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Conference Report


Connected and Consequential: Generating New Art Ecologies

Free Conference with 4 sessions
Saturday, November 12, 9am-5pm
Northampton, MA

Session 1: Art at Work; Police, Nurses, Clerks and Politicians.

Artist Marty Pottenger presents Art at Work, an ongoing project that has provided art making to civic employees in Portland Maine. Designed as a national initiative, Art at Work gives municipal governments the powerful resource that comes from direct creative engagement
(9am-11am Smith College Student Center room 103/104)
Session 2: What Difference?

Framing the Work, Making the Case by Nationally known arts policy expert, founder of Animating Democracy, and Belchertown resident, Barbara Schaffer-Bacon. When artists work at the intersection of other fields for positive social outcomes, how do they describe their work to connect with partners, publics, and funders?
(11:15am-12:30pm Smith College Student Center room 103/104)
Session 3: Hybrid Practice;

3 Case Studies in Creative Spatial Engagement. Valley Artists and Designers Joseph Krupcyznski, Lisa DePiano and Young Min Moon present their work. Kathy Couch moderates this session about space, place, people and practice.
(1:30pm-3:30pm Dynamite Space-Thorne’s Marketplace)
Session 4: Hands-On Research Methods in Alt-Mapping.

Geographer and Artist Marie Cieri, of Artists in Context, presents an interactive workshop.
(3:30pm -4:30pm Dynamite Space-Thorne’s Marketplace)

AIC is pleased to partner with Smith College Departments of Art and Theatre, C3, Northampton Arts Council and Valley Art Share to bring you Connected and Consequential: Generating New Art Ecologies.
Visit Valley Art Share ( to see an online art show curated from the VAS archives in conjunction with Connected and Consequential, beginning November 1, 2011

Connected and Consequential: Generating New Art Ecologies

November 12, 2011, Pioneer Valley, MA

Summary written by Betsy Siersma, edited by Adele Mattern

This document recaps the presentations and key discussion points delivered by speakers at the Artists in Context Conference. A full program outline of the event, with presenter biographies and statements is available at  The presentations offered at this conference were designed to introduce attendees to specific hybrid art practices in a variety of mediums.  Skill- building workshops in mapping and evaluation endeavored to provide attendees with additional tools, a roadmap of sorts, with which to navigate the ever-expanding field of hybrid art practice.


Marty Pottenger spoke about two key projects:  Abundance and Art at Work.  The experience Marty gained from working on Abundance helped pave the way for her to develop the larger, institutionally based Art at Work project in Portland ME.

ABUNDANCE: America and Money

Abundance is an interview, performance and poetry hybrid project, posing questions about money, and encouraging participants to reveal their earliest memories about money.  Participants were asked to construct a short “refrigerator poem” about their earliest money memories. Abundance was performed repeatedly over a period of years in more than a dozen locations.

As Marty began to think broadly about issues of money based on the artistic and poetic responses to Abundance, factoring in the general state of the economy, she began to formulate the seeds for the work of Art at Work (quotes M. Pottenger):

“Art enables us to hold contradiction.”

“Relationships are our only true form of security.”

“We face economic collapse. We have a chance to reinvent from the ground up. How would we really like to be with each other?  What is the role of stories and creative artmaking in communities? Who could use creative artmaking in an economic collapse: unions and municipal governments where city employees make the art? “

ART AT WORK, Portland, Maine

Art at Work is an ongoing project in which Marty Pottenger works from within the Portland Maine city government to instigate, implement and document art projects with city employees.  In so doing, Marty herself becomes part of the fabric of the city administration, in fact working from a government office there. One of Marty’s most notable projects is her ongoing poetry work with police officers.

City government has the tax base (access to money); and their job is to think about the well being of the community – health, schools, safety, etc.
“The biggest asset any city can have is its human capital. One of humanity’s most powerful resources is creativity.”

ART AT WORK Process:

  • Build relationships over time—it can take a long time
  • Discuss goals and indicators – get stakeholders to talk about city issues
  • Design project and implement—mediums are fluid, and each project uses different modalities including performance, poetry and printmaking
  • Evaluation at every step
  • Document, disseminate as a means of achieving goals
  • Create a space where resulting artwork can be viewed by participants, non-participating city employees and the general public.

For example, Portland stakeholders identified several projects: to work with police on low morale issues (writing poetry), to work with nursing assistants to address retention rates (creating story collages about their work and lives), and Public Service workers to address racism (workers create prints about their heritage).

One indicator of success is that the City asked Marty to work on a new arts project to address tensions arising from a police officer killing a Sudanese man who had a history of run-ins with police. (Theater performance at the high school, which included some offending officers) Communication between police and teens ease tensions.

Marty asks what is the role of artists and aesthetics? Hybrid practice changes the way artists work – in Portland, 15 artists wrote poems about the police department.
How to select the artists – it’s important to pick artists who can collaborate – no huge egos.

The projects Abundance and Art at Work are related in their multi-centered, participant driven approaches to both process and outcomes.  Abundance, was performed in a variety of locations, designed intentionally as a nomadic project. Art at Work has a more permanent home and an office within Portland city government.  While Abundance was repeated with many participants in multiple locations, Art at Work is an ongoing, durational project located within Portland City government. Art at Work is structured both artistically and organizationally to have deep roots in one place, and to provide time and space to allow results accrue more slowly as participants build relationships.

Both projects rely on participant generated artwork to create form, and these forms are not static, but change with each participant.  Marty Pottenger’s role as artist is to create structures enabling the participant to become an artist within the Abundance and Art at Work frameworks. In Art at Work, Marty often assumes to the role of translator, working to bridge the gaps between city worker (participant), contract artist (Marty hires medium specific artists depending on the project,) and the city government itself.


Corporations are looking at their role in building social change in new ways.

Barbara asks how would you bring art to work in your community? Barbara agrees with Marty that people and workers are your biggest asset – better relationships lead to better morale.

Is funding for social art change going to expand?  The language for change includes
community building, community development, community organizing, civic engagement, participatory democracy, social justice

The funders’ interests are based on community organizing models and ask what is the relationship of your work to change:

  1. issues: environmental, gay rights, social justice and cultural activism
  2. community development, community/civic engagement and community arts
  3. cultural equity, arts access and arts education
  4. support for artists

Funders are thinking about broader changes through arts organizations
Social change is where artists want to work.
17 foundations integrate arts and social change – is this an emergence?

Models to look at:

“The Opportunity Agenda”, New York  “Arts and Culture Initiative” – connects movements for change with arts organizations.

“CultureStrike” – 50 prominent artists address anti-immigration legislation

“America: Now and Here” – cross-country journey of art and ideas organized into the themes of America as Place, America as People, America as Icon.

“Creative Placemaking” NEA – partners shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities.
“ArtPlace” – a collaboration of top national foundations, the NEA and various federal agencies to accelerate creative placemaking across the U.S.

Knight Foundation “Fostering the Arts” – weave the arts into the fabric of communities to engage and inspire the people living in them.

The Animating Democracy website has a section on Typical Social and Civic Outcomes What difference do arts and culture make:

Continuum of impact: (look at Animating Democracy website for tools)
Unintended as well as intended outcomes
Long-term outcomes and impact:
Knowledge – what people know
Discourse – how people communicate
Attitudes - what people think and feel
Capacity – what people have and can do
Action – what people do
Policies – what change is sustained

See National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Report – nuanced

See Animating Democracy study on arts and social change grantmaking “Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking” – a 2010 report that gives a portrait of arts funders, social change funders, and others supporting civic-engagement and social change through arts and cultural strategies. Focuses on grantmaking in the U.S.


Is a socially engaged art and food project to promote food system change, and a literal and metaphorical vehicle that advocates for building a healthier regional food system in Western Mass.
It advocates healthy eating, local food production and sustainability.

Movable Feast is very much about crossing cultural boundaries – 8 sites  – in economically and ethnically diverse sites in Western Mass.

Ask questions in each community and look for creative responses
How can we promote food system change?

How to achieve food security?
At each site the project promoted conversations about production, consumption, and distribution of food, and associated issues of community, the economy, health, trash, composting, recycling and the impacts of trash, etc.  
How do you access healthy food?

Movable Feast was promoted as an art project (Museums 10 “Table for Ten”) as well as food conversations.
Joseph felt the project was a good networking device.

Project Row House, Houston, TX
Waffle Shop, Pittsburgh
Passage 56, Paris
Holding Pattern, MoMA, PS1, New York
BMW Guggenheim Lab, New York City

ADP South End Hope Initiative
“How Can We…” project in Springfield’s South End.
Meant as an alternative planning process.
What can we do to: keep our streets safe, stop racism, help others in need, rebuild the South End, etc.

LISA DI PIANO – Mobile Design Lab

Is a trailer/design studio
They recently went to Occupy Wall Street to address the graywater system: collaboration with Permaculture Design people – functional, educational, spectacle. Interested in earth care/people care/share the surplus.
Trained people on the spot to deal with wastewater.
Process was part of it – the conversations and relationships built.
Biking out compost to community gardens
Bike generators for laptops, media.
How change can happen quickly

YOUNG MIN MOON – MixRice Collective

Young Min teaches at UMass, and has been affiliated with the collective since 2002, as a critic not a member
Feels this project is not educational, rather they work with political and social undercurrents around the exploitation of migrant workers in South Korea

MixRice collaborates with migrant workers who came to S.Korea to realize the Korean dream but who instead are exploited, isolated, and demoralized.
The migrant workers comprise a transnational community from Nepal, Africa, etc.
MixRice uses community theater, comics, murals, texts, etc. to ask what it means to live as “the other.”

Young Min Moon raises the question of the ethics and politics of engaging with “the other”. Is this an exploitative notion of community? Community becomes heterogeneous – identities are suppressed or consumed.

KATHY COUCH and panel of case study participants

How do you come to this hybrid practice?
Do you have expected outcomes or are these practices improvisational?
If each project is short-lived – temporary solutions – how do you get to policy change?
Or does policy change only happen if you work on a big scale – citywide, as Marty does?
Is your practice truly community based, or is it people coming into a community?
Do you have or can you insure continuity?

MARIE CIERI, In the Field – Research Methods for Artists and Designers

Mapping Place
How do you look at your environment, both cultural and visual, and can you locate other ways of seeing it while holding the contradictions?
Research methods: quantitative (counting) and qualitative (perception)

What is your research question?

Marie posed the question for our group exercise: what are the environmental goods and ills in the immediate vicinity? We used a map of the immediate area of downtown Northampton that was broken into quadrants, teamed up in 4 teams, and went out to find the goods and ills.

Did this exercise enlighten you – make you look at the environment differently in the future?
David Teeple felt the mapping was about articulating memory – the relationship between time and space. It’s a fluid relationship – nothing stays the same (reflexivity and positional)

We saw the cultural and visual environment and the contradictions between them.
Different groups saw very different things.
Asking the questions and doing the mapping heightened our observations.
Marie’s last question – what is natural, what is nature?  Think more about maps and what maps tell us.

In the absence of a concluding discussion, some of the major concepts touched on in the conference are listed below: