Thursday, January 26, 2012

Putting the Fun in Funding

by Will Broussard and Christine Destrempes
When I describe Art for Water to new acquaintances, I sometimes struggle with how to define the work we do. Our participation-based, monumental installations are generated not just as art but also to foster community while building awareness around the global water crisis. Our work spans disciplines like hydrology, wealth inequality, conservation, poetry and artistic expression. Art for Water cannot be summarized with a quick word or two, and it is for this reason that our projects routinely face funding challenges from traditional foundations. Luckily, there are organizations that understand our plight and are working to support the projects of multidisciplinary artists. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an interesting and informative panel discussion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The event was hosted by Artists in Context, an organization “designed to assemble artists and other creative thinkers across disciplines to conceptualize new ways of representing and acting upon the critical issues of our time.” The subject of the panel was Falling through the Cracks: Funding Integrative Socially-Engaged Practice,” a subject of great import for us here at Art for Water. Moderating the discussion was Lisa Gross, founder of the Boston Tree Party and Hybrid Vigor Projects, two Boston-based organizations founded on urban agriculture, cross-discipline collaboration, and public participation art projects. The panelists were diverse and impressive, and included Cuong Hoang, Director of Programs at Mott Philanthropic, Andrew Sempere, Trustee from The Awesome Foundation, and Nerissa Cooney and Alexander Hage, co-founders of Feast Mass. All organizations represented were founded in the greater Boston area.

Cuong offered a glimpse into the realm of traditional foundation funding. But he also is involved in an alternative, volunteer giving circle that funds projects in Boston’s Asian community. Andrew gave us some background on The Awesome Foundation as well as tips for applying. He also showed slides of some awesomely awesome projects they have funded. Alex and Nerissa explained the labor-intensive production of a Feast Mass event: Volunteers cook a homemade dinner with local ingredients for which guests pay on a sliding scale. Project information is posted on the walls and contestants wear paper crowns so that they stand out in the crowd. After dinner, contestants give a brief presentation about their projects and guests vote for their favorite. The winner walks away with cash!

I was struck by the amount of time and energy that is being invested by so many people to help artists and community organizers achieve their goals. The models for these alternative-funding sources are simple, flexible, and non-bureaucratic, which means they’re also fun. They may not be dealing with huge sums of money, but they make up for that in innovation and community building. The way in which they fund concepts is in itself a creative, public-participation project! This truly was an inspiring and energizing evening. Thanks to Artists in Context for hosting such an awesome event!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Experiment


by Will Broussard

My first assignment at Art for Water took place on Sunday. I was to document "The Experiment;" a focus group/pilot project for a new participatory performance piece, Voicing the Common, under development by Christine Destrempes and Joni Doherty. A week prior to the event a prompt was circulated locally among close friends and colleagues, instructing them to spend 10 minutes in close proximity to a source of water of their choosing, be it inside a quiet bathroom, next to a frozen river, or under a torrential rainstorm.

Whether the source was natural or artificial, the project stated that audience members devote the first 5 minutes to silently experiencing their surroundings. Any smells, sounds, tastes or tactile sensations should be noted. The following 5 minutes were then spent documenting the experience in a written, but otherwise open ended fashion. Poetry, a lists of impressions, or simple objective observation were among the suggestions provided. Once this written piece was completed The Experiment was ready for launch.

The event began with guests reading their work aloud, one at a time, while seated in a circle. After the initial go around, the group was instructed to read their work as a whole; simultaneously. The result was a cacophony of sounds that were chaotic at first, but developed a cohesive flow and natural rhythm over time. There was group chanting and group whispering of written work, followed by collective laughter in the face of shared vulnerability. In the end, the audience felt appreciative for the experimental process, and enjoyed a deep conviction that, though very enjoyable, the exercise laid important groundwork for Christine and Joni's future public-participation projects together.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Art for Water Gets Much-Needed Help

Will Broussard, who is working towards a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England, has joined Art for Water for the spring semester. He will focus on social media and keeping you up to date on all of our projects. You should be hearing from us a lot more often now. The embarrassment of posting about an event that happened four months ago will be a thing of the past!

Will grew up in southern Maine, where he developed an interest in drawing and observing the natural world from a young age. He is excited to join the Art for Water team and combine his growing interest in community-based art projects with a deep passion for environmental stewardship. When not assisting with internship duties, Will can be found searching New England for rare birds, edible fungi, and stimulating conversation.

The fall and early winter at Art for Water were consumed by grant writing to fund all of the ideas we have to raise awareness of the shrinking availability of clean water. As a result, many important tasks, such as keeping you informed, weren't accomplished. But now, with our trusty intern, Art for Water will have a presence via this blog, Facebook, and our newsletter.

We have decided to seek more artist-in-residencies at the college level in addition to pursuing grants to fund our work. Will and I are about to embark on one at the University of Idaho in Moscow in February. And this time, we'll keep you posted!