The DIY ethic that has fueled underground scenes since the 1980s is alive and palpable in artist-run spaces across the country. Despite much handwringing at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado –http://www.aspenideas.org/festival/overview – many creative people do still believe it is important to bring people together face-to-face in a physical space to experience art and find ways to make it happen. Whether evolving incrementally or borne from a conceptual vision, these spaces are an important part of the ecosystem on which innovation depends. Here are two I visited on my recent Agileseed Tour. (Please see previous post titled Agileseeding! for more background on this.)
Agileseed Tour Destination: Omaha, NE
Omaha is an unexpectedly quirky city, where the editor of a local weekly put in a mayoral bid as a kind of performance art. On the main drag of Dodge Street, a handful of painters and scupltors including Dave Jenowe (pictured below with his work) share studio space in a split-level storefront. After critiquing each other long enough, they decided to invite the public in for periodic Saturday night openings. Says Jenowe, “It was a simple thing, originally. It started with just three of us. We made work, and it needed to be seen.”
Social media brought people in the door, and the venue, called Studio…Gallery, has since built a solid reputation among an alternative downtown crowd. Step by succinct step, it has added a jazz music series and comedy nights. The space itself has evolved to accommodate growing programs, now sporting a tiny stage downstairs with superior acoustics. Meanwhile, a core group of colleagues continue to pursue independent artistic investigations in a shared workspace.
Jenowe continues, “We are always tweaking, but we continue to have a good time. It’s great to see new people discover the space and be surprised by the quality and diversity, to have it surpass their expectations for what they might find here. Jamming with musicians from New York and mixing with local artists, it just makes you feel glad and inspired to keep going, to keep making new work.”
Agileseed Tour Destination: Twin Cities, MN
The Bindery Projects, named after its location above a longrunning book bindery in St. Paul, is the brainchild of Caroline Kent and Nate Young (pictured below). Their mission is “…to show dope work and validate practice through dialiectic democratic social disourse.” The pair has a curatorial calendar booked through spring of 2013.
When I visited in early August, Nate and Caroline were prepping to hang 47 drawings by Nyeema Morgan, whom Young met at the Skowhegan Center in Maine. The Dubious Sum of Vaguely Discernable Parts, closing Sept. 2, 2012, uses textual variations on cake recipe instructions along with abstract photographs of individual baking ingredients to explore the search for a perfect system.
Says Young, “We might not have a ton of people coming through, the space isn’t that big. But the ones who do are key people, influencers. They’re paying attention.” In fact this is true, as I heard about The Bindery Projects long before arriving in the Twin Cities area, from the Director of ArtSpace in New Haven, CT – artspacenh.org.
Art galleries conduct their business in an inherently networked and iterative manner, releasing work to the public in regularly scheduled increments. Exhibitions take place over and over in the same space, and as they do, a body of knowledge develops around how to succeed and improve. Artists intuitively seek to assemble the most viable chunks of work for release, even at small scale or in-progress stages, because it makes good sense. What they may not know is that, in Scrum circles, this is known as the vertical slice.
Running a gallery on a DIY basis should be recognized as one of the most authentically agile ways of working. People and interactions are reliably more important than tools and processes. Those who run such spaces deserve credit and support as incubators for creativity and innovation, nimbly adaptive yet true to what they represent.
The Agile teams forming in today’s workplaces are essentially trying to function like artists. Those leading the charge towards Agile business transformation should seek out these creative and highly productive scene-makers, talk to them regularly, and make it a point to visit the exhibitions and other programs that artists have developed and released in their communities.