[-empyre-] week 4: social practice and institutions

Corrina Mehiel corrinamehiel at gmail.com
Thu May 26 23:42:14 AEST 2016

Good morning from the mountains of Western North Carolina.  This is
such an interesting opportunity to virtually meet all of you in this
community.  I am honored to be part of this thread.

I write to you from the studio of Mel Chin in rural North Carolina.
I'm working with Mel full time this year, after partnering with his
Fundred Dollar bill project remotely since 2014.  Last year I
integrated the project into a social practice course I taught in
Cincinnati.  I've never worked as an assistant for an artist in this
way before, always in the past when working in community arts
education there was little to no emphasis on authorship, and was more
like a film production, where everyone had different roles to play to
create a large scale - or small scale - project, class or workshop.
The projects I'm working on with Mel are focused on environmental
issues, policies and social practices, and while they are a product of
his vision, have many contributors and partners.

I've been teaching / making / coordinating for years, and sometimes
the work seems to overlap, and sometimes it seems more like threads
that momentarily intersect, then diverge.

As an artist and educator I focus on engagement and the aesthetics of
shared / community spaces.   Lately I've been specifically thinking
about the artistic traditions and visual culture in public spaces
being continually shaped and changed by the people who inhabit them,
questioning how that impulse can happen in our consumer-based and
capitalistic western society.  Nothing ground breaking, but it is
interesting to me how themes resurface when I move and as I age. The
project I've been working on for the past two months is an
intervention in the city of Cincinnati, as the city parking authority
has been lagging behind in the transfer from coin parking meters to
card-readers, there are a few hundred half cut-off parking meters in a
rapidly changing / quickly gentrified neighborhood.  The cut meters
add to the overwhelming visual transition and blight, generally filled
with trash of all sorts.  In the meantime, the stickers have been
retrofitted with stickers that instruct you to "pay-by-phone" which
means you have to stand next to this broken meter full of wet garbage
and punch numbers and pay for the privilege of parking in a city that
is enforcing parking fees without investing in the community.   I cast
the interior of the meters, and created custom concrete planters that
fit in the broken meters throughout the neighborhood, planting a tiny
flower pot in each meter. While is was more a guerrilla style
intervention than a community coordinated effort, the performative and
engagement aspects of the action have lead me to make new conclusions
and offered new questions as collaborators have presented themselves.

I met Kyle McKinney in February at the College Art Association annual
conference.  We presented in a panel that was focused on social
practice in the institution.  We are both adjuncts, as many academics
are these days.  As an adjunct instructor, teaching at various
schools, the issues around tangible social impacts makes any course
ethically risky.  On the flip side, asking students to do research in
a strictly hypothetical way, I have found, leads to disinterested
students who may not grasp the importance of more deliberate,
human-centered, empathetic projects, which is problematic in its own

In a direct email from Michaela, she brought up the idea of the "real"
and I thought I'd leave with a statement of hers to hopefully ignite a
discussion:  "I'm particularly interested in tangible social impacts
resulting from artistic practice and how and when it is important to
measure impact related to arts practice - who measures it and whether
or not artistic practices are always public."

I am also interested in the real, I suppose that is part of my
interest in working with Mel Chin, his work often goes beyond
representation and seeks long term real change in policy and action.
And as I mentioned earlier, as an adjunct instructor-teaching at
various schools, the issues around tangible social impacts makes any
course ethically risky.

Looking forward to thoughts & responses...

On Wed, May 25, 2016 at 9:03 PM, Michaela Leslie-Rule
<michaela.leslie.rule at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi,
> Thanks so much for the opportunity to participate in this discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.
> My professional practice is concerned with using art and participatory media practices to build opportunities that amplify marginalized voices in communities. I often collaborate with philanthropic institutions in this work, either by collecting or synthesizing information gleaned from within communities, or by connecting community members to institutions so that they may better inform programming and policy.
> My work has primarily been focused outside of the United States (largely in Sub Saharan Africa), but recently I've begun working with communities of children living near Salinas, CA and with a community of elders in the Mississippi Delta. I define my professional work as storytelling that lies at the intersection of research, advocacy and communication. Importantly I don't distinguish between the art I produce as a media maker and the art I produce with communities that use media as one discipline among many others.
> Right now I'm working on two long term projects that deal with the idea of spiritual technologies in Black American communities in the South and South East United States. One deals with exploring metered hymn singing, its role within the black church (baptist and methodist) as a transformative ritual, and the potential application of this 'spiritual technology' to secular communities working within a social justice or social impact space. The other deals with agricultural knowledge held by elderly black farmers in the Mississippi Delta and ways in which this knowledge can be transmitted to young parents and their children through storytelling.
> Other past projects have included:
> - Global campaign around women and girls, science and technology
> - Media project with girls in Rwanda and Malawi
> - First generation Latina girls discussing sexual and reproductive health in Salinas
> - Arts intensive conducted annually in South Bronx (NY) with girls raised in the projects there
> As I continue working around and within philanthropic institutions I find myself struggling with questions relating to the ethics of accepting institutional support and a oft heard 'new' equity agenda that includes increased focus/funding of voice and diversity, when in most cases institutional wealth is sustained in some manner by social inequality.
> I'm also interested in how the impacts of social practice projects are measured, when is it important to measure impact or change as a result of social practice art projects and who should do the measuring.
> I'll leave it at that for now.
> On Tue, May 24, 2016 at 8:11 AM kyle mckinley <bicirider at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> hello everyone,
>> Welcome to the fourth and final week of our May discussion of social practice. This week’s guests on EMPYRE have been selected to help us think about the particularly challenging intersections that emerge between artists, communities, and institutions as Social Practice is increasingly crystalized as a genre and as a funding model. Those guests are Michaela Leslie-Rule and Corrina Mehiel.
>> I've generally thought that this might serve as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that (funding) institutions and socially practiced artworks present to one another, and, I suppose, the opportunities...?... Basically I'm thinking about how Dont Rhine’s comments in week 1 present a critique of the ways in which institutions expropriate value from the participants of socially practiced art ("participation in its value form"). To the extent that such institutions are themselves implicated in processes of displacement and gentrification, and to the extent to which such institutions are de facto put to service as an extension of the State, such critiques should serious pause all of us who imagine art as a force for social transformation. As artists and curators, what do we do with that going forward? Where you encounter meaningful strategies for working against these tendencies? Are there other pressing issues that come up in the interchanges between artists of social practice and institutions of various sorts?
>> Corrina Mehiel (US) is an artist / art professor, with a background in community arts education.  An adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Mehiel teaches social practice and studio inquiry in the BFA and MAAE programs.  She holds a BA from The Pennsylvania State University and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati.   With roots in Seattle, Washington and Central Pennsylvania, Mehiel identifies as an American more than from a particular city or state.  She spent the greater part of the last decade abroad, living in India, Australia and Dubai.  Currently a studio assistant for the social practice pioneer Mel Chin, Mehiel is a collaborator for his Fundred Dollar Bill Project which aims to educate children and families to make a lead safe environment for all.  In addition to teaching, maintaining a studio practice and collaborating on socially engaged projects, Mehiel is a graduate student in the Public Policy program at Portland State University, with research on policy shaping through artistic and civic engagement.
>> Michaela Leslie-Rule (US), MPA, MPH is an artist and social scientist. As the owner of Fact Memory Testimony <http://factmemorytestimony.com>, she has been fortunate to collaborate with ITVS’ Women & Girls Lead Global, Memphis is Music Initiative, Community Foundation for Monterey County, Nike and Firelight Foundations’ Grassroots Girls Initiative. Embedded in Leslie-Rule’s approach to advocacy, communication and strategy, is a commitment to elevating community voices through the use of storytelling. She is particularly interested in participatory methods for measuring and documenting social and organizational change, and has designed and implemented participatory evaluation, strategic planning and documentation projects on four continents. Leslie-Rule also uses a storytelling approach to design and produce multimedia advocacy campaigns. As the producer of Global Fund for Women’s IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology global campaign and online storytelling project, she curated and oversaw the creation of five online galleries, designed and implemented a five-city international girls’ hackathon and oversaw a coordinated advocacy effort between the Fund and UN Women demanding equal access to and control of technology for women and girls worldwide.
>> Leslie-Rule holds Masters of Public Health and Public Administration from the University of Washington with a focus on advocacy and multimedia storytelling in global health. She also earned a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. You can learn more about Leslie-Rule’s approach and see samples of her work at http://www.factmemorytestimony.com/
>> --
>> http://www.kylemckinley.com/
>> http://buildingcollective.org/
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