In our commitment to creating a need-responsive platform for art production and employment in the arts, Powerhouse Arts collaborated with Triple Canopy to undertake a comprehensive Research and Development initiative with the goal of understanding the stated needs of contemporary artists and arts administrators across New York City. This initiative, which ran from 2016 to 2018 took the form of multiple intensive roundtable sessions and conversations with a diverse range of artists at varying points in their careers. The insights gleaned from this work served to strategically inform our programs and the long-term development goals of the organization.
Select key takeaways from the exercise are as follows:
1) Fabricators and artists working together in close collaboration with a spirit of experimentation in advanced facilities can both produce artwork of the highest caliber and provide the foundation for a greater economy of artists, creative producers, students, and enthusiasts.
With many fabrication studios within New York City operating at capacity, and the displacement of others beyond the Greater NY Metro Area, many artists are required to seek fabricators and collaborators at higher costs or outside the confines of the city, making collaboration a more difficult, and logistically complex endeavor. Powerhouse Arts seeks to build a platform specializing in various material needs, many of which inform the other and can be dually applied to artists’ projects.
This report reveals that experimentation with new techniques, the ability to push the limits of certain materials, and discovering new ways of working afforded by having various materials shops geographically located in one organization yields a positive outcome for artists. It is precisely this kind of enriching collaboration, experimentation, and community that Powerhouse seeks to foster.
2) Learning in the arts should be comprehensive materially and conceptually, and take into account the diversity of the community it serves and the economic considerations of teachers and students.
Powerhouse Arts has modeled its hands-on Teaching & Learning programming to offer adult and youth audiences professional development and extracurricular skill-building, and both technical and conceptual coursework in an effort to meet the needs of a broad public. Further, much of the educational programming bolsters, complements, or supports existing curricula offered by teaching institutions across New York in an effort to best prepare both educators and students alike for employment in the arts. Powerhouse Arts recognizes the long-term investment in educating its pupils at all levels of technical proficiency. With implementation of select pay-what-you-want courses, the organization further acknowledges the diverse economic needs of its community.
3) Critical support for artists includes flexibility, time, and sustained resources, and a commitment to collaboration that encourages experimentation, failure, and dialogue.
Considering the diminishing resources for fabrication and production within New York City, opportunities to learn about new materials and techniques beyond the traditional BFA and MFA framework are limited in scope. Education, apprenticeship, and traineeships are therefore valuable opportunities to provide professional development to artists in a wide range of skills through collaboration with a network of specialists. A hands-on dialogue with educators and practicing artists and exposure to applied skills and professional practice allow artists to build skills, innovate, and opens the community to new possibilities for collaboration, employment, and professional practice. Further, the collaborative nature of Powerhouse Arts’s Fabrication Shops offers the opportunity for artists to engage in technically-advanced projects involving skills they may otherwise lack the time or resources to become proficient in themselves.
4) Powerhouse Arts will stay committed to facilitating an educational dialogue with its publics and stakeholders through a variety of exhibitions, publications, and programming initiatives.
In lieu of pursuing a more traditional artist residency model, which roundtables and research sessions revealed to be limited in terms of funding for production and access to resources, Powerhouse Arts developed a model that seeks to support material experimentation over a longer period of time. In providing a centralized platform for fabrication, Powerhouse Arts supports collaborative access to equipment, technical support, and artistic expertise spanning materials like print, ceramic, wood, metal, textile, and digital, all housed under one organizational roof. A key foundational goal is to reveal fabrication techniques and modes of production to encourage new discussions and uncover crucial aspects of art making not traditionally communicated to the public. The organization also seeks to publish reports, digitize sample libraries, and offer other critical resources to its publics and stakeholders.
5) To be relevant, Powerhouse Arts must stay committed to the needs of its publics and stakeholders, soliciting oversight and feedback throughout the life of the organization.
As the organization grows into its new home and exercises new models for flexible exhibition and public programming space, the organization will offer itself as a public resource for artists and arts enthusiasts alike to participate in the spirit of experimentation, collaboration, and dialogue. Further, the implementation of a democratically appointed Artists Council who will be compensated for the contribution of their time, precipitated from activities undertaken in this exercise with Triple Canopy and offers an opportunity for the organization to receive guidance on the trajectory of the organization and the needs of the various publics it serves.
6) An art institution working to advance creative opportunities and foster equitable work environments alongside sustainable economic growth should model and report on their mission, work, and ethics for the public at large, so that other organizations might make use of their practices and methods.
Organizational development research exercises undertaken with key partners are one of the ways in which Powerhouse Arts commits to being accountable to its mission, equitable in its culture, and transparent in its development. Through our collaborative endeavor with Triple Canopy and the network of arts professionals who participated in this research, it became apparent that certain fabrication environments had historically yielded exclusionary, even aggressive interactions for participants of certain genders and races.
In an ongoing effort to build an equitable work environment, Powerhouse Arts commits to anti-bias programs and to publicizing reports, such as this one, which detail recommendations specifically for this aspect of the organization’s mission, reinforcing a culture of accountability and equity internally, and welcoming community participation in this mandate by rendering these efforts public-facing.
Thank you to the artists and art workers who participated in and contributed to this important foundational work. The tireless effort on the part of the Triple Canopy team and their extended network of thinkers and arts professionals remains an important resource to our organization’s foundational research and development.