Thursday, June 13, 2024

Casting Seeds

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” -Pablo Picasso

Art is an imperative. Without it we can never truly examine our own circumstances or those of the people with whom we inhabit our small planet. Left unviewed, art languishes. Left without art to view, so does humankind. There are many who recognize the gift to the world that every artist has to offer. There are many who endeavor to do whatever they can to ensure those gifts are received by a grateful public. To stifle the artist’s voice is to silently say I care little about the fate of the minds of the masses. Art is essential. It is what fills the space between the rest of the din, making sense of a chaotic universe.

Bill Arnold splits his time between New York and Western Massachusetts. Since 1974 he has had a studio in Western MA and an apartment in NY. Arnold prefers to keep a foot in both worlds. Florence, MA is a small town near Northampton where there is plenty of space and the space is affordable. New York on the other hand is extremely restrictive in that a very small amount of space is prohibitively expensive. Artists require space not only to work, Arnold says, but space for their imaginations, “space to conjure.” And so he maintains his Wester MA studio. The work he has done in that studio over the years has been varied and prolific. Arnold has endeavored, and often succeeded in getting his work into public venues including museums. He finds it thrilling to see his work in commercial venues. The first time he experienced this was in the 1970s when he put roughly 1,000 photographs in 25 Boston city busses. There was no indication on the outside of each bus whether there were photographs on board so passengers didn’t know which busses were galleries inside. Because of the nature of the venue, more people saw that project than visited the Met, according to Arnold. In order to fund the project, he approached multiple museums getting them to agree to fund the cost of materials for the show provided he put on exhibitions in each city where the museums were located. Arnold was both an exhibiting artist and a curator for this project. The project was well received, with weary commuters sometimes voicing their appreciation. From there, Arnold went on to do other bus shows. The format went viral long before viral was a thing. For another show, Arnold gave images to members of the audience who then organically began sharing the images with each other. Throughout his career, Arnold has turned traditional notions of exhibition on their heads. With the advent of digital advertising, the cost of printing has plummeted. Arnold uses this to his advantage. Recently he printed 10,000 newspaper inserts for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. As a student photographer, Arnold was encouraged to have a camera with him at all times. To this day he follows this practice. Arnold has photographed the same spot on his travels from NYC to MA for many years. He intends to exhibit many photographs of the same place at the Bergen Street Station. Photography is accessible to everyone, Arnold says. Because anyone can make a photograph, anyone can also view a photograph and take something away. A series of photographs depicting old cars elicited stories from viewers of all kinds about cars they remembered and loved. To hear more about Bill Arnold’s thoughts on work and life, listen to the whole interview here.

Harry Philbrick left his position as director of the museum at the Pennsyvania Academy of the Fine Arts about two years ago. He then launched his own project called Philadelphia Contemporary. The nonprofit does pop-up exhibitions and performances throughout the city. The goal is to ultimately build a permanent space where the nonprofit can become a non-collecting, collaborative space. Prior to his position at Pennsyvania Academy of the fine Arts, Philbrick was director of the Aldrich. It was there that the idea for Philadelphia Contemporary began to percolate. He began exploring the notion of partnerships. Specifically long-term, sustainable partnerships that would allow the museum a broader reach. Upon relocating to Philadelphia, Philbrick realized there was a gap in the cultural ecosystem in that there was no large scale independent contemporary art museum. Philadelphia also seemed primed for Philbrick’s model in that the cultural environment is “unusually collegial.” The first project was a partnership with Headlong Dance. The project was titled The Quiet Circus in which the dancers took part in a year long residency on a pier. Each week dance pieces encouraged members of the public to join in. From there Philbrick and his small team created River Charrettes, a series of four pieces also set among the changing landscape of river banks. River Charrettes was an appropriate opening for Philadelphia Contemporary. The project embodied the idea of many people from different places coming together. Since then there have been readings and other events. At the moment there are many large scale projects in the works. An expanded staff has allowed for grander visions. The process of growth has been very deliberate, carefully adhering to the founding vision of the project. Funding for Philadelphia Contemporary comes from many places. In order to run the organization, pay staff, and plan for the future, Philbrick has had to map out a plan from all he has learned over his years in the art world. Seed capital came from individual funders who believed strongly in the mission. More recently, Philadelphia-based foundations have come on board. For Philbrick, the key to his project is pushing forward the model for a nonprofit contemporary art space. Moving forward the same model applies, starting with individual funders and moving from there to foundational support. To hear more about Philadelphia Contemporary and arts organization funding, listen to the whole interview here.  

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Speak your art loudly. Do not settle for its slow demise. Bring it into the light, find allies, give your gifts to the world.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Bill Arnold reads a lot of Elmore Leonard. Most recently he read Cat Chaser by the author. Harry Philbrick is reading The Originals by Adam Grant.

Opportunities / Open Calls

Independent curators, artits, and arts professionals are invited to submit their exhibiton concpets to The Clemente. All ages, genders, and nationalities are welcomed. See website for more details. Deadline is June 15.


Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.



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