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Photo: The Art Newspaper
ProjectArt provides free after-school arts classes to children and teens at public libraries in major US cities.

When Suzanne lived in Harlem in the early 2000s, she loved her volunteer gig at a free arts program for kids who were not getting arts education in the city schools. Today I still follow FreeArtsNYC on Facebook, where I especially love the quotes from children inspired by the program.

As Tess Thackara writes at UK-based The Art Newspaper, “Exposure to the arts gives us the tools to know ourselves and others better. It bolsters our self-esteem, helps us communicate and improves our performance in academic or professional areas of our lives. … Yet, since the 1980s, access to arts education for American schoolchildren has been on the decline — particularly in school districts with high populations of minority students. …

“But where the American public school system is failing children, non-profits are stepping in to fill the void, and one in particular has ambitious plans to become the largest free art school for children in the country.

“[ProjectArt], an initiative founded by Adarsh Alphons in Harlem in 2011, is expanding to New Orleans and San Francisco, bringing arts access to two cities with large communities of homeless young people and giving the organisation a presence in a total of eight cities across the US. …

“Its executive director, Diana Buckley Muchmore, who has led the organisation’s daily operations since last November, volunteered with ProjectArt in its early days, and one experience impressed on her the impact that art can make in a child’s development.

“Joining her friend Alphons in teaching a class of ten students in a Harlem community center, Buckley Muchmore met a boy named Malikai. ‘He was non-verbal, very quiet, but I connected with him through a sculpture he was making out of foil and through this art-making, he slowly started to open up to describe his work,’ she remembers. …

“Since then, Buckley Muchmore has watched as ProjectArt has embraced a model, adopted in 2012, of partnering with the country’s public library systems. The libraries give them free space, access to existing communities and materials to inspire the children’s creations. ‘There are 16,000 public libraries in the US; there are 14,000 Starbucks — to give you an idea of the magnitude of libraries,’ she says.

“Artist-teachers, who go through a competitive review and interview process, receive a studio in a library, in addition to payment, and make their own work throughout the year, often in collaboration with the students. Students showcase their work in an exhibition at the end of the school year.

“In the meantime, the organisation is working to serve the particular needs (and capitalise on the assets) of its newest cities. In San Francisco … [Buckley Muchmore has] an eye on big companies like Airbnb and Adobe, which she hopes to approach for corporate funding. (The organisation also receives grants from foundations and individual donors.) …

” ‘In terms of less populated communities, we’ll get there too,’ says Buckley Muchmore. ‘Eventually, we’ll be in all the cities that have libraries.’ ” More here.

The model is a little different from Free Arts NYC, which relies more on volunteers, but it’s similar to one my friend Meredith founded in Lowell, Mass., which had practicing artists doing the teaching. In all three models, the classes are free for students.

Oh! And do add “Muchmore” to your list of interesting names!

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Photo: Corinna Kern/Reuters
Girls from Eritrea play in an open area opposite Tel Aviv’s artsy but grimy “new” Central Bus Station.

Things change, and sometimes names don’t fit anymore. When I was a kid, I knew a girl called Bambi. Today she would be in her 70s, and I can’t imagine the cute name still works. How about the war-torn Middle East, once called the “Cradle of Civilization,” where if you are determined, you can visit the dried-up “Fertile Crescent”?

In today’s story, a bus station still called “new” actually opened for business in 1993 and is a derelict mess. Fortunately, there is nothing like a derelict mess to inspire artists to go into creative overdrive.

Ruth Eglash reports a the Washington Post, “It’s impossible to remain apathetic toward Tel Aviv’s ‘new’ Central Bus Station, a grimy, peeling concrete structure that spans five blocks and reaches seven stories in a run-down section of this bustling city.

“No longer new — it opened its doors in 1993 — and certainly not central, the bus station evokes sharp responses from anyone who steps inside. Some are fascinated with the urban eyesore, while for others, it instills fear after years of violent crime marred its reputation.

“Designed by renowned Israeli architect Ram Karmi, the hulking station, said to be the second largest in the world, was envisioned as housing an entire city under one roof. But Karmi’s brutalist style, with coarsely strewn stairwells, mezzanine floors, winding walkways, vast corridors and dark hidden spaces made the station impractical and impossible to navigate almost from the start.

“Twenty-six years later, its legacy is as rough and as unwelcoming as the abandoned stores and deserted floors inside it. Only a small part of the station is used today for daily travel, with most commuters hurrying through, hoping to spend as little time there as possible.

“But the expansive space has given rise to a cast of exotic characters and myriad artistic initiatives that take advantage of the unique charms of this gritty interior.

“The surrounding neighborhood is populated by a mix of African migrants, Filipino care workers and longtime Israeli residents, all of whom mill about the station’s ultracheap clothing stores, bargain electronic outlets, beauty salons and foreign food markets.

“Over the past five years, artists have realized the benefits of this unadorned space, brightening its walls with graffiti on the seventh floor or filling the abandoned stores on the fifth with modern installations. A Yiddish Cultural Center and a bat colony also call the station home. …

“A local theater group has adopted the bus station for its site-specific and immersive performances. In ‘Seven,’ an artistic interpretation of the seven deadly sins, the Mystorin Theatre Ensemble spotlights some of the station’s darkest corners: a former waiting area it has renamed ‘the red square,’ the oddly painted concrete staircase and even the dreaded first floor, with its abandoned movie theater, stores, cafes and ticket booths.

‘It’s an urban playground for artists,’ said actress and theater manager Dana Forer. ‘For us, this is an ideal space. We have seven floors, and the people who come here help turn our performance into a world of fantasy and reality.’

I need to ask my friend Kai what he thinks of this example of Brutalist architecture. He’s the only person I know who has a good word to say for Boston’s unloved Brutalist city hall. Because he’s a guy who has a way of bringing out the good side of almost anyything, I try to understand what he sees in it when I pass by.

I should also mention Kai has a gentle and lovable pitbull for a pet.

For some nice pictures of the art projects in the Tel Aviv bus station, click here.

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Photo: Eric Cabanis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Looming over mere mortals, a Minotaur strode through the streets of Toulouse, France, for an immersive art exhibition in November.

There are days I think that artists will save the world.

We have too many real-life monstrosities weighing us down. If we make the mistake of watching the news before bedtime, evil forces get into our dreams. Along with the demons comes a sense of helplessness — a feeling we ought to do something about this, but we don’t know what.

But fantasy monsters? Oh, yes, please! The more wildly imaginative artists we have, the more fantasy monsters, the better for me. I would absolutely love to look out the window one morning and see a giant mechanical spider. I would also love the feeling that I’m not responsible to do anything about it.

Alissa J. Rubin writes at the New York Times, “Imagine looking out the window one morning and seeing a gigantic spider perched on the roof of a neighboring building — its eight legs extending to the street below. Then you walk downtown and realize that a 50-foot-tall creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man was looming above you.”

In November, the French city of Toulouse gave “itself over to an immersive form of street theater, bringing to life creatures like the giant spider and the Minotaur, the mythical monster from Greek mythology that is half bull and half man and said to have lived in the center of a maze on the island of Crete.

“Both creatures are the conception of François Delarozière, the artistic director and leading creative force behind La Machine, a theater company that works with technicians and designers to fabricate mechanical creatures on a vast scale and creates public spectacles around them. …

“Mr. Delarozière described his goal to local news outlets as making the city and its residents all part of a vast work of art by giving them a common topic to react to so that they would ‘talk to each other’ and ‘the whole city becomes a place of theater.’ …

“The Minotaur is made of unpainted lime tree wood and metal. It has been constructed to seem as real as possible and even makes the sound of breathing as it moves.

“Apparently ‘asleep,’ he was pulled along by some of the 16 technicians who coordinate his movement, his peaceful but powerful breathing heard above the crowd’s chatter. His arrival, which constituted Act I of the drama, was accompanied by a cast of scores of actors, opera singers and musicians.

“On Friday morning came Act II. Toulouse residents and visitors found him the following morning still asleep in the middle of one of the main squares. But he soon roused and began to move through the streets.

“By evening, the spider, named Ariane, was awake as well, and was poised on the top of the Hotel Dieu.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Breeder gallery
The Breeder gallery in Athens has helped bring international attention to contemporary Greek artists. With all sorts of people thinking more creatively in the economic crisis, Greece is showing signs of revitalization.

My high school classmate Pat posted lovely vacation pictures this spring that reminded me of a long-ago tour of the wonders of ancient Greek art. Those wonders are still there to enjoy, and now, it seems, contemporary artists are adding a modern vibe that is bringing energy back to a country that was recently in danger of collapse.

Charly Wilder reports at the New York Times, “There are places we live and places we visit, and then there are the other places. Places we return to, where we put down roots, but not strong enough roots to hold us — places that change us, that we haunt and are haunted by. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Athens, a city I’ve watched shift and evolve, endure crisis and chaos and economic collapse, and yet emerge from the wreckage as one of the continent’s most vibrant and significant cultural capitals, more popular than ever as a tourist destination….

“Neighborhoods that were rundown and neglected have become seed beds for the arts, like Metaxougio, which not long ago was best known for its junk stores and Asian groceries, but now hosts the thriving multispace Bios and one of the city’s most important contemporary galleries, The Breeder, which has helped bring international attention to Greek talent like the painter Sofia Stevi and Stelios Faitakis, a street artist whose murals evoke Albrecht Dürer and Diego Rivera. …

” ‘It’s been interesting and hellish,’ said Theodosis Michos. … Back in 2006, he was a staff writer for Esquire Greece, but like almost all the Greeks I know, the crisis left Theodosis out of work. …

“‘We all got fired or we quit because we weren’t getting paid,’ he said. And yet in 2013, arguably the lowest point of the crisis, Theodosis was part of a collective that launched Popaganda, an online magazine that covers culture and city life through an Athenian lens. ‘The first thing we did to resist the crisis psychologically was to tell ourselves again and again: O.K., we are artists, we are writers, this is the best time for us, because when artists have nothing, they can do anything,’ he said, adding that this isn’t actually true. ‘We told ourselves this so many times, that we started to believe it.’ …

” ‘It’s like the whole world is coming on vacation to Greece [now],” said Fotis Vallatos, the travel editor of Blue Magazine, the in-flight publication of Greece’s largest airline, Aegean Airlines. …

“As tourism has increased, Aegean Airlines expanded from 18 mostly Greek destinations in 2001 to 145 all over the world today. Fotis is now often on the road, exploring those destinations and the many inventive restaurants and visitor attractions that have emerged in Greece since the crisis, from a wave of young chefs using Nordic, French and East Asian cooking techniques on local ingredients, to a multitude of ‘second-act producers,’ people left unemployed or underemployed who returned to the villages where they grew up and began to sell homemade, organic, artisanal Greek products — to phenomenal results.

“ ‘I think everybody became more creative after the crisis, more cooperative,’ he said.”

Read more about this renaissance at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Heidi Gumula/DBVW Architects
After the Mercantile Block in Providence, Rhode Island, was restored, it became a hub of activity once again.

Rhode Island in general is good at preserving historic sites, offering developers monetary assistance in the form of generous tax credits. Providence in particular has a history of successful efforts to renovate properties for new uses.

At the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Jared Foretek writes about one: “When the Providence, Rhode Island nonprofit AS220 set out to purchase its third downtown building, it knew the Mercantile Block had exactly what it was looking for. Its sheer size — 50,000 square feet, four stories, and a basement — made the 1901 structure perfect for the diverse uses the artist-run organization had in mind. There was storefront space for creative businesses, office space for local nonprofits, and room for 22 live/work studios for local artists.

“Built in 1901, the building was once the hub of a bustling commercial strip in downtown Providence [and] remained a destination until the middle of the 20th century, when the Mercantile and its surrounding neighborhood fell victim to the same economic and migratory forces that ravaged urban cores around the nation.

“The building was nearly vacant when AS220 — an organization dedicated to creating artist space in Providence since 1985 — undertook a $16.9 million rehabilitation in 2008. …

“A meticulous restoration of the building’s four-story facade by DBVW Architects has helped revitalize the entire streetscape and inspired building owners to take up rehabilitations nearby. The mixed-use redevelopment has benefited the broader community as well, with affordable storefronts for local small businesses, office space for Providence-based nonprofits, and subsidized live/work studios for artists. …

“The renovation also allowed locally owned small businesses — some long-time tenants — to lease newly desirable downtown storefronts at low cost. For a restaurant like Viva Mexico!, one of just a few Latino-owned businesses in the downtown area, affordable space with good real estate is hard to come by. …

“ ‘It’s a story that a lot of communities have. Artists live in places that are semi-legal or if they’re legal, they’re underdeveloped. And as soon as spaces become viable and interesting, artists get pushed out, and low-income people get pushed out,’ said Shauna Duffy, AS220’s Managing Director. ‘So our mission is to create these spaces and create this community. And that involves having a permanent place for artists to live affordably downtown in Providence.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Big Car Collaborative
The search for a housing model that benefits both artists and communities.

Low-income communities often benefit artists by providing cheap housing. And artists benefit low-income communities — at least until a tipping point comes and improved ambience spills over into gentrification. That’s when neighbors find that rents have gone too high, and the artists do, too.

Indianapolis is testing an approach to make artist and community interaction a long-term benefit for all.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company, “For artists, the gentrification cycle in cities often goes something like this: struggling photographers or painters or writers move into an industrial neighborhood with cheaper rents and transform it. As new businesses spring up to serve these new residents, the neighborhood becomes more desirable to a wider swath of upper-middle class professionals. Eventually, rents increase so much that the artists have to move away.

“In Indianapolis, one block in the Garfield Park neighborhood south of the city’s downtown is experimenting with a different model. An arts nonprofit worked with other partners to buy and renovate vacant houses and is now offering to co-own them with artists.

“Artists will pay half the cost – one $80,000 home, for example, will sell for around $40,000. If they later move out, they’ll get their equity back, but no more; the house will be sold at the same cost to someone else, keeping the neighborhood accessible as the artists help make it more desirable.

” ‘Neither of the two sides can profit off of an inflated market value,’ says Jim Walker, executive director of Big Car Collaborative, the art and placemaking nonprofit leading the project along with the local Riley Area Development Corporation and local neighborhood associations. ‘That’s to keep us from pricing out future owners of the homes.’ …

“When Big Car bought an abandoned factory on a block in Garfield Park, converting it into a community art center that opened in 2016, the organization realized that there was a bigger opportunity in the area. The block, cut off from part of the neighborhood by a highway built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had declined for years; roughly half of the houses were abandoned. …

“ ‘These homes were available to us below $20,000, on average, because they were owned by banks in Florida and other investors who just walked away,’ says Eric Strickland, executive director of Riley Area Development Corporation, which works on community development in and around downtown Indianapolis. …

“The Artist and Public Life Residency program is designed for artists who are particularly interested in community and placemaking. ‘What we’re really looking for, first and foremost, is leadership in trying to invest in the community, and use the talents and resources that you have to support your own neighborhood,’ says Walker. …

“The development corporation wants to encourage other developers to build new affordable housing for the area to help keep the most vulnerable people in place. …

“Big Car is working closely with neighbors, who they say have been supportive of the changes–particularly the potential for local commercial streets to gain new businesses and bringing life to vacant houses.”

More at Fast Company, here.

Photo: Big Car Collaborative

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Today the public radio program Studio 360 featured a shortened version of a wonderful WNYC documentary about the year 1913. That was the year Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was only one of many “shocking” arts events to usher in the modern age.

From the Studio 360 website: “What a year was 1913! In an exhibition in a New York Armory, American viewers confronted Cubism and abstraction for the first time. In Vienna, the audience at a concert of atonal music by Schoenberg and others broke out into a near-riot. And in Paris, Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s new ballet The Rite of Spring burst on stage with inflammatory results.

Culture Shock 1913 tells the stories behind these and other groundbreaking events that year, and goes back to consider what led to this mad, Modernist moment.

” ‘I think in a lot of ways it was just the beginning of a century just of absolute chaos and nightmare, and as so often, the artists heard it and reflected it first,’ notes the critic Tim Page.

“WNYC’s Sara Fishko speaks with thinkers, authors, musicians, art curators, and historians about this unsettling era of sweeping change — and the not-so-subtle ways in which it mirrors our own uncertain age.

“This Studio 360 episode is an abridged version of a one-hour documentary Sara Fishko produced for WNYC.” More here.

I liked how the documentary explains that the shock was derived from artists not wanting to master and perfect what was done in the past or to replicate nature but rather to be different and to focus on structure, taking things apart and putting back again differently. Artists themselves organized the Armory Show, not curators or galleries. They went to Europe, where change was erupting like crazy, and they brought back art never seen in conservative America.

A key takeaway was that when we see something really new we often think it is ugly, as people thought the Eiffel Tower ugly. But once they look and look some more, they begin to like it.

That helps me think about some of the art Asakiyume and I saw yesterday at the Worcester Museum of Art. It sure looked ugly to me, but it’s a good idea to keep an open mind. Asakiyume sets a good example in that department.

(My mother was born in 1913. Perhaps something was in the air that year that can explain her rebellious nature.)

Photograph taken by spDuchamp/flickr
Marcel Duchamp’s NudeDescending a Staircase, No. 2, was featured in the landmark Armory Show and outraged most visitors because she wasn’t reclining like traditional nudes and she was in motion and it was hard to see her.

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