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Program Associate, CreativeGround

CreativeGround highlights the people and places that contribute to New England’s thriving creative economy. This month we connected with Toby MacNutt, a queer, trans, disabled artist based in Vermont. A recent Rebecca Blunk Fund grantee, Toby is a choreographer, dancer, textile artist, and poet, as well as an arts educator. Read on to discover how they navigate the experience of being a working creative in New England.

Check out Toby's CreativeGround profile to learn more about them!

CreativeGround (CG): What is a typical day like for you as a performing artist, poet, and fiber artist in New England?

Toby MacNutt (TM): Most days don’t involve all the arts, though sometimes I’ll get lucky, and busy! I try to work in seasons: a writing season, a crafting season, a dance season. Right now, the dance “season” is a dominant one, but other years, writing or crafting might have taken the lion’s share. My individual days don’t have a set pattern. Like most freelancers, when I’m home I spend a lot of time following up on communications with venues, partners, and clients; writing the next grant application or project submission; accounting and doing other admin tasks of the independent artist; and trying to keep the domestic to-do list from swallowing me whole. My creative or studio time tends to come in bursts, a few days in a row followed by a few for rest or other tasks. Rehearsal schedules intensify or drop off depending on how close a piece is to performance. Then there’s travel for gigs, networking, teaching, and residencies - around New England, and outside of it. Every day, week, and month shakes out a bit differently.

CG: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve been involved with in New England?

TM: I loved being part of Nicole Dagesse/Murmurations Dance’s work When Women Were Birds (2017). This was a site-specific performance work that took place on Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne, Vermont, in fields, barns, and other locations. I performed a poem of mine, with an accompanying movement score, inside a disused silo, as well as creating some other dance elsewhere on the grounds. In addition to dance, live music, and poetry, as the piece and the viewers progressed through the farm and the story, they had the opportunity to eat different (locally-sourced, organic) foods crafted to complement the performance. It felt very grounded in its sense of place while supporting a magical and mythological experience - truly unique.

I guess the first action I recommend for shifting your work to be more universally accessible is to “figure out where you are right now,” so that you can find and take those appropriate first steps.. .The long-term, big-picture planning is important, but sometimes little things can have a big impact, and they give you the momentum of success to keep going.

Toby MacNutt

CG: What do you do to stay inspired? What fuels your work?

TM: Often the fuel for the work is the need for the work to exist - either my own personal need to get the vision into reality, or reality’s need for something like it to occur. Often, both at once. Poems fight their way out of me whether I’m ready for them or not. Fiction gives my heart - and I hope, hearts like mine - something it needs. Textiles are sensory adventures and the pleasure of patterns. Dance runs on questions. What is a body? What does the body know? What does it do if…? How does it change when…? What does it mean to…?

CG: If you could collaborate with any New England creative business, cultural nonprofit, or artist, which/whom would it be and why?

TM: It might stretch the definition a little bit - but I’d love to connect with the New England Aquarium or another oceanographic center! I am fascinated with deep-sea life and dream of someday making a performance and textile installation featuring all the weird and wonderful things that live in the deep ocean. So many of those organic textures would be perfect in large-scale textile format (glass sponges, siphonophores…) and the movement vocabulary of deep-sea denizens is so unique; it’d map wonderfully to dance (including some with circus apparatus). An installation could be great scicomm* as well as great art, giving people a chance to wander the deep for themselves.

*SciComm is a term that refers to a job that communicates science, typically to non-scientists. Work can include science class in an educational setting or informal education in a museum, etc. 

Photo Courtesy of Mark Collier

CG: What was the last New England creative business or cultural nonprofit you visited and what did you see?

TM: Most recently I was at the New England Center for Circus Arts, where I’m the company in residence this year. From my spot in the loft I got to watch regular training, private classes, and their kids’ summer camp, which was adorable. There’s always something interesting happening in the trapezium, with so many circus forms being practiced.

CG: Name three New England artists, creative businesses, or cultural nonprofits we should all know about. 

TM:

  • Ellice Patterson and Abilities Dance Company in Boston - whom I’m working with on some new pieces for their show this March
  • The Vermont Dance Alliance is a still-young dance service nonprofit founded by (you guessed it) dancers to support the dance community in Vermont. There’s a lot of cool dance that happens up here and I’m excited for what can happen as a more unified statewide entity. That includes hosting an annual Gala showcasing Vermont dance.
  • The Dancing Queerly Festival in Boston by Maggie Cee and Michael Winward is also good to know as a congregation of LGBTQ+ dance work in (and beyond) the region.

CG: Your CreativeGround profile highlights the wide array of accessibility accommodations you offer so that folks of varying abilities can access your art and your teachings. I also know that you work with organizations and groups to help them move toward inclusion. What is the first action you recommend taking once someone realizes the myriad benefits of more universally accessible work?

TM: I encourage people just to take some kind of action - rather than trying to find the one best, or the biggest, or the one they saw someone else do - to take stock of where they are and look at what can be done right now. There is always something, no matter how small, budget-struck, or architecturally historic you are. The long term, big picture planning is also important, but sometimes little things can have a big impact, and they give you the momentum of success to keep going. They also show the community that you are taking action, not just talking. Making many small steps also means you can’t treat the One Big Improvement as the be-all end-all, the accessibility silver bullet - yes, I want you to do that capital campaign to install an elevator, but I also want you to have audio description, an accessible website, large print, good signage, ASL interpreters… etc. 

I guess the first action I recommend is “figure out where you are right now,” so that you can find and take those appropriate first steps. What are your physical access pathways like? What formats is information available in? How does someone figure out how to access your programming? Are people with disabilities equally represented and participating in your staff and management, as artists and curators, your audiences, your students, your teachers? Is the experience of a disabled patron visiting your business of equal quality to a non-disabled patron? And there are more similar questions to explore! If you’re not sure which questions to ask first or how to answer, ask a consultant. Many consultants are disabled artists themselves and can speak directly to accessibility in the arts and culture sector. 

Psst… Use the "Accessibility of Services" checkboxes on the Advanced Search on CreativeGround to discover how other creatives are making their activities and services accessible to inspire your small steps! Someone doing something particularly relevant to your work? Contact the profile owner by clicking the envelope underneath “Find Me On...”

From "Time Dilation" . Photo by David Punia and Elaine Eldridge

CG: How does CreativeGround serve you as an artist?

TM: I have occasionally used it to scope out collaborators or educational opportunities. I know other people are also using it this way, as sometimes I have had collaboration requests or jobs where the person mentions seeing me on CreativeGround. It adds to my (and other artists’) discoverability, which is important for getting beyond your immediate personal networks.

CG: Why should New England creative businesses, and cultural nonprofits be listed on CreativeGround?

TM: Probably for the same reasons as artists!

CG: What projects  are you currently working on?

TM: My big project right now is a solo show, working-titled A Singular They. It’s a “self-portrait in dance” focused on the ways fluidity and change exist in my identity and my body. I’m developing it in residence at NECCA, as well as working with five collaborating choreographers who have insight into a particular element of my physicality, identity, or life story. The resulting work stretches me to the full extent of my diverse performance skills, including ground and air, crutches and chair, floor and ladders, and wraps the audience in what it’s like to be defined primarily by variability. My goal for premiere is early 2021.

I’m also involved with a new work from Jessie Owens and ERGO/movement called The Say a Lady Was the Cause of It, coming this February, and have been traveling to Boston to work with Abilities Dance, making pieces and leading company classes. When I’m not rehearsing one thing or another, I’m often teaching (dance technique, movement and consent, adaptive strategies, etc.) or consulting on accessibility, gender inclusivity, or other projects.
 


Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Toby! Tune in next month for the next update from "On the CreativeGround with..." Until then, dig into CreativeGround, or email creativeground@nefa.org to recommend an artist, cultural organization, or creative business from which you would love CreativeGround to get the scoop.

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