Ideas take a long time to form, and even longer to find financial support, if that is what they require. I want to share an unsuccessful grant with you, to demonstrate the patience and persistence that I believe are required to bring a big project to life. For example, I wrote this Creative Capital grant for what would become The Study Center in 2013, but I did not get it.
If democracy is an endless meeting, why not make meetings beautiful? A Beautiful Meeting honors process over product, connecting groups who want better meetings to a collective of artist-facilitators who use sculptural tools and installation environments to create beautiful meetings.
A Beautiful Meeting honors group work by creating a living collection of sculptural tools and a system for booking artist-facilitators in installation environments. Members of the public will browse sculptures made for dialog and request artist-facilitators for unconventional meetings in installation environments. The collective will be comprised of artists from The Exchange Archive (from the Exchange Café at MoMA) as well as artists who emerge from a call for participants that will be made with the launch of this project. This project will shift the context for socially engaged art, cultivating primary publics for these works. Looking back to Lygia Clark and Paul Ryan, a growing group of artists are interested in sculptures made by and for small groups.
HISTORY: Last year at MoMA, working on Artists Experiment, I found many 20th century precedents for one-on-one relational practices. I found artworks, neither singular nor static, that revolve around voluntary, reciprocal commitments and sculptural tools. Rather than sitting alone on a pedestal, these artworks use tools to facilitate dialog. Meaning is made in action as two people gather, build, and distribute ideas. These artworks refuse to separate production from objecthood; political economy from the presentation of ideas. I want to honor this history, and make it contemporary by creating a nomadic collective, a distributed network of artist-facilitators who make and use sculptural objects and are dedicated to group process. A Beautiful Meeting is the Dematerialization of the Art Object in the 21st century— the facilitation context of the art object made manifest.
APPROACH: A Beautiful Meeting accepts the fusion of websites with interactions, social practices with social networks. Noticing that the cultural landscape of the 21st century is not a lake or a mountain, but a google search bar, A Beautiful Meeting demands that more publics be created for social engagement of shared decision-making. What if works circulated not for their uniqueness or autonomy, but for their beauty within a commitment to community struggle, for their ability to be replicated and altered? This work carries on the traditions of fluxus, dada, situationists, and conceptual art: replicable objects made in and for groups.
IMPACT: When collaboration is understood as “working jointly to create something new,” it often translates to “my whim is your labor.” This project is an attempt to wrestle the term “collaboration” from ambiguous descriptions of contemporary cultural experience, making collaboration not simply shared labor, but shared decision-making power. While participation, which I define as informed engagement in a predetermined structure, is valuable and necessary in many contexts, understanding the drive for collaboration as an enthusiasm for shared decision-making power, not just joint work, has wide-ranging implications for direct democracy in art projects, businesses, and classrooms.
I write over twenty grants for every grant I get. It was not until 2015, when Stamatina Gregory approached me, that this project was able to come to life. After that, I applied for a $25,000 grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), and I got it. I had to convince NYFA that The Study Center was going to become a business. To write this, I clarified aspects of the previous Creative Capital application that had been unclear, looked at the text I had written for the exhibition at Cooper Union, and used the start-up and computer engineering jargon that I learned through OurGoods.org and TradeSchool.coop.
Additional thanks to: Peter Cobb at NYFA (Producer), Rudy Kanhye at the Glasgow School of Art (Producer), Or Zubal-sky (UX Designer, Developer), Leonard Nalencz (Researcher), Anna Riley (Researcher), Herman Jean-Noel and Neglakay Productions (Video), Danielle Jackson (Event Facilitator and Researcher), Anna Vila (Event Facilitator), Emilio Martinez Poppe (Event Facilitator), Anna Papadimitriou (Event Facilitator).
NYFA: What need does your enterprise fill for the public, or what problem do you solve?
If democracy is an endless meeting, how can we learn to gather together more beautifully? I believe that the future of arts education lies in the ability for artists to teach collaboration to interdisciplinary teams across sectors.
NYFA: What will your company make, or what service will you provide?
Caroline Woolard is the Director/CEO of a new study center for group work in New York City. The center offers meeting-facilitation and collaboration trainings to corporate clients and community based organizations using sculptural tools in unconventional environments. For example, Project 404 teaches CEOs how to focus on a single image on their smart phone in a gallery in Chelsea; Extrapolation Factory provides futurist scenarios for activists in the basement of a museum.
NYFA: Describe the market (or potential market) for your enterprise's product or service.
According to informational interviews with Charlie O'Donnel of Brooklyn Ventures and Scott Benaglio of SOVRN State, corporate clients spend $5000 on similar half-day retreats and team-building events. Non-profits are able to spend $1000 for a similar experience, and wealthy individuals are willing to spend $100 each for workshops of this nature. I will provide scholarships and low-cost workshops to grassroots organizations and people who demonstrate need with philanthropic support and a sliding-scale pricing model.
NYFA: What kinds of sales has your company had thus far? If none, what other metrics might indicate traction or future success?
The Study Center received a grant of $30,000 from the Rubin Foundation as well as a matching grant of $20,000 from Cooper Union to open a pilot program from October 13–November 18th at the Cooper Union. In under a month, the Study Center held twelve workshops with over 150 participants, an opening party with 300 people in attendance, and reviews in the New York Times, Artforum, Vice, and Art in America. After launching a successful pilot at Cooper Union this year, Caroline Woolard is seeking support to move this Study Center from its current phase toward a sustainable business for artists, designers, and facilitators.
NYFA: Who are your competitors? Who else is doing what you do?
No one is providing training in group work led by artists. The Center for Art and Activism and the Center for Story-based Strategy both provide trainings for artists who are interested in using creativity in activism, but no arts-based consultancies specialize in artist-led group work. SOVRN State offers unique arts-based experiences and artwork license agreements to corporate clients, but does not do experiences related to group work led by artists. While many artists attempt to work with clients on an individual basis, artists have yet to band together to create a visible platform for their services surrounding group work. The Study Center does exactly this.
NYFA: How is this enterprise involved in the arts?
During our pilot program, The Study Center revealed a shift in the arts toward group work.
“Wound” also shows how the art world’s breakneck schedule of exhibitions, fairs and biennials undercuts the ability of socially engaged artists to develop long-term strategies and practices.
—The New York Times
“And yet “Mending Time and Attention,” an exhibition and a series of workshops organized by WOUND, seeks to heal the pain inflicted by late capitalism’s compartmentalization and commodification of time.”
“When artists create opportunities for support and mutual aid rather than unquestioningly competing with one another for meager resources, they open a small space of resistance to the divisiveness that comes from an economically precarious existence.”
—Art in America
NYFA: Please describe the roles of each team member.
Caroline Woolard is the founding Director, currently operating as a technical project manager, communications director, and HR support for The Study Center. Or Zubalsky is the lead computer engineer, responsible for development of the website. Staff assistants in The Study Center include Emilio Martínez Poppe, Jordan Delzell, Anna Vila, Anna Zinovieff Papadimitriou, and Samantha Rosner. Mentors include Robin Chase of ZipCar, Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Ventures, and Tom Finkelpearl of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.
NYFA: Has anyone on the team started a company before? If so, what?
Caroline Woolard ran an 8,000 square foot studio space for 40 artists for eight years: from 2008–2016. The space led to Woolard convening the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative. More information is here: http://www.art21.org/newyorkcloseup/films/caroline-woolard-flips-the-real-estate-script/
NYFA: What other significant accomplishments have team members had that we should know about?
Woolard’s practice produces objects and develops new contexts in which those objects may circulate. For Woolard, the enjoining of object and context is the sine qua non of artistic practice. Since 2007, she has created Exchange Café (MoMA, 2014), the barter networks OurGoods. org and TradeSchool.coop (2008–present), as well as cultural equity platform BFAMFAPhD (2013–present) and the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (2015–present).
The budget for the project is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1L9iqjkEPirBhuznWeOXufa3GVthii_05smXpzkMrWs/edit?usp=sharing
NOTES: 2016 reflects the annual budget based upon what it would be, had we run our pilot for longer than one month.
New Foundation TBA refers to multiple Foundations I am in dialog with, many of whom I have cultivated relationships with over years.
Nonprofit Commissions / Speaking refers to public speaking and commissions.
Workshop space was donated by Cooper Union during the pilot in October and November of 2016. In 2017, space will be donated by NYPL and RISD.
“Partner Shares for Outreach” is the grant funding the study center shares with outreach partner organizations. I find that these partnerships are more successful when the partner has a financial stake in the project.