we interrupt this regularly scheduled program

you may have noticed that i haven’t posted anything for the past two days.  it’s not that i’ve been sick, or anything, nor have there been any crises to take me away from my work.  it’s just that this project has taken so long that i’ve started running up against other deadlines, ones i’ve been putting off until i get thru with my dolphins.

the deadline’s past now, but i spent the past two days working on my proposal.  it’s for an international residency opportunity doing public art with a local community.  the program is called smARTpower, and is made possible by the u.s. state department‘s bureau of education and cultural affairs, and administered by the bronx museum.  it’s a cultural ambassador program, like when they send ballet companies to different countries.  only this is fifteen individual artists being sent off by themselves to countries where there are cultural bridges to be built.  places where the american culture is very different from the local culture, and misunderstandings are easy.  places where traditional american diplomacy is challenging, places where a new flavor of diplomacy is being tried, to break thru misperceptions and political posturing.  places like pakistan, venezuela, the phillipines.

i want to go to india. i was never interested in going to india as a young woman, but now that i’m mature, the society, history, land, people fascinate me.  i’ve even started wearing saris, altho not the way indian women wear saris.   i’ve been reading books set in india, and watching bollywood movies, and listening to a lot of indian music on internet radio.  i just find it really attractive at my stage in life, i don’t know why – perhaps a past life returning to haunt me.  so when one of the places offered was india, and another one was nepal, and pakistan, and sri lanka, i felt compelled to apply.

and i had an inspiration, the best public art idea i could come up with, all about the fabrics and the women and the traditions and how everything’s changing all over the world.  and i wanted to put electronics into it, so i ended up with a massive project involving a community’s women and children, artists and artisans, and blogging and youtube and facebook.

going by the numbers, i don’t have a chance in hell of getting into the program, judging by the way the website was clogged right before the deadline.  it kept kicking me out, and i finally sort of submitted my proposal four minutes after the deadline.  arrrgh.  but everyone else who waited until the last minute also had trouble, so they extended the deadline one more day.  and given that second chance, i took all day to revise my entire proposal until i was satisfied with it, and then submitted it.

news of the program was broadcast far and wide starting in january.  it seemed that every art organization in the country got a notice, and they sent it on to all the artists on their mailing list.  i imagined millions of people applying.  on the other hand, there aren’t that many other posts about people applying, and the artists i know were too busy to think about doing something like this.  but the challenge was to do interesting art, and i was intrigued.

in the past, interesting art has caused controversy, and for a time after the scandals of the’30s and ’40s and ’50s and ’60s and ’70s and ’80s and ’90s and ’00s, the opportunities to make controversial art dried up.  but now it seems the winds of change have swept over the world, and now they want to unleash a bunch of artists to wreak havoc on the world.  which i’m kind of good at.  in a small way.

there’s a new diplomatic program in town, one that wants to deal with the people rather than the dictators, working bottom-up rather than top-down to achieve diplomatic objectives.  dialog rather than demands.  and this program fits right in there.  why rely on mcdonalds to reach the hearts and minds of people around the world when you can get people who think outside of the box to build personal relationships on the ground?  the new model uses facebook, the new way flattens hierarchies and empowers the individual, and avoids concentrations of power, avoids corporate pitches and slick advertising.  which is what i’d like to do with saris and cellphones.

one odd thing about the process.  the projects have a budget of up to $20k.  usually when you apply for a project with a budget like that, you have to write a 30-page proposal.  but this application insisted on 500 words max, in which to detail not only the project and its near-term and long-term benefits and effects, but also why i’m qualified to lead a project of this scope.

500 words is an introduction, a single page.  my first attempt, notes and references and all, was 60 pages.  mostly references i needed to read, but ten pages at least of original writing, attempts to answer the application’s four questions.  i figure they’re going to sort thru the proposals and select a number of finalists, and then ask them for real proposals.  it’ll be interesting to follow this and see who is selected and which projects get funded.

it could be, of course, that with revolution in the air, the state department is tempted to rethink its bold ideas for cultural fellowships.  but maybe not, because if there was ever a time for bold art projects, it’s now while whole countries are getting into the act.  i hope they pick really outrageous projects, things that will take advantage of the turmoil to create wonderful out-of-the-blue solutions that last year sounded crazy, but this year sound absolutely sane.  because this is the future, and we should embrace it, because the alternative isn’t good – the devil you know sucks.

if you’d like to read the proposal, it’s here. wish me luck.

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2 thoughts on “we interrupt this regularly scheduled program

  1. I love the repurposed cellphone idea! I was thinking it could be cool to do community video, but wasn’t sure how feasible it would be. But that is awesome! Love your proposal in general also, I hope you are selected. I think you’d bring a great energy to the project.

    • really, you’re one of the only ones i’ve found who’ve written about this program.

      repurposed cellphones are a really cool idea. i’ve been reading up on lifehacker, and about the arduino, and el-wire fabrics. there are so many cool things. and portable solar chargers! the future is going to be very interesting for artists.

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