July 2016 / The Let Down Reflex: Part III

In our July column we are pleased to continue with the curatorial team behind 'The Let Down Reflex' Amber Berson from Montreal and Juliana Driever from New York.  
Over the three month period of May, June and July, Berson and Driever have been bringing us a monthly column on parenting in the arts, with contributions by artists: Dillon de GiveHome Affairs (Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson, and Nanette Yannuzzi), Leisure (Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley), Lise Haller BaggesenLoVid, and Shane Aslan Selzer, with an additional text from EFA Project space administrators Michelle Levy and Meghana Karnik.
In this last column of the series we feature LoVid (Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus) and Michelle Levy and Meghana Karnik from EFA Project Space.
Each of the contributions over this three month period have been taking shape in a series of interviews on revisionist approaches to accommodations and policies on the participation of families and parents in the arts and culture.

Home Affairs, And Everything Else, 2016, (installation view) Image courtesy of the EFA Project Space

Home Affairs, And Everything Else, 2016, (installation view) Image courtesy of the EFA Project Space

Amber Berson is a writer, curator, and PhD student who conducting doctoral research at Queen’s University on the subject of artist-run culture and feminist, utopian thinking. She most recently curated The Let Down Reflex (2016); TrailMix (2014); *~._.:*JENNIFER X JENNIFER*:.~ (2013); The Annual Art Administrator’s Relay Race (2013); and The Wild Bush Residency (2012–14). She is a member of the Montréal-based Critical Administrative Practices Reading Group; sits on the editorial committee of .dpi, a feminist journal of digital art and culture; and is the Canadian ambassador for the Art+Feminism Wikipedia project. Her writing has been published in Breach Magazine, Canadian Art, C Magazine, Esse, Fuse Magazine and the St Andrews Journal of Art History and Museum Studies. She is a mother to a toddler named Paloma.

Juliana Driever is a curator and writer. Her work strives to create equity for art and ideas that exist beyond a perceived mainstream. She is primarily concerned with public space, site-specificity, and participation, and has worked on a variety of related exhibition, programming, editorial, and writing projects. Recent curatorial work includes The Let Down Reflex (2016, with Amber Berson, EFA Project Space, New York, NY), Socially Acceptable (2015, Residency Unlimited/InCube Arts), Art in Odd Places 2014: FREE (with Dylan Gauthier, New York, NY), and About, With & For (2013, Boston Center for the Arts). Her writing has appeared in numerous exhibition catalogs, and has been featured online with A Blade of Grass Foundation and Bad at Sports, and in the print volume Service Media: Is it ‘Public Art’ or Art in Public Space? She is a mother to a seven year-old named Jackson.

To read the editorial written by Berson and Driever please see here.



The Let Down Reflex - PART III
By Amber Berson and Juliana Driever


(Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus)

LoVid, still from   Kids at a Noise Show  , 2016. Image courtesy of the artists.

LoVid, still from Kids at a Noise Show, 2016. Image courtesy of the artists.

Tell us about your experience creating a new work for this show, considering the topic was not necessarily within your regular practice.
When we were first invited to participate in the show, we had a hard time reflecting on the challenges of being artist-parents. This was because we primarily feel very grateful for all the art-world professionals (administrators, curators, installers, artists) who have been incredibly accommodating of us and our family in numerous situations. We felt that this is something we would like to explore more and that could contribute to the exhibition. 
We have a very specific perspective because when our older daughters were younger we toured extensively for many years as a family across the US and Europe. We performed in a wide range of venues from punk squats to major cultural institutions. And we had our kids with us all along the way.
In the video, 'Kids at Noise Show', we wanted to not only capture our very personal relationships with these places and individuals, but also the notion that the art-world is a complex cosmos not only defined by elite galleries and major capitals. 'Kids at a Noise Show' is a montage of family photos, old handmade flyers and posters, and a stellar collection of interviews from curators, art administrators, and artists that we have worked with in the past. Some are parents and some are not; we tried to capture their individual perspectives on this issue rather than impose our own. We've also tried to include some crude and frankly embarrassing moments, because life is not always photogenic.

Tell us about an extremely positive art world experience since becoming a parent. What types of things have helped you?
We've often said that it has been easier for us to be parents in the art-world than artists in the parenting world. This is largely because we never lived in neighborhoods where a lot of other artists live. Through our kids' friends, we mainly meet parents who not only have little knowledge of contemporary art but have even less of a clue about the work, life, and priorities of an artist. Because of this, whenever we have met art-world parents, we have always been very excited for ourselves and for our kids to meet someone else with shared experiences.
One memorable example of this was when we performed at Media Archeology in Houston, a festival organized by Aurora Picture Show. We met our good friends Andrea Grover (founder of Aurora) and Carlos Lama who have two girls about the same age as ours. They were all about 4 and 2 at the time. We had a great time and it felt like a big relief to be with people who had a similar lifestyle. In addition to the Grover-Lama family there were other families involved in the festival and running the venues we played at, local artists and cultural organizers, all with children approximately the same ages as our own. The kids had a great time, playing outside and enjoying each other's company. Kids who are used to being around art are often the most respectful ones, they knew when to give the adults space to get stuff done and enjoyed being outside and running up and down the stairs. We also remember a communal feeling among the parents, which is the best always, when people can take turns watching over the group. At the time we didn't have many friends in NYC who had kids and were in the art world, at least not in our age group. So this experience was hugely positive and made us feel that we were not isolated as artists having a family.

LoVid, still from   Kids at Noise Show  , 2016. Image courtesy of the artists.

LoVid, still from Kids at Noise Show, 2016. Image courtesy of the artists.

How do you think cultural organizations can shift their policies and practices to be more hospitable to families?
This is a very complicated issue that in our opinion expands from the art-world and into a larger discussion on the workplace and family life in the US. Each artist might have a different perspective whether they see their career as a job like any other job (teacher, dentist..) or as a lifestyle, socio-economic group. If art is a job like any other, then artists should not expect to have any other conditions than those of anyone else.  
In general we think that as a society we should strive to balance the gap between the workplace and personal lives for parents and non-parents. This includes vacation times, flexibility in work schedule, etc, and valuing self-care and enrichment. It would be great if working parents had more choices for childcare near their workplace and that includes artists.
More residencies and institutions could provide childcare as an option or give honoraria towards covering childcare, or at least allow/encourage bringing children.  


(EFA Project Space)

Michelle Levy (left), Director of the EFA Project Space and Meghana Karnik (right), Program Manager of the EFA Project Space.

Michelle Levy (left), Director of the EFA Project Space and Meghana Karnik (right), Program Manager of the EFA Project Space.

As organizers of an art space that strives to be a supportive, open platform, hosting The Let Down Reflex, an exhibition that illuminates the concerns of the contemporary artist/parent, was a huge learning experience for us. We discovered our own blind spots while helping the curators create a presence for something that remains largely invisible. Thanks to our collaborators’ insistence, we saw that holding an opening reception in the the daytime that encourages families to attend could be likened to the first day of Spring when everyone comes out. The fact that a contemporary art gallery filled with parents, children, and art colleagues and peers all together felt like a radical act, was a message to us. Our vision has been limited by the accepted norms of the art world -even progressive non-profit spaces like ours. It’s a quiet phenomenon: that in becoming parents, artists (especially mothers) have to fight not to be  taken out of circulation. Art openings and public programs, essential opportunities to participate and network, happen at night, competing with children’s bedtime. Childcare is not offered. Professional artist parents must stay home with their children or find a solution to showing up without them, resulting in a significant void either way.  In light of our curators’ call to action, we found ourselves asking: how do we remain sensitive and supportive of important voices that have been marginalized? What can we do as program administrators functioning with a limited budget within a larger organisation? We could say, as a modest program, we hadn’t looked into childcare options before because we have limited resources. Or, because our organisation as a whole does not have the proper liability insurance and while it is a nice idea, there are many other more urgent matters that need attention. When asked to rise to the challenge, we learned that there are attainable gestures, even with limited resources that can make participation more accessible to artist-parents. For example, setting aside $50 to have a childcare worker in the gallery during performances or panels and offering select events during daytime hours and a space for strollers, rest, breastfeeding, etc. The truth is, that we never looked into family-friendly options because nobody ever asked us to -until this show. Parents should not have to ask, but sometimes institutions need a reminder, and we are proud to offer a humble example that change, incremental as it may be, is possible.




Amber Berson and Juliana Driever

We are incredibly grateful to the m/other voices foundation and Deirdre Donoghue for hosting this series of interviews over the past three months. We would also like to thank all of the artists who participated in The Let Down Reflex at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and particularly all of the artists who signed on to extend the conversation with us through these interviews. A big thanks to Michelle Levy and Meghana Karnik, EFA Project Space staff, who were major supporters of this project. There were so many people who were generous with connecting us to resources and information. In particular, we would like to thank Christa Donner, Andrew Simonet, Cevan Castle, Tim Devin, and Leah Sandals, who have been creating and sharing deep wells of knowledge and information for artist-parents.








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