Sep 13, 2016

Practitioners and partners: Artspace evolves Breaking Ground into "idea lab" that celebrates artists

Osh Ghanimah

Do you know why women and girl storytellers are the most powerful innovators in creative industries today—not just as artists, but also as community gatherers, media makers and producers? Or why arts organizations have a responsibility to encourage artists to advocate for themselves? How artists in rural communities are accessing and utilizing their transformative power? Or how nonprofit developers are putting equity and inclusion into practice in today’s complex, politically charged environment?

All will be revealed during Artspace’s annual Breaking Ground event, which evolves this year from one dynamic evening of speakers and performances to an immersive, two-day “idea lab” on Friday, October 14 and Saturday, October 15 in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The idea lab is an event format designed for idea generation and interaction. The idea lab expands Artspace’s annual evening celebration, which recognizes artists as leaders. “The change is consistent with how Artspace has been evolving,” explains Colin Hamilton, Artspace’s senior vice president of National Advancement. “For a long time we’ve been expert practitioners in the creation of affordable live/work housing and community creative space for artists across the country. Now we see ourselves as partners in a growing field.” “Expanding Breaking Ground is a way to share knowledge with our growing national community of artists, civic leaders, organizers, bankers, developers, funders and government officials, all of whom share interest in the questions of how artists contribute to healthy community development,” Hamilton continues. “The two-day gathering will allow us to share different perspectives and learn from each other, so that our work continues to evolve with the times.” On Friday, programming includes TED Talk-style vignettes by national Artspace artist residents, followed by panel discussions between Artspace staff and community partners on opportunities for arts-led community development. On Saturday, participants are invited to visit some of the most iconic and vibrant arts spots in the Twin Cities, from the Guthrie Theater to the St. Paul Art Crawl. Breaking Ground, Friday Morning: Artspace Artists in Action

The idea lab opens on Friday with a welcome by Artspace president Kelley Lindquist. “This year’s vision for Breaking Ground is broader and deeper,” he says. “It builds on the excitement we’ve historically experienced through recognizing artists around the country who are doing impactful things in their communities.”

One of those artists is Carlton Turner, who will deliver the keynote address. Turner is executive director of Alternate ROOTS, a regional nonprofit arts, community and activist organization based in Atlanta. For almost 40 years, the member-driven Alternate ROOTS has connected and supported artists working on behalf of their communities and whose cultural work intersects with social justice concerns. Turner is also co-founder and co-artistic director of M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), a Mississippi-based performing arts group that blends jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry and soul music with non-traditional storytelling. After Turner’s keynote ignites Breaking Ground participants, four Artspace resident artists will offer TEDTalks on how they are making a significant impact on their communities. “These presentations highlight what residents in our properties are doing that walk the line between artist creation and community engagement work,” Hamilton says.

Nerissa Street, a resident of the Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts in Fort Lauderdale, firmly believes that women artists of color such as Anna Deavere Smith, Ananya Chatterjea and Ava Duvernay are leading the way in community transformation through their work. “It’s really up to business, government and community leaders to see the trend before it leaves them behind,” she says. In her presentation, “Girls Call the Shots: How Women Performers Are Leading Social Impact,” Street will share five uncommon tools that any socially conscious professional can use to be a change agent (even if they don’t work in the arts), gleaned from her work with her organization Girls Call The Shots. In addition to talking about her own organization, “I'll be speaking about other producers in Minnesota and a few other places in the U.S.,” she says. Street hopes “to establish a ‘What's Next?’ network after Breaking Ground,” she says, as “the creative industry is so much bigger than one event. But what a powerful place we'll be standing in, at the intersection of creative industry, community and commerce during Breaking Ground. Isn't connection what the arts are all about?” Another artist resident of Sailboat Bend, Tabatha Mudra, will discuss how she’s brought community into Sailboat Bend’s three-story 1310 Gallery as well as into her own live/work space. She’ll illuminate the processes of generating “interdependence and authentic stimulation” when working with anti-bullying, LGBTQ, HIV awareness and human trafficking issues. During her presentation, “Live in Your Passion: Thrive in a Unit,” she’ll also talk about one of her projects,1310 Bandits, a filmmaking collective named for Sailboat Bend’s gallery, that creates stories that advocate consciousness and social responsibility. In addition, JR Russ, who lives and works in Washington D.C.’s Brookland Artspace Lofts, will explore the connection he’s discovered between an artist’s sense of community and their commitment to civic life. Osh Ghanimah, who lives in New York City’s El Barrio’s Artspace PS109, will present “America is About to Have Its Tevye Moment,” in which he encourages Breaking Ground participants to flip the model of performing arts education in order to better reflect America’s diversity. “During this first day of the idea lab, we’re hoping to accomplish three things,” Hamilton says. “One, inspire. We want people to come out of their sessions feeling energized about the realm of possibilities available to them and about what they could accomplish in their own communities. Second, we also want to instill in participants the confidence that there are paths and partners that others have figured out to help them.”

Read the full article from The Line here

Camille LeFevre is managing editor of The Line.

This story is the sixth in a national series about the arts, housing, and community transformation, supported by Artspace.  Read the previous stories at or The Line