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Works Progress: The State of the Artist Documentaries

As Collaborative Directors of Works Progress, Colin Kloecker and I have been fortunate to work in partnership with artists from many different communities and professional backgrounds. In our experience, few moments compare to those unscripted, unstructured times spent one-on-one with our peers, whether it be kicking around ambitious new ideas, talking about creative process or the challenges and rewards of an artistic career, or time spent just getting to know an artist and his or her work before the gallery or performance opens.

What we’ve observed is that it’s impossible to pin artists down, or to generalize about their experience, predicting their impact or next move. Today, artists are teaching themselves new skills, and teaching each other; organizing and becoming organizers; getting entrepreneurial and creating new networks of support for their work; and finding innovative ways to introduce their creative process and perspective into unexpected places.

This has probably always been the case, but unlike earlier eras, social media now makes it possible for artists and audiences to network, learn, and share at a steady clip, putting creative life at the center of many conversations, and accelerating the evolution of ideas and social connections.

As artists blur the lines between artwork and other pursuits (business, community organizing, city-building, just to name a few) it becomes much harder to describe the state of our arts ecosystem. Practically speaking, it’s unclear how best to support and sustain the kind of creative work that is emergent, that resists neat categories, and that, when added up, begins to transform both art and society.

When The McKnight Foundation asked Works Progress how we would approach the anniversary of their Artist Fellowship program, we immediately thought of the rich and numerous stories and experiences represented by 30 years and more than 1,100 artists who have received this award. We proposed a project that is nearly the opposite of an exhaustive survey. Rather than try to get our heads around the whole, looking for patterns or paths forward, we proposed a listening process that would bring us closer, and deeper, into the lives of a handful of past McKnight Fellows.

Over the course of the year, we’ll be spending time with just a handful of these artists. Though they all come from different artistic backgrounds and work in a variety of media, we don’t intend for this to be a representative sample of Minnesota’s artistic community. Rather, we hope to introduce the complex and immediate stories of these artists where they are today, and give a glimpse of the variety of processes, practices, and experiences that artists encounter in their work.

We’ve chosen to do this as a video documentary project because it’s a medium that is new to us.

Typically, we work at the intersection of art and design, creating public projects and programs with other artists, and with public participants. In those cases, emphasis is put on the immediate environment, and the outcome is hard to predict because it involves the participation of so many people. When it’s over, it’s usually over; except for a few photographs that (hopefully) capture the spirit of what happened.

For us, working with video is a departure from this more public, participatory work. We hope that by getting to know this handful of artists we might also explore the further reaches of our own artistic interests and abilities.

Because each video is a collaboration with the artist, we can’t promise they will take a particular shape, except that they are made primarily for the web. In some cases, we may also plan a public screening with the artist, and invite you to join us in a face-to-face conversation on themes that emerge.

We’ll be using this blog to post about each project as it unfolds, and welcome feedback via comments or our email address: hello [at] worksprogress [dot] org.

Works Progress’s video with Bill Cottman will be posted later this week.

Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker are Collaborative Directors of Works Progress, an artist-led public design studio. Works Progress creates collaborative art and design projects that inspire, inform and connect; catalyzing relationships across creative and cultural boundaries; and providing new platforms for public engagement. You can find them on Twitter at @works_progress.

Topic: Arts & Culture

February 2012

English (Canada)