Three weeks ago on April 4th, I attended a super-panel on art, protest, and racial justice, Who We Be, at the San Francisco Main Public Library (presented by the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism). I breathed it in deeply; it connected me in an elemental way with the words I love to hear: changing the world, art that makes a difference, the impact of class (aka greed) on life, real life. It felt really back-in-the-90s-at-art-school, in a good way.
Alicia Garza (a co-founder of Black Lives Matter) spoke frankly & passionately on the realities of activism at the ground level as well as what gets watered down and how to stay on point. Steven W. Trasher (journalist for The Guardian) spoke about his work in the LGBT community, and about the moment he let someone open his eyes to the way women were left out of his narrative. (I loved the honesty of all the speakers). Christian L. Frock (independent curator, writer, regular contributor to KQED Arts) spoke to the ways– both big and small– that artists can be a part of the groundswell of public awareness in ways that can bring actual eventual felt change. (And she placed value on the small contributions, knowing that not every person has the resources to make the boldest moves but that personal, intimate change has great value too.) Ben Davis (author of 9.5 Thesis on Art & Class) brought his expert focus on artists’ work vs. the social constraints and pressures put on us by the system that depends on citizens that identify as consumers. He said something that was, for me, a key statement (I quote him loosely): Instead of thinking about how to change the art world, think first about what you want to change in the world, then do the work. I came in the middle of Davis’ part, and totally missed Jeff Chang’s part (he’s the author of Who We Be: The Colorization of America and the Executive Director for the Institute of Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University.) I missed the first 45 minutes because an urgent high-need kid thing came up and derailed my plan to make it right on time to hear the whole panel discussion from start to finish, but it was still good, real good. Even my husband, whose art world interest consists of Me and pretty much only Me, felt like this was one art talk he could get into, because it wasn’t esoteric about the theory of art, it was about the practice of life with the role of art in the bigger picture. At least, that’s how he and I saw it.
Within a couple days after that panel, my mind was buzzing. How could somehow my need for a hacked autodidactic MFA be paired with the real need to make (at least part of) my art practice a vehicle that enables real change for people? I started to brainstorm on overdrive.
I wondered, what form would this MFA hack take? Would I not only help myself but simultaneously build a framework that others could use, so that not only would I be accessing a type of graduate level art education, but I could make a way for others with limited resources (time, money) to similarly access the benefits of an MFA? Could we take Art Education out of the realm of the privileged few? Could I possibly be thinking of something that would be a game changer of sorts, so that higher level art education would be available to committed artists from diverse socio-economic life stage backgrounds? Would they, like me, figure out a way to expose their work to rigorous critique, find art-world mentors, learn how to deepen their connection with the arts community, participate in art conversations as they happen, gain opportunities & exposure, learn about material that directly relates to their areas of interest as well as push themselves in new ways, all while doing the studio work they need to do? Would it be possible to create a platform for all this, so that it happens online but also teaches people how to make it happen in real life, because in-person art-looking, art-talking, art-organizing, and art-networking that happens IRL has real value? Could we also all support each other online, organizing resources, how-to’s, curriculum, scheduling, measures for marking progress– things that don’t stand as motivators but that stand as a support system from people who are as vested as I would be? My big idea started to get Real Big.
I know some of this bigger than life thinking came from attending that super panel, and it made me happy to know that no matter what I ended up doing, something powerful happened that day between that panel & that audience. In seeking a kind of project I could sustain, however, I started to consider that maybe I was getting ahead of myself. Maybe some big plan that had me crafting a big roll out of people doing a hacked MFA together… maybe that was a little much. After having set up a sketch of a website and parking a URL on April 7th, I had a full 24 hours to marinate in that “maybe I’m getting ahead of myself” feeling. I wondered if maybe just a simple blog, a simple telling of my story as I do this, maybe that would be the sincere, honest thing to offer the world. Starting small wouldn’t mean it wasn’t a big idea for me. Starting small would allow me to invest the most energy in what got my idea started in the first place: My need for for a higher pursuit of art education. I know I’m not alone in this. And sharing my process publicly, even if it might come out disorganized or ill-conceived at times, maybe that would still be sort of a gift to the world.
So I got comfortable with that idea. And then 24 hours after setting up that website and scaling down my big idea to a livable size, on April 8th: I got into an ICU level bike accident. (I’m home recovering now.) So there we have it, it’s decided. I’ll be proceeding with my big idea, but it will be smaller than I had in mind at one point. It’s still rather big; I mean, I have a lot of reading, researching, connecting, and working planned. What I have going for me, as far as recovery goes, is that I’m cognitively able to hyper-focus on things, and I’ve got my schedule wide open to learn. This recovery process has me NOT driving and NOT responsible for the life things I typically do. So: Onwards. Time to get hacking. I have a curriculum to design for myself, a reading list to devise, and other such things. The ex-MFA I’m building for Me. For free. On my schedule.