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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.
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.
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.
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…?
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.
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.
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...”
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.
TM: Probably for the same reasons as artists!
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