a geographical local. Providence of course is no different. In the following interview I talk with co-founder and organizer of RK Projects, Tabitha Piseno. RK Projects is a nomadic, contemporary, non-commercial gallery. Each curated exhibit creates a dynamic and reciprocal interrogation between contemporary art work by local artists and the (often unused) architectural site it inhabits. At the moment, RK Projects has a show, “ATLAS” with work by X.V. installed at the Granoff Center in Brown University. You can download the digital album the artist made to be released in conjunction with the exhibition here.

Caroline Picard: What is your background and how did RK Projects start?

Tabitha Piseno: My partner, Sam Keller, and I started RK Projects in October 2010, a few months after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. While living in Providence, we had always been intrigued by the architecture of the city, the sense of its history, and how the urban layout of the city represented, or informed rather, the presiding social dynamics and economic development.

After making the decision to remain in Providence after graduation, we were immediately interested in engaging Providence outside of its academic environment; we wanted to create a socially engaged project that could speak to our interests in the city, be instrumental in responding to the lack of venues where young local artists could exhibit, while also retaining the ability to think and act critically. This was a very exciting venture for us, not only because of how stimulating we knew it would for own intellectual interests, but more so because of how it would fill a void of exhibition venues. There is a vibrant, and incredibly active, community of artists and musicians that truly thrives in Providence.(1)

We began with the intention of opening a gallery in a fixed location, but it was quickly brought to out attention that the cost of running a full-time space that would be solely dependent on sales, was not a financially viable for us. It was, in fact, discouraged by many people. From brokers of store-front commercial properties that had previously rented to galleries, to local curators who had previously run full-time galleries, to staff members of the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts and the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism — many people made it clear how difficult it is to keep a gallery in Providence afloat due to the lack of collectors and connections to out-of-town buyers. It was clearly expressed that Providence had a track record of failed galleries, despite the profusion of local artists making work. With that in mind, the formulation of RK Projects really began; we were persistent in our interest in creating a new exhibition platform.

The first thing that came to form was our name for the project: “R.K.” which stands for Richard Keller who was my partner’s uncle. He was an outsider artist who expatriated to France in the 60s. He was a sort-of Francophile and was obsessed with the language; he taught Linguistics at the Sorbonne. While he was teaching, he continued making art prolifically. The work he made ranged from collages, drawings, and prints to bizarre Dadaist assemblage sculptures that he compiled entirely from trash he would find by dumpster-diving in the streets of Paris. After 30 years of moving to France, he became very ill and passed away from HIV in the mid-90s. He never exhibited his work. We felt naming the project in his memory was very important to us, and exemplified the purity of pursuing something you love doing no matter the means.

During our search for a fixed space we realized the extent of the economic deprivation that Providence has suffered from for many years. The abundance of vacant commercial and industrial spaces throughout the entire city sparked our strategy.

Ultimately, it was a solution and a proposal. It was our solution for creating a new exhibition platform that could invest itself in showing experimental work by local artists without having a tremendous overhead that a fixed location would have (most properties have been donated to us, or rented out to us at an extremely reduced rate). It became a curatorial proposal embedded around the idea of site-specificity –  How could we utilize each property in a way that could inform the work within the exhibition? How does the geographical location of each property speak to the work and to what we do as RK Projects? How does the presence of each exhibition affect its surrounding social and public space? In what way does the project speak to the economy of Providence, real estate or otherwise? These are questions that we take into account as we organize each exhibition, and exploring/experimenting with those answers is one of the most rewarding and satisfying aspects of what we do.

Sam Keller, Nacho Cheese Fountain., 8”x 21”x 8”, 2010Â

CP: As a nomadic exhibition project, how do you feel the unique architecture of Providence complements the specificity of individual projects?

TP: It’s different for each project, because the existing architecture (in a physical/historical/economic  sense) in each location we’ve conducted our project \ is so very different and unique to the particular section of town where it resides.  We organized our very first exhibition, Nostalgia for Simpler Times, in the Upper South district of Providence in a double-wide trailer located on the historic ‘Providence Piers’ waterfront. The Upper South side of Providence is a section of Providence that was the last to undergo development with the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, and currently has the highest unemployment rate in the city. The trailer on the Piers was formerly a ticket office for a, now defunct, ferry route. It is currently managed by the adjacent “Conley’s Wharf” building which houses studios and offices for creative businesses. The exhibition was a solo-show of my partner’s work; at the time, he was using courageously silly methodologies for making sculptures, paintings, and installation work that bordered on being iconoclastic. The double-wide trailer, in the desolate context it was in, informed the work in an interesting way. Throughout the exhibition he had a 3-tiered chocolate fondue fountain on a white pedestal that was constantly pumping nacho cheese. Every morning while the exhibition was up, we had to boil over 6 pounds of cheese and transport it to the site. It was absurd – carrying these massive containers into a double-wide trailer in a parking lot while fisherman were going about their daily business along the pier. It definitely brought in an interesting crowd that we didn’t expect – people were coming in that had little or no experience with that kind of art and really appreciated. It seemed like the broadness (in a metaphorical sense) of the site kept the interpretation of the work very open. At one point we had a homeland security officer come to the exhibition because the particular area the trailer was in also housed a massive salt pile for winterizing all of Providence’s roads; there were also shipping crates directly adjacent to the trailer with storage for some equipment that belonged to the police department. He loved it; he took a good amount of time exploring the work in the show. The exhibition really exemplified the general feeling of that particular district.

The subsequent projects went from the Industrial Valley district, where we conducted a 3-day music festival and a huge exhibition that spanned 20,000 sq. ft. of a historical industrial building that was being renovated, to Downtown Providence, to the West End, to Olneyville, and then we eventually made our way to the East Side of Providence in the Mount Hope district and College Hill where our current exhibition is on display in the new Granoff Center at Brown University. We tried to allow our exhibitions to speak to each district’s existing physical architecture and social space; we traversed a lot of territory and made a lot of noise in the broader area of Providence before making our way back to the academic bubble that is College Hill. I think that itinerary speaks well to how the unique architecture of Providence complimented individual projects.

Exterior View of X.V. ATLASÂ

Installation View of X.V.: ATLASÂ

TP: Absolutely, every property we’ve chosen to work in has presented itself as a space that could be activated by the presence of an exhibition — or vice versa – the space would activate the artwork that inhabited it. What has been really interesting, and surprising, for us is how each exhibition has sort of exhumed the past history of the property it resides in. For example, the third exhibition we hosted with “Art Is Shit Editions” – Frolic, Frolic, Irresistible – was organized around the premise of consumerism and art as commodity. The property we chose for it was a downtown property on Westminster St – known as the “Heart of Providence” – it’s primarily a restaurant and shopping district.  As we were working on preparations for the show, we discovered that the property was formerly an illegal brothel. It ran in an Asian massage parlor where women were kept sequestered in the basement and attic. During the installation process, we came across remnants of this history and ended up utilizing leftover equipment and rooms, such as shower stalls, a sauna, and a massage table for installations as a way of engaging that history. For the audience that experienced the exhibition, it brought up the issue of Providence’s history of sex-trafficking and how long indoor prostitution remained decriminalized in Rhode Island (it was  made illegal in 2009).  It turned out to be a fitting context for the exhibition, not as the mainstay, but as a representation of how the exhibition had the ability to activate a particular history and bring a localized issue to light.

Installation view of Frolic, Frolic, Irresisitible organized with Art Is Shit Editions

In terms of borrowing real estate, we choose properties that we notice have remained vacant for several years and are under-recognized. We always try to reach out to a very broad audience with the hopes that someone will see the space and be interested in purchasing or renting it. In priming the space for our exhibitions, we also make it a point to leave the space in better condition than we found it. This allows us to also maintain wonderful relationships with property brokers and real estate companies that we work with. It also helps them see the worth in what we’re trying to do with the project.

CP: How have your curatorial strategies developed over time?

TP:  The curatorial strategy for the project has always been the same: to address site-specificity via a nomadic, DIY exhibition platform, and offer an alternative way for contextualizing the work of local artists.  Throughout the project I’ve been particularly fond of two books, one written by Rosalyn Deutsche called Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, and the other by Miwon Kwon titled One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity. The ways in which site-specificity is framed and iterated in each of those books have resounded with me greatly, and deeply affected me as I’ve conducted the curatorial strategies for the project.  Kwon puts it perfectly when she identifies the purpose of her book as  “to reframe site specificity as the cultural mediation of broader social, economic, and political processes that organize urban life and urban space.”

That approach to site-specificity is something I find incredibly important.

What is different for each project, and continues to develop, is how the premise for each exhibition, and the work within it, is successfully supported by the context of the project. That’s an overriding programmatic strategy as opposed to curatorial, but I would like to think that creating boundaries for the two is something for conceptual fodder that fuels the project and makes it better with each exhibition.

_____________________

NOTE

(1) In a city that was literally branded as the “Creative Capital,” it was surprising to see that there were no exhibition venues that could support young, contemporary, experimental work. There were a few galleries, but they were geared towards “tourist commodities:” New England kitsch-art that proliferates because of its accessibility. We were concerned about what work was actually defining our “Creative Capital.” The goal of re-branding this city was what ex-Mayor David Ciccilline called: “[In order to build] on one of [Providence’s] finest assets — its large number of artists, designers, student and faculty innovators at such schools like Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — the city recently re-branded itself as Providence: The Creative Capital.” Yet there was no bearing as to how this new identity was intended to build the city’s economy. At the same time the campaign disregarded the nature of arts activities initiated by RI residents who actually existed in the public community.




Give and Take Between Parts: An Interview with Andrew Oesch

October 26, 2011 · Print This Article

Print shops are inherently communal. The overall expense and maintenance of printing equipment is generally only possible when shared. Being in this space, the smell of ink alongside a regular hammering of various machines (there was a particularly well-used off-set printer) reinforced one of the things I love about print making — its communal backbone, something that seems ever present in the proliferation of posters and brightly colored images. While at this print shop, I ran into an old friend, Andrew Oesch. I met Andrew for the first time years ago in Chicago. Oesch is a printmaker who, at the moment, teaches comic book production. In the following conversation we talk more about Providence and the enduring exchange of influence between generations.
Caroline Picard: We first met when you came out for a show that Anne Elizabeth Moore had curated at The Green Lantern. That show was my first introduction to Providence and I was struck by the seeming resonance between the project you and Meg [Turner] installed, (“We Built This City Together”) and my later impressions of Providence itself. For instance, you had some amazing stories about the physical place you living in at the time: cavernous rooms in old warehouses with smaller rooms built inside and space heaters. A lot of communal creative space that at the same time was somehow hyper aware of its (specific) urban context. In We Built This City Together, people were invited to take pre-printed stickers of buildings, color them in and paste them on a wall. It was sort of like a social experiment to see how people would respond to one another. It sounds very much like what those communal living situations must have been like.  I’m starting to ramble, but can you talk a little bit about that?
Andrew Oesch: I hadn’t thought about the ways that communal living might have been affecting my projects before. To put things in a little perspective artists have been living in large amounts of shared space for a while, it’s not a phenomena which is unique to Providence, right? Those opportunities often form along peripheral conditions…artists move into provisional spaces that are in transition or of unclear purpose. In my personal work I do look to  architecture — both its planning and history — for a lot of insight to the culture of a place.
A lot of the architecture and culture of Providence is informed by the industry at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a lot of manufacturing — textiles, tools, and costume jewelry. So there’s a fair amount of large brick mill complexes and a surprisingly dense amount of housing. In the early 1900s the peak population of Providence was around a million people.
With those historical notes in mind we come to the turn of the 21st century and all the large manufacturing is gone. The hemorrhaging of those industries started in the 70s and after a couple of decades the city is fairly depressed and its population is a quarter of what it once was. Some of the large mill complexes are there, though there are large vacant lots like broken teeth where a building might have burned down or was demolished. The buildings which remain are utilized in a variety of ways. Some have light manufacturing, some have small studios, some are flea markets, some are abandoned. The rent is cheap and landlords are permissive, so artists move in and things like Fort Thunder happen, and then they unhappen when the Real Estate market gets crazy.
One thing that I remember someone saying about why they live in these sorts of spaces is that unlike a house, these mills aren’t made for people to live in. So it feels weird to live in them; she chose to live in them to continually remind herself that she wasn’t normal, so she could remember that she feels weird.
I don’t what that says about my practice… I feel weird and temporary? And to answer my own unsure rhetorical question I would say, yes. I am interested in the how Robert Smithson talks about entropy. The city is a system that shifts over time. I don’t think it is moving towards an equilibrium…and it’s not a closed system, but I can create finite systems and invite people to participate in them through various art making methods. Does any of this thinking make me a good housemate? That might be me starting to ramble.
CP: What kind of space does printmaking have in Providence? Has that changed over the years? And how has it influenced your own printmaking practice?
AO: Well, I wouldn’t have a print making practice if I didn’t live in Providence…maybe that’s not true, but I began printing because I saw prints everywhere, and I was like “Oh, I wanna do that…”Print making and this place for the last 15ish years has been shaped by the Dirt Palace, and other less permanent industrial mill living places. It just so happens that many of the folks who live at these various places make screen prints. The biggest way these practices continue to change is because the sprawling mill living spaces are less common. Buildings have been renovated, demolished, or just outright condemned. And this hasn’t stop people from making, but it adds a provisional quality to everyones living situation. So that’s why places like the Dirt Palace are really important: it is owned by two artists committed to keeping the world weird, loud, and rad. The AS220 prinshop is important in a similar way because it represents another place of stability. The contrast is that at the Dirt Palace every surface is covered by something else — old packing, glitter, show flyers, doodles, old paper mache projects…the space amorphously switchs from personal space to cooking space to work space to library to printshop to dance party and back again, while As220’s printshop walls are more neutral. Their space is more obviously a printshop.
CP: While in Providence this summer, I noticed an interesting relationship between the city’s educational institutions and the non-commercial, in many cases DIY, art spaces. Like the Dirt Palace got some kind of cartoon-making-machine because Brown no longer needed it. Do you feel like the universities have enabled the art-making community somehow?
CP: Yeah, Brown, RISD, & Johnson+Wales impact the city a lot. In mundane ways there is (what I imagine to be typical) resentment of the impact the universitys have on the tax base, and universities can gobble up real estate, and are touted by business leaders+politicians for innovation. But I think your observation is totally spot on;for the a certain section of the art scene universities have excess resources artists can mine. There are some  proposterously giant ways that happens and a lot of small ones too. All the Youth Arts programs I have been involved with have a few hand-me-down silk screens from RISD’s print making department. And often at the end of the year there is a dearth of printing ink too.
But beyond the physical resources and material surpluses, these institutions have supported and spawned various organizations in town. New Urban Arts, Community Music Works, and AS220 Youth all ride a paradoxical relationship. Having been incubated by Brown, they nevertheless came into being because there was something that Brown was not providing. They exist because resentment and anger built up around the universities’ inability to engage with a corrupt under city. Resources were mis-appropriated by a twice imprisoned mayor (and many others) while the public school population had 80% of its kids receiving free or reduced lunch (the school bureaucratic euphemism for “really poor”). Even with that resentment, these folks were able to start their respective organizations with the support of fellowships from Brown, and a few key mentors, and the large pool of potential volunteers who attended those same universities. Now these organizations and programs are a little over a decade old and they are the compelling civic leaders to offer something outside of the ways in which Brown, RISD, and Johnson&Wales do public engagement.
So what does this mean for our city’s art scene? There is a generation of people who have grown up making art and hanging out with artists and mentors at these organizations; now grown up, that generation participates as emerging makers+artists+staffers, working and making alongside their former mentors. This is beautifully exemplified in this photo I really love of The “What Cheer?” Brigade, a loud and rowdy local brass band, taken by a young person who was a participant in AS220’s Youth Studios, where a couple other members of the band were running a street band workshop. The photo has one of the trumpet players filling up most of the frame and foreground of the image, and in a the soft focus of the background there’s another trumpet player and a trombonist, it’s a good image, but those three members pictured are no longer in the band, and the photographer is.

Spring Break Book Week: Illustration Workshop led by Andrew Oesch, photo by Jori Ketten

CP: How did you start teaching comics? 

AO: So the last two years has been a slew of new jobs. My friend, Walker Mettling, was one of two artists who were written into a grant to run comics workshops in the Neighborhood Branch Librares in Providence. The other artist ended up dropping out, and both of them asked me to fill his place so I did. Probably the most important thing about  both Walker and me is that neither of us is a practiced comics artist. We’re approaching the whole endeavor with a weird mixed bag of story-telling, print making, collage, busted graphic design sensibilities, and a general sensibility of fostering collaborative engagement. While working with Walker is new, and co-organizing workshops about comics is new, generally the project is a lot like my previous experiences as an artist educator and in that way it has been awesome!
Walker and I have been connecting kids and adults through The Providence Comics Consortium. Admittedly there are a lot of things that we can not claim credit for. We draw on a pool of artists/friends/peers who are pysched about the ideas and images that kids create. Students in our class love to see their work adapted and amplified by adults. This simple equation of strong mutual appreciation/adoration is the essential bond that makes the project kinda magical. Kids come up with outlier ideas that adult artists are captivated by. There is peculiar way kid artists funnel their attention, which is revealed in the details they obsesses over and the aspects which are direct and simple. Walker and Myself are really just go go betweens them and the adults.

One of the ways we started off creating a dialogue between kids and adults was to try out our lesson ideas with a group of our friends. We would sit down and try out what we wanted to do in class with a couple of friends, this provided us with some feedback and refinement for our plans, but it also generated some awesome examples.

One of the critical story-develop tools and the primary visual vehicle between adults and kids is the series of character books we create. There are a variety of prompts and exercises we have utilized to start the germinating a character. My favorite thus far has been a process of hybridization where we start off asking the kids to draw two types of things. A pretty typical pair is “a food” and “a type of job.” The kids make these individual drawings, we put the drawings into bags and everyone picks a pair which they have to combine into a character. This abstract visual mathematics can be confusing, but inevitably leads to good places… a memorable example is “The Apple Wedding Planner.” The boy who drew these from the bags was confused at first, somewhat uncertain about what a wedding planner does… but that didn’t matter because he could make his own meaning out of the random pairing he had drawn. The next phase in the character-develop is typically drawing a short strip using this character. After that little bit of narrative exploration with the character, we give them a worksheet with prompts to list the character’s friends, enemies, special powers, height, weight, fears, and a little bit more narrative about the characters origin story. We end up retyping these stats and combine all the drawings and write-ups into a booklet. Compiling and re-distributing that book has two effects: One, it gets the participants super excited because they see there work in print! And two, the kids get super inspired by each others’ creations. They start to utilize other students’ creations, creating other characters in response.

Then we give those books to adults, who are equally as excited. We ask them to create adaptations using student characters. Soon we are going to put out our first anthology which features the student work and adult adaptations, so keep an eye out for that. (You can visit Secret Door Projects, to see how Ian G. Cozzens developed the Scar character).