Thursday, November 09, 2006

Alliance of Artist Communities, Day One

Report for Alliance of Artists Communities Conference, Thursday

Being in the residency business is lonely, according to Susan from the Ragdale Foundation (north of Chicago); you aren't going to run into anyone at the grocery store that strikes up a conversation about what you do. We all laughed and looked around with an common understanding that it is such a relief to be in a place where you can skip the conversation about what you are and why you are and get right down to the how.

After a Year in Review report from the Alliance of Artists Communities (who are doing amazing work), there was a panel of funders talking about funneling dollars to individual artists. After the NEA stopped funding individual artists for fear of controversy, and many other funders following suit, the way artists are funded has shifted. Several folks in the audience made the important point that residency programs are a great way to get benefits directly to artists. There was also interesting discussion about how learning the vocabulary of grant makers is key.

I attended the lunch session for Emerging Programs, an informal discussion for folks like us. Again, it was nice to be among people who are in similarly unique situations. We covered privacy issues for those who live and work on-campus, educating communities, and heard one person's success story.

I ended up at the Understanding Nonprofit Policy breakout session in the afternoon. There was a representative from Guidestar who spoke about the very complex issues around Sarbanes-Oxley in a way that was understandable, although uninspiring. It's the least interesting part of what we do, but essential and good to know about. One message that I took away from the presentation that Guidestar, an organization with a 6 million dollar budget who HAS to walk the line, finds it to be a difficult line.

The highlight of the day was the session on Supporting Artists in a Politicized World: A Global Perspective. There were representatives from Res Artis, an international network of artist residency programs. Nick Tsoutas (Casula Powerhouse, Australia) told a story of a Nigerian artists and arts administrator who traveled to Australia for a conference who was detained and denied entrance to the country because of Nigerian internet scams. This was meant to be an example of the frustrating issues in international exchange. N'Goné Fall (Senegal) spoke about her collective called GAW, which is using Dakar as a big exhibition space, squatting in locations for various art projects. Ronald Lopez (Aden Art Center, Istanbul) is part of an organization that is unique within the field; his program is a decentralized residency, with artists invited to Istanbul to stay in various housing choices (homes, institutions) with opportunities to connect with the community while working on their art.

The most captivating part of the session, however, was Todd Lester (freeDimensional, New York City), whose organization partners "socially progressive residential artist communities with human rights and freedom of expression organizations in order to facilitate rapid response, tactical placement of human rights defenders in exile." He sends artistic political refuges to residency programs. There is so much to say about this that I'm temporarily speechless. Really amazing stuff.

Finally, we were given a short tour of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab. We were shown a video of grapefruit-sized robotic dogs playing soccer. Really. Going to the ball, blocking, passing, scoring goals. Very cool, even with the lack of head-butts.

More to come!

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