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Bottleracks & Fountains

Eugene Contemporary Art

A podcast about what it means to make contemporary art and culture happen in a small town. The hustle. The sweat. The DIY tips. An @anti_aesthetic project. Episodes every other week.
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"How are you doing during quarantine?

It’s the question we are all asking each other over seemingly endless Zoom calls. In this episode we gather a few artist friends to talk about what life is like on their side of the screen, how their studio practice has changed (if at all), and the shifting thoughts around local arts organizations.

In a matter of weeks, Zoom has gone from being a corporate tool for virtual conference rooms to a verb describing our main way of connecting, getting work done, and even managing university and elementary school classrooms. We are all having a range of experiences with this platform - from gratitude to empty dread, sometimes in the space of the same call. Part of our conversation reflects on the nature of communicating, teaching, and staying connected over this now-ubiquitous platform.

Art practices have shifted and our guests share the ways quarantine has affected the way they are making work - from hardly noticing the change to moving out of a graduate studio and working on the living room floor. Many artists already work in solitary spaces, but it’s the mechanisms (the institutions and community organizations) that provide those spaces that are having the most impact on where and how artists practices are affected.

Lastly, we talk about the meaning of organizations and community in the lives of artists. What do they mean, how are we reflecting on them now that we are separated from the physical. Our group just launched a space in the fall, and had to close it right after our first exhibition and artist member gathering. Does not having a space mean the organization itself ceases to be important? Can artists keep helping locally?

This week our guests are artists Dana Buzzee, Michael Boonstra, and Jill Baker.

Dana Buzzee’s art creates offerings of resistance and pleasure as methods for revisioning deviance through an autobiographical exploration of queer-femme identity. Buzzee’s artistic outputs function as rituals, transforming spaces for empowered moments of dominance and submission, active and informed consent culture, and a profound understanding of power and control. Buzzee’s work has been exhibited extensively within Calgary, as well as throughout Canada. Their art has also been included in several international exhibitions in Finland, Germany, Iceland, and the USA. Currently, Buzzee is studying towards an MFA at The University of Oregon.

Michael Boonstra's creative practice shifts between drawing, photography, installation, and sculpture. He is a founding member of Gray Space, a group of Oregon artists based in the Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg areas who came together in 2016 to develop site-based projects that foster connections between artists, places, histories, and communities. Recent awards include a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, project funding from the Ford Family Foundation, and Ford Family Foundation sponsored residencies at Playa and the Djerassi Resident Artist Program. Boonstra received his BFA from the University of Michigan and his MFA from the University of Oregon and currently teaches at Oregon State University.

Jill Baker is a visual artist and educator based in Corvallis, Oregon whose work employs drawing, performance, and video to document interactions with landscape and the natural world. These interactions and performances, often raw and improvised on site, rely on chance and natural elements for mark making and image. Recent works explore soundscape, gesture, and intimate relationships with earth and environment. She has shown her work in galleries, museums, and screening venues across the US.

Technical note: This podcast session was recording using Zoom, and we experience some microphone issues, which affects the sound quality. Rest assured it’s not you, it’s us.

If you enjoy this podcast you can help support what we do by joining us at Patreon.com/bofopodcast.

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We’re back! Welcome to Season 2. Our last episode aired in May of last year, since then a lot has happened.

You might recall our debating over organizational structures, whether or not to go nonprofit, what to do about the lack of money for the arts as a whole, the systemic problems and the essential need as artists to take care of each other and throw the parties we want to go to.

The art world, along with everyone else, is now in a different kind of crisis because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). What is an appropriate way to proceed for a small arts organization like us? As ever, we are using ourselves as a case study to discuss these looming conundrums of an ever-evolving situation.

Since you last heard from us we applied for and received a sizable seed grant from the W.L.S. Spencer Foundation to open a brick and mortar art space in downtown Eugene, which we named ANTI-AESTHETIC. We had our first show Dec 14th-Feb 15th, with plans for extensive programming moving forward, as well as an artist member fundraiser sale and exhibition. That is now on hold while we figure out what we can bring online, and what is better postponed indefinitely (scary words for all of us in this industry). Oh, and we have artist members!

So we opened a space and very soon closed it. It’s been a rollercoaster. In this episode, we talk a little bit about our structure and our priorities: pay everyone according to W.A.G.E. (wageforwork.com) standards, artist members don’t pay fees, support artists first of all. We’re trying out a work group system where members can help out based on their own interests as an alternative way to approach value and exchange. Perhaps now more than ever, we need community. That’s why we want to maintain mutual artist support by doing things like happy hour on Zoom.

As we stand at this edge of the unknown, we are asking ourselves whether it is ethical to push forward with online programming when people’s lives are at risk, many have lost their jobs, kids are stuck at home, and so on? On the other hand, can this unprecedented situation prompt us to do things differently, and to change our world now that we don’t have the illusion of stability? Is a different future possible?

What art forms are going to come out of this period, are we entering another Dada moment? How will art making be impacted following social distancing measures, not to mention the loss of lives not only due to the virus itself but inadequate responses by governments around the world? We have more questions than answers, that’s for sure.

Stay tuned.

Links:

http://wageforwork.com

http://patreon.com/bofopodcast

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A starting point for this conversation was the essay ‘Arranging the Deck Chairs’ by Josephine Zarkovich, published by the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project this month, where she describes in no uncertain terms the disappearance of medium-sized arts spaces due to rising rents, declining college enrollments, and a diminishing middle class. This means few options for emerging artists to take the next step that doesn’t involve leaving the Northwest or giving it all up in favor of paid gigs.

The precarity of the worker in the gig economy applies also to the arts with the difference that art often has nothing to sell, at least not enough for individual artists to live on. Culture largely doesn’t return the same recognizable value that a product in the marketplace would, yet we are squeezing art into this economic model it isn’t fit for.

We reference the book ‘In the Flow’ by Boris Groys, where he explains why modern and contemporary art is necessarily unpopular, which of course doesn’t do it any favors on the free market. We live in a world that despises ambiguity, without which art becomes design and not art. Design is everything and art is nothing. Art doesn’t provide solutions, it only asks questions and creates more questions. It seems that art is funded when it takes on the task of design and becomes sellable as an object, or when it can prove to aid our ailing society. What does that do to artists and the nature of art?

We consider the always popular immersive and interactive experiences where technology often ends up taking over, and art is side-lined as a mere excuse for the spectacle. Whose agenda is being driven forward when art and tech are brought together? Arts funding doesn’t reflect today’s financial reality, and often leads to developing art for business, not for the benefit to society and public life. The government’s spending on art amounts to less than half a penny on a hundred dollar bill, with priorities obviously elsewhere. We talk about the differences in how we value culture, comparing the US and European countries like Sweden. Where does the motivation for nurturing culture lie? In the economic results that are produced or in its historically intrinsic value? This question can be framed on the one hand as the value of culture to the individual, and on the other as a social good.

Eugene Contemporary Art has been agonizing over the choice of going nonprofit or forming an LLC, asking ourselves: Who are you beholden to and what position does it put you in as an arts organization? The administrative burden of nonprofits is weighed against the financial pressure of the LLC. Fiscal sponsorship has been our alternative because it gives us an opportunity to innovate on the model of the organization, the risk being that this organizational effort entirely takes up our capacity. We agree with Josephine Zarkovich about the unsustainable nature of asking other artists for financial support. If we all just help fund each other’s projects, where does the money come from? How does money enter into this loop?

The idea of revenue filters into grant applications for arts funding in that they require quantitative proof of effectiveness and community engagement. We contend, that with government and state funding cut, the different grant giving foundations and trusts have become obliged to take on the burden of teaching art in the schools and providing accessible art, foreclosing funding for more challenging art and complex discourse, and thereby narrowing the field of art.

What are the systemic problems and what can we do about them on an individual level? How are you accountable if not quantitatively? Are the tools we use to build organizations neutral? We come back to the value of the mission statement as a tool for sticking to your politics, rather than your bottomline, weighing every decision against the mission statement. There is no getting away from politics since the 2016 election, and that’s a good thing.

Links:
‘Arranging the Deck Chairs’ by Josephine Zarkovich: https://oregonvisualarts.org/portfolio-items/arranging-the-deck-chairs/?portfolioCats=4051
‘Books: Organizing the Future’ by James McAnally: https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazines/books-organizing-future/
‘In the Flow’ by Boris Groys: https://www.versobooks.com/books/2525-in-the-flow
New Inc: https://www.newinc.org/
Meow Wolf: https://meowwolf.com/
A manifesto written for The Luminary in St. Louis by James McAnally: http://temporaryartreview.com/the-work-of-the-institution-in-an-age-of-professionalization/

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Vicki Amorose is a performance artist, writer, educator and expert discussioner. Active in the local art community in Eugene, and author of the book "Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists," she got her start in the post-punk scene in San Francisco in the 1980’s and admonishes us to remember what artist Nayland Blake has said in conversation with the brilliant Sharon Louden: "The magic of that era is that we threw the parties we wanted to go to.” Lest we forget!

A fun fact about Vicki, is that she was part of the Church of the SubGenius and was featured in the documentary “J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius,” which premiered at this year’s SXSW in Austin, TX. Agnese happened to be there and was able to go to a screening so we had a moment talking about that.

Eugene Contemporary Art wants to encourage art criticism about the significant amount of contemporary work that is being made in our region. Yet, the writing we see here is largely journalistic and promotional, summaries of art events and shows that don’t go deeper into the discourse. To change this, Vicki will be leading the workshop “Write About Visual Art" presented by Eugene Contemporary Art in partnership with City of Eugene Cultural Services, promoting a departure from the old paradigm of criticism as judgement to open up new forms, inviting writers of all kinds to turn their focus to visual art. Vicki wants to change the connotations of the word “critical” which in Eugene, and probably in many other places around the country, is taken to suggest severely judgmental and mean. The problem with the “It’s all good” attitude is that you don’t go any deeper than what meets the eye, and sometimes you don’t even get that far, unknowingly perpetuating norms dictated by an abstracted academy or art market.

We discuss Darren Jones’ essay “Art in America: The Critical Dustbowl,” recently published by the New Art Examiner, and made possible by the Arts Writers Grant Program from Creative Capital and the Andy Warhol Foundation, that supports the work of writers specifically. Which of course leads us to the ever-relevant topic of money and artist compensation. Courtney was quoted in Jones' article, and it takes up the place and impact of critical art writing outside New York and L.A. Art writing tends to neglect small towns in favor of urban centers. What is written about is what makes art history, so what stories will not get told? If the art is not written about, does it even exist? Who should benefit from art writing? What can it do for artists?

Does art criticism have to be academic and theory-laden? Vicki explains the difference between critical writing and descriptive writing. As a writer, you should consider your audience and not just write for the internet. Who are you writing for? The off-putting language of much art writing acts as a shield, deflecting interest rather than drawing people in. Referencing Gilda Williams, Vicki says that bad art writing comes from fear and lack of understanding, rather than malicious intent. She describes the artist statement as a bridge, shares strategies for compelling art writing and says hallelujah and hurray for editors.

Links:
Darren Jones’ essay “Art in America: The Critical Dustbowl” published by the New Art Examiner: http://www.newartexaminer.net/art-in-america-the-critical-dustbowl/
Arts Writers Grant Program, Creative Capital & The Andy Warhol Foundation: https://www.artswriters.org/
An Paenhuysen, Instructor, "Art Writing and Criticism” NODE Curatorial Studies Online: https://nodecenter.net/
Gilda Williams, author, “How To Write About Contemporary Art”: https://www.amazon.com/How-Write-About-Contemporary-Art/dp/0500291578
Nayland Blake in conversation with Sharon Louden, New York Academy of Art professional practice lecture series: https://vimeo.com/333369230
BRIDGE Exhibitions, Eugene, Oregon: https://www.eugene-or.gov/3927/BRIDGE-Exhibitions
Mayor’s Art Show, Eugene, Oregon: https://www.eugene-or.gov/3868/Mayors-Art-Show
"Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists", author Vicki Krohn Amorose: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Write-Writing-Guide-Visual-Artists/dp/1937303128/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=DH6JED98J3KY7GBWQFZY#customerReviews
W.A.G.E.: https://wageforwork.com/home#top

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Louise Kennelly settled in Maryland after adventures around the country and abroad, and has been in her position at Frederick Arts Council for three and a half years. She notes that interest in contemporary art has really taken off in Frederick during this time.

She talks about working through the bureaucracies of art in public spaces, compromising and having a plan B. The Sky Stage that was created with the artist Heather Theresa Clark is an example that persistence pays off. It hosts 150 events every season, where the community decides what they want and the arts council facilitates access to the space. Seed money from local family foundations came with the promise of more financial support if the community showed that they were committed to this project, and it turned out to be a huge success. We should trust artists to imagine and create something unprecedented.

The question remains: Does the community want and need contemporary art? And how do you build an audience? Personal connections to artists and the theme or narrative of the work that is relevant to the local community organically draw people in to see the work and develop a sense of what contemporary art can be. “The local community is picking up the slack which the national culture is not satisfying,” says Louise, emphasizing intimacy, authenticity, kindness, empathy, and communication as valuable aspects of the work. It addresses the basic need for connection, collaboration, and experimentation, which seems to be lacking in the broader culture.

It is important to give people the benefit of the doubt, allowing for complex interactions and relationships to exist. It's easier to put your differences aside in a smaller community and to have a real conversation. There is an openness to risk-taking. Louise thinks that there is a renaissance at the local level of arts initiatives, because people feel the need for getting together in the same room, sharing the same physical space, something there is less and less of in our daily lives where most interactions are mediated by a screen. She says: “If you put aside your preconceptions about what people can or cannot handle with contemporary art, you'd be surprised.”

The next step is to think about what it would look like for young artists to be able to live and work locally? Making it sustainable for individual artists, who should have a commercial lens and get more creative with the business side of things. There is a need for a community arts center where artists can all get together, and more opportunities for paid work for artists. And more art parties! The Frederick Arts Council has a policy now that they don’t take anything for free, and are strict about paying everybody. For that, we salute you, and hope that others follow suit.

Links:

Frederick Arts Council: http://frederickartscouncil.org/
Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program: https://rair.org/rair
Artist Heather Theresa Clark, Sky Stage in Frederick, MD: http://heather-clark.com/project/sky-stage/
Artist Thomas Faison: https://vimeo.com/tomfaison
Frederick Arts Council's Festival for the Arts: https://www.visitfrederick.org/event/26th-annual-frederick-festival-of-the-arts/9596/
Wing Young Huie: https://www.wingyounghuie.com/
AS220 in Providence, RI: https://as220.org

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Stacey Ray is an arts admin professional, and the Programs and Communications Manager at Lane Arts Council in Eugene, OR, with serious experience in both the arts and rural life. She has previously interned with TBA Festival/PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art) and studied Arts Management at the University of Oregon, but grew up in central Montana, in an unincorporated community of about 20 people, where her family has been for five generations, working as farmers, butchers, and loggers.

We talked to Stacey about her special interest in art in rural places, which was also the topic for her graduate thesis. She researched contemporary art in the rural context by looking at artist residencies around the country. Is there contemporary art outside urban spaces? Perceiving a lack of scholarship on the subject, Stacey took matters into her own hands and decided to dig into six different art residencies in rural places in the U.S.

Residencies and collectives are the ways that contemporary practice can happen in isolated and remote places. There are many challenges to being a rural community, not only isolation from centers of cultural activity, but also separation from the infrastructure that support it and barriers such as population density and lack of a shared vocabulary.

We examine the term “contemporary” and the language we use to speak about art, talk in depth about the good work being done by the Wassaic Project in NY and M12 in CO, dipping into informal versus formal participation in the arts. We also get into preconceived notions city folk have of the rural idyll as “a place to get away from but not to go, and certainly not to stay,” and avoiding being a tourist by being attentive to your surroundings. The artists and the arts organizations in rural places both act as mediators and facilitators, gaining the trust of local communities and earning their goodwill. We can’t expect people to come to us, we have to go to them. We have to meet people where they are.

Links:
Lane Art Council: http://lanearts.org/
TBA Festival/PICA: http://pica.org/tba/
Wassaic Project, NY: https://www.wassaicproject.org/
M12 Collective, CO: http://m12studio.org/index.html
Wormfarm Institute, WI: https://wormfarminstitute.org/
Grin City Collective, IA (closed operations in 2019): http://www.grincitycollective.org/
Epicenter, UT: http://ruralandproud.org/
Coleman Center for the Arts, AL: https://colemanarts.org/

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In an article by Laura van Straaten in Vulture in November 2018 titled ‘Ten Galleries Whose founders Quit the Big City To Become Cultural Trailblazers in the Heartland’, gallery owners from a range of cities in the Midwest and South talk about operating a gallery outside metropolitan art capitals, nevertheless, traveling to art fairs in major cities to sell work. We get into the purpose of art fairs, platforms for selling art, and marketing methods, including a vivid description of the art market as a shapeshifter from a horror movie and the DIY tactic of "a thousand true fans."

We wonder how the two aspects of online presence and real life interactions work together. People don’t go to galleries as much, and there has been a decline in being physically present in the same space with your peers and the public, while at the same time we have seen the rise of the art “experience” and blockbuster shows made for visitors to Instagram.

"Radical Localism” from Chris Kraus’s book Social Practices has us reflecting on making political art vs making art that is inherently political by virtue of being embedded in a small, local community. The artist as worker, much like the postman, the grocer, or the hairdresser, integrated into the life of the town. (A correction to this part of the episode: Pueblo Nuevo is a neighborhood in the town of Mexicali, not the name of the town itself.)

Thinking about context, and the meaning of artwork lead us to cat paintings - again - and the difference human connection makes to the experience of an artwork. It is often discouraged in contemporary art discourse as there is an understanding that the work has to be able to speak for itself and be self-contained, but identity politics is making a difference to this attitude, questioning that stance. The response to Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial in 2017 is an example of this shift. There is a trap of the artist becoming the artwork and losing the freedom of art to go beyond what already exists, but there are layers of meaning and multiple levels of analysis possible within a single artwork.

Living in a small arts community there is no choice but to be supportive of each other’s work, and that persistence instead of dismissal, can open up entirely new ways of seeing art. So, how do we act as critical support for each other? There are different modes of engagement like asking questions, encouraging the things that are successful about someone’s work, and different responses that are appropriate depending on context, be it show openings or studio visits.

Links:

‘Ten Galleries Whose founders Quit the Big City To Become Cultural Trailblazers in the Heartland’

"Social Practice" by Chris Kraus

"A Thousand True Fans” by Kevin Kelly.

Dan Carlin’s "Hardcore History

Kelli Thompson’s cat painting “Anna and Cat” 2012.

Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial

Further reading on Dana Schutz's painting:

"Should Art That Infuriates Be Removed?" by Roberta Smith

"The Problem With the Whitney Biennial’s Emmett Till Painting Isn’t That the Artist Is White" by Lisa Larson-Walker

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This time we sit down with Jam Jessie Allison, Maddison Colvin, Andrew Douglas Campbell, and JoJo Ruby, of Tropical Contemporary, to talk about life after grad school, and what it means to be part of a collective that puts on exhibitions and art events right here in Eugene, OR.

Tropical was founded in 2015 by a group of graduates from the University of Oregon MFA program in Art. Everyone in this conversation had their particular reasons for joining the group, and we hear about their journeys through and following grad school, as well as the alternative route of a self-taught artist. They bring up the hidden assumptions of privilege in being expected to go to New York or LA after graduation and roll the dice, shoot for the stars, instead of finding a way to keep making work by staying put, banding together and supporting each other.

In the beginning Tropical had shows in garages and living rooms, and their first show was Teenybopper. They got connected with Isaac Marquez, director of Cultural Services in the City of Eugene and had a show in a rental truck downtown called Deals, Deals, Deals!, which led to an opportunity for a permanent space where they implemented a membership structure as a way to pay for the space. More recently they organized the project Narrowly Mended, a public craftivism event included in Utopian Visions Art Fair/TBA festival in Portland.

As a volunteer-based operation with no sponsors and no board, where everyone chips in so that it does’t feel like a big burden to anyone, they are able to separate the financial aspects of running the space from programming. Not having to make money on shows means that aesthetic choices are not made based on an economic model. They value risk-taking, using what you have to create what you want and need, and being flexible with responsibilities so that it is sustainable to maintain while having a life outside of the work of the collective.

We talk about organizational models and arguments against acquiring nonprofit status. They have received funding from the Precipice Fund from Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), which is geared toward more loosely structured initiatives, as well as city grants for projects and public programming, like Draw a Drag Queen, where it becomes more important to keep track of metrics such as active engagement.

Tropical Contemporary has a Patreon account where you can contribute to paying their rent, if you wish.

Links:
Tropical Contemporary
Teenybopper
Deals, Deals, Deals!
Narrowly Mended
Utopian Visions Art Fair / TBA Festival
Precipice Fund
Draw a Drag Queen
The Farce Family
Tropical Contemporary Patreon

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What is it like to jump feet first into a successful community arts organization, honoring tried-and-true programming while trying to bring in something new and challenge expectations in a way that isn’t alienating?

Sandee McGee is an artist and Gallery Director at the Umpqua Valley Arts Association in Roseburg in southern Oregon. She talked to us about creating a space where community arts and more traditional art practices can cohabit with challenging contemporary work, and how they might benefit from each other. Sandee tells us about the backlash involved in going in a new direction, away from more traditional material-based practices to contemporary art, and the role of the mission statement of the organization in navigating that terrain.

Arguably, the value of culture is what comes after and surrounds the event or exhibition in addition to the particular work itself. Where traditional art shows generate very short and polite conversations, more conceptual work prompts deeper, and sometimes more polarized conversations with a longer reach. But we can’t expect everyone to have an expert knowledge of art, so how do we open ourselves up and invite people in, without taking away the moment of discovery?

It’s about building an audience by meeting people where they are and creating a comfortable zone where new ideas aren't threatening. Signage is a way in for many people, so being generous with information around the work and the premise of the show is an important aspect of accessibility. How a show is curated and the nuances of the language that is used can have a huge impact. In a small town you can really do damage with the way you talk about the work, and how you present it. There is fear of misunderstanding on both sides: the artist and the audience are both vulnerable to ridicule and “not knowing”.

Links:

Sandee McGee: http://sandeemcgee.virb.com/portfolio

Umpqua Valley Arts Association: https://uvarts.com/

Richard Billingham: https://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/richard_billingham.htm

Marie Watt: http://www.mariewattstudio.com/

Cynthia Lahti: http://cynthialahti.blogspot.com/

The Ford Family Foundation: https://www.tfff.org/

Mika Aono Boyd: https://mikaboyd.com/home.html

John Whitten: http://www.johnwhitten.com/

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In Episode 3 of Bottleracks & Fountains, ECA’s Julia Oldham is at a residency at The Blue House in Dayton, Ohio, and interviews Nicholaus Arnold and Ashley Jonas about their project.

They talk about creating a viable way of life as artists and what their journey has looked like so far, moving to Dayton after completing their MFAs and figuring it out. The appeal of making the move from the big city to a small town: affordability of space, longevity, solidarity, and a more immediate community.

Conversation topics include: the role of the city, how the economics of a place impacts and is shaped by arts initiatives, supporting each other by going to each other’s events and sharing resources, performative viewership and the white cube vs alternative spaces. The balancing act of prioritizing accessibility and avoiding intimidating your audience by creating a welcoming environment, while still maintaining intellectual rigor beyond the pleasant, the quaint, and the novel.

After the interview, we discuss amongst ourselves and respond to the topics that were brought up. We relate Nick and Ashley’s insights to our own experiences and our situation in Eugene, and talk about the residency Julia runs out of her own house: Opossum House.

Links:

The Blue House, Dayton, OH: http://thebluehousearts.com/

Opossum House Artist Residency: https://cargocollective.com/opossumhouse

Entire First-Year MFA Class Drops Out in Protest at the University of Southern California: https://hyperallergic.com/207235/entire-first-year-mfa-class-drops-out-in-protest-at-the-university-of-southern-california/

Theme music by Das Verlin.
Mixed by Pinball Jukebox.
Bottleracks & Fountains is a project of Eugene Contemporary Art.

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