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Commentary: Artist-led exchanges strengthen dance across the U.S.

Julie Potter, Culturebot blog, 1/12/13

[T]he proliferation of artist-led platforms for the exchange of contemporary performance and experimental dance practices strengthens the generative capacity of local artist communities. These maker-centered gatherings privilege workshops, dialogue, artistic relationships and works in process rather than focusing on formal performances. Engaging with several artist-organized hubs on the West Coast, I observe DIY platforms to be populated by visionary and risk-taking thinkers, teachers, collaborators and provocateurs. Their sharing fuels the growth and rigor of local artistic communities in which the exchange efforts are situated. While related, artist-created exchanges remain distinct from [dance festivals and] artist-curated performance programs. Artists, especially those operating outside The Big Apple, seize ownership for their growth and devise opportunities to develop artistically and provide platforms for contemporary work, which may not get presented in a particular region due to the local venue mix or existing curatorial visions at established institutions. While exciting and invigorating to flock to New York City in January [for the APAP conference], artist-created exchanges ensure vitality on an ongoing local level in areas that do not possess formal festivals and organizations dedicated to experimentation and research. Not unlike some of the autodidactic "public school" models, which emerged from the Occupy movement, DIY artist exchanges are often based openly on skill and idea barter without a curriculum or affiliation to institution.


Lee Rosenbaum, ArtsJournal blog CultureGrrl, 2/8/13

With the proposed Guggenheim Helsinki stalled, if not moribund, it now appears that the elaborate plans (embodied in the Guggenheim's $2-million, 186-page feasibility study) to boost the Finnish capital's cultural profile through the intervention of outsiders may have had unintended but very promising consequences. Clemens Bomsdorf reports in The Art Newspaper:

The creation of an artist-led museum called Checkpoint Helsinki is looking likely following the city board's rejection of the Guggenheim Helsinki scheme last year. The city has signaled that it is willing to financially support such an institution, which would provide a space for artists to produce and exhibit their work. A spokesman for the city says it has earmarked a budget for 2013 that could be used for the project, although no final decision has been made.

As I said in my detailed critique of the Guggenheim's latest in a series of dead-end feasibility studies for foreign satellites:

To me, the biggest question surrounding this project is the most basic: Why would a sophisticated, culturally rich city like Helsinki feel the need for Americans to descend and condescend to oversee a new cultural institution that we think they need? Projects like this should percolate from the ground up.

That's exactly what now appears to be happening through this new artist-led initiative.


Commentary: How to run an artist-led performance venue or gallery space

Rachel Segal Hamilton,, 4/3/12

Instead of waiting to be told they're the next big thing, artists are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by setting up DIY [do-it-yourself] galleries and project spaces, often in unusual settings. Here's how to do the same:

Think outside the block: "If you see a space, knock on the door find out who the commercial landlord is. Don't devalue what you have to offer," says Afshin Dehkordi who, together with Natasha Caruana, founded StudioSTRIKE creative space in July 2010. "We came across this ad for the top floor of an 18th-century pub in Clapham run by a trade union," says Afshin. "The agreement we struck with the landlord was that we would refurbish the space and run art events, talks, exhibitions, screenings and community cinema in return for low rent."

Renovation takes imagination: "[Eastside] was just an empty warehouse so everything in it has been generated by projects," says Ruth Claxton, Associate Director of Eastside Projects in Birmingham. "Our office is an artwork by Heather and Ivan Morrison called Pleasure Island. It was made for the Venice Biennale [but] we were able to use as an office afterwards." 

Choose members who share your vision: "Be clear about what you want to use the space for," says Sita Calvert-Ennals, member and current leader of Residence, a community of theatre-makers based in a former record shop in Bristol. "We had rules about the kind of artists we wanted to work with. If they wanted to be a member, they needed to offer something to the organisation as well." "Natasha and I were careful we didn't make this a homogenous group of people all from the same field [so] people aren't competing for the same clients or curators," says Afshin.

Designate organisers: "We have a leader [who changes] every three months," says Sita. "They're responsible for communicating decisions to be made among the group - it's democratic but things get done."  "There was such a diversity of ages -- from recent graduates to established artists -- it was difficult to find a common ground," Afshin says. "Natasha and I now run studioSTRIKE as an opt-in process. We come up with ideas and proposals and ask the artists who wants to get involved."

Think big: "If you have an idea, just go and do it. Once you establish it, the funding and the profile and everything else will follow," says Afshin. Sita agrees: "You suddenly have clout in a way that we, as young theatre makers, didn't have at all. As an organisation we're now taken seriously as a voice, which is a useful thing to know when you're starting out - basically, it's worth it." 

Some useful resources: Capacity Bristol, a project aimed at opening up empty spaces for use by Bristol's creative community; The Empty Space Network website with free downloadable resources for anyone planning on setting up a creative space in a disused shop; and ICA's list of artist-run spaces for some inspiration.

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