By Jacque Liu
The following preface introduces five essays that were originally published as part of the Citywide exhibition catalog. Citywide was an artist-organized festival that celebrated the visual artist collectives in Philadelphia.
For anyone who has worked with artists, you know that we can be a difficult lot – unresponsive, righteous, and self-absorbed, to say the least. Here in Philadelphia, we do something that is frowned upon in many other places: we show and promote our own work—and the work of our friends—in spaces that we rent, in the name of the artist collective.
This work is especially difficult because artists create and maintain these communities in addition to having families, day jobs, and individual studio practices. It requires high levels of administration and organization, something antithetical to being unresponsive, righteous, and self-absorbed. In terms of money, all artists go in knowing that they may never make a sale, and many spaces intentionally show unsellable work. Even rarer than the sale is the space that is eligible for grant funding.
For this work, artists get to have a voice within their field of endeavor. Sadly, the number of quality artists far outnumbers the available forums, so most artists are unable to achieve meaningful impact through their studio practices. It is an act of generosity by the artists to curate and to channel artistic energies into exhibitions and creative programming in addition to all of their other responsibilities.
The communities around these artist collectives have responded in numerous ways that recognize these artist collectives’ expertise and excellence. Exhibitions or programs regularly appear in national outlets like the New York Times, Art Forum, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Art F City, and so on. And an increasing number of curators, it seems, are looking directly to the artist collectives in place of individual studio visits (a problem, true, but still a recognition of the work of artist collectives).
Despite this recognition, it is not enough to sustain a living financially. Nearly everyone I know pays out of his or her own pocket. While a choice, this seems wholly unfair given the cultural impact that they have.
So why do we do this work?
In November 2013, the visual artist collectives in Philadelphia organized a festival called Citywide to celebrate, well, ourselves. We did this unapologetically, as it seemed a logical extension of the work that we were already doing. And like most of the artist collective work that occurs in Philadelphia, it had an impact on our cultural ecology. Led by then-Vox Populi member Christopher McManus, Citywide utilized the expertise of artists from all of the collectives to document an ongoing movement.
As part of the exhibition, a catalogue was produced. Across the artist collectives, a group of artists recognized that this moment of celebration could also be used as a moment for critical self-reflection as to why we do this work; to investigate what we find of value in it and how we go about doing it. We called our group the Publication Study Group.
Consisting of eight members, our work began with a questionnaire so that we could better understand the nuts and bolts of each of the artist collectives. As we reviewed them, five topics repeatedly arose that we wanted to investigate: 1. Longevity; 2. Fostering Communities; 3. Contextual Practice and Social Engagement; 4. Art and Commerce; 5. Art Writing.
The Publication Study Group then convened focused conversations involving artists who are, or have been, impactful in these key areas. We thought of these conversations more akin to friends gathering for a meal or drinks than an official panel. Each of the discussions was led by varying combinations of the study group.
These subsequent five essays were published as part of the Citywide catalogue. They will appear over the next five weeks, one each week, on Title Magazine.
Members of the Publication Study Group were: Timothy Belknap, Christina P. Day, Mary Ebeling, Colin Keefe, Dave Kyu, Jacque Liu, Ryan McCartney, and Annette Monnier
JACQUE LIU is a former member of Grizzly Grizzly (2010–14), Vox Populi (2008-2010) in Philadelphia, PA; and the co-founder of artist-run Takt Kunstprojektram in Berlin, Germany. Currently, he serves as the Percent for Art Project Manager at the City of Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Collaboration, creative programming, and arts administration play an important role in his artistic practice. In addition to exhibition curation, Liu has led creative programming, such as Philadelphia’s inaugural Community Supported Art program, a collaboration between Grizzly Grizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid. He received his BFA with an English minor from Alfred University and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He was awarded Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Universität der Künste Berlin.