Collaborations & Systems Change: A Talk for Impact Hub MSP’s Con/verge celebration

Thank you to the organizers and sponsors of tonight’s #ConvergeMN event for inviting me here. It’s always a privilege to share thoughts and ideas in a space like this, with a group of people actively working to improve lives and communities.

I want to start by saying a few things about the concept of innovation & social impact. Sometimes we assume when we gather around innovation orsocial entrepreneurship or changemaking that we’re all on the same page about what these things mean, or why they’re important. We might assume that we all see the world and the value of creative and entrepreneurial work through the same or similar lenses.

What I want to write about now is my (Hand-in-Glove) family

As one of the lead organizers of Hand-in-Glove 2015, my first impulse is try to write something for this social response about what I think the process of creating this convening might have to do with the (still indefinite) field of artist spaces and projects. If I did, I would look to the complex, challenging, productive questions that came to the surface through conversation among participants. But I’m not going to do that right now. And I might not do that later, because after Hand-in-Glove, I’m even more uncertain than ever that this is my role. And because I’m very tired.

What I do want to write about now is my family.

In the session on Aesthetics, Relevancy and Social Context, Tricia Khutoretsky of Minneapolis-based gallery and social space Public Functionary reminded us in a very candid and vulnerable moment that this field is not trendy. Real lives are at stake, and to acknowledge that fact means we now have a responsibility to act with intention and care.

What we talk about when we talk about place

Earlier this year, Colin and I were invited to join a new collaborative called Healing Place. Led by indigenous artists, Healing Place asks how the area surrounding the Mississippi River can be both a source of healing, and a place in need of healing.

That question — which is really many questions woven together, and still forming — intersects all of our work in different ways. Whether we connect primarily with healing as a process, with place, with the river and water, or with all of these elements, the collaborative deepens our understandings and relationships while furthering the possibilities for creative confluence.

State of the Art - A Social Response

When Works Progress got an email from Crystal Bridges requesting a studio visit, we replied to tell them there must be some confusion about what we make and why we make it.

The collaborative public art and design projects we create typically respond to local places, issues, and people. We work in close relationship and proximity with our community, evolving ideas and projects together over time. Although we consider ourselves professional artists, and appreciate art made by people who work in more traditional venues and contexts, we’ve never thought of our own work in terms of an art world of galleries, museums, and art fairs – in part because we’ve been fortunate to find and continue building grassroots networks of engagement and support, which constitute a different kind of art world altogether.

Dear River: Life on the Mississippi through art and place, story and sentiment, love and living systems.

You know how it goes sometimes: Even labors of love, those passion projects you dream up and can’t let go, simmer for months or years, bubbling quietly in the background as you focus on other work.

For us, Dear River is one of those projects. It began with the Mississippi Megalops, which we organized and presented with our friend Andy Sturdevant and over 40 other artists, scientists, historians and storytellers atNorthern Spark in 2011. We wanted to create an engaging space where many different visions of what a river means, and what a river can be, flow together for awhile—a prism through which to see ourselves and our place reflected. At sunset we clambered aboard a riverboat and spent the night moving on the water, with puppet shows, live readings, multimedia presentations, films, scavenger hunts, a choir, lullabies, some dumplings, a few science talks, some costumed interpreters, and the most beautiful sunrise we’ve ever seen.

Artists and Designers on the Mississippi River: Notes from the ‘River at our Doorstep’ symposium

Last Friday the University of Minnesota’s River Life program convened a cross-sector, cross-disciplinary group to talk about the Mississippi River as a site for research, education and public programming. While art and design were not explicitly mentioned in the invitation, I was thrilled to see so many other artists and designers in the room, an indication of how eager we are to engage with people outside of our field. The fact that we had an open space to do so is a testament to the important role of connectors like River Life, who did a remarkable job bringing together a diverse group and making sure everyone felt valued.