Studio Visits operates akin to the studio visit model of artists. It is an exchange program wherein officials from the government visit select artists in their studios. The reverse also happens as selected artists visit select officials on the job. The goal of these interactions is to actually see and hear from individuals, in context, about their practice. In this way, the program aims to inspire new ideas about agency and resourcefulness within ones own field by gaining exposure to the discourse of another’s.
An independently appointed liaison, the “Domestic Diplomat”, will partner artists and government officials for visits; this role will be seen as a form of curation, and operate similar to a Cultural Attaché. The Studio Visits program will begin locally, in district and municipal governments, and work up to State or National infrastructures. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (Calling All Artists, Whoever You Are, March 28, 2011) describes how there is a gross underestimation of the number of working artists in New York City alone. Inaccurate estimates and, by consequent, perceptions about cultural fields can have unfair effects on the funding and legitimization of these types of labor. Studio Visits finds value in exchange between fields of civic and cultural work, and in the realization of work done.
It is an unspoken understanding that artists are always strapped for funding on their projects. Time spent in an artist’s studio, wherein a government official can feel and experience resourcefulness in action would be enlightening. And to an official faced with managing a budget and economy like that in the US today, as well as the concerns of his or her constituency, this sensibility of resourcefulness, by analogy, becomes a model shared within the Studio Visit program. A visit to a government official’s office not only requires that the official allot time for a one-on-one meeting, but also that the artist and official come prepared and open to the questions and responses encountered in the meeting. The premise here is that the eyes of the media and the logic of journalism is not at play, yet accountability, from both sides, is still pursuant. In this way, the public official and cultural agent can share of their goals and ideas professionally yet in a fluid and unmediated way.
The idea for Studio Visits comes out of my most recent art project, First Assignment (www.first-assignment.com), in which I followed, as ‘embedded media’, US servicewomen in training (Fort Irwin, CA), deployment in Afghanistan (Jalalabad), and redeployment home (Fort Hood, TX). When embedded abroad I learned of the work of the State Department’s Cultural Attachés, connecting US arts groups and actors with Afghan schools and institutions in Kabul. But who, I wondered, is connecting local US officials with living, working artists domestically?
In my experience, it is easy for different cultural actors to fall into a situation, often due to the burdens of their work, where they lack in their environment, exposure to individuals who work in other fields – this often creates false assumptions about an artist’s or a politician’s work. This program is the opportunity, as it facilitates types of exchanges difficult to coordinate or seek out in one’s own day-to-day affairs. This program is not about suggestion but about creating new spaces for inspiration and agency within ones own work. Studio Visits is a model and it is also a measure, as the only logistical responsibility of the agents involved is showing up.