Aug 8

The Infinite Table of In/Out

by: Laura Kochman

I came to the 2017 In/Out symposium as an outsider looking in, I thought—a writer rather than a visual or performance artist, and a newcomer to Mural Arts. I came to observe for the Off the Wall blog, but I also came for myself, curious what it might generate. This year’s theme was “Scale, Impact, and Inclusion,” and the symposium spread over two days, starting on a Friday at Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philadelphia and ending on a Saturday at Moore College of Art & Design in Center City.

 

  • Mural Arts Philadelphia's Foundations and Innovations Program Manager Julia López (right) at Taller Puertorriqueño on the first day of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • The symposium crowd at Taller Puertorriqueño on the first day of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Taller Puertorriqueño's new building, on the first day of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

At Taller, I sat in on a presentation from our Restorative Justice program. I’m already familiar with Voices, but hearing Dawan, Russell, and Jesse talk openly about the project and their experience within the Guild added a new layer of meaning—which is what Voices was all about. Socially-engaged art, or social practice, has to engage with communities and individuals directly, and lift up their voices and experiences. I opted to stay at Taller to hear more about their practice in North Philly, while another group split off for a visit to our Kensington Storefront hub space and a Porch Light presentation from Jess and Laure. At Taller, curator Rafael Damast walked us through the organization’s history and changes in scale since 1974, growing into their new building and expanding to embrace the greater Latinx Diaspora. What does a change in space do to an organization? How can a community organization remain focused while growing in scale? All of these questions were on the table.

 

  • Porch Light Project Manager Jessica Lewis-Turner leads a group through Kensington as part of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Artist Parris Stancell speaks at the Kensington Storefront as part of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Artist Alvin Tull speaking at the Kensington Storefront as part of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Porch Light Program Director Laure Biron speaks at the Kensington Storefront as part of In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

“What is my aesthetic contract?” asked the evening’s keynote speaker Roberto Bedoya, Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland. “It might be with Oakland, or the color blue.” He gave a wide-ranging talk that used the saguaro cactus as an example for scaling out rather than scaling up, thinking about growth in a different way. What is my aesthetic contract, I wondered—is the Off the Wall blog part of my artistic practice? And how might it scale out?

 

  • Keynote speaker Roberto Bedoya, Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Keynote speaker Roberto Bedoya, Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The next morning, we met at Moore for the second keynote from Beka Economopoulos of Not An Alternative. She spoke about the collective’s Natural History Museum, a mobile environmental activist project that started out posing as an actual natural history exhibit. The project works from the idea that knowledge is always situated, and the “authoritative neutrality” of museums is an illusion. Panning out, revealing the frame, exposing the identity and perspective of the author: these are all part of that work.

In the first afternoon panel, representatives from different art organizations in Philly wondered, “Do impact and scale always move in the same direction?” They talked about thinking generationally, about the slow and fast pivots that each organization needs to make throughout the course of its lifetime in response to changing community needs. A group of funders spoke next, on risk-taking in grantmaking work, and on scaling up funding over time.

 

  • Beka Economopoulos of Not An Alternative speaks at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

  • Dave Kyu, Neighborhood Project Manager at Asian Arts Initiative, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

  • Aviva Kapust, Executive Director of The Village of Arts and Humanities, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

  • Elizabeth Grimaldi (left), Executive Director, and Magda Martinez (right), Director of Programs, of the Fleisher Art Memorial, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

  • Denise M. Brown (left), Executive Director of the Leeway Foundation; Germaine Ingram (center), artist; and Beth Feldman Brandt (right), Executive Director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, on the funders panel at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

  • Patti Phillips (left), Academic Dean of Moore College of Art & Design, in conversation with Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, at In/Out 2017. Photo by Gabrielle Bonghi.

And then my boss, Jane, took the stage for a capstone conversation with Moore’s Academic Dean, Patti Phillips. I have heard Jane speak many times over the past several months, but it was especially nice to hear her speak off-the-cuff in a critical, thoughtful way. She talked about “the desire to stretch without mission creep,” to scale Mural Arts out in response to the people that it serves—eventually, she said, a long-running organization ends up undoing previous work in order to move forward and adapt. Jane sees murals as intimate spaces within public space, and her aesthetic contract is one of “radical hospitality,” creating an infinite table at which everyone is welcome. I started thinking: Can this blog be an intimate space in public? I left with the idea of radical hospitality reverberating—it captures the spirit of so many arts organizations in Philadelphia, I think: that all are welcome, that there is space, that you, too, are on the inside already.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2017

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