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citydrift: What Can Cultural Connectivity and Collaboration Spark

The art world YES man

The art world YES man

My involvement with citydrift started over a year ago when a proposal I had for a public art project in India led to my first meeting with Peter Hopkins at Life Café in Alphabet City. Anyone who has had a chance to converse with Peter can imagine how I left that first meeting. At age 56 he had more energy, and enthusiasm than anyone I had ever met. We talked for 2 hours, about the art world, India, Detroit and more. We talked about possibilities, not anger or fear. Days after it slowly struck me! I had just met an art world "YES!" person. "Yes" you can make new ideas happen, "Yes" the art world is melting down, but seize the moment as an opportunity, and do not waste your time working on small things, or seeking approval from small people. It made me realize that up until this point that was the attitude that led to the realization of my curatorial projects and my co-founding a non-profit, Project For Empty Space. It turned out that I had met Peter at the right moment. At that time I still entertained the thought that I might possibly be a little crazy to think my life’s motto was – ‘ do something to make a difference.’ I was still confronted by individuals frightened into submission by the old order and the economic crisis. Those people would speak of "risk" and "creativity," but were more concerned about not appearing "wrong" than they are about what the "new" might actually look like.

Connectivity and Collaboration

There were many reasons that got me deeply involved with citydrift. First and foremost, it was the fact that this was an experiment towards enabling two essential factors – connectivity and collaboration. Networking and careful building of relationships in the art world are not new. However, oftentimes my previous art world experience led me to believe that the process was not open enough. We are taught to be fearful and constantly in a competitive mode – let’s not even go into egos that constantly come in the way. citydrift is an attempt to counter these notions. Its philosophical underpinning, based on the idea of the derive or drift, facilitates an experiment towards an open, giving, non-hierarchical, inclusive event. An event that embodies what the ‘new’ cultural model should look like. How can we create a premise where everyone – artists, poets, urban planners, writers, students and your mom – can can engage in a dialogue to truly find a cultural model that is accessible, sustainable and takes us beyond discussing the “death of” or the “crisis in” galleries, museums, cultural institutions, or on a broader scale, cultural production?

We are taught to be fearful and constantly in a competitive mode – let’s not even go into egos that constantly come in the way. citydrift is an attempt to counter these notions.

One of the key aspects of citydrift is that it's a replicable event that takes place just one time in a particular part of the world. One that is never an imposition but rather a dialog that will be unique to the city, culture, time and space that it takes place in. We aren’t taking citydrift/bushwick to Detroit or India but enabling citydrift/detroit and citydrift/india with its own unique set of social, political and cultural circumstances. As it travels, the idea is to not impose a structure or a model but function as an enabler, for both local and international communities within a broad scope of creative and non-creative industries. Both established as well as emerging entities are able to come together and discuss the future of cultural production in that city/country, and set up the impetus to follow through with it.

This is something I started to do with Peter on a different scale with another project Isha: A Tell All Tale. Both citydrift and Isha have effectively brought people from every walk of life to collaborate in telling a story. To engage not on a superficial level, but through what Randy Pausch, in his famous The Last Lecture, calls “Head Fake.”  Pausch explained that if one wanted to play football, it's not about learning “the three point stance or how to read a play. Football teaches players things like Teamwork, Sportsmanship, Perseverance...etc." citydrift was that game. The rules were that there were no rules. For me personally it reaffirmed the fact that creating events/projects like citydrift or Isha is the new way forward – it’s what cultural entrepreneurship should look like.

The rules were that there were no rules. For me personally it reaffirmed the fact that creating events/projects like citydrift or Isha is the new way forward – it’s what cultural entrepreneurship should look like.

Yes. Cultural Entrepreneurship

We have to create a space (physical, digital or collectively connective) that generates and enables experiences that will alter and re-wire the way we think of culture and what we want it to look like in the future alongside with some specific art world models like exhibitions. This model is also a business model, which is more in line with social entrepreneurship than pure non profit or for-profit set ups. And that is what I am working towards becoming - a cultural entrepreneur.

What I see around me is cultural replication and this notion of "credibility" lent through an established Western cultural institution.  For example, the opening up of a "branch" of the Guggenheim or Louvre. This has been done in countries that sought to build themselves an “international" or supposedly "global” cultural identity. Where is the authenticity in that?

As an Indian immigrant woman I have had to fight just to get a foothold here in the States, staying on the right Visa while paying off huge loans, but something in me is simply wired for entrepreneurship. What I see around me is cultural replication and this notion of "credibility" lent through an established Western cultural institution.  For example, the opening up of a "branch" of the Guggenheim or Louvre. This has been done in countries that sought to build themselves an “international" or supposedly "global” cultural identity. Where is the authenticity in that? Isn’t authenticity what we should be striving towards?

I have seen this striving for authenticity, this drive to just go do what needs to be done and the success of it in the work Katarina Hybenova is doing through bushwickdaily.com, for instance. It is an interesting model that combines various forms of media online – be it the blog, a radio or an online gallery alongside specific physical exhibitions – and is very invested in defining the Bushwick cultural identity. And Hybenova’s approach like Hopkins' is fun, inclusive and connective.

Detroit: Ruin and desperation or opportunity and hope?

I also saw this real authenticity on a recent trip to Detroit, the city that will see citydrift’s second iteration later next year. Through Peter, who has been planning this event there for over two years, I met with the couple Tim White-Sobieski and Tate Olsten, who literally drove across the U.S. without a final destination in mind, and who didn’t see Detroit as ruin and desperation but as opportunity and hope. With monies borrowed and raised over the past 4 years, they have been working literally by hand to build Kunsthalle Detroit (kunsthalledetroit.org). They bought an abandoned bank and employed a local handyman, Al. Al was out of a job and basically homeless when he just happened to walk by one day while they were at the space. Since then he has been singlehandedly supervising reconstruction along with Tim and Tate.  I also met artist Gregory Holm, who is based between Detroit and Brooklyn. Greg bought a space and he has been working to rebuild it with other artists, not only from Detroit but from as far as Puerto Rico. They are collaboratively working towards turning this property close to Eastern Market into a multi-experiential space. It will be a bakery, an inn and much more. He is focused on opening up the space not only to artists and to art world visitors but to his Bangladeshi neighbor who “could enjoy a coffee while perhaps a dancer interprets a carefully crafted meal”.

This kind of cultural entrepreneurship is the way forward. To do it in cities like Detroit is the key as well. To go out there and buy some of those abandoned homes is entirely possible if you are enterprising enough and willing to take big risks, and, yes, hustle if you must.

I wonder what stops artists from moving to Detroit for instance? Why must the “action” be within the context of New York alone? Why must it be performative within the context of what the art world defines as social, political or performative? Why might it not be “performative” in the way Greg’s Inn or Tim and Tate’s Kunsthalle projects are to my mind?

This kind of cultural entrepreneurship is the way forward. To do it in cities like Detroit is the key as well. To go out there and buy some of those abandoned homes is entirely possible if you are enterprising enough and willing to take big risks, and, yes, hustle if you must.

And this brings me to a key aspect of citydrift that was pretty much what Katarina, Tim, Tate and Greg have been doing intuitively - this idea of "letting go," taking big risks and embracing the idea of failure. Because Failure is the most difficult thing to experience, yet the most important quality to develop as a cultural entrepreneur. At the project level in Bushwick, I saw that while it was easy for a lot of the drifters to “let go” during the specific time of drifting – all of that vanished when artist presentations were being made the following day. It changed into individual artist presentations rather than discussing and sharing what the drifts themselves meant or did for everyone. My intention here is not to pinpoint or put down artist presentations as a bad thing, but it just wasn’t what citydrift sought to enable. This was perhaps the “failure” within citydrift. And that was perfect.

The Fear of Failure

I think it’s this fear instilled right from when you get into our education system that makes it so difficult to "let go." It’s a notion that has been drilled into our heads: If we work in an ”art world” job it helps us to connect and helps our career move in one direction - Up. But then when we do fight for getting a better pay or getting a pay at all within the current institutional and funding structures, I wonder if we are beating a dead horse?

I actually value my art market oriented education because within the program I learned how the world works. And believe me, it took me some time to put those things into perspective. I didn’t come out of the program with an idealistic point of view. Neither did I lose real world perspective of how things work - the biases, the politics, the fact that I’m a brown woman and that will matter whether I like it or not. I came without a trust fund but with a massive loan, as I mentioned earlier, like many others. However, I also learned that money is not a dirty word. And that’s huge. I also believe that artists are essentially entrepreneurs and that they should start to look at themselves that way. Embrace it. Because personally, I’m interested in how one can channel the industriousness of most cultural producers into something concrete and mutually beneficial. As a creative community we are enterprising by nature. Yet it is a bizarre relationship with money and an addiction to whining constantly about how the whole world is against us that often leads us to underestimating the power that we possess.  The power to re-think what cultural production and its infrastructure/models/institutions of the future can look like and how it can be sustainable, profitable and socially conscious.

 

citydrift/Bushwick entailed a 72 hour  drift  in the neighborhood of Bushwick in the first weeks of September.

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