This week, I’m facilitating a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. As a workshop leader, I’m invited to give a short talk, and I gave mine last night. Below are my notes and a link to a short reading from my Fieldguide Project.
On Cape Cod I’m primarily known as a painter. However, I have graduate degrees in both Interdisciplinary Art and Creative Writing. My career prior to arriving in Provincetown in 2012 was primarily involved with what the artist Joseph Beuys might have called ‘social sculpture’ or might be conceptualized as New Genre Public Art or what the critics Lucy Lippard and Carol Becker might have seen as ‘community-engaged practice.’ In short, I ran large public engagement centers at colleges — our method, my method — although not the method in that field — was to respond to community-identified need through creative practice.
Last semester, at Rhode Island School of Design, I ran a seminar in Liberal Studies based on a precept of Ben Shahn’s essential lectures, The Shape of Content — that is that the world in which we immerse ourselves provides the content of our work, and that the content of our work gives art shape. For me this connects directly to the concept at the core of Adrienne Maree Brown’s recent activist, antiracist and decolonial work Emergent Strategy — as she says, what we pay attention to grows. As creative people, we have the opportunity to transform ourselves (to be sure) and (perhaps) to transform the world by paying attention to what matters. By listening before we speak. Observing. By reflecting back what we discover.
The project I want to talk about draws on these threads. In 2016 I was asked to be part of a team that was conceptualizing what to do with Provincetown’s old community center. The result of that work is Provincetown Commons — an arts and economic development center at 46 Bradford Street. If you haven’t visited, I encourage you to. We have a sculpture garden and exhibition space; subsidized studios, meets rooms and a fantastic co-working space. We’re a non-profit, and like all non-profits we engage in fundraising. Fieldguide Provincetown: Walking & Painting on Cape Cod is my effort to connect our mission with fundraising — and to develop fragmentary material for a book.
This is my first public sharing of this project and specifically this website — although it’s been publicly available since the start of the project. (People really don’t Google.) Donors to the fundraiser — at any level — were given this link last fall and where able to get my updates in real time. Between the first day of fall and the first day of spring I made (mostly) weekly updates. Since then, it’s been a bit more sporadic. Donors at a higher level — over $500 — received an original painting from me that emerged from one of the walks documented on the site. The final step, which I need to get on top of, is to craft a zine publication drawn from this material that will begin to donors and made available for sale. So far, the project has raised a bit over $20K.
While I’ve listed a set of services The Commons provides, its real work is to build relationships across place. The real purpose of this fieldguide is ultimately to do something similar by encouraging artists (anyone really) to become a deep explorer of their world.
I’ll read one fragment from the blog.
I’d like to end with two thoughts: first, all my work is inspired by the anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake’s definition— that art is the human proclivity to make special that which is important. Second, we often mistake art for objects — ephemeral or physical — and miss the fact that art lives in moments of engagement, in the possibility of relationship. The object is the catalyst for something greater than itself. It’s the invitation to what matters.