Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urban Arts Interventions


The newest "guerrilla musical" by the New York-based group Improv Everywhere is called "Grocery Store Musical" (photo on left) was just recently shared with me and is very cool. It got me thinking about this whole new trend towards finding ways to insert art into our everyday lives, in ways that are designed to jolt us out of our complacency, our routine. Many have seen the Belgian train station choreographed dance, which has been seen THIRTEEN MILLION times. A special favorite of mine is a flash mob dance routine that appeared in an episode of Weeds (featuring a great song by Michale Franti and Spearhead!). Check it out here. And in Philly a flash mob dance was organized on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. (With apologies to the organizers, not in the same league as the best of this sort of work - keep trying!)

There is a group called "Urban Prankster" that has a web site and documents these sort of flash mob projects all around the world, but they go far beyond choreographed dance and/or singing routines. One project placed a huge Claes Oldenberg-like Fork sculpture literally at a "fork in the road." How far apart are these projects from the long tradition of public art and mural-making? Don't Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work also fit into this tradition? Recently in Philadelphia two giant totemic "Heads" by Jun Kaneko were installed in the City Hall courtyard. They arrived earlier than expected, and therefore were installed with no advance warning or press, or even signage explaining them at the beginning - in many ways that was part of their delight. Not intended to be in this tradition of guerrilla art, but they were mysterious, enigmatic, and jolted people a bit as they walked through the courtyard. I think the difference between this new trend and the traditional concept of public art is that it usually temporary and ephemeral, unplanned and unpublicized; it is also as much about the performing arts as visual art. Also, humor and joy also seem to be much more prevalent. The work usually wants to make us smile.

It does seem like we are at a moment in history when these projects are blossoming and particularly resonating with people. Perhaps it is our increasingly alienated and homogenized society, and these "interventions" especially surprise and delight us. Perhaps it is that many people have grown jaded with getting their cultural experience in traditional museum and theatre settings and this is the way to reach them. Or perhaps it is the ARTISTS who are seeking new challenges and want their work to startle and amuse people in a way that seems harder to do in an institutional space. Finally, I think some of this work is being fueled by technology. You Tube, Twitter and even advances in miniaturized cameras make it so much easier to organize, execute and share these "arts interventions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Industry Workforce Grants

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal Community Development Block Grant program received $1 billion in additional funding. Philadelphia's share of that allocation worked out to about $14 million. As part of its effort to foster the cultural and creative economy sector as an integrated component of building healthy communities, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) was able to create a new $500,000 grant program as part of Philadelphia's plan for use of these funds, with the support of both the Mayor and the City Council. This grant program will include the nonprofit arts and culture community as well as for-profit arts, entertainment and creative businesses, and is a part of the Office's larger strategy to nurture and develop this sector by providing specific programs and resources to the creative industries. This grant program also intersects with The Commerce Department’s business services, neighborhood development, business attraction and job creation efforts.

Grants will provide funding for the construction or renovation of permanent offices or facilities linked to job creation (including permanent jobs, and temporary construction, installation, architectural and engineering jobs). Eligible projects include new or renovated office space,mixed-use facilities, artist workspace and creative industry incubators designed to retain and attract businesses and jobs.

In conjunction with the purpose of ARRA funds, the applicant must demonstrate that the project can start within three months from the award date. The project must also meet federal CDBG eligibility; i.e. located in a low/mod income neighborhood, serving a low/mod income customer or creating low/mod income jobs. Eligible applicants include, but are not limited to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, community development corporations, for-profit creative businesses, microenterprises, and other businesses with projects that meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the RFP. Grant range is $20,000-$100,000. The application deadline is  FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2009, and organizations must apply online through eContractPhilly (Opportunity # 21091112130103)

There will also be a public meeting on November 23, 2009 from 3pm-5pm in the Mayor’s Reception Room, City Hall, Room 202, and anyone interested in applying is STRONGLY advised to attend this meeting. Please direct all questions via email to creative@phila.gov. An FAQ sheet will be developed to answer most questions, rather than responding to individual e-mails. PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE OFFICE WITH QUESTIONS.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Public Art: Imagining the Next Fifty Years

Philadelphia's two original Percent for Art programs, the program of the Redevelopment Authority, and the City of Philadelphia program, have collaborated on a celebration of the 50th anniversary of their creation in 1959 - the first such ordinances in the nation. More info is available here. A wonderful exhibit has been mounted at the Art Institute of Philadelphia gallery on Chestnut Street which features the work of student photographers from four of our leading arts colleges - Moore College of Art, University of the Arts, the Tyler School at Temple, and the Art Institute - interpreting the City's public art collection through their photographs. The idea was to not just highlight the work of art, but show it "in action," as part of the life of the City, and as perceived by young artists. In addition, a symposium was held last Thursday that featured a panel of artists and curators - Andrea Blum, Dennis Oppenheim, Damon Rich and Adelina Vlas, with Aaron Levy from the Slought Foundation as the moderator. It was a fascinating, if incomplete, conversation - much more to delve into on this subject than could be covered in the allotted time. A commentary on the interest in this subject is that this panel was competing against a World Series game and still had a full house! (OK, it DID end early enough for us to get home by about the third inning - there is a limit to how much we can sacrifice for art...) Rather than recap the conversation myself, there is a great entry here on the Plan Philly website by Todd Bressi that I recommend.