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When we launched the Public Art Learning Fund in September 2019, we envisioned these funds strengthening the field of public art from the ground up. By trusting that artists often (if not always!) know their own needs best, the Public Art Learning Fund set out to support artists to self-determine and pursue learning opportunities that are tailored to their public art-making at this moment in time. Although 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to reimagine what learning and professional development opportunities for artists could look like, it has been a productive year for the Public Art Learning Fund grantees! In this "Artists Learn-and-Share" blog series, we take a moment to reconnect with some of our Public Art Learning Fund grantees to hear how their grants have strengthened their public art-making practices this past year.
Kamaria Carrington (KC): What was the professional development opportunity you accessed with the PALF grant?
Chris Battaglia (CB): All this came from the helpful webinar where you and Kim explained what opportunities we could pursue with the Public Art Learning Fund grant. Initially, I didn’t know how to approach, talk about, and think through how to invest funds into my practice. Then y’all said we can pay someone directly through co-designed mentorships...and I was like—that's it!
I remembered that in early 2019, I was lamenting to Adriane Herman from Maine College of Art (MECA), because I wanted to go to Portland State University to pursue an MFA in their Art and Social Practice program. But back then I didn’t have time or the opportunity to get to Oregon. Because of the Public Art Learning Fund, and your clarifications (and that same friend’s encouragement), I decided to call a professor from that program that I have wanted to study with. I ended up emailing Harrell Fletcher a month out from the deadline. I went out on a limb to do this self-directive study. And it soon became clear from COVID that the restrictions on travel ended up being an opening in everyone’s imaginations towards long-distance learning. So, I proposed a remote study to Harrell—that would be part Zoom and part taking walks and talking together. Two days before the deadline, he reached out and said he would be open to it. "Keep me posted."
This grant gave me the idea that I could activate someone to ask for mentorship. The next step was to design the mentorship details with Harrell. He asked me to take the lead by asking what my goals were. This was both helpful and daunting for me to lead content development. And, as an educator, he has facilitated several working with students before. He was familiar. I wasn’t–and that felt like a good match.
KC: Sounds like you had to begin approaching the Public Art Learning Fund opportunity with risk-taking...was there anything else surprising you learned about yourself/your practice/public art making through accessing the mentorship?
CB: One thing that was revelatory was that I had a lot of thoughts about how I thought the conversations were going to go. It turns out, the conversations were far more organic than I imagined. And I learned more through the process of having these casual conversations. Frankly, it really showed that, when I looked back to the first and last sessions that I recorded and transcribed, I can track–to a certain degree–where I started (knowledge-wise) and where I ended up. I could see for myself that I did know more than I let on in the beginning. It was a great way to look back and see that I needed the entire 10 sessions and I could see that it didn’t click until I really spent those 10 sessions sitting with it. I needed that time.
KC: In this COVID-19 reality, what has this professional develop opportunity meant to your practice as a public artists/creative?
CB: Harrell talked about this concept of "Adequacy." And framed it through a series of questions, like–what is adequate enough for us? What is the line that you are willing to draw to call something art? And, how can you go just barely above that? Mentally, physically, and socially? What can you do adequately to call it "artwork" or "residency" or "archival project?" That was like magic to me! If I just went out and did a canoe trip and document it, name it, tell you I did it—I could determine just above the line of "adequacy" to call it a meaningful art experience—and that was eye opening! If the output can impact folks, via Zoom, a conference, or a presentation, etc. I think folks can really harness that sentiment during this time. For artists who may have a bunch of material from past work, but did things that haven’t been formalized, they could use this time–if there is value in doing so–and maybe can be put together towards another grant, process, or project.
KC: What has this opportunity opened up for you? Would you recommend other artists access mentorship with a Public Art Learning Fund grant?
CB: Yes, it opened up what I could do for myself, how I can treat myself better as an artist, and develop as a learner. It held me accountable to things that I knew I wanted to do and didn’t yet know how to do them. When I first spoke to Harrell, he asked, "what did I want to get out of our studies?" I told him that I wanted to better understand the field of art as social practice, create more skilled work, and publish something. And then–in the end–I had the fire lit under me to follow through to finish a project that I didn’t previously have the framework, or chops, and the lessons to approach. In the end I put out my own publication, boosted my self-confidence, and recognized that it is ok [that] I needed more guidance to develop in more skilled ways than what I have done so far in this work. It helped me evolve to the next level of my practice and boost in the next step of the evolution of the work that I was putting together. Even though at first it was daunting, strange, and out of the norm to put the project away, and dig into my own art practice.
KC: Thank you for sharing your experience, Chris!
Visit nefa.org/PublicArtLearningFund to learn more about the April 20, 2021 deadline, including eligibility, funding priorities, and more.
Chris Battaglia is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice lies somewhere in the space between facilitating social experience, documentary storytelling, and working with his hands. He explores relationships through the lens of social and environmental impact, especially focusing on people, time, and place. He developed a floating artist residency experience called The Village Canoe. Through this project, he hopes to highlight the dynamism at the intersection of arts and outdoors, and to build a big canoe to engage more thoroughly with Maine history, craft tradition, coastline, and interior waterways.
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