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Shawn McConneloug, Robert Rosen, Kira Obolensky and Irve Dell: The Topic Was Air

As artists who often work across disciplines, we’re excited by efforts to get beyond silo thinking. Thankfully, there seem to be more and more of these silo-busting projects out there! An awareness is building both in and outside the arts community about the possibilities of collaboration between people who approach the world from different perspectives. In this dynamic creative landscape, artists have unique skills and perspectives to bring, and increasingly, we’re being invited to the table.

While many see this as a great way to expand on the value of artists in our society, as well as an opportunity for meaningful work for creative types, the artists behind the new Gymnasium project take this thinking one step further. Instead of waiting to be invited to the table, they’re asking the question: What if artists could be the ones building that table, creating the menu and sending the invitations? What kind of space could artists create for cross-disciplinary collaboration, problem-solving or even product development? Could this activity provide a sustainable model for artists interested in connecting outside their discipline and having a social impact?

Gymnasium is more than an artist project, it’s a consortium of “creative risk takers” led by four artists who themselves represent a range of skills and perspectives: Shawn McConneloug, Robert Rosen, Kira Obolensky and Irve Dell. When we sat down to interview them last summer for this short video, they were about to begin an experiment they call a Tink Tank – a gathering of artists, scientists, designers, organizers and educators that would utilize a design thinking approach to generate new collaborative possibilities. In August, 2012 they spent a weekend exploring the broad topic of “air” in imaginative and playful ways.

We were inspired by the Gymnasium and their approach to artist-led collaboration. What do you think? Is there potential in this approach to cross-disciplinary collaboration? What unique skills and perspectives do artists bring? What kind of experiences have you had working creatively with others outside your discipline?


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

January 2013