“Helping Artists Become Artists” – A Midwest “Dark Matter” Response

Liz Mogel, 2009

Liz Mogel, 2009 from The Artwork Publication


Helping Artists Become Artists (Link to the orignal article I am responding too)

Agnes Gund’s recent article in the Huffington Post, “Helping Artists Become Artists” is a great initial response to many occurrences currently happening in the art world. In Gregory Sholette’s book, Dark Matter, Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, he illuminates in more detail what Gund is trying to address. To Sholette this “Dark Matter…makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture—the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators, and arts administrators. It includes makeshift, amateur, informal, unofficial, autonomous, activist, non-institutional, self organized practices–“(pg. 1).

I am going to examine Gund’s article in a more Midwest(KC) geographical base, and try not to be too critical of it. Gund begins by discussing some very serious issues we are facing in the art world, many of which are already known; limited opportunities and the ambiguity of the art market.  The ideas I am going to share here are based in the “creative dark matter” as mentioned earlier, the cultural producers or workers who don’t see this as a business but rather a creative “labor”, borrowing the idea of labor from Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, “Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and ends at a specific time and if possible, we do it for money….. Labor, on the other hand sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but its harder to quantify”. (pg. 63, 64)

Gund states,  “Three movements in particular may provide some relief to our sprawled and underserved population of artists: 1) The growth of local or hometown opportunities for artists; 2) The rise of unexpected exhibition places; and 3) Artist-to-artist initiatives.”  I don’t see them as three separate entities rather an organic network much like an archipelago of artists, spaces & initiatives working together in today’s society. Funds are low, opportunities are scarce, so as artists have become exceptionally creative in exposing new directions and exploring collaborative efforts that more established cultural institutions (curators, museums, arts admins, historians) are slow to recognize. Marc Fisher of Temporary Services writes, ‘‘Now that the money is gone and most of those [NEA-funded not-for-profit alternative] spaces are no longer in existence, new methodologies need to be worked out. We need each other more than ever.’’

Plug Projects-in the newly named Stockyards District(West Bottoms).

1. & 3. The growth of local or hometown opportunities by Artist-to-artist initiatives.  Many hometown opportunities arise out of artists-to-artists run initiatives. Artists constantly contribute to their cultural landscape by creating opportunities for themselves as well as others. I see this quite often in Kansas City, artists like David Ford, Mark Southerland and Jim Leedy are common names, these artists have laid the groundwork for a younger generation to contribute vasts amounts of energy and inspiration to KC.  In the last year, we have seen the opening of three new cultural spaces that are creating opportunities for local artist as well as expanding the artists-to-artists run initiatives. Plug ProjectsSubterranean Gallery (SUB) and Spray Booth Gallery (SBG)  provide local opportunities as well as inviting artists from other places. From events, public critiques, and expanding their practice as artists to administrators and curators, these spaces are crafting a new niche in the cultural landscape; Artists now realize that they can’t be a one trick pony and that the must explore multiple directions and avenues of the so called art world. Artists now can take on the role of facilitator, curator, administrator, preparator, archivist, and director. Also, the Sunday Soup event in Kansas City known as BREAD! KC has generated micro-grant opportunities for artists and cultural workers in KC for over a year now. What I find most interesting is how Kansas City has historically and currently combines these two “movements” into one.

"Some Visitors during open studio Hotdoggin' it" Open Studios, 12.10.11, @ City Center Sq.-Andrew William Erdrich

2. The rise of unexpected exhibition places. The Charlotte St. Foundation(CSF) might as well have “unexpected exhibition places” in their mission statement. CSF facilitates three different spaces for experimental shows, exhibitions and events as well as a 1-year studio residency through unused urban spaces. Biannually they hold open studios. The studios are split between the 5th floor of a unused corporate office building, a gutted space on 13th floor of a bank building and the 7th floor of another office building. All spaces are occupied by a variety of artist and performers from dancers to painters. Also, thanks to the Warhol Foundation, and The Spencer Museum of Art , CSF has launched the Rocket Grants, which “fund projects that exist outside of established institutions, occur outside of traditional forms of support, challenge traditional methods of production or presentation, add energy and diversity to the field of arts activity in our area, and provide opportunities for the creative growth of those involved”. This has encouraged some amazing projects over the last two years. More can be found at The Rocket Blog.

Sub Gallery and SBG are exhibition spaces that are in not so common spaces as well. Sub blends the domestic and public by operating a gallery in a basement apartment, while SBG is located in the back of a bicycle shop on 18th and Wyandotte.

I think what Gund doesn’t distinguish here is Public Art vs public art. Public Art with the capital P & A is what comes to mind if a city has a 1% for the arts, or works like the Bean in Chicago. The other type of public art is one that is not funded by public funds but rather the artist working in public space. One of my first introductions to this type of practice was David Hammons’s Bliz-aard Ball Sale in 1983. Also, these works tends to be more ephemeral and site specific rather than permanent and universal (not saying that both of these are one or the other, both types of this artistic pursuit can be synonymous).  Kansas City actually has a 1% for the arts, but not much as happened since the recession in ’08 and even the popular Avenue of the Arts has been put on hold.

S'mores Cart in Street Action, Project Space. Jan. 2010

“Of course, museums and galleries and art spaces will continue to ground the art world. But certainly the public — as well as artists — also benefit when art is encountered in other everyday situations” I think Kansas City embraces this fully. Artist locally who are interested in these everyday situations (I don’t intend to name them all, but they’re are quite bit and they shape a very interesting art scene here) May Tveit, David Ford, The S’mores CartJulia ColeDaniel Avazpour,  and Jim Woodfill, among many, many others. These artists see this as a way of expanding their practice out of the studio and traditional exhibition space. Some hope to create a greater conversation about our work, our place and our everyday situations as cultural producers.  I completely agree with Gund when she states, “In such ways, artists encompass us — the public — becoming less avoidable, more essential”. But this type of work has been discussed as early as 1994 in  Suzanne Lacy’s book, Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. I do see more artist confronting public spaces, and I think one of the more intriguing ways would be more temporary Art-in-Residence opportunities within Cities, Companies and Organizations much like the Artist-In-Residence for the city of St. Paul, Minn.

I want to address the Eric Fischl, America: Now and Here project; as a participating artist and one of the few cities to experience this cultural endeavor I feel as if we should on here but that is a separate essay and blog post. Some more to come on that.

Gund’s article addresses many issues that we plan to examine in The Speakeasy. I commend her research and exposure of these important topics currently residing in the art world. In the exhibition, we hope to expose the growth of local or hometown opportunities for artists, help facilitate Unexpected Exhibition Places and explore, expose and collaborate with Artists-to-Artists Initiatives during the course of the exhibition.

“A salute, then, to the” counter cultural institutions and the individuals, from the ‘creative dark matter’ and beyond, to new 21st century philanthropist and cultural workers, “that are helping to put creative people in front of us (and may not get the recognition they deserve), bringing their talent from wherever it is to wherever we are. We can hope that many many more such efforts take hold, expanding possibilities for artists and for the rest of us”.



Helping Artists Become Artists-Huffington Post. December 23, 2011

Gregory Sholette. Dark Matter, Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. Pluto Press, 2011.

Lewis Hyde. The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Vintage Books, 2007.


About Sean M. Starowitz

Sean M. Starowitz’s work is executed in a variety of social, political, and community engaged contexts. Notable projects include Fresh Bread, BREAD! KC and Byproduct: The Laundromat. He has also explored curatorial projects such as The Speakeasy, and Vagabond, Kansas City’s premiere pop-up restaurant. He has contributed writings to Proximity Magazine and Temporary Art Review, and has lectured at Queens College in NY, UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Department, and at American University in D.C. He currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri as the artist-in-residence at the Farm To Market Bread Company. He is a 2010 graduate of the Interdisciplinary Arts program at the Kansas City Art Institute and a 2012 Rocket Grant recipient with support from the Charlotte St. Foundation, Spencer Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Foundation. More recently, he is a 2014 Charlotte St. Foundation Visual Art Award Fellow.
This entry was posted in Local Culture, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Helping Artists Become Artists” – A Midwest “Dark Matter” Response

  1. Pingback: “Helping Artists Become Artists” – A Midwest “Dark Matter” Response | Spray Booth Gallery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s