Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century
Art & Development, Citizenship

Points of Reference (or Orientation)

Navigating art and activism, and the necessity of both.


Art seasons are a real phenomenon, and I’ve been racing to keep up with this one. I’ve been extra busy since mid-August, working my seasonal, full-time museum job, and preparing for three group shows opening this month—not to mention falling sick for a week. M called me “Pigpen,” the messy Peanuts character, and I couldn’t argue with that. I kept it pretty together in art, by sacrificing in life, like housekeeping.

Messy desk

This pretty much sums it up.

I have a lot of thoughts I haven’t been able to process. Like all the crap on my desk, I’m throwing everything down to sort out, at least into little piles for now.


Adapting Aptitudes

A few things happen over the course of a changeover at my seasonal museum job. I lose fitness and get sore in my knees and back. I become unusually extroverted, even starting conversations with strangers outside of work. I’m sharper and faster working with my hands, but a bit slower intellectually. It’s harder to recall artists’ names or to talk critically about art. It’s weird observing how quickly you adapt to your environments.


A Bit of Orientation

Something I wrote resonated with curator Susannah Magers. She quoted me in her curatorial statement for Political Birthdays (on view now through November 3 at Dream Farm Commons in Oakland, CA):

“My courage as an artist is low right now. The news is so overwhelming part of me just wants to turtle up. I’m not sure what the right track is, but I know when it feels right. … In lieu of a clear direction, I’ll take a bit of orientation.”

The past two weeks have provided countless reasons to want to turtle up and avoid the onslaught of bad news and injustice.

Sometimes a good strategy is just to keep moving. Susannah wrote:

The exhibition is one such offering—an orientation, in response to the aforementioned quote by participating artist Christine Wong Yap—that emphasizes visibility, agency, and collaboration as resources, sites of inquiry, and tools.

There can’t be too many reminders to shift focus from dumpster fires back our own sources of power. What can we do to see and be seen? What can we do with our resources, networks, and skills? In this time that feels so alienating, disempowering, and dispiriting, how do we provide the sense of community and solidarity to ourselves and each other?


Politics and Projects

The projects I’m working on right now relate to inclusion, amplifying voices, and belonging. They’re not expressly about civic engagement or advocacy. Partly that’s because I’m invested in psychological wellbeing, which I see as an expression of freedom, dignity, and agency.

Two of the three shows I’m in directly address activism and the midterm elections. The organizers invited me to supplement my project with ideas for taking action or performative events to encourage activism. At the pace I’ve been moving, I didn’t have the time or brainpower to come up with many ideas. But I have been thinking about how I have—or haven’t—been politically engaged.


Activism Is Not Easy

Given this recent emphasis on activism, I have been thinking about a post I wrote two years ago, “Resources for Becoming an Activist.” I’ve been feeling guilty that I haven’t taken more of my own advice and been more active.

I connected with many local social justice orgs at the Forward Union Fair in 2017. I signed up for tons of mailing lists. Aside from calling representatives, few opportunities to get involved or contribute my art skills presented themselves. I joined an group of artist-allies for an immigrant rights org, but logistics—timing, geography, my schedule—have prevented me from pitching in much. When I did contribute a postcard design, I never heard anything back from the point person.

I’ve had tunnel vision for the past two months thanks to my projects and shows, but I’ll try again in the coming months.

Yesterday, I signed up for a monthlong printshop studio rental. I’m thinking about printing more posters, like the one I printed the day after the election. This is something I can do that activates my skills and resources.


WAGENCY

One thing that artists can do to take action is to join WAGENCY. If you haven’t seen it, read my Instagram post about why I signed up, and why I encourage other artists to become WAGENTS, too.


Belonging on Stolen Land

Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day. I spent the day letterpress-printing Belonging activity sheets.

In 2016, I developed my Belonging project, using open calls and workshops to ask people about how they feel about belonging, and where they have felt belonging. I asked countless people to participate and invite others. I shaped my approach with inquiry and openness. I protracted the period of research and dialogue, even though it was stressful for me to delay production. I thought I limited my agenda and perspective in the final signs and zine in order to highlight participants’ voices.

An hour before the opening of Belonging in Albuquerque, I received feedback that indigenous people may not appreciate the message that “we all belong here” on colonized land. Anytime anyone thoughtfully offers honest, critical feedback, it’s valuable, though the timing of the message was a challenge for me.

On Monday, curator Adriel Luis posted a reflection about the struggling with the paradox of immigrant and indigenous perspectives:

As an American I recognize that I live on occupied land. Coming from a family of immigrants, it’s a constant struggle to find balance between insisting that we have a right to be here, while at the same time acknowledging that we really don’t. The past couple of years I’ve had the honor of learning what it means to be welcomed here as a guest…I can tell you it feels so much better than barging your way into somewhere! Still, it’s a learning process to understand how I continue to contribute to the legacy of how this land was stolen.

I’m also trying to evolve my understanding of belonging, by considering Brené Brown’s writing: belonging is not merely being embraced by others—true belonging is actually the courage to stand alone in the wilderness. What that means for future iterations of the project is that belonging should not be limited to places; belonging can be something you carry with you.


Jeff Chang on Art and Race

Probably the best thing to help orient me right now in this moment before the midterm elections is this: historian Jeff Chang’s keynote speech at the Art and Race Conference at the Impact Hub in Oakland (H/T the Making Contact podcast episode, “Jeff Chang on Revolutions in Seeing and Being”).

In this moment, privilege shows up as disengagement, the refusal to take a stand, and the refusal to show up.

As in, ‘I refuse to see how anti-black racism gives me privilege.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the inhumanity that leaves so many homeless and unsheltered.’ As in, ‘I refuse to see the humanity of the refugee or the migrant.’ As in, ‘I refuse to acknowledge the ways that state violence is inflicted on black bodies, on women’s bodies, on queer bodies, on Muslim bodies, on poor bodies…

Privilege is the choice to isolate, to draw the line, to build the wall. To say that all that matters is my solitary sovereignty, and what I can accumulate before death claims me. As artists, as people in community, we have to choose, in this moment. …

 

We believe in art because we believe in life, in all its variations, in all of its beauty. We’re here because we also believe the ugliness—the violence of inhumanity—can be transformed. We’re here today because we believe art and culture change things. That cultural change might even precede—might even make—political change. …

 

Racism is drawn from a specific kind of refusal. It’s a denial of empathy. It’s a mass-willed blindness. … Inequity shows up in three ways: in representation, in access, in power… Here’s where art may become a remedy… In its mimicry of life, great art helps to close the distance between the self and other; it helps us to come together….

…The movement for black lives has reminded us that the way out of this historical cycle of crisis is to begin to see each other in our full humanity. To find and feel that we are all connected. To move beyond empathy to action. Empathy is empty without action.

Jeff goes on to talk about what it means to not make art nor to engage culture, by exploring technocrats’ luxury apocalypse bunkers.

Perhaps the saddest thing is what this way of thinking reveals about them. They find it so hard to imagine generosity, they can’t see it at all in the world. So that’s probably what is meant when folks say, ‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

 

Art … inflames the imagination. And we need the imagination in order to see through and past our blindnesses. Gotta be able to see each other, imagine what we can do together to increase representation, access, and power. This is the real beginning of transformation and community.

…Grace Lee Boggs… argued that revolution is not—as we think of it—something to be won in bloodshed, in which there’s a replacing of one group in power with another group in power. She said that the next revolution might be better thought of as advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility. Her revolution will require us to find new ways other than to divide and rule, to consign some to death and instead pivot all of us towards life, to honor and transform our relationships to each other and ourselves. She insists that we rethink how we see each other, how we choose to be, and how to be together. So we have to move beyond empathy towards mutuality. Beyond relationships that are about exploitation and extraction, towards relationships that are about exchange, support, generosity, and trust. That we start from truly seeing each other and move towards acting for each other. Past resistance and into transformation.


Point of Orientation: Grace Lee Boggs

Thanks to Jeff’s orientation, I’ve ordered this book. (From an independent bookstore, obvs.)

Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activisim for the 21st Century


In the same vein as moving from resistance towards transformation, I’d rather be for positive emotion and affirmation, and than to promulgate negative emotion and opposition.

It is the deforming nature of anger to blur the boundary between unjustified and justified; if it weren’t, only the righteous would ever be angry. Instead, rage is most often forsworn by those who seem most entitled to it, and civility is demanded by those who least deserve it.

…Anger is an avaricious emotion; it takes more credit than it deserves. Attempts to make it into a political virtue too often attribute to anger victories that rightfully belong to courage, patience, intelligence, persistence, or love.

Casey Cep, “The Perils and Possibilities of Anger,” New Yorker Magazine, October 15, 2018

 

Standard
Meta-Practice

Dusting Yourself Off

Toggling between visualizing and detaching from success.

Recently I poured my heart into a major art application. But when I received the rejection letter, I was already moving on to the next thing. Here’s what happened.

My art business goals are to apply.

Of course I want my applications to be successful. But I don’t write goals based on external validation. I can only control what I do. I write my goals so that my job is to keep throwing my hat into the ring.

I have also tried to be more ambitious about what I apply to. Ambition is not natural to me. I’ve also avoided applying to grants, because they seem like more work with lower chances of returns. But I needed to get over this hang-up.

I’d heard of the Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF)  before. It offers funding of $20,000 to develop new work, support from staff for one year, and a solo exhibition at the Queens Museum. This was my first time applying to it. In the past, I didn’t consider it—I just assumed that I don’t or can’t work at a scale that would justify $20,000. I had a self-perception problem.

Visualizing Success

Setting ‘stretch goals’ gave me a push I needed. I started the process thinking: My chances are very low. The odds are against me. My project seems dissimilar to past projects they’ve funded. I had a protective, pessimistic mindset.

I started the process to fulfill a goal, then awkwardly tried to bridge the interests of the program with my own. After working through half-baked ideas, I arrived at a project that clicked. It made sense for me as a next step as an artist. I got more excited and invested. My self-belief grew.

It became easier for me to visualize success because my project was authentic.

By the time I finished the application, I thought: This is a strong proposal. It’s a great fit. It stands out in a good way. I saw myself doing this project. By writing a proposal I believed in, I saw that I could do projects at this scale, and that I am worthy of this amount of support and recognition.

Detachment from the Outcome through Attachment to the Project

The project took on a life of its own. There’s a noticeable energy in the flood of new ideas in my sketchbook.

I knew I could strengthen my proposal by confirming interest from community partners. I emailed strangers and colleagues, and got anxious waiting for their responses. When a few responded with enthusiasm, I felt high with gratitude. It validated the strength of the project. Something happened inside me, and I committed to doing this project with or without the EAF.

I started brainstorming other ways to make this project happen. Since I scaled it up for the grant application, I started thinking about how to scale it down or adapt it to other open calls. I plugged dates in my calendar, comparing application deadlines and notifications. The EAF become my Plan A. I started forming Plan B, C, and D. It gave me a sense of agency.

The Emotional Cost of Attachment

After I submit an application, I put a note in my calendar on the notification date, and I try not to think about it until then.

But I really poured my heart into the application, and so I was nervous and excited when the EAF notification date finally arrived. I checked my email… Nothing. Then over the next few days, I kept checking my email… And the web page to see if the notification date changed…. And my spam folder…. Nothing. This took me on an emotional journey of anxiety, a little bit of frustration and resentment, dread, resignation. I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty. Stopping the pain of uncertainty became more urgent than the desire to secure the EAF. This is not a mature, emotionally intelligent response. But the deadline for the call in Plan B started creeping up, so I pivoted.

When I finally received the rejection, I was bummed out momentarily. I sort of shrugged, thinking: Well, good thing I had already started Plan B. I wasn’t entirely non-attached, but I moved on relatively quickly.

Of course I would have loved to receive the EAF. It was Plan A because it was the most well-funded, most advantageously-timed option.

I’m grateful for the process—it helped me identify a project I feel passionate about, connect with partners excited to work with me, and find creative momentum that will carry me forward.

 


 

I like thinking about how sports and art competitions are alike. For example, if you sign up for a competition—say, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament—your goals might be to intensify training, gain competition experience, and test yourself. But if you also want to win the gold medal, you have to visualize yourself doing so. You can’t aim for less. Same with an art competition. You should write the best possible proposal you can.

However, you can only control your own effort and mindset. You can’t control the outcomes, because of the role of other competitors and judges. You may win a gold—in which case you shouldn’t get too cocky and back off your training. You may not win—then you have to be resilient enough to cope with your disappointment; be a good sport; avoid jealousy and excuses; and resolve to learn, train hard, and do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, remember the long game.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

—variously attributed or mis-attributed to Winston Churchill and John Wooden

 

Standard
organization

Organization: Tools for Teams

How to Collaborate: Try MoSCoW or the RACI matrix.

I like learning productivity strategies. I don’t mind if they’re borrowed from business. Some artists are allergic to productivity. It reminds them of work.

There’s a time to be creative—to experiment, play, brainstorm. Then, after you’ve chosen a direction, there’s a time to make tangible progress towards the shared goal.

I love clear communication around goals, roles, tasks, and timelines. I think this helps people have appropriate expectations and minimize the unpleasant surprises that lead to bad feelings. Here are some strategies I’ve learned.


MoSCoW

Simply put, this just means prioritizing aspects of your project by:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have (this time)

Which parts are the heart of your project, that you must do?
Which parts are non-critical but important, that you should do?
Which parts are optional, that you could do?
Which parts can you let go of now?

In collaborations, MoSCOW could identify shared priorities so you can shed lower-priority tasks. For example, sometimes I’m afraid to ask a partner about eliminating one of their contributions, because I don’t want them to take it personally. But asking them to rate it on the MoSCow scale gives more nuance than choosing between doing or not doing it.

MoSCow could also help you manage your time on your own projects. If you have limited time, start with your must-do’s, then do your should-do’s. Don’t worry about could-do’s unless there’s time leftover.

This could help people avoid procrastinating on more difficult must-do items.

 


RACI Chart

In 2015, I did a survey project at Harvester Arts about creative collaborations. Many respondents expressed frustration around lack of clear roles and responsibilities.

Spread from Co-laboration zine about the most successful or most challenging creative collaborations you've participated in, and what made them that way, and why,

Spread from my 2015 CO-LABORATION zine. Download it at http://christinewongyap.com/work/2015/allthesteps.html.

I’ve also recently reflected on how, when criticism feels arbitrary—chaotic in its target or timing—it’s frustrating. Does everyone need to be consulted about every task? Can collaborators (including myself) be informed of something, withholding criticism for other areas?

M told me to look this matrix up. It’s typically presented in a different format, but for  newbs like me this version seems easiest to digest:

For each task in a project, the RACI Matrix ensures you assign individuals who:

  • are Responsible
  • are Accountable
  • need to be Consulted
  • need to be Informed

I haven’t used it yet, but the RACI Chart looks like a great tool for larger teams with hierarchies.

For example, if you’re making a publication, different people are contributing art, photographs, or text. Who’s copyediting? Art directing? Designing? Is there an organizational partner that wants to have input? At what stage do you involve them? Too early and you don’t have anything to show them. Too late and you’ll risk wasting time and having to ask people to re-do things they thought were approved.

For collaborating artists or non-hierarchical collectives, it can be hard to differentiate who should be consulted and who should be informed. For example, I once tried making decisions with 10+ collective members. Everyone consulted on everything. Individuals largely held themselves responsible or accountable. Only people who felt confident taking on complicated tasks did. It might have helped if there were smaller work-groups, where non-work-group members were informed, not consulted.

Another nice thing about RACI is it makes transparent who’s doing what. This could help make the distributions of labor and criticism more equal.


How Long to Spend on this? Is it a 1 or a 10?

BB, a chief preparator (basically a foreman {fore-person?} for art handlers), once explained a neat communication method for conveying how long to spend on a task.

Explain the level of finish of a task on a scale of 1–10.

10 means, “Take your time, and do the best possible job.”

1 means, “Just get it done, don’t sweat the details.”

In an ideal world, everyone does their tasks to a 10. But if you’re short on time, this helps you quickly express which tasks are worth a higher level of finish.

For example, if you’re patching a seam that falls under the artwork, where visitors will be looking closely, you would want a 10. Or, before someone puts three coats of paint on the underside of a shelf no one’s going to see, sanding in between coats, you could explain that it’s a 2.

 

Standard
organization

Organization: Nerd Game Strong

How I organize my projects is itself a constant project-in-progress.

Sometimes I surprise myself with the levels of nerdiness I reach.

Since I wrote my one-year goals two weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about organization, especially:

  • Useful past strategies.
    • Like hand-drawn tables of studio production phases in my sketchbook.
  • Strategies for collaborations.
    • Should I try Asana, Trello, or Google Sheets for collaborative task management? I experimented and I still don’t know. (Sometimes apps are too much, with the upgrades, gamifying, notifications.)
  • The simplest way to decide what to do next.
    • My one-year goals and weekly checklists are in Evernote, but every few days I hand-write a simplified checklist on a scratchpad. It’s great. Better than an app.
    • I try to use the urgent/important matrix, and the bias for the urgent but not important rings true for me: “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks” by Tim Herrera (NY Times, July 9, 2018).
  • How to maximize your focus.
    • If you can, reserve your most productive hours in the day for your creativity- and focus-intensive art tasks (thanks Creative Capital and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
    • I’m still struggling with how to minimize distractions (and how not to get slot-machine-addiction on mobile devices).
    • I’m also trying to get better at resetting when my focus nosedives.
  • How to strategize longterm, ambitious projects with lots of contingencies.

I’ll share photos and screen shots of these periodically, in a new blog category, Organization.

 


 

Today’s Organization Moment: A Custom 13-month Calendar

weekly-cal

Sometimes you just need a 13-month calendar that shows the months flowing into each other.

Doing graphic design is sometimes a curse, because it makes me more intolerant about how information is presented. Calendars that break months into discrete chunks don’t make any sense to me. Time doesn’t work that way.

For project management, I like to think in terms of weeks. For example, it helps me to plan if I know an exhibition opens in 10 weeks, but I’ll be traveling three weeks, leaving seven weeks to production. So I prefer to see months as a continuous flow.

Standard
Art Competition Odds

Eleven Months in Art Competitions, 2017-2018

Stats on my art competition applications from August 2017 through June 2018.*

In the past, I have set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. Eleven months ago, I decided to set more quantifiable and focused goals, specifying how many art competitions I’d apply to across different categories. My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  1. Six residency or studio programs in NYC
  2. Three public art open calls/registries
  3. Six exhibitions in NYC
  4. Three grants ($3k minimum)

…for a total of 18 competitions.

I also wrote in a lower-priority option of applying to residencies elsewhere. I decided not to specifically pursue:

  • fellowships
  • professional development programs

In the past twelve months, I actually applied to:

  1. Two residencies + two studio programs 4/6
  2. Three public art open calls/registries = 3/3
  3. Four exhibitions + (one fellowship + one professional development program due to the solo show opportunities involved) = 6/6
  4. One grant = 1/3

I also applied to two residencies outside of NYC, bringing the total up to 16 out of 18 applications.

Applications submitted:
RRRR   SS   PPP   EEEE    F   D   G

Awards received (highlighted in color):
RRRR   S?   PP?   EEEE   F   D   G

I was a finalist, but not recipient, of one residency. One exhibition application is leading towards inclusion in a show. One public art registry has not responded, as is the nature of these things. One studio program is delaying their program and subsequent announcement of recipients.

Of the 16 total entries, my overall success rate was 1/16, or 6%. Of the 14 entries that have responded to date, my success rate was 1/14, or 7%.*

I paid $45 for two application fees ($10 and $35 respectively). The other 14 applications were free.

000$   00   000   0$00   0   0   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*I can do what I want. 🙂 It was just a good time for me to revisit my goals today. I’m excited and energized to start fresh right now. Some resources that were helpful for me to review:

**These odds align with a 1:15 rule of thumb I learned in a Creative Capital professional development workshop. I’m pleasantly surprised, since I believe that focusing on NYC competitions means worse odds due to larger applicant pools. As I found in 2011, “seven of the nine New York programs ranked among the top 11 most competitive” in an analysis of 26 competitions on Temporary Art Review.

Standard
Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2016-2017

Stats on my art competition applications from the ‘goal-year’ before last: August 2016 through July 2017.*

At the end of July in 2016, I set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. In a modest effort to be strategic, I decided to focus on:

  1. Three “major” grants
  2. Solo exhibition opportunities
  3. Fellowships or residencies in places I wanted to travel to
  4. Supportive studio programs with funding

I actually applied to:

  1. Two grants = 2/3
  2. One exhibition open call = 1/?
  3. Two fellowships and six residencies  = 8/?
  4. One studio programs = 1/?

For a total of 12 applications out of the goal of 18.

Applications submitted:
GG   E   FF    RRRRRR   S   

Awards received (highlighted in color):
GG   E   FF   RRRRRR   S

I was awarded two residencies.

Of the 12 entries, my overall success rate was 2/12, or 16%.

I paid $50 for two application fees ($15 and $35 respectively). The other 10 applications were free.

$0   0   $0   000000   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*Better late than never. 😉

Standard
Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: NYSCA/NYFA’s 2018 Fellowship Program

The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)/New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) 2018 Fellowship program received 3,071 applications for 89 grants.

//////////////////////////////////////////////////
///////////////////////////////////////
///////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
//////////////////////////////////////////////////
/////////////////////

 

Selected artists comprise about 1:34.5, or 2.8% of applicants.

These odds are over 1% better than in 2017.

See the 2014 NYFA Odds.

See all Art Competition Odds.

Standard