What Role Does Research Play in Your Art?

April 28th, 2016

Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

Historical, archival, and other research can be crucial to artists, but how and why can vary widely depending on the artist’s work. We asked artists in different disciplines, What role does research play in your process?

View a gallery of some of the research-influenced work of the responding artists

Claire Beckett, photographer
I tend to be interested in subjects that I know very little about, so I need to learn in order to make work. For example, with my current project, The Converts, about Americans converts to Islam, I initially knew very little about the subject. I needed to learn about Islam, about Muslims in America, and about the experience of conversion. I began by reading, where I always begin, because I love to read. I read novels, I re-read The Autobiography of Malcom X, I read a linguistic study, I read ethnography, I read the news. After I while I found that YouTube was full of conversion stories, so I watched those. Beyond the reading, I joined a class for women converting to Islam at a local mosque. When I began attending the class I was straightforward, introducing myself as an artist who wanted to learn about conversion. It must have been odd for the women in the class, but they accepted me. I went on to participate in the class for several years, and I still attend whenever I can. Through the generosity of this group, I learned so much.

Cam Terwilliger, writer
As a historical novelist, research plays an enormous role in my creative process. Right now I’m finishing a novel titled Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart, which takes place in the colonies of New York and Quebec during the French and Indian War (1754–1763). As the plot develops, the book investigates how colonists conflicted and collaborated with Native people, giving rise to the North America we know today. I’m especially interested in dramatizing the lives of people that existed between cultures, such as Native people that lived in Europe, colonists that studied among Natives, and escaped slaves that took shelter in Indigenous communities.

In terms of process, I research the past first through books of history to get a broad picture of the events, and then I move into primary sources in search of concrete sensory details of the time and place – the details that make the past feel immediate and sensory. I scour through the letters of Jesuit missionaries, the travelogues of naturalists, the narratives of slaves, and newspaper advertisements, hunting for a handful of anecdotes and images that will bring the complex truth of this time into focus. As the novelist Ian McEwan remarks, “It’s worth knowing about ten times as much as you ever use, so you can move freely.”

I then I stitch these details into a single bolt of cloth. My goal is to have all these images and anecdotes fit seamlessly together, even though I’m pulling from very disparate places. The challenge is to imagine a scenario in which they coexist in a dramatically interesting way that does not feel overly contrived or convenient.

Steve Gentile, animator
In the case of my most recently finished animated film, A Pirate Named Ned, the research found me. I was just trying to escape the idea of “reading for a purpose” because I had just finished a film about Emily Dickinson, and that involved extensive research. So I started reading about pirates just for fun. That turned into a short, animated film by accident, and I swear, the research made me do it.

Typically with film & animation, I need to become a semi-expert on the topic at hand, which means a lot of reading. Scholarly researchers who write biographies usually have more constraints with format and also the audience they intend to reach. With film, and especially animation, there’s an opportunity to take more risks, so I try to run to the margins of information. I’ve probably chased down more interesting information from footnotes and appendices than in the actual body of the texts.

Time-based media is not really the most efficient way to convey a mountain of facts and information. Writing is better suited for that. It’s hard to convey every detail of every story without putting the viewer to sleep, so a lot of the stories that I think are really neat sometimes don’t make it into a film. This is o.k. – those ideas can work their way into how a character is drawn, or how they move – how they’re animated. That’s an advantage animation has over writing.

Emily Lombardo, visual artist
When I decide to take on a project that is in direct relationship to another work of art or historical moment, I dive into research like a newly awakened conspiracy theorist. I feverishly comb the Internet for articles, links, books, interviews and documentaries. With The Caprichos, I had 80 plates to decode which Goya had made purposefully ambiguous to fly under the radar of the Spanish Monarchy. However in order for me to be able to recode and create a new independent body of work, it is important for me to step outside of the research to be able to make room for fantasy and a new narrative. The research serves as a solid point of departure where parallels and differences are revealed in my relationship with the reference. For me the research is the love affair, and the work comes after the break up. One can see the final effects of my research in the crafting of the works. This means that if I choose to appropriate a work of art that is etching I will take painstaking measures to accomplish the work in the traditional method of the artist I am referencing. By paying homage to the craftsmanship of the previous work, the audience is free to discuss why the work was made rather than how.

Azadeh Tajpour, visual artist
Research has been an essential and often the most time consuming part of my art making process. My installations of paintings, drawings, prints, and video have all been based on images or footages found within an area of curiosity, followed by further research of the subject, imagery, and the ways of representation.

Currently, I am studying a huge photo album from the 19th c., which I have been amazed not only by the photographs and their variety of genres, but also by their arrangements, and the ethnographic style of documentation. I read the textual narrative and look at their relationship with the photographs. Even though I have some vague ideas, mostly visual, the final outcome is uncertain, which can be frightening so keeping faith in the process is crucial. The next step would be to go back and look at my notes and selected images, with either a clearer sense of the direction, or just a narrower focus; this step might be repeated again and again. Research, brainstorming, drawing charts, and possible conversations will help me to progress. After all, maybe we are all doing what Michelangelo had mentioned, discovering the statue inside of the stone block by carving and carving.


Related reading: What do we owe to history in our art?

Claire Beckett is a photographer whose solo exhibition The Converts is on view at Carroll & Sons Gallery through May 28 (opening reception May 6, 2016, 5:30-7:30 pm. She also has work in the The Outwin: American Portraiture Today exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, through 2016.

Steve Gentile is an animator, documentary filmmaker, and Professor of Animation at Massachusetts College of Art & Design. His current project, “Chateau au Go Go,” is an animated film that uses the images from wine corks to make a kinetic statement about the human history of control over nature. The research involved the opening of a lot of wine bottles.

Emily Lombardo is a visual artist who applies her vast knowledge of sculpture and print across a wide range of conceptual projects.

Azadeh Tajpour is a visual artist working in various media. She recently exhibited art based on found footage and archival photos at the Hollister Gallery of Babson College, and earlier this year, she was in a group show at the Walter Feldman Gallery and had a residency at PLAYA in Summerlake, Oregon.

Cam Terwilliger is the 2015/2016 winner of the Historical Novel Society’s New Novel Award and is currently the Tickner Writing Fellow at Gilman School in Baltimore. From May 2 to May 6, he is teaching a one-week intensive online course on Flash Fiction through the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

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Fellows Notes – May 16

April 27th, 2016

In May’s news from MCC Artist Fellows/Finalists: books, pop-up shows, crowdfunding campaigns, Spring arts festivals, and excellence aplenty.

Camilo Ramirez, from the project THE GULF

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2016 (4/29-5/1) in downtown Salem is a festival of readings, workshops, talks, and other poetry-related events, many featuring past awardees of MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program – read more.

John Cameron and Jennifer McCurdy were both featured in the Smithsonian Craft Show in April.

At the Independent Film Festival Boston (4/27-5/4), Mary Jane Doherty screens Primaria, Michal Goldman screens Nasser’s Republic, Jesse Kreitzer screens Black Canaries, and James Rutenbeck screens Class of ’27. Also, Gabriel Polonsky‘s Release from Reason and Kathryn Ramey‘s The Empty Sign are part of the Mass Works-in-Progress Competition.

Flash Forward Festival Boston is an 8-day photography festival (5/1-5/8) of exhibitions, events, talks, and more. Since one of its primary focuses is New England photography, it’s no surprise that the lots of artists who’ve received MCC Artist Fellowship awards are featured in events: Stella Johnson and Greer Muldowney are in Art/Document (5/3, 5:30-7, Lesley Univeristy’s Lunder Arts Center); Tsar Fedorsky, Michael Joseph, Sarah Malakoff, and Toni Pepe are in the Photographic Resource Center’s Exposure (opening reception 5/5, 5-8 PM); Archiv* (opening reception 5/6, 6-9 PM, Gallery Kayafas) is a solo exhibition of work by Matthew Gamber; Eric Gottesman, Justin Kimball, and Rania Matar are in A Fragile Balance (opening reception 5/6, 6-9 PM, Fort Point Arts Community Gallery); and Stephen Sheffield, Ben Sloat, and Stephen Tourlentes are in [Photo]gogues: New England at Layfayette City Center Passageway (thru 8/26).


Amy Archambault has a solo exhibition at Boston Sculptors Gallery, Imaginate (5/4-6/5, opening reception 5/15, 4-7 PM, artist talk 3-4 PM).

Sean Downey is exhibiting in the group show Interiors at Dorchester Art Project (thru 5/21).

Samantha Fields gives an artist talk, When Things Touch, at Essex Art Center (5/6, 5 PM). This month, she’s exhibiting in CounterCraft: Voices of the Indie Craft Community at Fuller Craft Museum (5/7-7/10, reception 5/7, 2-5 PM) and in Flow at Nave Gallery in Somerville (thru 5/21).

Jared Katsiane‘s film Big Willow was awarded first place at the 7th Sustainability Shorts Film Competition at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. The film has screened at over 100 international festivals.

Scott Listfield has curated an exhibition for Gauntlet Gallery in San Francisco, Vestiges: Scott Listfield & Friends II (thru 5/12). The show includes past MCC Traditional Master Artist Josh Luke.

Melinda Lopez‘s Playwright Residency at the Huntington Theatre will have renewed funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which recently announced a new round of national playwright residencies. Melinda’s residency at Huntington was featured in MCC’s 40 Years of Fellowships project.

Stephanie Lubkowski was commissioned to write Circles Circling, a three movement piece for the Charles River Wind Ensemble. The first movement will be premiered on their Boston, You’re My Home program (5/15, 3 PM, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington).http://www.monh.org/visits-tours/getting-here/. The concert is free and includes works by Michael Gandolfi, Charles Ives, and John Mackey.

Congratulations to Taylor Mac, who is among this year’s Guggenheim Fellows. Also, Taylor Mac will have an upcoming residency at HERE Arts Center, funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Nathalie Miebach has work in Interconnections: the Language of Basketry at Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ (5/15-9/4). Also, she is Artist-in-Residence at the Jentel Arts Residency Program in Wyoming, in May.

Anne Neely has a solo show, Ireland: Place and Ritual at the Paul Dietrich Gallery (thru 7/8).

Lisa Olivieri was featured on WGBH’s Greater Boston discussing her documentary Blindsided. The film will screen in the My True Colors Film Festival in NYC in June.

Camilo Ramirez has a solo exhibition of photographs, The Gulf at ArtsWorcester (opening reception 5/6 6-8 PM).

Anna Ross has a new chapbook, Figuring, to be released by Bull City Press in May. She was interviewed about her poetry by the blog Speaking of Marvels.

James Rutenbeck, along with screening a film in the Independent Film Festival Boston (see above), has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support his film-in-progress, The Clemente Project. Read about it on ArtSake.

Leslie Sills has an exhibit of figurative sculpture Personnages at Colo Colo Gallery in New Bedford (thru 5/12).

Congratulations to Cam Terwilliger, the 2015/2016 winner of the Historical Novel Society’s New Novel Award.

Amber Davis Tourlentes has photography in Grounded at Boston Cyberarts Gallery (5/14-6/16. opening reception 5/13 6-8 PM).

Helena Wurzel is in a two-person pop-up exhibition (with Crystalle Lacouture), called Let’s Talk about the Weather, at Lacouture Studio in Wellesley (5/21 reception, 6-8 PM, 5/22 open house, 12-4 PM).

Read past Fellows Notes. If you’re a past fellow/finalist with news, let us know.

Image: Camilo Ramirez, from the project THE GULF.

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Regal Artist Opportunities

April 26th, 2016


Call to Artists Discover Quincy, the official tourism agency of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, invites artists to submit their work to possibly be featured in the upcoming event series “Art Walk Fridays” during the Annual 50 Days of FREEdom. This event is focused on building the community’s creative economy and engaging local artists with the local population.  Discover Quincy is bringing a free arts and entertainment event to each of their business districts. They welcome artist applications to be submitted and possibly featured in the exhibits. Panels measuring 3′ x 5′ will be used to display works within a local business. Artists are encouraged to sell and advertise their work. Each event will take place from 5-8pm on June 17 in Quincy Center, June 24 in Wollaston, July 8 in North Quincy, July 15 in West Quincy, July 22 in Quincy Point, and July 29 in Quincy Center. Learn more.
Deadline: A.S.A.P.

Artist Residency The Arteles International artist residency programs bring together creative minds & professionals from all over the world. Located in the scenic landscapes of Hämeenkyrö, Finland, the residency serves as the perfect platform to explore and expand the boundaries of your art & mind. Learn more.
Deadline: April 29, 2016

10-Minute Plays The Exquisite Corpse Company in Brooklyn is seeking to build a collaborative writing team for an original immersive experience to be presented as part of the company’s upcoming summer season. Inspired by the work of surrealist painter, Rene Magritte. Learn more.
April 30, 2016

Artist Residency The Turkey Land Cove Foundation in Edgartown, MA, offers personal, individual working residencies for motivated women to pursue their professional, educational, or artistic goals away from the distractions of daily life. TLCF provides a quiet space for a woman to progress towards a defined goal, complete a project, and develop tools to propel her life in a new direction. The successful candidate will have a clearly defined goal and a plan to reach that goal. Learn more.
Deadline: May 1, 2016

Painting Commission  ArtsinStark is awarding a $25,000 commission for the creation of a painting to celebrate, “The Reintegration of Pro Football.” Learn more.
Deadline: May 6, 2016 ( midnight, EST)

Fiber Artists The Maryland Federation of Art invites all artists residing in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico to enter its 4th biennial Fiber Options: Material Explorations competition. Any original 2-D or 3-D artwork created with fiber is eligible. Works selected will be on exhibit in the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle, Annapolis, Maryland from July 14-August 6, 2016. The exhibition chair is Kass McGowan. Learn more.
Deadline: May 12, 2016

Art Writers The Arts Writers grant supports both emerging and established writers who are writing about contemporary visual art. As long as a writer meets the eligibility and publishing requirements, they can apply. You may only apply for one project per grant cycle. You must choose one project type: Article, Blog, Book, New and Alternative Media, or Short-Form Writing. The grant period is for one year, allowing for either regular publishing (Short-Form Writing and Blog applicants) or specific completion dates (as for Article and Book applicants). Learn more.
Deadline: May 18, 2016

Artist Residency The National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF) in association with First State National Historical Park of the National Park Service now offers a Residency in Northern Delaware, close to many of the historic colonial sights of Delaware, but in a pastoral forest setting that inspired the Wyeth family. This is one of the newest parks in the National Park Service. Learn more.
Deadline: June 1, 2016

Sculptors The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center invites artists to submit proposals for SculptFest 2016, September 10 – October 23. The theme for this year’s outdoor exhibition is Forecast Now, guest curated by artist Taylor Apostol. “Forecast Now” encourages artists to respond to current experiences of weather. Artists and artist teams are invited to submit proposals for sculpture, installation, video or performance to be exhibited on the historic grounds of the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland, Vermont.
Learn more.
Deadline: June 24th, 2016

Photographers The CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography competition is open to North American photographers of any age who have never published a book-length work and who use their cameras for creative exploration, whether it be of places, people, or communities; of the natural or social world; of beauty at large or the lack of it; of objective or subjective realities. The prize honors work that is visually compelling, that bears witness, and that has integrity of purpose. Winners receive a grant of $3,000, publication of a book of photography, and inclusion in a website devoted to presenting the work of the prizewinners. The winner also receives a solo exhibit and the photographs are then placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts in Duke University’s Rubenstein Library. Learn more.
Deadline: September 15, 2016

Image credit: Silhouette of Prince.


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Fake It Til You Make It Artist Opportunities

April 20th, 2016

Fiction Leapfrog Press is currently accepting entries for their Fiction Award. A prize of $1,150 and publication by Leapfrog Press is given annually for a short story collection, a novel, or a novella. Sara Pritchard and the editors will judge. Learn more.
Deadline: May 1, 2016

Call for Art Entries are now being accepted for the Brookline Arts Center exhibition Gravity (June 17-July 15, 2016. Pulling from our everyday conflicts to expanding our understanding of the universe, the word brings to mind weight and weightlessness, the laws of physics and the complexities of the human experience. They are looking for work that explores the connection between these extremes. Juror: Katherine French, Gallery Director, Catamount Arts. Up to six pieces of original artwork can be submitted. Learn more.
Deadline: May 14, 2016 (11:59pm)

Call to Artists ArcWorks in Peabody, MA, invites artists from Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire to submit works for consideration to the juried exhibit Spring Fling. Artists may submit artwork in a variety of two– and three– dimensional media for the juror’s consideration. ArcWorks’ juried exhibits are un-themed, and artists may submit artwork of any subject matter. Learn more.
Deadline:  online submission due May 13, 2016; hand-delivered submission due May 18, 2016, 1pm – 6pm

Jazz Artists The guidelines and online application for the next grant round of the French-American Jazz Exchange (FAJE) program are now available. The application deadline is May 27, 2016 for projects taking place between September 1, 2016 and December 31, 2017. Learn more.
Deadline: May 27, 2016

Professional Development MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists program is seeking applicants for the third round of their North Adams Project, an initiative to support artists committed to building their creative future in North Adams. The NA Project offers financial incentives and special programming for selected artists who relocate to North Adams by the end of 2016. Learn more.
Deadline: May 31, 2016

Call to Artists Boston LGBTQIA Artist Alliance (BLAA) invites artists to submit to their summer show, an exhibition of work by artists living and creating at the intersection of LGBTQIA issues and culturally defined notions of “disability”. This is a show about empowerment, community, representation and visibility. Work is not required to address any particular theme, but must be submitted by artists who personally identify, or feel they have been defined by society, as a part of this minority demographic. All mediums included. Learn more.
Deadline: June 1, 2016

Painting Residency Award The Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, CA, is currently accepting applications for the Chiaro Award, an artist residency and cash prize for an accomplished mid-career painter. Residencies of six to eight weeks include dedicated use of a private studio, chef-prepared meals, comfortable housing, and an award of $15,000. The Chiaro Awardee will become part of the dynamic community of artists participating in Headlands’ programs, sharing in peer-to-peer creative exchange while developing his or her individual artistic practice. Learn more.
Deadline: June 3, 2016

Call to Artists Bromfield Gallery in Boston, MA,  is currently accepting submissions for their exhibition Heat. Open to all media, all interpretations: heat as it relates to climate, politics, and sex, as well as slang for a gun or police. Juried by a committee of Bromfield Gallery artists. Learn more.
Deadline: June 15, 2016 (12 noon)

Of Note: The new Mass arts festivals listings calendar: ArtsBoston.org/MassFestivals

MCC_Festivals_Badge_kelly copy

Image credit: Buster Keaton smile in public domain, from speakgif.com.

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James Rutenbeck on The Clemente Project

April 20th, 2016

James Rutenbeck‘s latest film-in-progress, The Clemente Project, explores the The Clemente Course in the Humanities, a tuition-free, college-level course targeting adults from disadvantaged backgrounds. The film tells the stories of participants in Dorchester, such as Kafi Dixon, a recently evicted MBTA bus driver, and Carl Chandler, a father/grandfather/mentor in a struggling neighborhood.

James Rutenbeck has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the project. We asked him about the film, the campaign, and his career listening to – and sharing – voices seldom heard in film.

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Can you talk about the trajectory of The Clemente Project – its origins, its development, and where you hope to see it go?
I heard a Clemente graduate speak at a dinner a few years ago and I, along with everyone else in the crowd, was absolutely blown away by her. The Clemente Course in the Humanities is a rigorous, college-level night course for low-income adults in 19 cities around the world. The way she talked about how immersion in the humanities had changed her life got me thinking about the Clemente Course as a film idea. Mass Humanities came in as first funder, followed closely by the LEF Moving Image Fund, two foundations that had supported my film Scenes from a Parish. This meant we could start filming classes in Dorchester in October 2014. Over time Carl Chandler and Kafi Dixon have emerged as the kind of indelible characters one looks for in making these kinds of films. I anticipate filming and editing over the next year to continue keeping pace with Kafi and Carl’s stories.

Why are you choosing to crowdfund the project?
Mostly out of desperation – this is a tough film to pitch to funders because it’s complicated, and the outcomes are not obvious. We’ve been filming for the last eighteen months, and the characters’ stories are unfolding. We’re getting closer though, and once I have an assembly or rough cut, I’ll feel ready to approach some foundations that have supported my work in the past.

The Hatchfund goal is modest – just enough to keep us up and running at this critical moment. Every dollar will go to paying crew. That said, I’m not really comfortable with crowdfunding and don’t believe it’s a sustainable way to make films. And there’s definitely Kickstarter fatigue in the air. When the first contribution came in, my first impulse was to send Jack Cheng‘s check back to him.

I’m curious about the idea of “responsibility” as relates to the real people in your films. How does responsibility affect the way you work, at each step in the process?
I seek to give a voice to undervalued people – not unlike the Clemente model of creating a space for people to bring their life experience into a Socratic dialogue about history, philosophy and literature, or the research approach of social historians. To that end, I have to be in an honest relationship with the characters of the film. I need to understand, as best I can, how they experience the world, and that means listening closely. Not inserting myself constantly – just shutting up and listening.

I’ve realized I’m living in parallel universe with Carl and Kafi. When Kafi asked me to observe her meeting with Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, a meeting that could determine whether or not she would end up homeless, she told me, “This is your trip to Taiwan.”

The question of responsibility is a deep one, especially when the people you are filming are living so close to the edge. I’ve been transparent with Carl and Kafi about my intentions, and they are intelligent people who push back when they’re not comfortable with what I’m suggesting. They understand the implications of what we’re doing and have accepted the risk of becoming film characters.

That said no one ever really knows how what is recorded digitally will be shaped behind cutting room doors. This is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. What ends up on screen is my understanding of what happened, and that filter is flawed. I’m stating the obvious now.

And with this film, racial undercurrents are always present. Executive Producer Llewellyn Smith, an accomplished filmmaker and African-American who grew up in Dorchester, helps me keep perspective.

Do you maintain relationships with your films’ subjects after the films are completed?
Sometime it’s clear that the relationship was based on the heightened experience of making a film together; in other cases, it’s more than that – a lifelong friendship. Sometimes I may want to continue a relationship, but they may not. It’s a two-way street! I do have a bunch of friends, many on Facebook, from films I made many years ago.

Still from SCENES FROM A PARISH by James Rutenbeck (2009)

Am I correct that you studied film at MIT? How did that experience shape your filmmaking style? Your career?
I’d learned about the MIT Film Section during a month-long seminar with Jean Rouch in 1978. It was a studio-based program – students and teachers were always heading out to shoot films, and filmmakers came from around the world to screen their films in classes and at Monday Night Screenings. For a small town Iowa kid, being part of it all was exciting and transformative. I’ve supported my family with dozens of editing and producing jobs over the years, and I wouldn’t have been able to hold onto an aesthetic that feels like my own if I hadn’t had that formative time at MIT.

I believe a non-fiction film, at least the kind we made at MIT, is an entity with a life of its own. It will reveal itself over time. You have to be patient and open to what might happen next and where it will lead you. That was a principle of Ricky Leacock’s that has stuck with me. I’m a spiritual person, and it’s how I see the world anyway. My life has been disrupted by harrowing life events that have turned out be absolutely transforming.

What, if anything, is the throughline that connects the subjects you’ve explored in your films throughout your career?
Some of the people in my films have been badly bruised by savage capitalism; others are vulnerable people who are in one way or another excluded from society. Being the father of a non-speaking autistic son has made a deep imprint on me. Twenty-six years spent with Anthony at home and out in the world, endless hours speculating about how he might be experiencing his day and being challenged later by reading his eloquent writing about his experience, have made me acutely aware of people who live as outsiders.

The films I make are all personal, but some are more political than others – The Clemente Project is inherently political, dealing as it does with poor people living in a city with the highest rate of inequality in the U.S.

What other artists, in film or otherwise, interest and inspire you?
I struggle to read but love books. I am a big fan of Marilynne Robinson, whose novel Lila played in a loop in my car for several months. As I listened over and over, it began to feel like a folk song. I’ve been reading Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, a non-fiction that feels like a novel – The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is like that too. I also love theatre – a Steppenwolf performance of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer from many years ago is lodged forever inside me.

I am lucky to have long-standing friendships with some remarkable artists, like the deeply committed political filmmaker John Gianvito and Rob Todd, whose experimental films place a primacy on image. I love Alexandra Anthony’s Lost in the Bewilderness and whatever Steve Ascher and Jeannie Jordan are doing. As I’ve been working on The Clemente Project, I’ve been thinking a lot about Richard Broadman, a Boston documentarian who taught me how to sync 16 mm dailies when I was his intern many years ago. Boston is a place where a deep engagement with films is on-going. I like the small town feel of the place.

What’s the most surprising response to your films you’ve ever received?
I worked on my last film (Scenes from a Parish) for five years, and when it premiered at the MFA, the press response was strong. But the festivals largely rejected the film. Every time I’d get a rejection, it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach – just an awful feeling. But being leveled over and over again was good for me. I’m not looking for approval or attention anymore. If it comes my way, that’s a nice surprise, but it feels fleeting. When I received word that Class of ’27 would be in the IFFB line up this year, I thought it was sent to the wrong filmmaker.

Making films, telling the stories of people who are voiceless is really a vocation, and the work itself, however overwhelming or uncertain it can feel at times, is the ultimately its own reward.


The Clemente Project will be crowfunding on Hatchfund through July 10, 2016.

Read James Rutenbeck in the ArtSake discussion How Does Place Impact Your Art?

James Rutenbeck is an independent producer, editor, and filmmaker at Lost Nation Pictures. His films have been broadcasted widely and have screened at museums and festivals throughout the world. He is currently Executive Producer of Class of ’27, a series of three short films about the lives of very young children in remote parts of rural America, which will have its world premiere at the Independent Film Festival Boston April 3-May 1, 2016.

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Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2016

April 13th, 2016


ArtsBoston has just launched a calendar of Massachusetts arts festivals to celebrate the rich and diverse array of arts and cultural festivals across the Commonwealth – including many that are funded by MCC’s new Festivals Program.

One of those festivals is the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, a three-day series of poetry events, workshops, performances, and readings organized by Mass Poetry. It will be held April 29-May 1, 2016 in downtown Salem, Massachusetts.

The adventurous 2016 schedule includes many past awardees of MCC’s Artist Fellowships Program. Among the headlining poets are Mark Doty (Fellow ’94, ’85) and Marie Howe (Fellow ’90), and other participants include Kathleen Aguero, Maria Luisa Arroyo, Sally Bellerose, Ben Berman, Simeon Berry, Steven Cramer, Duy Doan, Amy Dryansky, Valerie Duff, Danielle Legros Georges, Regie Gibson, Greg Hischak, Joy Ladin, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Karen Skolfield, Sarah Sousa, and Daniel Tobin, alongside many, many other superb literary artists.

Of special note: Verse and Diverse Walk Into a Bar, a conversation with the editors of Solstice Literary Magazine, features five past recipients of Massachusetts state fellowships – Kathleen Aguero, Ben Berman, Danielle Legros Georges, Regie Gibson, and Dzvinia Orlowsky.

See the full schedule and register for the 2016 Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

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Untethered Artist Opportunities

April 12th, 2016

Female Playwrights Athena Project produces its Plays In Progress Series (PIP Series). This series will take place in Denver at a location to be determined over the course of approximately March-April, 2017, as part of a larger arts festival celebrating the voices of female artists. Four new plays will be selected based on a blind submission process and given a dramaturg, director, cast and workshop level production during the Festival. Playwright must be female and may only submit one full-length script. The play must not ever have had a fully mounted production. Prior workshop presentations are permissible but the script must be a new version since the time of the workshop. Learn more.
Deadline: April 15, 2016

Of Note: Catalyst Conversations and Cambridge Creativity Commons present How to Make Your Mind Move at Lesley University College of Art and Design | 1801 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA, on Thursday, April 21, 2016, 3-5pm, Lunder Arts Center, Lower Level Commons. Choreographers/dancers Peter DiMuro and Jody Weber and scientist/dancer Terina-Jasmine Alladin from the Science Club for Girls will demonstrate how the movement of our bodies can help us understand the world around us. Free event. Learn more and RSVP.

Poets The Poetry Foundation is accepting entries for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships. Five fellowships of $25,800 each are given annually to emerging poets. Writers who are U.S. residents or citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 as of April 30 are eligible. Learn more.
Deadline: April 30, 2016

Call for Art Nave Gallery in Somerville is currently accepting entries for their exhibition Residual FormLearn more.
Deadline: April 30, 2016

Call to Artists  Greater Boston Area artists ages 18+ are invited to create 2D art in response to a special piano performance and discussion of Mussorgsky’s piano work, Pictures at an Exhibition. Submissions will be judged by a three-member panel and chosen pieces displayed at a November 5 multi-media event at Jenkins Auditorium in Malden. Artwork will also be displayed until mid-January at the gallery at MATV, Malden’s Media Center. Learn more to register for May 7 workshop.

Exhibition Proposals Artspace Maynard invites artists in all media (except video) to submit proposals for one month solo or group exhibitions for the 2016-2017 season. The proposed exhibit should be based on a unifying concept that is social, historical, philosophical, cultural, political or other. Preference will be given to New England artists. Learn more.
Deadline: May 18, 2016

Dancers/Choreograpers The Boston Center for the Arts’ artist-led series Martha’s Artist Salon is a community conversation, created to give Boston area dancers and choreographers an avenue to share knowledge about contemporary dance as it is practiced and presented around the world. Each session is led by a host who offers a short presentation identifying an idea or exemplar that they feel is important to understanding why dance looks like it does today. They are looking for hosts for their fall season. Send a proposal listing: what or who you would like to present; an outline of your presentation; why this topic is critical to the understanding of contemporary dance; which session date(s) you would like to host. Martha’s Artist Salons take place at Boston Center for the Arts on Mondays or Tuesdays between 5:30 and 8 pm. Presentations typically run from 6:00-7:00 with mingling time before and after. They are currently looking for Fall hosts on Monday September 12, Monday October 24 and Tuesday November 29, 2016. Submit your proposal to ablesso@bcaonline.org
Deadline: Tuesday May 31, 2016 (5:00pm)

Call for Artists Entries are currently being accepted for Black Box 3.0 – an international arts and technology based in Seattle. The festival presents new work and ideas that explore how technology is transforming the arts, culture, and public life. Festival Dates: September 21 – October 2, 2016. Learn more.
Deadline: May 31, 2016 (5PM PST)

Plein Art Painting The Vermont Institute of Natural Science is hosting its second annual en Plein Air Painting Festival and Competition from September 17-24. The festival has a registration fee of $40. One “ready to hang” painting may be submitted for judging in the competition, which will award a $1,000 Best in Show prize. Learn more.
Deadline: September 22, 2016

Image credit: Illustration of Sophie Blanchard, the first professional female aeronaut in history. From the Smithsonian Libraries Collection. In public domain.

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MCC Poets at Pelham Library

April 7th, 2016

Massachusetts Poetry Festival Executive Director January O’Neill was right when she said on this blog that poets and entrepreneurs have a lot in common. “We are self starters,” she wrote, “and have a singular vision that we will see through to the end.”

This self-starting vision is behind a poetic enterprise in Pelham this month. A National Poetry Month reading curated by Karen Skolfield (Poetry Fellow ’14) features recent awardees Richard Michelson (Poetry Fellow ’16), Sarah Sousa (Poetry Fellow ’16), and Michael Teig (Poetry Fellow ’08 and Finalist ’16) and takes place at Pelham Library on Wednesday, April 27 at 7 PM. Free and open to the public.

Glimpse the poets’ work in the gallery above, and find more news featuring MCC awardees in Fellows Notes.

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Artist Opportunities Roadtrip

April 5th, 2016


C’mon, hop in. There’s always room for another artist.

Environmental Art Proposals Appearances: Provincetown Green Arts Festival is now accepting proposals for their annual event. Submission is free. Learn more.
Deadline Extended: April 9, 2016

Women Poets Finishing Line Press is offering a prize of $1,000 and publication for a chapbook-length poetry collection in perfect-bound print edition. Open to women who have never before published a full-length poetry collection. Learn more.
Deadline: April 15, 2016

Residencies for Writers and Poets Cirenaica is an artist residency in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin where writers and poets can devote uninterrupted time to their work in a picturesque environment and work closely with prominent Midwest writers. Learn more.
Deadline: April 15, 2016

Call for Temporary Public Art Proposals Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC) seeks proposals for two temporary public art projects and two participatory projects in conjunction with Fort Point Spring Open Studios. The works of art will engage the public, highlight the Fort Point neighborhood and its creative community and promote Open Studios. Four Awards Available: One $7,500 award and one $5000 award for temporary public art installations (sites are described on the full RFP) and two $750 awards for participatory public art projects to be produced on Saturday and Sunday of Open Studios Weekend, June 18 and 19, 2016. Learn more.
Deadline: April 17, 2016 (midnight)

Artist and Ecologist Residency Program The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology (Otis, OR) provides artists, writers, musicians, architects and natural science scholars the opportunity to conduct their work in the unique environment of Cascade Head and Salmon River estuary. Up to six residents at a time, usually from different disciplines and stages in their careers, live and work on campus for up to 3 1/2 months free of charge. Learn more.
Deadline: April 18, 2016

Call to Artists The Chelsea Art Walk (Chelsea, MA) is currently accepting entries for their annual event. All mediums considered. Learn more.
Deadline: April 30, 2016

Call to Artists The Arsenal Center for the Arts is seeking the work of young, emerging artists from the Greater Boston area for its upcoming summer exhibition, Framework. All media is accepted, 2D and 3D. Learn more.
Deadline: May 1, 2016

Development Funds for Digital Series Independent Television Service (ITVS) has issued the Digital Open Call, which provides “up to $30,000 in R&D funding to develop and pilot digital series concepts on any subject, and from any viewpoint, for public media’s digital platforms.” Learn more.
Deadline: May 2, 2016 at 5pm PST

Playwriting Award The Relentless Award, established in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman by The American Playwriting Foundation, is the largest annual cash prize ($45,000) in American theater awarded to a playwright in recognition of a new play. They are looking for plays that are challenging, that exhibit fearlessness, that are not mainstream, that exude passion, and are relentlessly truthful. Learn more.
Deadline: May 2, 2016

Artist Project Proposals  Urbano in Jamaica Plain, is calling for artists of all disciplines to develop proposals that combine a place-based education approach and a participatory public intervention. Their theme “The Commons/The Other” offers a unique opportunity to utilize the common spaces and places in Egleston and Jackson Squares as social laboratories where notions of representation, identity and social interaction are explored through art. Projects may range from (but are not limited to) large-scale public art interventions and performances, to nomadic sculptures and audiovisuals. Learn more.
Deadline: May 9, 2016 (11:59pm EST)

Drawing Prize The 2016 Williams Prize in Drawing for Emerging Artists is now accepting entries for applicants who are creating 2D drawings with either traditional methods, or more experimental contemporary approaches and materials, excepting digitally created or enhanced art. Drawing media that are encouraged include, but are not limited to, chalk, charcoal, color pencil, Conté, graphite, marker, metal-point, pastel, and pen & ink. Learn more.
Deadline: May 15, 2016

Image credit: Photograph of actress Jayne Mansfield and two dogs sitting in the front seat of a convertible car. In public domain.

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How Do You Approach the Business of Art?

April 1st, 2016

Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

It can be challenging to balance artistic creation with the business, financial, or other career aspects of artists’ work. Artists are encouraged to see their art career as a “business” – but how does that translate into practice? We asked artists in different disciplines, What is your approach to the business of art, and how has it changed over time?

Part two of a two-part discussion.

Jake Fried, animator
Ultimately, my experimental animations must transcend financial concerns, otherwise they become something else for someone else. Luckily, making deeply personal work that I believe in has increasingly led to new and rewarding paid opportunities.

My main source of income is teaching, mostly at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. This past year I have created commissioned work for Adult Swim and the Marionette Record label, among others. I have screened my films at many international festivals, gallery shows and artist talks that provide awards and fees. And finally I’ve been awarded grants and fellowships, including one recently in Film & Video from the MCC.

As much as possible I want my artistic and financial success to stem directly from being true to my vision – it’s a hustle and I’m always chasing new opportunities to make this happen, but it’s worth it to make the work I believe in.

Jenine Shereos, LEAF (2013), human hair, 5x3 in, photo by Robert Diamante

Jenine Shereos, sculptor/installation artist
A few years ago, some of my work was featured on a popular art and design blog. I received a lot of exposure from this, and it had a ripple effect over the years as people continued to share the images on social media and other online venues. Many positive opportunities arose from this publicity, but it was definitely a learning experience as well. I had people contact me with bizarre commission requests, dealt with copyright issues, and even had an offer from Ripley’s Believe it or Not! This experience taught me the importance of being my own agent. To say no to things that don’t fit with my vision and to seek out the opportunities that I feel will enhance my career as an artist. I spend a lot of time researching residencies, grants, and other opportunities online. Recently, artist residencies have played a significant role in my artistic journey and have afforded me time away to focus on my art.

Similar to my artistic practice, I see the business aspect of my work as an organic process that continues to grow and evolve over time. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to support myself fully from my art, but the obstacles keep me thinking creatively. Sometimes I feel frustrated by a sense of disconnection in my life, although I know I am not alone and many artists face the same struggle. On the one hand, my work has been shown internationally in museums and included in major publications. At the same time, I am nearing forty and waiting tables while piecing together odd jobs. Recently, I was sharing my frustrations with a friend and he asked if there was anyone I know personally who is making their living exclusively as an artist who I could look to as a model. After thinking through the many artists I have met over the years, I couldn’t think of a single one. I am slowly realizing that maybe this isn’t necessarily the end goal. I try to focus on the fact that I love making art and know I will always find a way to continue to do so against any odds.

Publicity photo from THE LAUNCH PRIZE, written by MJ Halberstadt, produced March 2016 at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, featuring Katharine Chen Lerner, Bari Robinson, John Tracey, and Angela K Thomas

MJ Halberstadt, playwright
People joke that Masters Programs in playwriting are “red headed stepchildren” that can’t be boxed neatly into more easily articulable Theatre or Creative Writing programs. Similarly, reconciling playwriting within the framework of a business model presents questions and problems. On one hand, I’m an artist-for-hire because different companies present my work. When they do, I am not the play’s “producer.” On the other hand, I am a free-lancer because I am the sole proprietor of my own playwriting “business.” The minimum viable product of what I can produce is a script, not a play, which is not sellable by itself – except, arguably, in the case of having the script published. It becomes necessary to tease apart distinctions, especially between my script and a company’s production of it. Combined, they make the product (a “play”) but assigning value to my part in it is tricky, especially when all of the theatre world is starving for monetary resources and many of the producers of my work are personal friends. I’m not a playwright for gain; in fact, only about a dozen American playwrights sustain themselves entirely off royalties. That’s why I have a totally unrelated day job at present; this is getting more and more difficult to reconcile since my playwriting “career” demands more of me each year.

[MJ takes a sip from a glass of whiskey.]

If my “brand” has “worth,” it’s not quantifiable. If anything, I’m building up artistic capital through making myself known and archiving reviews and, yes, “networking.” The hope is that it’ll pay off if and when I sell a TV pilot or get a job teaching playwriting.

[MJ takes another – longer – sip.]


Related reading: Who Is Your Audience? and How Do You Define Success as an Artist?

Jake Fried (inkwood.net) is an experimental animator whose work has shown on Carton Network’s Adult Swim, at the Tate Modern, in the Sundance Film Festival, and many other festivals and venues. He recently screened work in the Boston Underground Film Festival and has upcoming screenings at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, and the Melbourne International Animation Festival.

MJ Halberstadt’s (mj-halberstadt.squarespace.com) new play is That Time the House Burned Down, produced by Fresh Ink Theatre at Boston Playwrights Theatre April 8-23. His play The Launch Prize was produced by Bridge Rep in Boston in March ’16 (read a great review in the Boston Globe). In February, he was profiled by Emerson College, and he wrote about race and privilege in theatre for HowlRound. In 2014, he was one of the artists selected to participate in Assets for Artists, a program supporting artists through financial and business training opportunities and matched savings.

Jenine Shereos (jenineshereos.com) is a sculptor and installation artist specializing in fiber and textile processes. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including in France, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, and Canada, and has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, Make Magazine, and and the compendium Textiles: The Art of Mankind. Her work is currently on view at Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands, and in 2017, she will have a solo show at the Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst.

Images and Media: BRAIN LAPSE by Jake Fried; Jenine Shereos, LEAF (2013), human hair, 5×3 in, photo by Robert Diamante; publicity photo from THE LAUNCH PRIZE, written by MJ Halberstadt, produced March 2016 at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts, directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene, featuring Katharine Chen Lerner, Bari Robinson, John Tracey, and Angela K Thomas.

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