Engaging Artists at the Queens Museum of Art

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with artist and founder of the Artist Volunteer Center and More Art‘s Special Programs Coordinator Jason Maas on multiple occasions. Our more recent work together began while I was at More Art working on a public art project that involved homelessness in New York City. More Art’s goal was to produce a program that would provide outreach to homeless and at risk individuals, while providing a bridge between emerging artists and the community. Jason Maas was the perfect person to develop such a program, and More Art brought him on to create the Engaging Artists Residency Program.

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Hidemi Takagi, Hello it’s me, 2015, Photo Installation; Digital C-Prints, wall paper. Courtesy of the artist and More Art

It has been two years since the initial session of Engaging Artists, which featured partnerships with the Artist Volunteer Center, Judson Memorial Church, Common Ground, The Bowery Mission, The Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Corporation. The incredible fourteen selected artists volunteered and made lasting connections with the homeless community. Each artist worked hard to transform their studio practice within practical situations and gave their time and creativity to connect with homeless families and individuals. Additionally, More Art granted a proposal by three of the Resident artists called REMAP. REMAP is “a collaborative project involving meditation, recipe sharing, map-making and map distribution with homeless and formerly homeless community groups.” 

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Christie Neptune, Memories from Yonder, 2015, multimedia installation; video, Digital C-Print. Courtesy of the artist and More Art.

The second session of Engaging Artists centered on issues about identity and immigration. The program was open to any foreign born artist living in New York. The artists volunteered with immigrant senior citizens from across the five boroughs. The culmination of each artist’s work will be on view at the Queens Museum of Art from Feb. 7-27.

(Above video: Sara Meghdari, Silent Self, 2015 Video Performance. Courtesy of the artist and More Art)

The work from the artists featured in the Queens Museum of Art exhibition reflects on critical issues such as healthcare, aging, alienation, and housing. The Engaging Artists residents are: Annie Kurz, Aurélien Grèzes, Christie Neptune, Hidemi Takagi, Michelle Melo, Sara Meghdari, Soi Park, and Uday K. Dhar.

Below is a Q + A with Jason about the Engaging Artists program and what is to come in the third year of this essential program.

Can you tell us about the mission of Engaging Artists and how it first came about?

The mission of Engaging Artists is to create a unique artist-in-residence program that gives artists a chance to get out of their studio and have a direct experience with critical social issues through volunteerism. They are also given a community of other artists in the cohort to share and reflect. During the program, the artists’ volunteering is enriched through a professional development workshop program where we bring in speakers who can share the history, current work, people, and organizations that are involved in this work.  When focusing on critical social issues such as homelessness, immigrant seniors, and this year, housing, we take great strides to honor those who have dedicated their lives and careers to these issues by giving them a chance to present this work to our artists.

How did Engaging Artists come about? Well I have to say it was you, Adam, that really connected the dots to make this happen. At the time you were working for More Art and had known about the work I was doing for my organization, the Artist Volunteer Center, and asked me to come on to create a public component for the Andres Serrano work that More Art put on. The Serrano installation featured photographs of the homeless that he had taken, which were installed in the West 4th Subway station in May of 2014. I came to More Art with an idea for a residency program that I had been developing, and Engaging Artists was born. The first cohort of artists volunteered in homeless shelters, and the result was incredibly meaningful.  I am now the Special Programs Coordinator for More Art, tasked with running the program. The Artist Volunteer Center is one of the partners on Engaging Artists.

Why Engaging Artists? What makes art and artists a great match for volunteering and helping others in need?

I believe that artists are true leaders of culture because they have the ability to make connections that others cannot, and convey complex issues in unique and powerful ways through their artform. What makes an artist an artist is in their indelible ability to turn their experiences into inspirations. Volunteering is one of the most uniquely powerful experiences we can have, so who better than an artist to become a volunteer? I create the program so that the volunteering the artists engage in will influence and enrich their lives and the lives of those they connect with. In the process, the artwork they produce as a result of this program will influence and inspire others, and draw more attention to the work that is happening here, and the people that are in need.

Last year was the inaugural year of the program, how has the second year evolved?

In our second year, we opened the program up to foreign born and first generation American artists. The cohort consisted on fourteen artists from fourteen different countries. The artists volunteered with immigrant seniors in their culture and cross-culturally. In our workshop program, we focused on immigrant rights, rights of the aging, what it is like living in NYC as an immigrant artist, and how intergenerational exchanges can affect the creativity of artists.

Tell us about the theme of this year’s Engaging Artists residency program

In 2016, the theme of Engaging Artists will be housing. The artists will be exploring and analyzing the idea of housing, home, and homelessness in a contemporary urban context. They will volunteer with groups such as Housing Advocacy organizations, Homeless Service providers, and those building affordable housing. 

What are some of the most notable experiences and moments from the program?

Engaging Artists has had a big impact on creativity, with artists telling me that they had been creatively blocked until the program and it has completely opened up their practice. Artists have gotten jobs in the places they were volunteering and continue to work with the individuals and organizations where they were doing their volunteering. I’ve seen it impact the people we are serving, friendships have been made and so many kind words have been said about this work and what it has done for people. At the end of the day, Engaging Artists is a way to bring people closer together, to break down barriers, build connections, and inspire many.

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