Visiting Artist Program
In 2011, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage embarked upon the Visiting Artist Program (VAP), the pilot year of what we hope can become an annual residency project that functions as a creative exchange between visiting artists and the Center’s staff, constituents, and communities. VAP seeks to create a model for an imaginative and compelling relationship between a grant-making organization and an artist, through creative discourse and an ongoing exchange of ideas. Unlike similar artist residencies, there is no requisite culminating project, although the visiting artist may wish to organize specific events throughout the period of the residency. The residency will, however, culminate with a public program at its conclusion, the nature of which will be determined by the visiting artist.
Three-time Obie Award-winning writer, director, and actor AIN GORDON is The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage’s first visiting artist, from 2011 through 2013. Watch this space for updates from Gordon as his residency progresses.
In late 2012, Gordon and Center Executive Director Paula Marincola sat down to discuss the background and spirit of the Visiting Artist Program, and the impact his residency has had on the Center so far. In a three-part conversation, posted serially to the Center website, the two discuss Gordon’s role as a conduit between the Center and its grantees, with specific reference to his White Box Residencies project; his dramaturgy during the development of the Center’s Push Me, Pull You project; and his input as a collaborator, entering ongoing conversations at the Center and proposing alternative possibilities for our approach to our work.
Click to read each part of the conversation:
Part 1: Going Outside the White Box: The Visiting Artist as Conduit
Part 2: Breaking Down Invisible Walls: The Visiting Artist as Dramaturge
Part 3: Overcoming Roadblocks: The Visiting Artist as Collaborator
Ain Gordon is the final contributor to round one of the Center's Push Me, Pull You series, regarding (co-)authorship and collaboration in cultural production. As a theater artist interested in pursuing avenues for interdisciplinary practice, who has investigated similar queries since the start of his residency, Gordon was an ideal sounding board for our staff's questions. In his entry, Gordon touches on everything from the “authority” of a physical site to notions of “excellence” and “failure” in co-authorship and collaboration. Click here to read the conversation in full.
On January 23, 2012, Pew Fellows in the Arts from the 2010 and 2011 cohorts gathered for dinner and a talk by Ain Gordon. During the talk, Gordon talked about his life as an artist and discussed two of his completed works, A Disaster Begins (2009) and In This Place... (2008, and performed at the Painted Bride Art Center in March 2012); he also read from a work-in-progress that investigates the practice of historic re-enactment.
Click here to read response and commentary on Gordon's talk from Pew Fellows Max Apple (writer), Tania Isaac (choreographer), Bill Daley (sculptor), Germaine Ingram (choreographer), and Jane Irish (painter).
Over the course of the next year, Gordon will engage with Center staff and constituents in a variety of dialogically-based modes, inspiring new ways of thinking about artists, communities, and the values that unite us. Gordon’s residency will also allow for interaction with Center visitors and cultural leaders in the Philadelphia area, so that our entire artistic community might benefit from an ongoing conversation.
Ain Gordon has been writing and directing since 1984, and his work draws upon ideas and sources from many disciplines. He is well-known for theater works which concentrate on the notion of “place” and seek to unearth histories that have been lost or otherwise forgotten. Notable plays include In This Place…, inspired by the real-life story of the first free African-Americans to build their own home in Lexington, KY, and A Disaster Begins, about a lone woman’s relationship with the Galveston, TX hurricane of 1900, and the uneasy truth behind the disastrous flood that followed. Among Gordon’s accolades for his work are two NYFA Fellowships, as well as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Playwriting. He is a core writer of the Playwrights’ Center, Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Creative Research, Co-Founder of Urban Memory Project and Co-Director of Pick Up Performance Co(s). He has also worked with other foundations as a programmatic respondent and commentator, and will use this vital experience to help shape VAP in its pilot year.
We spoke with Gordon to hear more about his initial impressions of the Center and what he hopes to take away from this unique residency. Visit the Center website throughout the upcoming year to keep abreast of Gordon’s activities, including blogs, videos, photos, and projects, and to learn more about the Center’s VAP inaugural year as it unfolds.
The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage (The Center): What attracted you to the opportunity to work as an artist in residence at and around The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage?
Ain Gordon: One of the things that keeps me alive as an artist, is being in situations that are not of my making—being immersed in some other world and having to negotiate it, traverse it, and try to understand it. Here I am not only in a new city and another artist community, but inside an organization with its own working processes. I have a year to engage with people who are thinking about things related to what I think about but in different ways.
The Center: And it's the first time that you've done something like this?
Ain Gordon: On a substantive basis. I've done a little bit of it for two other foundations, but not in this kind of long-range, in-depth way over 12 months.
The Center: What is your initial impression of this Center and its staff?
Ain Gordon: I still have a lot to learn, but clearly the Center’s heart is in the right place. There is a desire for a “porousness” that is unusual in the funding world.
The Center: So in that sense, you feel as though the Center's core interests and values tie in with your own artistic practice?
Ain Gordon: Absolutely. I think the degree to which people at the Center are constantly questioning the disciplinary categories and how far to stretch them is, while not unheard of, unusual. I think that’s very important, because those categories aren’t doing us any good and haven't been for some time. The majority of artists now, to some degree, are traversing what have been called the borders. One reason is that they problem solve in more than one way. Another is that they can't afford collaborators, so they become their own collaborator, and figure out how to do those things they can’t do. This is rampant in the performing arts.
Also, it's quite rare to encounter a place that funds at exactly the amount you request. You will either get funded or not, but, no, they will not come back and say, "Do all of that, but here's half as much."
The Center: How do you think you will spend your residency over the course of the year?
Ain Gordon: I've been encouraged to think of it as discursive, which works for me, because that's sort of where I live anyway, being a writer. It isn’t about producing a product.
At the moment, there are two related issues that are interesting me. One is the way in which people inside an organization—such as the Center, with the best of intentions—don't/can’t see the transparent, everyday existence of the people that they're funding. And likewise, artists know little about the people who fund them. I'm interested in seeing if I can create a way for both the people within the Center and people within the artistic communities to see each other on some other basis than meeting over an application, and how a more human, less formal, picture of each other might inform how they interact over business.
I have some other ideas. For example: cross-populating the professional development events across disciplines to a greater extent than the programs do now. Let's say there are 12 seats for an event, and the director, say of the Heritage Program, curates nine of them and opens three up to the other initiatives. The idea isn’t that those people should make a project about heritage but rather what they might glean from looking at problem solving in another discipline.
I have also floated a more unconventional idea of doing shadow days in which artists shadow program directors and program directors shadow artists with me tagging along to facilitate moments of "Look what just happened!" as a means of immersion in each other’s existence.
The Center: How do you think this residency will impact your creative work and output?
Ain Gordon: It's going to, I think, in many different ways— tangible and intangible. For instance, in the meeting I just came out of, there was a woman speaking quite eloquently about a certain art form that I don't know much about. I made notes of at least five things she said that relate directly to a play I'm thinking about writing. I'm not about to collaborate with her, or start practicing in her discipline, but she consolidated a field of knowledge into a nugget that detonated a little space inside my head about my own practice. This is exactly the kind of impact I’m talking about when I talk about cross-populating the professional development events.
As a writer, I am interested in other fields that have developed nuanced ways of talking about what they do. I have a long association with movement [dance] artists, or modern movement art, or contemporary movement art (or whatever term an artist may choose)—this field has a shorter history of self-developing critical verbiage. Although it's a rich one, it's shorter because it's a newer form or newer in wider recognition. I think a lot about how language specific to one field can be developed, how words can be traded among fields, and how we might all wrestle the intangible to the ground verbally so that it may become more intangible again.
We are kind of meaning-making machines as people, and we—a great deal of the time—receive something as it's given to us and take it in its entirety and go to the next thing. And I'm always interested in: Did I see what you thought you were making? Did I receive your intention? Did I hear what you think you asked? Did I impose my own meaning on your meaning and then assume they were the same and conflate that into one thing?
I always want somebody to say to me:
"Wait a minute, so are you saying?
Did you mean?
It's a little Talmudic.