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OTHER OPTIONS: A closer Look at FOOD
I am a member of the Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday (InCUBATE) in Chicago. It is our primary focus to find new possibilities for funding and supporting cultural production that exists outside the heavily binary system of "public" support and private sponsorship. By researching ways that artists have incorporated models of resource allocation, community building, funding structures and forms of exchange as part of their artistic practice, both historically and contemporaneously, we hope to build a vocabulary of approaches for supporting artists' practices directly.
The impetus for the formation of InCUBATE came out of a direct captivation with methods being developed by cultural policy makers, artists and business people in countries such as Latvia and Hungary after a trip to Eastern Europe in the winter of 2007. Countries that once relied on the state to fund cultural production are now developing new ways of funding culture and in particular private-public partnerships since joining the European Union. We began to imagine what it would look like to transpose these approaches on our own situation in the US. As young arts administrators interested in supporting critical art practices, affecting official cultural policy in the United States via traditional channels seemed a bit lofty and, with a growing understanding of the state and direction of public and private funding, completely uninteresting. Is it possible to create new contexts for public support by looking towards the periphery of neoliberal economics, by operating in the folds of established institutions?
Our interest in the possibility of alternative funding models and support structures, and the urge to share and formalize what we learned during this process, culminated in an exhibition and research project, called OTHER OPTIONS.
OTHER OPTIONS is a traveling and evolving exhibition, which features artists' projects concerned with the re-interpretation, alteration and creation of infrastructures that affect their everyday lives, and their artistic production. The motivation for this project began after our assessment of the current conditions of formalized support for cultural production in the United States. The research revealed a heavily binary system of public versus private support. Although the model of a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation has traditionally been considered an appropriate mode of support, a number of flaws and contradictions are becoming apparent in the way that these organizations are made to function within society, both individually and as a collective "Nonprofit Industrial Complex."(1) In an attempt to explore the nature of such flaws and contradictions in the nonprofit system, OTHER OPTIONS asks the question: How does the current matrix of specific regulations and compliances to which nonprofit organizations are forced to adhere, affect the creative output, imagination, and flexibility of such organizations?
In 1995, Alberta Arthur, then director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s art and humanities division, pointed out in a report to the President’s Committee on Art and Humanities that, “private foundations, corporate and family foundations do their funding by guidelines and goals which are special to their interests and institutional purposes; they fund to advance their corporate ideas.”(2) How can actual arts administrators working within arts institutions advance new ideas and practices when they are limited by the inclinations of family foundations and “corporate interests”? Michael Brenson, a contemporary art critic and curator, points out, “It is important to keep in mind that there is no model for private support in the United States that indicates that it, by itself, could meet the demands of this or any future artistic movement.” He continues, “the market system ignored exceptional artists earlier in the century, including many African-Americans, and it still gives little support to many exceptional artists, particularly those who prefer to work outside galleries and museums.”(3)
How then do organizations and artists interested in social and political change move forward? Is an oppositional or autonomous approach the only solution? What can be salvaged from the current state of non-profit organizations? How can artists offer fresh perspectives on administrative and organizational approaches? What are other options?
In an attempt to understand what lead groups historically to forego traditional models for arts organizations and turn toward collective and self-organized strategies, I have investigated several historical artistic projects, with an emphasis on experimenting with new possibilities for public involvement in supporting cultural production. I think it is important to understand the way these funding practices are linked to the social, political and economic climates from which they arise. One project I looked at was Carol Goodden, Gordon Matta-Clark and others SoHo NY based Food project from the early 1970’s.
Following the formation of cooperatively run 112 Workshop/112 Greene Street, which later was renamed to White Columns, now New York's oldest alternative art space, FOOD was run by artists for artists. In an interview in Avalanche magazine from 1971 with Jeffery Lew, founder of 112 Greene St., Alan Saret, gives us insight as to what was going on in SoHo during this time, “I think artists are really un-together [sic.] as a group, but very together as individuals. The things which make you an artist can make you a revolutionary, can make you change your own environment.” FOOD was a result of artists wanting to change their environment and, counter to Lew’s assumption, working together. Goodden, Matta-Clark and others worked to create cohesion within their community and infrastructure to support it. FOOD is also an administrative attempt to create an autonomous support structure for working artists. The word autonomous is used here to articulate separateness from an institutionalized art world. By looking more closely at FOOD, my goal is to identify and consider ways in which support structures can develop and exist apart from formalized cultural institutions and the corporations that support them.
Goodden’s inheritance and Gordon’s charisma allowed the two to develop a solid plan for a cooperatively run restaurant with the primary goals of getting the dinner parties out of Goodden’s home, providing a socially engaging public meeting place and eatery, and providing jobs for artists with minimal demands, good pay and flexibility. “I was intending to relieve myself and nourish the community in the form of comestibles and finances.”(4) Meanwhile, Goodden was curating a staff of artist-chefs with unique palettes andin need of a steady paycheck. An early staff roster boasted dancer Barbara Dilley Lloyd as salad chef, musician Robert Prado as lunch chef, musician Richard Peck as dishwasher, and Gordon Matta-Clark as internal architect and participant of the legendary Sunday night guest-chef dinners.(5) Just months after a dinner party conversation, Goodden, Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard and Dick Landry began pulling away at the building on Prince and Wooster.
FOOD serves as an example of a way of organizing support structures via participation and inner-connectedness. Historically, artistic and cultural production in the US has been supported by wealthy individuals, private foundations, non-profit organizations, and corporate sponsorship. Funding structures need to change to more horizontal structures. FOOD and the projects presented in the OTHER OPTIONS exhibition, illustrate these support systems relying on self-organization, participation, and imagination.
For more information about the artists in the OTHER OPTIONS exhibition visit: http://www.incubate-chicago.org