$100,000 in prizes to US artists and others for fresh ideas on democracy

MacArthur Foundation website, 2/3/13

A new digital media challenge, Looking@Democracy, is offering $100,000 in prize money for short, provocative media submissions designed to spark a national conversation about why government is important to our lives, or how individuals and communities can come together to strengthen American democracy. Examples of welcome submissions would be addressing a critical topic that is absent from the national debate, looking at data and exploring the stories behind them, or highlighting an aspect about democracy taking place on a local level. By making submissions in any digital format welcome, the challenge hopes to engage with independent media makers, investigative reporters, students, graphic designers and artists -- anyone with creative ideas to help engage Americans and shift the political discussion in a fresh and engaging way. Looking@Democracy is a project of the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), with support from the MacArthur Foundation. "So much of our information today is shared electronically, whether it be through videos, podcasts, graphic art, or even through mobile phone apps," said Kristina Valaitis, IHC's Executive Director. "We hope to harness the potential of digital media to welcome new voices and start conversations about real, reasonable ways to improve our nation, our communities, and our lives." 


Brooklyn Museum tests a democratic model

Vera Haller, The Wall Street Journal, 2/6/13

For years, Gabrielle Watson kept her art to herself. She painted large, expressionistic oil portraits of friends and relatives in her Crown Heights apartment when she wasn't at her day job as a lawyer. Some of her friends didn't even know about her art habit. That changed in September when Ms. Watson "came out" as an artist by participating in "GO," an open-studio weekend organized by the Brooklyn Museum, during which artists of every level across the borough welcomed the public into their work spaces. Now her paintings hang in the museum as part of the group exhibit that is the culmination of that "community-curated" weekend. For some artists, it has meant unexpected and welcome recognition. But others are unhappy that the public has been given a role in deciding what art will be displayed in a major American museum. "GO" was modeled after ArtPrize, the annual event in Grand Rapids, Mich., where artists compete for cash prizes during a similar open-studio weekend. The idea was to connect Brooklyn's leading art institution to the thousands of artists working there, and to invite residents to engage the artists in their neighborhoods. Let people vote on what they like and then bring that art to the museum. By most accounts, the weekend was a success. Artists in 44 of Brooklyn's 67 neighborhoods took part, and some 18,000 people visited studios for a total of 147,000 individual studio visits. Voters had to show that they'd visited at least five studios, and the voting process was delayed for a few days so they had time to think about their choices.


Sculptor: "Art isn't democratic, I hope."

BBC News, 2/1/13 

Carl Andre caused controversy in 1976 when the Tate Gallery displayed his sculpture, Equivalent VIII. The piece saw 120 firebricks arranged in a rectangle. Now "the Master of Matter", as he has described himself, has a new show of his minimalist art at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate. He spoke to the BBC's Arts editor Will Gompertz from New York, and told him why his work really is art, but much of what he sees in galleries nowadays is not. Defending Equivalent VIII, Andre said: "It's art to me, and it's art to a few other people who recognise that sculpture, and art isn't democratic, I hope. It isn't the number of people who like your work, it's whether the work is any good or not." "I find that I have a very good audience with small children, because they don't ask what it means. My work doesn't mean anything, it's just the presentation of materials in the clearest form I can make it."


Arts & Democracy Project created programming for Hurricane Sandy evacuees

Josephine Reed, NEA's ArtWorks blog, 1/24/13

[Here's] a little-known story. Last autumn, [when] Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeastern region of the United States, thousands of people were evacuated as their homes were flooded and often destroyed. In the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, a shelter was opened in a space called the Armory. Evacuees slept in rows of army cots with whatever belongings they had in garbage bags stowed beneath. Dazed, wet, and hungry, the temporary residents were housed and fed, looked after by medical teams, and aided by scores of volunteers who helped out in any way they could. This volunteer corps included artists, who created daily cultural programming for evacuees. Programming was organized by Caron Atlas, director of the not-for-profit Arts and Democracy Project [ADP], along with a team of dedicated volunteers. ADP works to integrate the arts into local communities through civic engagement, and helps build links between artists and community activists on the grassroots level. At the Armory, Atlas worked with City Council member Brad Lander to create an autonomous space called the Wellness Center, which became the living room of the shelter. There, residents could refresh themselves through religious services, meditation, massages and, most particularly, cultural programming. The residents could listen to music or paint, listen to stories, or tell their own. The range of activities was astounding, as were the participating artists.


Myanmar's graffiti artists test edges of emerging democracy

Jason Motlagh, The Christian Science Monitor, 2/05/13

When he first got word of President Obama's historic trip to Myanmar [last November], street artist Arker Kyaw stayed up through the night spray-painting a mural of the US leader smiling against a backdrop of American and Burmese flags. "It was not political, just a way of showing the public new art," says the 19-year-old. But the next day, Kyaw returned to see his mural scratched out. A week later, the government decreed a nation-wide ban on street art. After more than five decades of oppressive rule, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is awash in free speech on fronts where none was permitted. Breakneck reforms, including an end to direct media censorship have allowed stifled voices to emerge in art galleries and theater houses where plain-clothes security agents used to eavesdrop for signs of dissent. But the government does not yet have a mechanism that grants artists access to work on public spaces. The ban has not stopped dozens of artists steeped in the renegade spirit of American hip-hop culture from working in the shadows. Smug defiance toward authorities is one standard practice Burmese street culture has adopted from the United States; tribalism is another. When Kyaw heard his Obama mural had been attacked, he initially suspected municipal authorities. Only later did he learn a rival graffiti crew was responsible. While he is affiliated with a larger crew, Arker Kyaw insists he stands for the individual and paints alone. "I'm interested in expanding the art form, not revenge," he says. Others counter that "battling" is fundamental to graffiti culture, wherever it is practiced, and an affront to stale notions of ownership. "We battle each other like real street artists do, in America," says one rival, who goes by the nickname Marshall.

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."