Artists Assembly is a yearly convening of the artist fellows—past and present—that the United States Artists (USA) nonprofit supports with $50,000 grants. The organization invests in diverse vocations from dancers and architects, to visual artists and traditional craftspeople. The Assembly is an opportunity for the artists to be in the same room and share their artistic vision, mission, and challenges with each other through panel discussions and workshops over three days time. (Full disclosure: I attended the assembly this year in Miami as an outside observer. It was a rare but welcomed view into artists’ acumen outside of New York's gallery-to-museum trajectory.)
From a potter in Maine to a printmaker in Detroit, the Artist Assembly gives artists an important platform to communicate their motivations and methods across disciplines. Most often times these artists are heralded in their own communities but lack the resources or opportunities to exhibit their works internationally or outside of their discipline. Yet at Artist Assembly, Ayumi Horie, a potter from Portland, Maine, can share her experience utilizing social media to mobilize artistic interventions with Kade Twist, an interdisciplinary artist from New Mexico focused on American Indian cultural self-determination. There's a respect for shared learnings as well as conversations around an artist’s role in society.
Cross-disciplinary and intergenerational exchanges occur as well. You might find the Brooklyn-based activist and performance artist Narcissister cornered by compliments for her unyielding use of her naked self in her video series. Words like 'vulnerability' and 'courage' are used in the same breath.
The Assembly looks to engage different segments in the art profession and pair artists with additional resources and networking.Carolina García Jayaram, President of USA, says the yearly convening “lets artists interact with the other players in the ecosystem: the funders, the patrons, the journalists, and the administrators. All of the people they come across in formal ways but allowing them [the experience] to be informal can be more generative and unexpected."
The USA's unrestricted grants give artists around the United States an opportunity to focus fully on their crafts. The fellowships are awarded yearly in nine creative disciplines through an extensive peer nomination review. Artists cannot apply to be fellows, but must create a professional track for themselves over time. The only other grant that offers this kind of monetary support is the MacArthur 'Genius' Fellowship.
USA was founded in 2005 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson, and Prudential Foundations to develop the fellowship program. Since the organization’s founding, the program has supported about 450 artists with over $21 million. This year, the organization announced a $20 million operations endowment from Ford Foundation, million-dollar-grants from The Rockefeller Foundation, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to further the organization’s commitment to individual artist practices.
In my three days meeting with artists from across the country, I was exposed to a variety of artist practices I rarely come access, from Shan Goshorn, an Eastern Band Cherokee basket weaver who spins traditional baskets into contemporary political messages, to Peter Nicks, a documentary filmmaker focused on the Oakland police department. I learned a great deal about how artists are finding nontraditional methods to get their art seen. Many of the artists I had the pleasure of speaking to, like poet Adrian Matejka, or dancer Jonah Bokaer (who has worked in collaboration with Daniel Arsham and Snarkitecture), expressed how humbled they were to be given an opportunity to focus on new bodies of work and find new support systems to disseminate them without the impending weight of the creative industry.
In her leadership role with USA, García Jayaram is in a position to not only encourage young artists to keep their artistic practices and individual missions intact, but also educate them on practicalities. She says, “For young artists, I would always encourage them to educate themselves about the business of making art with tools like budgeting, intellectual property, contracts, commissions. That side of the practice is not given enough attention.”
In her ever-present search for new artistic disciplines and collaborations, García Jayaram is most inspired when she finds art in non-creative places and prompts all artists—young and seasoned—to seek the nontraditional. She gives the examples of medicine and music, and how new projects pair Alzheimer's treatment with musicians, and how corporations are increasingly looking to bring on creative minds to tackle staff communication issues.
“Young artists have a huge advantage in this generation because across sectors, science and technology and the corporate sector—young creative people are more valuable then ever," says García Jayaram. "I would say to young artists expand your horizons, when you study an instrument or a form of dance you may never expect that it may take you to into a non-artistic field in a way that you can still practice your art.”
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