The "Odd Bunch"
I’d like to open with context for this title. Someone recently approached myself and a few other VACI residents deeming us an “odd bunch,” I can only assume because of our diversity since we were just a few among many people on a dock sharing time swimming, reading, and working. So today I claim it as a term for embracing and celebrating differentness and its importance in countering the norm.
Arkansas to New York
Chautauqua. How did I end up here? Just a few years ago I was the kind of person that when you said New York I thought of Manhattan. I won’t lie though, I was giddy crossing the state line knowing I am closer now than I have ever been.
You know what?
Here I discover the ease of existing and the privilege I am born with, which both sets me free and slaps me across the face. The Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution (VACI) is a place of diversity amid an institution that is white, cis male and Christian dominated. Within the School of Art, there is room for diversity in teaching, perspectives, and past experience. Our residents and faculty are like many other groups making efforts to create a more inclusive institution. Thus a strange mix is born. One of progressive thought, an elastic definition of contemporary art, and an expanding and inclusive understanding of people. This is contrasted by the conservative and long-standing ideologies and beliefs that founded the institution in 1874.
How does this apply to home, wherever that may be? Chautauqua is a miniature United States. The history of the land is deeply rooted in westward expansion ways of thought. The website for Chautauqua, NY history doesn’t include the natives removed from the land, instead focusing on the first settlers as the beginning of the state’s narrative. From its start, Chautauqua Institution has erased the Other. Now there is a slow growing space being made for minorities to have a voice. With its recent changes in leadership, one being Michael Hill, the first openly gay president, and VACI’s very own Sharon Louden, who is curating an environment that fosters growth, the need for inclusion is taking action within these gates. As the first residency to practice and implement a new form of pedagogy, VACI renames itself as a place of growth and change in accommodation to the range of persons that occupy its studios.
Here I have learned the beauty of being in-between. Something I had avoided acknowledging now sits well with me, or rather, I sit well with it. What happens when you don’t pause in the middle of a thought? How do you complete it without chewing on its value, or recognize the power of completing it as a statement? I sit with my work, an in-between without end or definition. I use materials as words and words as tools to find answers. Are there answers to the questions I am asking about tradition, its expansion to include myself, and its recognition of harm? Do I get caught up in the negative aspects within my southern influences more so than recognizing its healing and nurturing properties? These are the questions that rattle in my head like my laundry in the dryer right now.
You know what?
Everywhere should be like VACI. Maybe its my rose glasses but the space within the Art School is a place to breath. Breath deep the silence, the flood of words, the people, and exhale a sigh of thought. What are your pronouns? How do you identify? Do you feel yourself where you are? Are people actively working to better understand things the way you see them? This space makes room for answers to those questions. Here the people smile so bright you must be careful not to burn yourself even when out of the sun. Here you can stew in respect .
I have nothing more for now. Please work with me in actively enjoying the freedom to zone out from time to time. Practice with me the act of patience and waiting, in searching and learning, whatever that means to you!
The amazing 2019 VACI faculty can be found here.
The amazing 2019 VACI residents can be found here.