One day Juan William Chávez was contemplating the failures of the Pruitt-Igoe complex to house a community, when he realized it could still welcome one community: bees. His Creative Capital project,Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary was born. Over the years, Juan has developed the project into a multilayered community outreach program offering public studio space, food demos and gardening classes for local children, and paid positions for young adults in the neighborhood. Currently, Juan is using a residency at Artpace in San Antonio to develop the project so it can become mobile. Before he premieres the project at an exhibition there, opening July 14, we spoke to him to find out more about it.
Alex Teplitzky: You were first inspired to begin this project after taking photos of what remains of the Pruitt-Igoe lot, a notable failure in urban planning history. I’m interested in how you’re beginning almost literally from the ashes of this failure and propelling toward a new project of community building. Are you inspired by the old failures that took place on the site that your own project is named after? Or perhaps by the intentions of the Pruitt-Igoe developers?
Juan William Chávez: There has been a lot of art and research base on the failures of Pruitt-Igoe. My project aims to continue the conversation about Pruitt-Igoe and how its history still affects the city of Saint Louis. It addresses urban planning strategies that enforce a racial and economic divide in the city.
It also aims to confront these strategies through community building by activating vacant lots with programming that embraces the urban ecosystem, education, the arts, job training and providing a space for dialogue among community members.
The urban forest of Pruitt-Igoe is what inspired me to go beyond a traditional community garden and view green vacant lots as part of the urban ecosystem of people, animals and plants that can foster space and opportunity for conversation, a sense of belonging, a space for self-realization and transformation. It aims to be a public studio space that offers creative strategies for developing and activating vacant lots that can slowly grow into new possibilities. Planting seeds and ideas, letting them grow with a goal not to fix but to evolve with people and time.
Working with several advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, the Center for Artistic Activism took over the controversial sculpture “Perceiving Freedom” in Cape Town. Photo by Steve Lambert.
Interested in launching a socially engaged art campaign? Curious how successful artists have pulled it off? Stephanie Bleyer is an expert in community engagement campaigns and founder of the firm Six Foot Chipmunk, where she helps artists across disciplines create strategic plans, raise funds, and reach and mobilize new audiences. On Thursday June 9th, 2016, she will lead the webinarProducing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign, an essential for artists’ projects involving social justice, education, public art, or community building. Adapted from Stephanie’s webinar, the following information pairs best practices with action-oriented case studies.
Steve Lambert and Stephen Duncombe in North Carolina.
Steve Lambert and Stephen Duncombe of The Center For Artistic Activism help artists make political art work. For them artistic activism is more than just a descriptor for certain types of art. It’s more than a tactic. They see it as an “entire approach: a perspective, a practice, a philosophy.” They will be leading a new workshop in Creative Capital’s New York offices on May 23rd, where artists will learn how to use their creative practice to organize communities, speak truth to power, and make more engaging and impactful artworks. We talked to the pair about their work, their critical inspirations, and the artistic activism they see in the world.
A letter from “The Birthday Project” in 2006. Photo: Dhanraj Emanuel
“Would you like to write a postcard to the President?” This was an initial prompt artist Sheryl Oring used to engage the public on the street in her Creative Capital-supported project, I Wish to Say. In 2006, Sheryl dressed as a 1960s secretary, set up a portable public office complete with a manual typewriter in public areas across the country, and typed birthday cards to then President Bush as dictated by passers-by. The originals were mailed to the White House. Since then, the project has grown exponentially and she has enlisted a number of volunteer typists to take dictation. On April 26, she will bring the piece to Bryant Park as part of the PEN World Voices Festival, and anyone can dictate a letter to the 2016 presidential candidates. We spoke to Sheryl as she prepared the piece for New York.
Alex Teplitzky: Can you describe the project, and specifically the history behind it. How did it come about?
Sheryl Oring: I had been thinking about the idea of doing what ultimately became I Wish to Say for a while. It grew partly out of my experience in newspapers—the idea of the person on the street interview. But there’s a more personal connection as well. My grandmother was a secretary in the Political Science Department at the University of Maryland. She was the kind of secretary who always went to work dressed to the nines. When I was a kid, she let me go into her closet and into her jewelry boxes, her many jewelry boxes, and dress up when I visited. I think that is also one of the sources of the idea for this work.
In 2003 I had been living in Berlin for six years and came back to the country and I felt completely out of touch with the American public and what people were thinking about politics. Many things came together for me when I thought about going out onto the street with a typewriter and asking people what they’d like to say to the President.
I should mention that I Wish to Say also came to be partly because I saw the movie Central Station. There’s a woman sitting in the central train station in Rio taking dictation for people who are illiterate. I was drawn to the idea of a typist taking dictation of letters from strangers in a public space. It also stems from my own biography. I grew up in a very liberal family in North Dakota, which is a pretty conservative place. We were used to interacting with people with different political view points because we were the minority in my hometown.
Laura Poitras, a Creative Capital grantee, exemplifies social-justice-oriented artistic engagement for Stephanie Bleyer.
Community engagement brings politically invested artworks to life. An artist who knows how to successfully reach out to the communities around them and get them invested and involved in a project will see their creative capacity for change multiply.
Stephanie Bleyer is an expert in community engagement campaigns and founder of the firm Six Foot Chipmunk, where she helps artists across disciplines create strategic plans, raise funds, and reach and mobilize new audiences. On Thursday June 9th, 2016, she will lead the webinar Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign, an essential for artists projects involving social justice, education, public art, or community building. It will highlight effective practices for community outreach & engagement based on several action-oriented case studies and teach artists of all disciplines how to produce and fund effective engagement campaigns for artworks that hope to impact and better the world.
In preparation for her webinar, we asked Stephanie a few questions about how she entered the field of socially aware and active art making and which artists are moving people toward social change.
“Bower,” Lynn Basa, 2012, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls
Are you interested in winning public art commissions but find yourself overwhelmed by the application process? Many public art projects begin with an RFQ, or request for qualifications. Answering an RFQ with a compelling letter of interest is crucial to advancing past the initial stages of selection. Each letter you submit should be specific to each project. The following frame for writing an effective letter of interest is drawn from Lynn Basa’s Creative Capital webinar, Demystifying Public Art. Register for the next session, happening December 17, 7:00-8:30pm EST.
Specifically address your interest in the project. Refer to the RFQ, but be careful not to just reword what it says. Your letter of interest should show that you understand what the agency or selection committee is looking for, that you feel an affinity for it and that you took the time to do some research. Continue reading →
Sharon Louden is a remarkable individual; she is a successful artist, editor, teacher, consultant and leader in Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program. Sharon delivers invaluable guidance on communicating with art world figures in the four-part webinar, How to Approach and Engage with the Gatekeepers of the Art World. Sharon’s transparent and earnest approach to sustaining professional connections is drawn from her own experiences and her decades of experience working with other artists. Below you’ll find some tips adapted from Sharon’s course that we and past webinar participants have found most useful. Continue reading →
Postcommodity, a collective of artists scattered around New Mexico and Arizona, will install two miles of scare-eye balloons at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona on October 9.
Next week, the indigenous artist collective Postcommodity (2012 Visual Arts) will present their Creative Capital-supported project, Repellent Fence, the largest bi-national land art installation ever exhibited on the U.S./Mexican border. The fence, which will be installed through a community action from October 9-12 near Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico, is comprised of 28 tethered “scare eye” balloons, ten feet in diameter, floating 75 feet above the desert landscape to create a temporary two-mile-long sculpture that intersects the U.S./Mexico border.
The geographic location chosen for Repellent Fence is the center point of the largest and most densely fortified militarized zone of the Western Hemisphere. This border region and its omnipresent military and surveillance systems artificially divide people, cultures, languages and communities from themselves and the land, disrupting interdependent human, cultural and environmental relationships that have existed for thousands of years. The monumental Repellent Fence installation is part of a larger public engagement campaign that includes public programming, performances and the first cross-border art walk in Douglas and Agua Prieta. In this post, the artists of Postcommodity—Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist—share the back-story behind this ambitious and timely project, nearly eight years in the making. Continue reading →
Every few weeks we post tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendees, written by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post is packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. Learn more about all of our PDP workshops and webinars here. For an in-depth look at the current best practices for social media use, join museum marketer, comedian and social media expert Brad Stephenson for Social Media – How to Be Everywhere All the Time on September 14 at 7:00pm.
Jon Kessler , “The Web,” 2013
Social networks have revolutionized the way people use the Internet. These online platforms for community engagement have impacted politics, culture and journalism. And they have done so quickly and completely through their potential for viral reach (if you tell two friends and they tell two friends, the effect multiplies exponentially). When you join a social network, you are participating in a multiparty conversation. This can be both liberating and confusing; staying on top your social networking presence can take a lot of time. Continue reading →
Launching Successful Community Engagement Campaigns has define the Career of Creative Capital Grantees the Yes Men
Powerful, disruptive ideas beg to be spread. Successful community engagement depends on setting clear objectives, finding your audience, and activating them. Stephanie Bleyer is a master of the community engagement campaign who runs the firm Six Foot Chipmunk. Stephanie helps artists across disciplines create strategic plans, raise funds, and reach and mobilize new audiences. On Thursday June 9th, 2016, she will lead the webinar Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign. This webinar is essential for artists projects involving social justice, education, public art, or community building. It takes participants through the entire process of producing your campaign starting with letters of inquiry and grant applications all the way through to measuring impact. Artists can ask themselves these five questions as a foundation for your engagement strategy.
1) What are the social goals of my campaign? Keep in mind that the social goals of your campaign will likely be different from the goals of your art work or overall practice. Think, “I want my audience to think about how many plastic bags they regularly take from grocery stores and ultimately reduce that amount,” instead of, “I want my project to receive awards and praise from environmental foundations and get written up in ArtForum.” Continue reading →