Creative Capital and IdeaFestival: How We Fell in Love with Louisville

On Friday, September 21, our Executive Director Ruby Lerner presents “Creative Capital: Art on the Edge” with grantees Liz Cohen, Hasan Elahi, Tahir Hemphill and Sam Van Aken at IdeaFestival in Louisville, KY. This is our third year presenting on Creative Capital at this convening of global thinkers and innovators, and we’re so excited to be returning with a truly remarkable group of artists.

Ruby Lerner presenting at IdeaFestival 2010

Liz Cohen (2005 Visual Arts) is a photographer and performance artist who is best known for her project Bodywork, in which she transformed an East German Trabant automobile into a Chevy El Camino.

Hasan Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist who began the self-surveillance project Tracking Transience in response to being mistakenly listed on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. He presented on Tracking Transience last year at TED Global. Tahir Hemphill (2012 Visual Arts) is a multimedia artist who created The Hip-Hop Word Count, a visualization series of data abstracted from a searchable database of lyrics from over 40,000 Hip Hop songs. Sam Van Aken is an installation and new media artist whose work has most recently taken the form of grafted trees that will bear over 40 different varieties of fruit on a single tree. What a group!
I spoke with Ruby and Alice Gray Stites—Director of artwithoutwalls, Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming at Louisville’s 21c Museum and long-time friend of Creative Capital—about IdeaFestival and Creative Capital’s strong ties with Louisville.

Jenny Gill: Ruby, how did you find out about IdeaFestival?

Ruby Lerner: My good friend Tiffany Shlain presented at IdeaFest in 2007 and invited me to come down to hang out in Louisville and see her speak. I had such an amazing time—I loved the Festival and invited Kris Kimel [IdeaFestival’s founder] to come to the 2009 Artist Retreat. He loved Creative Capital’s model of artist support, thought the artists were amazing, and invited us to present at IdeaFestival 2010. We’ve been presenting “Art on the Edge” with a different group of CC grantees each year since then!

Shih Chieh Huang (2009 Emerging Fields), Luminosity, installed at LOT Gallery (2011) 

Jenny: Alice, how did you first learn about Creative Capital? 

Alice Gray Stites: In 2008, I was invited as a consultant to the Creative Capital Artist Retreat at Williams College, and instantly forged connections with Ruby and with many of the artists. Over the last four years, the projects I have curated with CC grantees include: Brent Green’s Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, presented by artwithoutwalls at LOT Gallery in 2011; Shih Chieh Huang’s Luminosity, an artwithoutwalls installation at LOT and at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts during IdeaFestival 2011; Chris Doyle’s The Underglow, a site-specific public projection in Stockholm (2011), and two related works in downtown Louisville, Scenes from the Underglow and Rondo (2011).

In 2010, artwithoutwalls also presented a group exhibition of grantees who presented with Ruby at IdeaFestival, including Jae Rhim Lee, Brent Green, Matthew Moore and Sanford Biggers. Biggers’s works, Cheshire and Smirk, were acquired by the 21c Museum collection.

My relationship with Creative Capital remains active, and it’s essential to my work as a curator of contemporary art. Earlier this year, I served as a reader for the Visual Arts grant applications, and I attended the Artist Retreat as a consultant in July. In conjunction with IdeaFestival 2012, artwithoutwalls and LOT are currently collaborating on two major projects with Creative Capital grantees: a group show featuring works by Sam Van Aken, Hasan Elahi, Liz Cohen, Tahir Hemphill and by SuttonBeresCuller (2008 Visual Arts), who are creating a series of site-specific sculptures, Small Moons, and a new version of their nomadic urban park, TrailerPark, which will travel through downtown Louisville, stopping at the KY Center during IdeaFestival and on Main Street during national Park(ing) Day on September 21. After the Festival, TrailerPark will continue to bring an experience of pastoral respite in Louisville’s urban core, and may well travel far beyond.

SuttonBeresCuller (2008 Visual Arts), Small Moons

Jenny: Why do you think it is important for artists to have a voice at a conference like IdeaFestival? How do Creative Capital and the artists CC supports represent the spirit of innovation that IdeaFest celebrates?

Alice: Kris Kimel believes strongly in the power of art to create meaningful change, and he sees artists as problem solvers. After Kris attended the Artist Retreat in 2009, he knew that inviting Creative Capital to present at IdeaFestival was a natural outgrowth of his relationship with the organization and with Ruby. Both 21c Museum and artwithoutwalls are strong supporters of IdeaFestival, and have sponsored presentations and exhibitions in conjunction with the Festival.

An essential aspect of 21c’s mission is to integrate contemporary art into daily life; implicit in that mission is the belief that groundbreaking contemporary art is synonymous with innovation. Projects presented at IdeaFestival by Creative Capital grantees have addressed a spectrum of compelling issues from farming and sustainability to death and dying to the newest discoveries in science, medicine and technology. The goal of IdeaFestival is to celebrate the innovative developments that are shaping the future. Creative Capital’s participation not only extends and enhances that goal, but makes the work of innovation visible to a broad audience—through art.

Ruby: I couldn’t agree more, and it’s so exciting, Alice, to hear that you and Kris recognize how groundbreaking the artists we support are. I’ve always felt that artists have ideas as engaging as social innovators, scientific innovators and technology innovators. That has fueled my interest in positioning Creative Capital and our artists squarely within the conversation about new ideas and innovation. When I tell people about our artists they often say, “Where do they get these amazing ideas?!”

It’s so important for artists—especially truly innovative ones like the ones we support—to be included in conferences like this. We bring a different kind of information because we believe that artists think in different ways. And we take risks with funding artists who have often never been supported by more traditional institutions—artists who stretch the boundaries of what would even be considered art. So, while we think of a convening like IdeaFestival as celebrating ideas that stretch the notion of what would be defined as science, culture and technology, we feel that our artists represent that for the arts field.

And aside from the ideas that our artists bring to a conference like IdeaFestival, I think that Creative Capital belongs there because we have such a unique organizational model and approach to supporting artists. We’re all about ideas, and we’re constantly evolving our model. That is part of what being an innovator is: always questioning your own work and staying on the edge.

Jenny: Can you talk about how Creative Capital has become a part of the Louisville community? 

Alice: In addition to the exhibitions and programming I mentioned (two group shows and six solo commissions!) that have been shared with the Louisville community—and beyond—works by nearly a dozen Creative Capital grantees are included in 21c’s collection. Louisville’s vibrant arts community is now familiar with the projects, practice and ethos of Creative Capital, and welcomes the artists and Ruby. Artists, curators and collectors alike have been inspired by the grantees.

In November 2010, 24 Kentucky artists participated in Creative Capital’s weekend-long Professional Development Program workshop at 21c Museum Hotel, presented by artwithoutwalls. As the organizer, I can only describe the impact of this program as transformative. Not only did each artist gain an individual voice and vision, but over the course of three intensive days, a community of support and inspiration emerged, which continues to grow and nurture the creative spirit in Louisville today. Louisville is eager to host another PDP workshop!

Ruby: It’s just amazing—I feel that we have fallen in love with Louisville. We love the food, the bourbon, the art—everything! And most of all, we love the warmth and generosity of the people and the community. I remember Rich Pell (one of the CC artists who presented with me at IdeaFestival last year) saying, “I didn’t know they made cities like this in America!” It’s a special place. Because IdeaFest draws together so many people from the community, we’ve been lucky to forge and strengthen our relationships with Alice, artwithoutwalls, 21c and other cultural institutions. We have an amazing board member from Louisville, Stephen Reily, and wonderful donors who live in the area. We’d love to do more PDP workshops and think of other ways to engage the local community and deepen the ties between CC and Louisville.

You can follow the 2012 IdeaFestival on Twitter: @IdeaFestival and #IF12.

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