Research

Resilience through Sports Psychology, Heartbreak, and Mindfulness

Three books related to resilience.

I’ve been interested in resilience since 2016. I wanted to learn more about how people recover from setbacks and major changes in identity.

I started by thinking about athletes recovering from major losses, enduring injury, or facing retirement. This was partly fueled by my own participation in athletics (competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu last year, coping with chronic aches) and as a spectator (the mental or psychological preparation or fallout in Rhonda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm, Rose Namajuna’s self-management which helped her dethrone Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Megan Rapinoe’s sense of self-driven purpose).


Jim Afremow, The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive.

Jim Afremow, PhD, The Champion’s Mind (2013)

[Find on IndieBound.]

I highly recommend this book for anyone who plays sports and wants to be more mentally prepared for competition. Practical, helpful tips for having the most conducive attitude in practice, in competition, in the face of loss, etc.


Competitive athletes face winning and losing on a regular basis. But loss is inevitable in everyone’s lives. We will all face grief. When you love, you can also lose your love.


Cover of Guy Winch, How to Fix a Broken Heart

Guy Winch, PhD, How to Fix a Broken Heart (2018)

This is a great little book written by a NYC therapist based on 20 years of treating clients. The focus is on heartbreak following the loss of romantic love, and heartbreak following the loss of a pet. Dr. Winch is keen to challenge social assumptions that provide accommodations for physical pain but not psychological pain, especially around these heartbreaks, which can be deemed insignificant compared to divorce or loss of an immediate (human) family member.

“We have been dealing with broken hearts for millennia and yet most of us know only two healing agents: social support and time.”

He explains: if other people deem our loss insignificant, they’ll withdraw social support, leaving us with only time,

“a variable over which we have no control, which is why heartbreak makes us feel so helpless.”

Dr. Winch describes several client stories of heartbreak and the unhelpful behaviors they engaged in. I found much of this very relatable.

He explains how love is neurologically like addiction, how heartbreak activates the same parts of the brain as a drug withdrawal. He goes over strategies informed by cognitive behavioral therapy, for things like moving towards closure and increasing self-compassion.

The book is published by TED Talks and is eminently readable. (I read most of it on two long subway rides.) Highly recommended.


What if resilience is a matter of preparation? What if you could train your brain to withstand setbacks—and the emotions and beliefs that follow—by becoming more mindful?

Like any job, my day job can entail stressors like shifting priorities, unexpected changes, long hours, and challenging personalities. Different tolerances and coping strategies are on full display (including myself, of course). I noticed that my co-worker D doesn’t let his feathers get ruffled. He doesn’t seem to get frustrated, upset, or impatient. I asked him about it, and he said, “A lot of meditation and prayer.” He keeps in mind a bigger picture and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

This month, I gave myself a mini-mantra and suggestion: “Be Kind. Unwind.” I just wanted to give myself space and permission to feel and acknowledge my feelings (there are A LOT of them this month) instead of rushing from thing to thing—task to task, distraction to scrolly-scrolly to ruminations. In practice, I am trying to be more mindful.


Cover for Christophe Andre, Looking at Mindfulness: 25 Paintings to Change the Way you Live. International Bestseller. Illustrated with a painting by Caspar David Fredrick of the back of a man at a mountain summit looking over a cloud cover below him.

Christophe André, PhD, Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art (2016)

[Published by Penguin Random House]

André is a psychiatrist and meditation practitioner who runs meditation groups for hospital patients. This is a beautiful book that uses old European paintings as inspirations for discourses on mindfulness.

“When we cling to our painful thoughts by ruminating on them, we solidify them. We ruminate on our ills and turn them into monsters. Rumination is the solidification of our mind’s chatter. Without meaning to, we turn an ordinary reaction into suffering.”

This next quote seems especially well-suited for striving New Yorkers. Or competitive athletes. Or artists who feel disempowered by the art world.

“We should go on making choices and pursuing goals, but without merging them, without obsessively clinging to success or perfection… We must do our best, in awareness and presence, but without seeing our effort, which depends on us, as less important than the final result, which does not depend on us alone…. We must stop thinking of our lives in terms of victories and defeats, seeing them instead in terms of the experiences that make us who we are.”

This is also about not being defined by your last project or bad review or win or loss. It’s about not tying your self-worth to an external indicator.

One question I keep coming back to in my work is “How do we keep our heart open?” To not become numb, scarred, hardened, or detached from the innumerable scary and traumatizing things in life. André writes,

“It’s true that access to these worlds of the present moment is made easier by external gifts [such as nature, beauty, etc.]… But it also requires a decision on our part to open ourselves up as often as we can to being touched, contacted, and struck by life. This is an act of deliberate awareness.”


 

I borrowed some of these books from Queens Library. I resolved to use the library more this summer, after “The People’s Guide to the Queens International” (my collaborative project partly situated at Queens Library branches) and probably the Marie Kondo effect. The more I use the library, the more it becomes habitual and convenient. Just yesterday, I used the bookmobile near my subway stop for the first time. I also like the enforced timeline of a loan—it motivates me to read.

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I loved this show! I love Maurice Sendak’s drawings, hand-lettering, and the whimsy, compassion, heart, and sensitivity in his work. This exhibit features Sendak’s sketches, watercolors, storyboards, and dioramas illustrating his designs for the theater. I really makes me want to draw more, and explore absurdism.

I can’t stop thinking about these sketches for costume designs. The first is from Where the Wild Things Are. The second is from A Love for Three Oranges.

Sendak-wild-things

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Study for Wild Things costume, with notes (Where the Wild Things Are), 1979, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite pencil on paper. © The Maurice Sendak Foundation. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.103:19. // Source: TheMorgan.org.

Drawing of costume designs. Three figures. The two figures on the left show the front and back of the same person, "prince" in a body suit showing organs and bones. The third figure is a man a boat.

My photo of a page in the exhibition catalog, “Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet.” // Find it in the Morgan shop.

There’s something just nice thinking about these drawings together. About bringing the inside out (your beastly feelings becoming a monstrous suit you wear and control), or making your outsides show your insides (the soft, vulnerable organs we’re all made of).

Through October 6
Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum


 

Also, if you’ve never listened to the Teri Gross’ interview with Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air, give it a listen. It will break your heart.

Sights

See: Maurice Sendak at the Morgan Library

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Art Competition Odds

More Notes from a Juror

Over the past two weeks, I was a juror for an artist-in-residence program. I spent about 10.5 hours reviewing 30 applications. As I reviewed, I took notes on what I found myself responding positively and negatively to. These notes are summarized below. They reflect my own biases, the application’s structure, and the organization’s criteria.


The basis of good writing is clear thinking. The applications that rise to the top show deep praxis and high intelligence.

Say what, who, when, where, how, and why. Stating the parameters of your project clearly and simply helps jurors remember, sort, and rank your proposal. Timelines help convey a clear plan. Citing individuals or organizations shows that you’ve done some groundwork.

Specify outcomes when possible. At the same time, balance outcomes with open-ended-ness. Don’t be too predetermined; allow room for growth or discovery, and for dialogue and the dynamic qualities of the program to inform your work.

Use headers. They are helpful landmarks in narrative texts.

Hit the marks. If the criteria are outlined, address how your project, specifically, fulfills them. Avoid generalizations about how art fulfills the criteria (“Art is ___ because…” “Art functions in society to…” “Art has the power to…”). If your project relates to social or political contexts, summarize them. The bulk of a letter of intent should be a description of your proposed project; background info should make up a smaller proportion.

Demonstrate a track record. Your work samples should show that you have the experience and capacity to pull off your proposed project. If your proposal includes a new medium or format for you, describe how you will learn or overcome the technical challenges.

If you’re going to propose an expansion or re-staging of a current project, convince readers why it is dynamic, necessary, worthy, or new, rather than merely helpful for your career or exhibition history. Is there a strategy? Does this next phase help you reach a bigger, more ambitious goal? Do you have any concrete plans or partnerships towards that goal? Show how this specific opportunity is a good fit (as opposed to any other opportunity that provides funding or visibility). Bear in mind that other applicants will be proposing all new projects, which seem more ambitious, and conclude with a more satisfying sense of accomplishment, in comparison. If your proposal is for an interstitial phase of a longer project, the outcomes may seem modest or unexciting.

Review your submittal as a whole. The parts should interlock and strengthen each other. Accentuate strong connections (include work samples of past projects relevant to your proposal or artist’s statement). Eliminate weak connections (omit less-relevant text or art from your statement or work samples if they don’t support the proposed project). [In practice, this means drafting and editing your submittal first, rather than cutting, pasting, and writing directly in the application portal.]

Don’t be redundant. If you say something in your proposal, no need to repeat it in your artist’s statement or work samples, or vice versa.

Limit art-speak. On a mechanical level, each sentence should function to communicate an idea that is specific to your project or process. Avoid making up acronyms for elements of your art practice that you reference only once or twice.

Provide enough context for your work samples. This is especially true of performance and social practice projects.

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Art Worlds, Research

Watch: On Why Art Belongs in the World

A beautiful work of storytelling and advanced learnings about sharing art.

Kristy Edmunds’ keynote speech at United States Artists Assembly 2019 is stirring, smart, and compelling. I highly recommend it. Watch the video, which includes an intro by Ann Hamilton.

Person holding a bowl in one hand, standing at a podium.

Keynote speaker Kristy Edmunds. // Source: UnitedStatesArtists.org.

Edmund’s speech comes from her perspective as curator and artistic director, facilitating relationships between artists and institutions. She’s particularly pro-artist [which is something you might assume people working in the art world would be, but actually, some are anti-artist, H/T Shannon Stratton].

Edmund’s perspective was especially interesting to me as a social practitioner, in thinking about partnerships with organizations, institutions, and communities, and also as an artist who thinks about my work less in terms of objects to be owned, and more in terms of aesthetic experiences and engagements.

Below are a few highlights.

On partnerships between artists and institutions

The quality of invitations to artists and audiences matter.

Artists are not to be treated as vendors. A public is not to be treated as consumers. Do not transact poetics and people, ever.

She said that requiring measurable outcomes facilitates gatekeeping and hinders bridge-building.

On how art lives in the world

When introducing performances, Edmunds feels compelled to tell audiences:

We have a job together, which is to make a memory. We will be the living archive for this artist, in this moment, in this time. We going to become its permanent collection.

I love this idea. She explains:

Art belongs in the world. It is informed by the maker, its place, city, community, culture, conditions—everything through which it is made—but it isn’t owned by the organization that helped facilitate it. Nor, once it is given by the artist, is it exclusively owned by them. It become owned by a public, in the world, in a memory that we made…

Ownership as a fixed idea is transformed into something else. To me, that transformation is a participation in belonging to the work, to the experience of it, to the acknowledgment of its maker, to the cultural assets that stand with it, and also to us, fleeting or long.

The future completes our work—how it sustains or endures. What is forged in our cultural memory connects us uniquely.

For me, when an artwork exists that way—as a shared memory or an experience ingrained in the body—that’s whats most exciting about working in the realm of aesthetic experiences. That’s why I keep going back to making projects with people, inviting participation, gathering stories, and sharing emotions and experiences.

She also shared this tidbit:

…Art needs to belong in the world because it is how we practice, in the words of Deborah Hay, “the deep ethics of optimism.”

 


Tangent: On “The deep ethics of optimism”

*Since I’m obsessed with optimism I wanted to learn more about what this phrase meant. I found an interview with choreographer Deborah Hay. She said, “A friend of mine who is a poet talks about ‘the deep ethics of optimism.'”

Then I found an interview with writer Zara Houshmand:

Issues of social justice matter to me very much but over time I’ve been more inclined to look inward at deeper sources of change—the mechanisms of empathy, breaking down prejudice, embracing the other, fixing oneself at the root in ways that create a more viable relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice. It goes beyond finding a balance of contemplative and active life, or marshaling limited resources to prevent burn-out. Rather, it’s about what it means to commit to impossible tasks wholeheartedly, the deep ethics of optimism.

This relates to ideas that I keep coming back to, as well as new ideas I am currently discovering:

  • What I’m trying to achieve in my art is space for connection, for people to be whole-hearted, vulnerable, and authentic. Through my work, I am trying to ask, “How do you keep your heart open?” I think this is connected to optimism and embracing the abundance of the world and human goodness, which informs your ethics and how you move through the world and relate to change.
  • What is the relationship between social change and personal growth? This came up a lot in my recent Belonging Project at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. I focused a lot about how belonging feels. Then we looked at how to relate this to how belonging (and othering) happens on institutional scales, on a societal level.
  • I’ve also been thinking more about what it means when “the personal is political.” When are acts of self-care or self-actualization empowering and radical? When are they self-indulgent and afforded by privileged? For whom? In what conditions?
    • Self-care can be radical for people subjected to systematic violence. I identify as a woman of color, and, I’m also East Asian, educated, with sources of income that allow me to pursue being an artist, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, with birthright citizenship and fluent English.
    • I am encountering my own ageism, ableism, and fat-shaming and the loss of privilege afforded youth, ability, and control over my body. I want to challenge these biases to work towards social change and inclusion, AND to accept myself for improved mental health. I recognize that this latter reason is completely self-interested; that this is how privilege works (I didn’t have to think about this before, I could be un-empathetic and uninformed about those affected); and this is how bias works (I couldn’t ‘see’ it until it affected me directly).
  • I’m reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (AK Press [an anarchist worker-run coop🤘🏽], 2017) and “doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice” seems very related.

 

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Works

Points of Reference: Good Grief, Fruit and Other Things, Archive as Action

Socially-engaged artworks and events that reveal relationships and faith in humanity.

Claire Titleman: Good Grief Workshop
Mast on Fig, LA

Next Saturday: May 25, 2019

Once, during grad school, I installed my art in a corridor, and an artist named Emily Mast visited, saw it, emailed me, and now I’ve been aware of her goings-on for over 10 years. I try to reach out and email artists whose work I like, sometimes they’re responsive, sometimes they’re not, but I try. She’s opened a space in LA and this upcoming workshop sounds amazing.

Mast on Fig is ever so pleased to announce its second “Intimate Experience” by Claire Titleman! Intimate Experiences are performative experiments (concerts, classes, demos, meals, conversations, workshops, readings, meditations, etc.) for 15 people or less that will take place on a weekly basis over the course of this summer.

Claire Titleman
Good Grief Workshop
Saturday, May 25th  6-8 PM
Mast on Fig
4030 N Figueroa St LA 90065
RSVP here
Limit: 10 people
$10 suggested donation

What would happen if we passed down the legacies of our loved ones — not just to our family but to strangers? Good Grief will be a space for communal grieving, an opportunity to celebrate those who passed with people they never knew. Share something of them, whether it’s concrete or ephemeral, rational or absurd. Play us or teach us a song they loved, read a letter they wrote, do show and tell with an object you inherited, bring in a food they made for you, including its recipe. Mimic their laugh, teach us how to move our hips the way their hips moved when they walked. In this way, instead of creating a legacy that goes in a straight line, we scatter it out into the universe.

The last line is such a beautiful, wonderful gesture. To me this kind of relationship-building, experience-making, trust, and reciprocity are the essence of social practice. If your story can live indelibly in the minds and hearts of nine other people, art objects and documentation are immaterial.

Grief and loss are inevitable in life. And yet death is taboo in our culture, which makes grief feel all the more isolating. You don’t want to “burden” anyone with your sadness. (This is a double-edged sword of positivity.) I love this idea of sharing a joyful memory with strangers you trust because they share grief in common with you.


Lenka Clayton & Jon Rubin: Fruit and Other Things
Carnegie International, Pittsburg

[Last Fall/Winter]

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this project in person, only online. It’s a beautiful concept that resonates with me regardless. Here’s the premise:

10,632 paintings rejected by the Carnegie International are painted, exhibited and then given away, in alphabetical order

fruitandotherthings.com

First of all, what an achievement to sum up a large social-practice-and-object project in one simple sentence. Learn more on their project website.

Watch this two-minute video to hear from the artists about their motivations.

For me, the best social practice projects have an elegance, as if the solution to how to develop this project was the most logical solution (yet only the artists would even think to do it). Fruit and Other Things has this sense of elegance, consideration, and completion.

There’s care, craftsmanship, uncovering history, a gesture of acknowledgment and kindness to other artists who faced rejection, generosity, ambitious scale, and distribution (the artworks living in the world). (Not to mention one of my faves, hand-lettering.)

I also like the exhibition design, with the poster board on a pallet (progress towards the 10k posters done made physical), worktables, and the open-top frames on the wall that allow easy change-outs of the artworks. It makes the process of the project self-evident and accessible.

Plus, there’s the democratization of collecting, with the collectors being asked to register on their project website and send in a photo. (This is something I have asked people to do in past projects, with less success. What do audience member-participants owe? To whom do they owe it? What is the nature of the transaction? What does their fulfillment or failure to fulfill their obligation say? What is a reasonable rate of fulfillment: 15% 50%? What do artists receive? How does participants’ completion of the feedback loop support the completion of the project? What do participants receive? How does it enhance their investment in the project or their aesthetic experience of participation?)

Last, I just want to acknowledge how many people are involved in this project. The artists are supported by a large team. All these people ought to be paid for their labor. This type and scale of social practice project requires tons of institutional support. The artists are giving away the artworks for free, and the aesthetic gestures are  conceptual and relational, it may be tempting to think that social practice can happen on shoestring budgets. But actually this is a site-specific commission and live performance which also requires ongoing administration. So congrats to the artists but also to the curators and Carnegie International team for this vision and investment.


Calcagno Cullen, Amanda Curreri and Lindsey Whittle: Archive as Action
Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Through June 16, 2019

This exhibition makes me happy because:

  1. Amanda Curreri is a grad school classmate who’s one of the smartest people I know and her relational actions have a high degree of open-ended-ness and exploration that I find very risky and admirable. She is attempting to do nothing short of re-writing social relations and experiences of power.
  2. Calcagno Cullen is a like-minded colleague from the Bay Area alternative art scene who founded Wave Pool in Cincy, which does super interesting things in community-facing art.
  3. It’s an exhibition of socially-engaged art and all the artists are women.
  4. Though I can’t visit, I got a sense of the exhibition from Sarah Rose Sharp’s “The Potential of Participatory Museum Exhibits” on Hyperallergic (May 14, 2019) to learn more about what viewers experience (H/T Nyeema Morgan). The artists’ practices seem to cover a spectrum of participatory art, with objects to be manipulated, objects as interfaces that collect contributions (artist-as-gatherer?), and objects as props for shared physical experience in real time.

We can all be World-Makers

I am so grateful to know artists who are world-makers. They saw that certain spaces, practices, and institutions didn’t exist in the world, and they decided to create those them. It takes blood, sweat, tears, and huge amounts of guts. Emily Mast doesn’t have to host events in her studio open to the public. Cal Cullen didn’t have to create and run Wave Pool as a different model of a gallery. Before social practice became a legitimized field, Jon Rubin and Harrell Fletcher were doing projects in the CCA library that almost seemed like extended practical jokes. Now they’ve gone on to found programs and nurture future generations of social practice artists. Ryan Pierce wanted artists to experience a different relationship to nature and collaboration found in your typical residency, so he co-founded Signal Fire, which is now celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

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belonging, Meta-Practice

Residency Wrap-Up: Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Program 2018–2019

The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency

To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.

No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.

Screenshot of Haas Institute's webpage announcing Artist in Residence 2018-2019

Who

Haas

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.

AIR Coordinator

Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.

 

What

Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”

The residency included:

  • a $10,000 honorarium
  • a platform at the Othering and Belonging conference (1,500 attendees)
  • amplification in the Haas Institute news magazine and digital media (here’s a link to an interview in their newsletter)
  • support from Haas staff

Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)

My Project

You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.

 

 

When

November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.

The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.

My Time Line

I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.

The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.

The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.

 

Where

Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.

Where I worked

For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.

 

Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.

The conference

The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.

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The columns inside the Oakland Convention Center where I presented my project during the Othering and Belonging Conference.

 

[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]

A bar chart titled "Which two qualities of belonging are salient to you and your place of belonging?" Responses from 104 attendees of the Othering and Belonging Conference 2019. Connectedness: 66. Authenticity: 23. Family: 22. Well-being: 22. Accepted: 19. Growth: 19. Familiarity: 13. Meaning: 12. Self-worth: 9. Agency 8. Safety: 8. Access: 7. Autonomy: 4. Confidence: 3. Continuity: 1.

In the mapping activity, I asked participants to pick two of the 15 qualities of belonging we identified in the book, 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. Participants selected connectedness almost 3x as often as the second-most selected quality, authenticity.

How

Application

Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)

From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).

Process

First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.

As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.

All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.

I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.

Lessons and tips

The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:

  • Never skip steps.
  • Don’t overbook your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks.

This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.

From past residencies, I’ve learned:

  • Taper off production the last few days of a residency.
  • Leave a whole day to pack and ship projects and materials.

Administration

This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.

Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.

Afterword

This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.

 


A Postscript

Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.

It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.

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