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The Art Angle Podcast: How Art Basel Did (and Didn’t) Change After a Two-Year Hiatus


Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Midnight Publishing Group News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

 

 

An art industry ritual returned after an unprecedented hiatus—on a Monday evening last week, art advisors, dealers, and collectors ceremoniously filed into the formidable fairgrounds of Switzerland’s Art Basel.

The premier art fair’s 50th edition was set to take place across a balmy week in June 2020, but it slid back nearly a year and half, its plans marred by a raging public health crisis, limitations on travel, and restrictions on events and gatherings. After so much uncertainty about the state of the art market, more than 270 dealers calculated their risks and ultimately took a leap of faith and brought the best of their rosters to the Rhine. It seems the gambit really paid off—by the late afternoon on preview day, gallerists seemed to really exhale for the first time in months or even a year.

Was it business as usual? Yes and no. The event ran with incredible smoothness, with no issues save for a few spats on Twitter over whether the absence of U.S. collectors was a boon for European deal-making or not. Restaurants were booked out across town for lavish dinners, but being on the guest list wasn’t the only prerequisite—proof of vaccination was required. Sales were strong, but not quite like the old days. And NFTs made a flashy debut.

On the whole, everyone seemed deeply relieved to be back in their booths or perusing the aisles. On this week’s episode, Midnight Publishing Group News’s European Editor Kate Brown was joined in Basel by European Market Editor, Naomi Rea, and Senior Market Editor, Eileen Kinsella to take the temperature of the scene.

 

Listen to Other Episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: Writer Roxane Gay on What Art Can Teach Us About Trauma and Healing

The Art Angle Podcast: Keltie Ferris and Peter Halley on the Mysterious Joys of Making a Painting

The Art Angle Podcast: How Facebook and the Helsinki Biennial Share a Vision for the Art World’s Future

The Art Angle Podcast: Artists in Residence at the World Trade Center Reflect on 9/11

The Art Angle Podcast: Genesis Tramaine on How Faith Inspires Her Art

The Art Angle Podcast: The Bitter Battle Over Bob Ross’s Empire of Joy

The Art Angle Podcast: How Britney Spears’s Image Inspired Millennial Artists

The Art Angle Podcast: How the Medicis Became Art History’s First Influencers

The Art Angle Podcast: How Two Painters Helped Spark the Modern Conservation Movement

 

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The Guggenheim’s Chief Curator Naomi Beckwith on Why She Still Has Faith in Museums—and How They Can Change


Last February, about a month after Naomi Beckwith was officially named chief curator and deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, she sat down for a television interview with local news station NY1

Invited for a segment addressing “the push to make the [art] industry more inclusive as the fight for racial justice continues,” Beckwith spoke at length about her role as one of the advisors for “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” an exhibition first conceived by the late curator Okwui Enwezor. The show was organized as an articulation of how societal injustices can often lead to grief; a grief that Beckwith has no doubt felt at times during her life; a grief that almost all Black people can easily find and name. The “Grievance” part of the exhibition’s title referred to how that grief is co-opted by white America. 

When we talk about Beckwith’s historic arrival at the Guggenheim, many have been conditioned to interrogate the reasons behind the museum’s decision to hire her when they did. But maybe we should focus instead on asking why Beckwith, understanding the industry as well as she does, believes that the Guggenheim is the right place for her to be.

Within the old paradigm of elite institutions as bastions of unadulterated power and prestige, the answer might be obvious. But within this new one, where we’re chipping away at how privilege and agency are distributed at nearly every level of the industry, starting from even the fundamentals of how museums engage with their audiences, the answer is much more expansive. The story becomes about how the Guggenheim will benefit from someone who is as uniquely equipped as she is to usher in this very necessary realignment of its institutional priorities—along with preserving all that we love about the institution in the process.

A general view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

A view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

In describing her attitude toward museum work, Beckwith often resorts to an anecdote. The painter “Frank Bowling writes very intentionally about how it is so important to be committed to change from the inside,” she says, before offering a metaphor the late artist Melvin Edwards once shared with her. Referring to a barbed-wire installation of his, he said: “You’re going to get nicked, you’re going to get cut sometimes, you’re going to bleed sometimes,” she paraphrases. “But you’ve got to be prepared for that. Because the reward of having walked through that barbed wire should be far greater not just for yourself, but for the entire field and for history, than just insisting that there’s a better way. You’ve got to demonstrate a better way. And you have got to put in that work at the place where it needs to be done.”

In her first extensive interview since she began at the Guggenheim, Midnight Publishing Group News spoke with Beckwith about how she identifies artists who matter, how trustees shape the culture of an institution, and why we need to change the way we think about art. 

 

You’ve come on board at a pretty tough time for art institutions, given the pandemic. We know the Guggenheim has made its name doing really ambitious geographical deep dives, so I wanted to start a question about that: Will these kinds of projects be possible going forward? 

The pandemic is a logistical challenge for everybody. There’s a way in which these kinds of limits on travel have been a boon to the environment, and one of the things that the Guggenheim was really focused on is sustainability. 

That said, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible, these deep dives into a global art practice. Here in New York, we have incredible public and private collections that represent a spectrum of global conversations, and we can pull those works from across the country and from people within their own communities. I’m deeply interested not only in our previous commitments to Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, but looking toward southern Saharan Africa. 

It’s also been a great moment to look across the United States. You’ll see exhibitions on the calendar with artists like [Beirut-born, Syrian American artist] Etel Adnan, who’s on the West Coast. We are still able to have global conversations even if we can’t grab everything from across borders.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

A lot of times, the global can overshadow what’s happening within the continental United States. Will there be a bit of a shift, with more of a focus put on some of the communities in this country?

It’s easy to say that the short answer is yes, but, you know, I’m less interested in, let’s say, “We’re going to focus on x, y, and z across the Americas” and more in how we can tell stories about new understandings of abstraction. Like Hilma af Klimt [who was the subject of a major 2018 Guggenheim exhibition], right? How can we rethink some of the prescribed narratives that we’ve inherited in the world? For me, there’s a trajectory from someone like Klimt all the way up to [contemporary American artist] Howardena Pindell. To really put women at the center of abstraction, or even rethink some of the stories that we’ve heard around abstraction being about form, when in fact we can talk about all sorts of things. 

I’m also really interested in those histories, especially across the ‘60s and ‘70s, that allow us to think afresh about how our art came to be. I worked on the exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now” while I was in Chicago [at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art]. I was really interested in the way I could bring these alternative histories, these lesser-known histories—at least outside Chicago—to a broader world. But I was also really interested in how this show gives us another way of thinking about collaborative practice, rather than the usual story of the lone genius in the studio cutting off their ear. 

How can we possibly imagine how art is deeply embedded in the social? And has a responsibility to community? One thing that really excites me about the Guggenheim is that those were the core stories of the founding.

Will the Guggenheim be willing to take any chances on lesser-known names? 

We are always interested in who you would call the lesser-known names. And that isn’t necessarily even about the big show, right? The grand rotunda. Because oftentimes, younger artists or more emerging artists don’t have the oeuvre behind them for some of these grand spaces. So this comes by the way of performance, of programs, of collecting.

But what’s more important for me is not to overly valorize the new, or giving an audience the first look. It’s really important to set up exhibitions and books and programs that are about the opening salvo in an artist’s ongoing career. 

"Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night" at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night” at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

I know you have a long history dating back to the Studio Museum of doing this, but could you get into the nitty gritty of how you make sure emerging and underrepresented voices get the scholarship they need to have that long-lasting support within institutions?

First, by asking not only if an artist makes something interesting to look at, but what proposition is this artist putting into the world? And how can it change the way we think about our history? When I did a show of [British painter] Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, I remember specifically thinking that this is an artist who is giving us figuration, and inside that figuration, she’s absorbing both the history of abstraction and the history of representational art together—let alone the brilliant things she was doing around the presence of Black bodies. So we can start breaking down some of these perceived wisdoms: the way pieces are received and how we think about our categories altogether. That’s how you know you’re dealing with an artist who has some kind of staying power. 

It seems as though museums collaborating together could advance that mission. Are there any concrete opportunities that you’re looking at right now to collaborate across New York or across the country? 

It’s easy to overstate the competitiveness. This is a field full of colleagues that I deeply, deeply respect, no matter what institution they’re in. So we’re constantly sharing ideas and information. 

This is a moment in the pandemic when we realize that institutions in general have to work together, a little bit more tightly, whether it be about sharing shipping costs, being flexible on calendars, or being judicious and generous about shows. 

You’ll also see these ongoing conversations with museum directors that are really about lobbying for this field and for the art industry in a moment when we’ve lost so much revenue and need to do the work of appealing to state and national governments to support the arts.

MCA Chicago front steps. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

The front steps of the MCA Chicago, where Beckwith worked as senior curator. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

You had mentioned that you want a reinterpretation of the collection to be in alignment with DEAI goals. Is there anything you can share right now about how you plan to do that? 

Without a doubt, we are committed as an institution to our very specifically-stated DEI goals, putting BIPOC artists front and center, with an emphasis on Black Indigenous work. These are areas where we realize we as an institution can dive much deeper and build out the collection. 

But as I’ve said before, it’s important to me to not just have what’s called representational diversity. I do want a number shift, but that is a very long-term game. What I’d also like to see shift is the way we talk about each individual artist, not in relation to a majority art form, but regarding their importance in and of themselves—to think again about how their contribution individually has changed the way that we think about art. 

I had a very interesting conversation with former Studio Museum in Harlem director Lowery Stokes Sims about deconstructing art histories in our canon. She said something like, “You know what they say, the art canon is like a rubber band—you can only stretch it so far before eventually it snaps back.”

Yes, it snaps back, but it’s a malleable thing. I don’t think it will go back to that same shape. I don’t think it can anymore. I truly feel optimistic at this moment in time. There’s too many of us—however you define us: those who are progressive, those who consider ourselves socially engaged art historians, those who consider ourselves concerned with BIPOC artists, those who consider ourselves feminists. There’s too much information out in the world to have it go back to the way it was.

You’ve said before that you’ve thought deeply about how institutions are run—by whom and for whom. That’s probably aligned with a lot of things you are discussing here. 

I am reminded of something that I love by the late, great Okwui, who would always say that he was interested in the mistakes that institutions have made. Because I think it’s very easy to locate a problem inside an institution and condemn it based on that. But what if, like Okwui, and especially like myself, you are actually committed to institutions? If you think they have a place in our society and you want them around in the future, then you take what’s been termed as a mistake as actually a site of agency. 

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker (2015), included in the New Museum’s “Grief and Grievance” show. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

That’s contingent on the institution, because you need to be in a supportive environment in order to do that. And you’ve noted that your relationship with the Guggenheim is more of a partnership with respect to making these changes. Maybe you want to elaborate on that?

Look, it starts at the top, and top doesn’t mean the director—it’s trustees. It’s about finding an alignment with these goals throughout the institution, from our funders to the custodians.

If we have a vision for shaping the future and we want to be relevant to that future, we have to bring a more equitable world into being. What’s wonderful is that I feel like I’m in an institution that understands that that needs to happen. 

A source once told me that the late art historian David Driskell’s seminal exhibition spawned a whole generation of African American curators, and we need to realize that they’re not necessarily trying to change the conversation within these institutions—what they’re actually trying to impact is history.

I mean a lot of critique and criticism of institutions has been that they are mired in the past, that they are inflexible and it’s a constant looking back. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think every institution is not only concerned with its individual legacy, but also concerned for the far-reaching legacy of the artists that they show. 

I believe in cultural heritage and I believe in the fact that there needs to be a place not only where these objects are held, but where we tell those stories, and we continue to recast those stories over and over and over again.

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The Turner Prize-Nominated Art Collective Cooking Sections Wants to Change the Way You Think About Food


These days, aisles of fresh groceries are a savory equivalent to all of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerti. No matter the time of the year, you’ll find asparagus or kale beaming alongside strawberries and apricots. But it is neither harmonious, nor in keeping with nature. In fact, it makes no sense at all.

Food and its disruptions, histories, and shifts are at the core of the artistic practice of London-based duo Cooking Sections. For Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe, what we eat is a lens through which they see (and try to affect) pressing societal issues. 

“Food is often seen as a cultural construct, but we understand food as a landscape,” Schwabe told Midnight Publishing Group News. “How does food organize our patterns?”

Based in London, the two both come from architecture backgrounds, and have been working together for several years, honing in on the niche, yet ubiquitous, subject matter of what and how we eat, how we relate to food, and how food relates to industry and the climate.

"Cooking

Cooking Sections CLIMAVORE: On Tidal Zones. Photo: Nick Middleton.

Their unique way of working—their long-term projects often target or discuss structural changes and, in some cases, have no specific end date—are an anomaly in the art world. That is the point: to present a challenge to museums’ stacked calendars and time-tested methods. 

The two are finding growing acclaim. While the commercial art business has so far not been a place of focus, the duo have a project presently on view at the Tate, and recently created a project for Serpentine Galleries. They have exhibited at the 12th Taipei Biennial and the 58th Venice Biennale, as well as at Performa 17 and Manifesta 12. They’ve also been shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize.

Cooking Sections's project on the Isle of Skye.

Cooking Sections’s project on the Isle of Skye.

Beyond Exhibitions

Asking where the two were raised does not garner much of an answer. “We are more interested in speaking about where we are based with our projects, rather than portraying a certain kind of personal narrative,” Schwabe said. (That said, the two met at Goldsmith’s in London and bonded over their shared interest in infrastructure and its impact on nature and society.)

Pascual describes their practice as an “aggregator” of ideas and discussions, one that sits at multiple crossroads. Indeed, their themes often straddle the food industry, economy, politics, and the environment. And because their work focuses on what is most familiar and intimate to us, it is deeply relatable.

On the Isle of Skye in Scotland, for example, Cooking Sections created their first chapter of an ongoing series called “Climavore,” building a meshed metal table that community members can sit at during low tide. Then, when the tide comes up again, the structure transforms into an underwater shelf that can host several local species. Another project, Offsetted, which was on view in 2019 at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery in New York, questioned the validity of offsetting carbon emissions, which essentially turns trees into cash, making nature, yet again, into an involuntary maintainer of the capitalist economy.

And while their work might come up in an artistic context, it is really only passing through it.

“The art world is supportive to a certain point, but it is hard to say that art is an end place for Cooking Sections,” Schwabe said. “It can be a great springboard, but the project does not end there. Cooking Sections can grow or scale into many different places where life is being constructed and where change is being made.”

<i>The Salmon of Salmom</i>. Photo: Cooking Sections.

The Salmon of Salmom. Photo: Cooking Sections.

The duo have begun to ask museums for long-term commitments and, often, permanent structural changes. “You can’t be ticking boxes—that’s going to go nowhere,” Pascual said. “Systemic change has to happen within institutions, in terms of all the ways in which they operate.”

Schwabe says it can sometimes be a challenge to convince institutions to undertake their ideas and methods. Still, they’ve been largely accepted. “The cultural sector is accustomed to constantly asking what is new,” he said. “But if we are to take environmental questions seriously, we have to be committed to work for 10 years or more on the same issue. It has taken us decades and centuries to annihilate certain species and civilizations. It’s going to take a long time to undo this damage, and we have no time, so it’s a super urgent question.”

Their most recent deep dive was into salmon, a largely farmed species that has very little in common with the salmon one might have hauled out of a cold river a century ago. At Tate, Cooking Sections doused a room in pink lights to wade into the issue. The colors of the installation shift across pinks, following the SalmoFan, a trademarked palette that helps guide salmon farmers on what pellet to feed their salmon (different cultures like different depths of the shade, apparently). Farmed salmon, without being dyed by what its fed, would be grey. 

They are working with the museum to take (and keep) farmed salmon off their menus. Though it opened this spring, the exhibition, which is accompanied by an installation, should have lasting effects.

“One doesn’t need to be an omnivore, a carnivore, a vegetarian, or a vegan, but a climavore,” Schwabe said. The perspective considers consumption and human relationships with food through the reality of a rapidly changing climate.

“How would we eat according to the seasons today? How would we eat in a period of drought? How would we eat from a polluted ocean, when deserts are moving, or when floods or heat waves are happening?”

Cooking Sections's "Salmon: A Red Herring." Tate Britain.

Cooking Sections’s “Salmon: A Red Herring.” Tate Britain. Photo: Lucy Dawkins.

While their work and the information they platform is certainly unsettling—after learning more about farmed salmon, one will find it hard to find the food remotely appealing—it is important, they emphasize, not to create feelings of guilt. “Patterns of consumerism try to induce exactly those kinds of feelings as a mechanism to make us consume more,” Schwabe said. Whether it is fair-trade or organic, these kinds of titlings are largely keeping the same dynamics of supply and demand in place.

The two are grateful for the Turner Prize nomination, which shortlisted only collectives this year. As a duo, they are the smallest one. “We are a different collective than other collectives, and we have a lot to learn from the others, who have more sophisticated and interesting way of operating,” Schwabe said.

They won’t say much about what they are planning for the Turner exhibition, but it sounds like they’ll use the show to continue focusing on their core issues. “It works very well as a platform to amplify what we’re trying to do, and it’s something that, in terms of outreach, goes beyond what a conventional art exhibition could do,” Pascual said.

“How do you transform these platforms?” Schwabe asked. “How do you take them on, rather than saying they should be brought to an end? In the end, that might be the conclusion. But until that happens, there’s work to be done.”

Cooking Sections’s “Salmon: A Red Herring” is on view at the Tate until August 31.

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Arts Philanthropists Need to Change the Way They Think About Disability. Let’s Start by Collaborating With Disabled Artists


Traditional thinking tends to frame disability in the arts as a deficit of one form or another. It acknowledges a lack of disability visibility, a lack of professional and training opportunities, a lack of support, and a plenitude of longstanding, seemingly unsolvable problems. It recognizes that the challenges disabled creatives face, from employment to access to resources, have been laid bare and made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Americans for the Arts’s pandemic research, disabled creatives are anticipating lower annual income ($16,000 total annually) and higher full unemployment (67 percent) than their nondisabled peers.

But these data points are only part of the story. And if, as a culture, we allow this information to be the primary determinant of contemporary philanthropic and artistic practices, it risks further compounding inequity. 

<i>Hi, Are You Single?</i> (2017). Production still from Ryan Haddad's solo play Hi, Are You Single? Photo by Michael Bernstein. Image description: Under cool stage lighting, Ryan Haddad sits at the end of a bed beside his metallic walker. He wears square glasses, a teal polo, patterned shorts, and lower leg braces.

Hi, Are You Single? (2017). Production still from Ryan Haddad’s solo play, “Hi, Are You Single?” Photo by Michael Bernstein. Image description: Under cool stage lighting, Ryan Haddad sits at the end of a bed beside his metallic walker. He wears square glasses, a teal polo, patterned shorts, and lower leg braces.

The Real Problem

Framing disability in this way—as a series of deficits—adds to the problematic thinking that interprets access as questions of patron services, facilities, or technology. Disabled artists have been identified as absences, and, with the best will in the world, some organizations with the means to do so have sought to address this absence by welcoming select disabled artists. But inclusion or the presence of a few disabled artists does not redress years of inequity and inattention. Such gestures are performative and tokenizing.   

If we focus on disability as a problem, we will never know the artistry, ideas, and pure brilliance of a large part of the creative world. The question is not how to include disabled artists. The fundamental question is, how do we build our cultural spaces and aesthetic frames in such a way that we move towards equity and adopt a Disability Justice framework? 

We want to consider intersectional disability in the arts in all of its raw, conflicting, and provocative multiplicity, and draw attention to our history of cultural production, our artistic sensibilities, and aesthetic intuitions. The wisdom of disability and expertise of disabled artists are in part that we are not monoliths subject to single cultural narratives.

What might the future hold if we commit to disability as an artistic and generative force? What does it look like if artistic, disability, and philanthropic communities work together? 

Time is something disabled people experience expansively, and dreaming our future should not have to be a radical act. 

We’re writing this together, as an artist and a funder, to invite you to dream big with us. We’re a part of Disability Futures, a new fellowship initiative funded by the Ford Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by United States Artists. The learnings of the first year of this fellowship could offer a template for change that would transform the practice of support for disabled artists. 

Alice Sheppard. Image description: A Black woman leans forward and smiles brightly, teeth showing and eyes closed, as she rests her chin in her palm. She has light brown skin, curly shoulder-length hair with subtle highlights, and wears a black blouse and sleek gold necklace.

Artist Alice Sheppard. Image description: A Black woman leans forward and smiles brightly, teeth showing and eyes closed, as she rests her chin in her palm. She has light brown skin, curly shoulder-length hair with subtle highlights, and wears a black blouse and sleek gold necklace.

Nothing Without Disabled Creatives

There is a mantra, “nothing about us without us,” coined by disability advocates in South Africa in the 1980s. Reframed by contemporary activists as “nothing without us,” this principle attests to the fact that disabled people know what is best for ourselves and our communities. When it comes to the arts, this means reimagining everything about the way that business has been done. 

There are some easy recommendations: employers must hire disabled staff. Boards must elect disabled members. Funders must invite disabled creatives to join advisory groups and the panels that decide funding allocations, and compensate us for our time. 

But even before we arrive in these places, there must be space and willingness to transform. Adding disabled staff does not create change unless an organization and its people are willing to change. Deep structural transformation is necessary. Deep reeducation is necessary. Complex re-envisioning of the very things that seem unchangeable is necessary. Now is not the time for stopgap measures or window dressing.

Lane Harwell. Image description: A nondisabled presenting white person with short blond hair and blue eyes behind black rim glasses smiles at the camera. They are wearing a white collared shirt with a light blue bowtie and a dark blue blazer against a red background.

The Ford Foundation’s Lane Harwell. Image description: A nondisabled-presenting white person with short blond hair and blue eyes behind black rim glasses smiles at the camera. They are wearing a white collared shirt with a light blue bowtie and a dark blue blazer against a red background.

To build a new future, funders must collaborate with disabled creatives to reimagine such fundamentals as application and review processes, restricted and unrestricted funding, time, process and product, as well as other creative support structures. Nothing can be assumed. Nothing should be left unexamined. Everything is—and should be—open to reimagination.

Disability Futures is for, by, and with disabled creatives on many levels. Each of the 20 inaugural fellows received an unrestricted grant. For the Disability Futures Festival, which runs July 19–20, Ford and United States Artists employed a “nothing without us” curatorial approach, inviting the fellows to spotlight their artistry and saying yes to the production, access, and financial resources they need. The result is a disability-led dance party, performances, and conversations that could spark a new kind of dialogue between creatives, funders, and gatekeepers.

 

Understanding What Access Really Means 

Transforming support for disabled creatives may start by looking inward. We need to educate ourselves about ableism and audism, be vulnerable, and understand how our personal relationships to disability have influenced our public work. 

For Lane, the work has shifted them from identifying as nondisabled to claiming their disability identity and anxiety and depressive disorders, and mining how this identity is bound up with their white privilege, queerness, and gender expression. Showing up is an ongoing process; it can be joyous, it can be painful. Everything that we learn will affect the ways we work.   

(do not) despair solo (2018). Performance, Abrons Art Center. Image credit: Ian Douglas. Image Description: On stage, Perel leans across their cane in front of an X-Ray projection showing screws and a rod inside of a hip socket. They wear black leather pants, and a golden sleeveless top lit up by a pink light from the side.

(do not) despair solo (2018). Performance, Abrons Art Center. Image credit: Ian Douglas. Image Description: On stage, Perel leans across their cane in front of an X-Ray projection showing screws and a rod inside of a hip socket. They wear black leather pants, and a golden sleeveless top lit up by a pink light from the side.

Disability intersects with every contemporary issue, from abolition and education to healthcare, policing, transportation, and climate justice. Through Disability Futures, Ford has had to learn to think of access as a language, not a solution, and work through how it impacts the institution as a whole. 

Access is fundamental to our human connection with one another. If funders cannot invest in that, there is no point.

Investment and innovation in this space, including disability-led technology, is one way to connect disabled creatives and audiences. But we cannot rely on technology as a fix; access is more than a matter of compliance, checklists, or technologies tacked on to make creative work accessible to patrons. Instead, we must put aside our assumptions about what works and prepare for a time of artist-led discovery. 

Disability Futures was conceived prior to COVID-19, but the meaning, the configuration, and experience of the fellowship took place during the pandemic. The virtual festival of conversations and gatherings invites audiences to meet a powerful group of Deaf and disabled artists in a format well-known to the disability community even before the pandemic. And so it’s with the intersection of the festival, funders, the pandemic, and disabled artists that we begin.

 

Lane Harwell is a program officer at Ford Foundation. Alice Sheppard is a choreographer and an inaugural Disability Futures Fellow.

The Disability Futures Festival will take place online from July 19 to 20.

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