As with many organizations responding to the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Powerhouse Arts implemented virtual programming with the dual intention of continuing to address the needs of the artists with whom we work and providing an outlet to discuss challenges, adaptations, or concerns with our team.
What emerged from that initial intention is our ongoing Virtual Consultations (VCs) program.
VCs have become a forum for open dialogue and resource-sharing empowered by self-motivated artists. These 30-minute chats with our fabricators create a personalized experience where ideas are exchanged and connections are made. For this second vozarrón column, I sought to highlight the problem-solvers who are actively helping each other to create a thriving learning culture at Powerhouse.
Advanced knowledge in artistic processes such as print, ceramic, textile, wood and metal, and project management are not readily accessible to most. Thus, open-source information and resource-sharing are at the center of these consultations. In response to artists’ queries, fabricators pull resources, references, and material recommendations that suit the particular artists’ needs.
They set metrics to judge expectations and give artists tools on how to approach a process, what to anticipate, and how to define success. For instance, our Director of Print, Luther, often shares IPCNY’s International Map of Printshops — a cartographic resource of print shops all over the world — to advise artists on finding the closest shop to them.
Through the sharing of these resources, a teacher from St Louis, for example, gained knowledge on screen printing to in turn teach students; an artist in Chicago was put in touch with local fabricators for the completion of a sculpture; and our Textile fellow Jacob Ospina gained insight on how to knit very fine wire using a knitting machine. From concept to fruition, the VCs have proven a valuable resource in pushing artists towards clearer directions or identifying the next step for their project — no matter at what stage they are in.
A great example of a critical resource not otherwise easily accessible is the expertise of Powerhouse’s Project Management program, which includes insights into comprehensive fabrication processes from installation to de-installation. For some artists, these services are unattainable and unaffordable and their work often gets compromised aesthetically because other fabricators are not sensitive to these needs or their limitations. Art, our Director of Fabrication & Production, conducts extensive research about a particular artist’s work, which allows for a very personalized experience that centers around a professional relationship and collaboration.
Access to one access to all
Accessibility to one shop means accessibility to all shops. At times, artists book consultations with several directors who also invite other staff members. Our Wood and Metal Director, Ben, invited Phoenix, an established artist, and the Director of Shops to impart their knowledge and share solutions on dust collecting.
For artists who may be shy, the VCs allow individuals to have a low-stakes, personable chat with a fabricator who is mindful of budgets, time constraints, and general expectations around the project. There’s a well of expertise that our administrative staff holds - making Powerhouse teams capable of tackling virtually any art dilemma.
For many people who don’t speak the jargon, fabrication spaces can feel exclusive. VCs actively reject jargon exclusivity and gatekeeping by meeting artists where they are and with the knowledge they already have. Fabricators allow people to express themselves in their own way and in this way breakdown barriers of accessibility by sharing their knowledge and experiences through making. Through them, communities within and outside of Powerhouse exchange and physicalize whimsical ideas and concepts whether at home or at one of our shops.
During the height of the pandemic, creatives sought out knowledge in order to execute art projects from home. Driven by curiosity, people wanted to learn processes in screen printing, tufting and carpentry (though we don’t recommend doing the latter at home). There’s something powerful and humble about this pursuit — sponge-like disposition where the mind is fresh and absorbs nuanced approaches and solutions to unconventional problems.
In order to solve these unconventional problems, it is clear that one requires collaboration, a sounding board to talk through a project and receive feedback. VCs are a space to help people think aloud and brainstorm. The process involves much piecing together of concepts and assessment of materials. This process is much more efficient, productive, and generative with other people. For artists who have never received formal education, VCs can also be a space for critique. The informal nature of it allows for ease and learning. It removes the pressure typically associated with grades or assessment. Overall, It’s a mutual exchange where directors learn as much from the artists as artists learn from them.
Who participates in our VCs?
Students ready to enter into the professional world who seek information about opportunities.
Artists established in their career with a very specific project in mind that they’re trying to do themselves.
Artists who would like to make work at Powerhouse, which allows the VCs to act as a preliminary consultation of the work they’d like to do.
Artists who want to brainstorm on the concept itself and not the making.
Artists from other states, which in turn points to the dearth of arts fabrication resources outside the Greater New York area.
An artist with zero-to-limited experience making art. They usually want to ask where to buy materials and learn the entryway to a process like silk screening.
Adults looking for a career change or a creative outlet, they seek educational guidance and found their way to Powerhouse.
Studio assistants calling for artists they work with.
Releasing the Gatekeepers
Artists projects that have come to fruition include Rodrigo Moreira’s Desiiiire/Diiiistortiiiion and Body/Meat series of prints and Caroline Garcia’s The Headless Hunt whose consultations turned into a fabrication project for The Shed’s Open Call this past summer.
Garcia learned about Powerhouse through our VCs, her initial approach was conceptual rather than material. Therefore, she consulted with our Director of Wood & Metal, Ben Cohen, on the possibilities for fabricating her design. Ben then referred her to our Director of Production & Fabrication, Art Domantay, along with carpenters Andy Barrett and Dan Vissac, produced a fabrication plan and built the 16 by 16 by 9 foot wooden structure embellished with ballistic materials. (Learn more about this project above.)
Although not all VCs become fabrication projects like Garcia’s Headless Hunt, it is clear that inquisitive creatives can gain tools to execute their ambitious projects even with just a concept. We learned that a how-to on wire knitting, a brainstorm session on dust collecting, and reference-sharing of global fabrication networks – are some examples of the vast conversations our fabricators will have with artists. As VCs grow, artists continue to dictate how this program evolves, whether serving as a forum for critique, brainstorming, or a how-to learning, VCs are here to create a space to bridge gaps in knowledge, resource, and access.