Crit Lab Missive January 2020


Happy New Year!
Artists and Leadership, Artists and Love

In rooms all over the world, artists gather. They talk about materials and process, they argue about movements and terminology, they share their work in passionate critique. As in any community, they breathe together, eat and drink together, and spend hours sharing common space. The studio is solitary, and the world outside does not always notice or share our concerns. Art making is internal and introverted, while the artwork looks out at the world, forward facing, hungry to be seen.

Artists naturally build community wherever we go. Conscious communities, such as the Crit Lab, artist-run centers and spaces, museums especially regional ones, intellectual communities such as MFA programs and alt communities such as Brooklyn Institute and SciArt, create pedagogies that reflect their values. These communities often have a life span, creating dynamic programs and communities for a length of time before circumstances change, people change, things evolve or dissolve.

Sometimes leadership changes, and inevitably this changes the community. Strong leadership can build a community of respect, of listening, of ethical, kind communication, of conscious collegiality and dynamic creativity. Strong leadership can model a world we want to live into, it can reflect our values and create an environment that is rich and full of genuine friendship and yes, love.

Leadership change can be full of hope, it can be full of joy, it can be filled with grief. When a new leader models a lack of respect, a lack of listening, a measuring of quality through the lens of a market, a disregard for institutional memory and the treasure, talent and hard work that built and invested in the community, we grieve. Communities that have been so carefully and lovingly crafted can become dissolute in mere moments. Leadership matters.

When shown extraordinary leadership and community, we can all pay it forward. We can bring that respect, kindness and passion into all that we do, to model and bring into being a world that actively lives our values.

Thank you to Craig Stockwell, Lucinda Bliss, Brian Bishop, Jason Stopa, Gaby Collins-Fernandez, Jonathen VanDyke, and all the incredible colleagues at NHIA (now NEC) for modeling a community of such careful listening, passion, intellectual rigor, friendship, and art.

“Art … demands an observer’s active participation. It moves. It provokes. It infuriates. It inspires. It elevates and equalizes. And our humanity is dependent upon it…..We should not need to defend the arts—nor to protect the arts. The arts deserve celebration, not defense. They demand affirmation, not protection….

Today, our reliance on—and reverence for—short-term, market-based justifications reveals a profound imbalance in the way our society is organized. An inequality of the highest order.
And we cannot sit idly by as the imaginations of our young people are starved of the fuel to fully fire. We cannot sit idly by as their horizons are pulled in and closed off. Their dreams are curtailed. Their sense of the possible is diminished.

As democracies, we owe ourselves better. We still can be a society that celebrates art—that, literally, treasures creative expression. And must continue working to translate this aspiration into action.”
Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President

See full statement from Darren Walker here: