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In many cases, artists are known to be visionaries. Unafraid of ambiguity, grey areas and periods of incubation where creativity is birthed, they often are in a state of imagining. However, in the current climate, artists have been particularly hard hit as galleries and museums go on pause and opportunities are put on hold, not to mention the economic impact setting in. For a conversation on how institutions are helping out, how artists are coping and where we can look for signs of evolution, ICP Curator-at-Large and NYU Professor Isolde Brielmaier shared some reflections on these difficult and rapidly changing times in the field of arts and culture.
Screenshot of early Artist Relief Zoom call. Image courtesy of Artist Relief.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: You are a supporter of the Artist Relief project–a collaborative initiative responding to the needs of artists in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with an initial $10 million investment for grants. Can you tell us what you have been hearing from photographers and artists in terms of the economic and communal fallout they are experiencing?
ISOLDE: Many artists have been hit hard by the pandemic. They have lost jobs and income, living space, studio space, in addition to losing opportunities to show their work, engage with arts institutions, curators and audiences, conduct studio visits, and so on. On a very basic level, the partners who joined together to establish Artist Relief, are seeking to support the daily needs of artists who are in dire straits right now by offering $5,000 grants.
I also think that this is a time when artists can lean on one another. They can band together to create their own virtual studio visits and share their work, ideas and questions with each other. It may also be an opportunity to work in a different way—work with different materials, at different scales, and read and write more if one is so inclined. Last I spoke with artist Tyler Mitchell (whose exhibition I curated at ICP at the top of 2020), he mentioned that he is taking time to read, get more organized and think through different aspects of his work and what he wants his future to look like.
ICP Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier and photographer Tyler Mitchell at Mitchell’s ICP solo exhibition.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Similar to the moves made by arts organizations involved in Artist Relief, FotoFocus Cincinnati decided to use the budget from their cancelled 2020 photo biennial to support the arts in the Midwest. How do you think the creative community can continue to shift resources to individuals and smaller arts platforms in lieu of government support?
ISOLDE: Yes, I think the art world is going to have to shift and continue to evolve and open up more. How are we going to support artists at various stages in their careers? How are we going to think differently about audiences? How are arts institutions and organizations going to pivot and embrace different styles of engagement as well as business models? How will we all continue to live and exist in the virtual space? These are some of the key questions we all have to ponder.
Staying informed is really important right now. Reading the news and the art specific news; following key people and things on social media. There have been a lot of interesting conversations about how artists and institutions can survive.
Image from the FotoFocus Biennial 2018 of artwork by Akram Zaatari. Photo by Tony Walsh.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: From your vantage point, what role is social media playing as a tool for community building, creative expression and activism in the arts during this period, where many around the globe are being asked to shelter in place?
ISOLDE: Social media has been a great space in which to engage, commune and stay connected on so many fronts! The connection piece and community building opportunity is so important right now and it allows us to maintain relationships across the globe. There are a host of live, informal conversations happening that provide insight into not only the arts in general, but our daily lives as we all navigate and create a new normal.
April 2020 Instagram post announcing Instagram Live conversation by Whitewall Magazine with Isolde Brielmaier.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Thus far, are there any aspects of the move online by arts institutions and universities that you think might have staying power? How do you see the role of these sites as cultural hubs of inquiry and learning shifting in the future?
ISOLDE: I think we are going to see a much stronger online presence by everyone and everything going forward: institutions, galleries, artists, nonprofits and educational forums to name a few. This will challenge us to think creatively and be more innovative and will also allow us to be even more globally connected.
Covid 19 artist statistics on the Artist Relief Instagram page.
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, what are your thoughts on the photographic documentation of this moment in our collective history? What are some of the implications of the presence of citizen journalists, cell phone video, and global interconnectivity?
ISOLDE: I think that the more image-makers we have documenting this moment, the fuller and more well-rounded our overall picture of this time will be. It is so important that we have multiple perspectives on the pandemic and its impact on a diverse range of communities. It has affected people across the globe in such different ways and here in the U.S. it has shone a light on the systemic disparities and inequities that we have perpetuated for years and years. We need artists and image-makers to spotlight this and everything and everyone else. This is what will enable us to hopefully get a bit of a grasp on the future and what we want it to look like. We must know where we are coming from if we want to chart an informed and effective path toward.
Visit Artist Relief here: www.artistrelief.org
Find out how to participate in the #ICPConcerned: A Forum for All to Document the COVID-19 Pandemic here:
Visit the International Center of Photography for online educational opportunities and events here: www.icp.org/events