On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Shannon Jackson, Director of the Arts Research Center and Professor of Rhetoric and of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.
This word– MAKING — appears to be the most neutral of Creative Time’s keywords this year. But I think I want to use it to reflect upon the not entirely neutral factors that prompt some artists, critics, art administrators, and activist citizens to feel hailed by the Creative Time Summit while others barely know that it exists. The requisite quips and critiques aside, this 800-person gathering–one that reaches a global viewing audience in the tens of thousands– is an achievement for those who happen to believe that art has something to do with social engagement. So why isn’t everyone tuning in? Given ARC’s remit — to create gatherings that bring all of the arts and their allied fields into conversation — I can’t help but reflect on this question.
One answer would say that it has to do with a commitment to so-called “traditional” forms of MAKING. Artists who have been trained in particular techniques and styles want to see those techniques and styles validated. The perception is that Creative Time asks artists to modify, expand, or re-skill in order to engage the social, in other words, to give up the skills and techniques in which they excel and which they hold dear. How can we address this concern, or fear of being de-valued? And how do we address it in a world emerging artists are told that certain kinds of MAKING are the key to professional success, key to a living wage, key perhaps to an art market success that far exceeds a living wage? How can we support artists who might put their skills toward a different kind of MAKING–and ensure their livelihoods in return?
A second kind of answer would focus on which traditions of MAKING we think Creative Time artists are expanding, and which traditions of MAKING are not tracked by Creative Time’s radar in the first place. The interventions of celebrity musicians notwithstanding (Anderson, Byrne), most of the socially-engaged, public artists who appear on the CT radar come from a visual art world. These are artists who reject or modify their relationship with a visual art world, surely, but they nevertheless know a world that has certain financial protocols–involving (or not) gallery representation, involving (or not) the selling of documentation, involving (or not) solo shows, group shows, and maybe even mid-career retrospectives. What about artists for whom such protocols are unfamiliar, exotic, even alien? What about artists who are told that their careers will be made at the box office? or with copyright? or on royalties? What about artists whose MAKING focuses on narrative, on unsettling the concept of character, or in re-imagining it means to move, what it means to listen, or what it means to inhabit a functional space? In other words, how can we address with equal depth the techniques, styles, vocabularies, and professional networks that derive from the history of choreography, of theater, of film, of architecture, of music, of literature, and more?
There are many socially-engaged artists out there, and they routinely attend gatherings throughout the world that focus on the social role of the art form in which they excel. But still only a portion of these MAKERS know to tune in to Creative Time. I think that getting and keeping their attention will require an expansion of what we think MAKING means. With an enlarged sense of who the MAKERS are, perhaps we can enlarge our sense of what we might, in fact, MAKE together.