Outside studio practice: Artwork that consults, manages, and impacts the world
Ever since I began the journey of being an artist, I have somehow found myself involved with the kinds of art practices that do not solely begin or end in the studio (i.e., arts publishing, curating, and art programs). Or maybe they do? Here is my comparison: unlike an artist whose work is only created in studios and displayed on gallery walls, I also enjoy creating work that exists in other forms––in the form of envisioning and creating programs, curation of other artists and community opportunities, and consulting those who are interested in engaging art in some form of fashion. It never gets old either! I enjoy the fact that I can apply my studio practice outside traditional artspaces and see my work displayed in so many different formats that aren't particularly considered art. Honestly, I just embrace the diversity of places in which art practice can exist. In my mind, art is everywhere. And yes, I am completely aware of how optimistic and idealistic that sounds...
Regardless of that, over the years, I continue to find myself applying the same principles that thrive within my studio such as experimentation, concept, process, and editing into work that can live and exist in the world. And I am not ashamed of that, and regardless of what anybody says, I unabashedly call it art too! I know that calling it art might seem odd to some but it is what it is. I can not separate my philosophical standpoint as an artist from anything else I do so just deal with it folks! It's like when my husband asks me to choose something and I undecisively keep thinking about all the creative options and colors that exist. I know it drives him crazy but that is what happens when you are an artist. You take every decision seriously unless of course you are the kind of artist who doesn't :) Nonetheless, being an artist is a part of who I am and how I think... wherever I am. I'm not saying it's an identity category but it is definitely a form of knowledge that informs my perspective and my strategy. And while I am sure (and know!) that there are many artists who could care less about doing anything outside of their art studio, I absoultely have to do do "both/and": work both in the studio and outside of it.
More recently, I've come across more opinions regarding artists who aren't heavy studio artists or in other words not full-time artists. And while I think it is great to be able to work in the studio all the time, I am very realistic and aware that all artists can't or should not be required to do so. Let's just be technically honest: every artist doesn't have the luxury or interest (in some cases) to work in their studios full-time. Especially without a good strategy, personal and financial independence (whether through a trust fund, a working spouse/partner, extremely tight budget, or saved income), and time. Even artists who do have a so-called full-time studio practice work outside creating work (which is refreshing!). They do other things like gardening, volunteering, caretaking, socializing, inspiring, and of course the administrative aspects of having a studio (i.e., billing/bookkeeping, marketing, etc). Nonetheless, I am realistic about the fact that many artists have other needs outside of being an artist like eating, sleeping, vacationing, taking care of families (and themeselves), teaching, and bettering their communities. Many artists that I know refuse to neglect these "other" kinds of needs, nor do they have families or obligations that allow them to do so.
So anyway, while I do believe there is such a thing as traditional art practice that is really and truly made for the gallery space, and I absolutely enjoy making work that can exist in connection and beyond that world too. Furthermore, I am an artist who believes in social justice and access for all artists, so I also feel some type of way about sitting around in my studio completely aware that we live in a completely inequitable art world (whether we like it or not). Therefore, the engrained activist within my heart feels incomplete with the idea of doing absolutely nothing about injustice, even as sometimes it seems way over my head. Hence...my art practice takes on many other forms.
Some might call it art entrepreneurship, arts administration/management, programming, socially-engaged practice, or arts consulting; but at the end of the day, the approach that I use and the way that I think about the process is still through an artistic lens. I have a studio-based education for crying out loud! The only difference is that when I graduated from college, I began my work experience in pr, marketing, small arts businesses, and arts advertising. Earning my MFA while working full-time gave me the professional know-how to manage the balance between my art practice and making some changes in the world. It kept me interested and engaged with the people and conversations that happen about art-world change and that seems to drive my so-called socially-engaged practice. More recently, I have become more increasingly interested in displaying this other work that I do within more artistic terms: process, the archive, documentation (i.e. photography and video), and narrative are all mediums that interest me in this regard.
Undoubtfully, these are all themes that have been a part of my work for so long; now, I'm just really intrigued at how this will play out! One of the reasons I decided to persue a PhD in Women's Studies with an emphasis in art instead of an strictly arts-based Ph.D program was because outside of my art practice I wanted to discover legite ways to create world change. I am realistic about this: art in a gallery space can only go so far. In a world where there are still so many people that will never enter an art space and an artworld that still continues to report parts of our human reality, I figured that it will be just as important to investigate how art can connect to everyday spaces that the whole world can see than to only explore how artspaces can become more equitable. Nonetheless, I get a kick out of making the kind of work I enjoy making...wherever it is displayed and whoever sees it.
With all of that being said...I am really excited about some of the art projects that I've been involved with lately. Particularly consulting organizations and individuals both inside and outside of the art world that were interested in engaging communities or arts communities but just needed a translator. It has been a busy quarter. Of course art projects that exist outside of the studio are highly collaborative, and unlike other independently made artworks you share most of the artistic responsibility and credit which can be nice! Nonetheless, the end result is incredibly rewarding: to see your work reach such a larger audience then you could recruit all on your own. It's like exhibiting in a art gallery or museum that does all of the marketing and promotion for you. There is something special about that kind of collaborative effort.
So far, within a six month timespan, I developed a community arts "speed-dating" event in partnership with my organization, WoCA Projects, Jenny Conn, and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, and assisted with my good friend and artist Carol Ivey with a exhibition developed by Flora Brewer (Paulos Properties) and MHMR, which developed a permanent art collection for the Pine Street Recovery Center in Fort Worth. And now a more recent project is ArtSouth by Near Southside, Inc, a non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing the Near Southside community in Fort Worth.
For about five months I met with Megan Henderson, Director of Events and Communication, to consult and assist her with the development of the project that is now ArtSouth, and I am so excited to see it hit the ground running. After having prior conversations in the Fort Worth arts community (mainly artists) about the need for an artist-in-residency program in Fort Worth, I was convinced after meeting with Megan Henderson back in April 2015 that Near Southside, Inc was the perfect organization to kick off such a needed program in our community. With Megan, I helped to develop the concept of the program and Near Southside partners like Schaefer Advertising conceived the brand name and identity. Now I am thrilled to announce that the ArtSouth program has released its first call for artist proposals! This kind of outside studio project was collaborative art at its finest, and I am so excited to see the artist who will get to benefit from some studio time and the opportunity to display work that can engage with the local community.
I really believe that projects like these are one amongst many ways that art can create change. Other artists have done other just as meaningful projects surrounding other kinds of problems. In my mind, as long as art is solving something it is doing something good. The irony is that the more work that I produce outside of the studio, the more work I am inspired to create in it. So off to the studio I go! It's just as well: life inspires art. The more that I advocate for art the more art I make. Let's just see what comes next!