In a recent TED video that quickly went viral on the Internet, independent musician Amanda Palmer spoke at length about being an independent artist and being able to ask for what you need from an appreciative audience.
The ability to ask—and teaching young artists the power of asking for what they need—lies at the heart of a current project that is gearing up for production at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. For the past three years, the Museum has put together a project called Lead with the Arts which places artistically gifted students together with equally gifted adult mentors to produce an art show. This year, Lead with the Arts chose the acclaimed Santa Fe-based multimedia collaborative known as Meow Wolf, creating some interesting challenges for the students—and the Museum.
“Meow Wolf's reputation preceded them,” said Elizabeth Becker, the Albuquerque Museum's Director of Education. “We were very pleased to have an opportunity to partner with them on this project, but we couldn't have foreseen the scale that they would imagine with the students. Generally, our adult mentors work with the students to create an art-on-walls type exhibition—what is being envisioned in this project is altogether different, but we're very excited about it.”
For Meow Wolf, exceeding expectations is par for the course. Since their inception in 2008, the collaborative group of mostly 20-somethings has produced 11 large-scale art installations, yearly art shows, three award-winning films and an innumerable amount of killer dance parties.
In 2011, Meow Wolf took aim towards involving itself in arts education, and created an organization called CHIMERA whose mission was to take collaborative art to an even younger generation. Working with the Santa Fe Public Schools, CHIMERA's seminal project (so far) was called “Omega Mart,” and it involved working with hundreds of children throughout SFPS to create a fictitious grocery store complete with shelves loaded with thousands of hand-made fake products.
Meow Wolf has no leader (or so they claim), but their founder and most often quoted figure is Vince Kadlubek, who along with another Meow Wolf member, Corvas Kent Brinkerhoff II, led the classroom at the Albuquerque Museum.
“We spent some time talking to the kids about the concept of environmental art, and the idea that you can create installations around a particular idea or concept. We showed them pictures and videos of our projects and other projects we like,” said Kadlubek.
Ultimately, the students came up with the idea of a dreamscape, occurring within the head of a character named Lance Flansberg, a 20-something who had aspirations to be a filmmaker but ended up in a 9-5 job as an accountant. A depressed creature, Lance sleeps a lot and recently broke up with his girlfriend—and Project Dreamscape attempts to capture the imagery floating within his mind during the dreamtime.
In the completed work, each student will have their own presentation area within a 1,200 square foot space to present their vision of Lance's dreams. The resulting projections of this vision range from the heavenly to the grotesque, but the idea is that Project Dreamscape will present not just the mind of Lance, but the vision of 12 gifted Albuquerque teenage artists under the guidance of one of the more cutting edge mentor programs that the city has ever seen.
“Dreams can change so quickly,” said student Sofia Resnick. “Walking through the space the viewer will get a sense of lots of possibilities happening all at once.”
Some of those dreams will be pleasant—some of them will be outright scary, but a polling of a few of the students regarding their personal visions and the materials required to make them real all suggest that whatever the subject, these dreams are not going to come cheap. And this is where the fun comes in—not only will the kids at Lead with the Arts work with accomplished collaborative artists on making cool art—they’ll also be learning from Meow Wolf's collective fund-raising ninjas how to fund the art they want to make.
In the Lead with the Arts classroom at the Albuquerque Museum, instructor Kadlubek is giving a handful of high school students valuable information about how to be working artists.
“How many people go to art school every year?” he asked. “100,000? 500,000? Trust me when I tell you that none of those people ever got taught the information that exists in these letters.”
The letters he's handing out are fundraising and materials requests addressed to a variety of Albuquerque businesses, particularly home improvement stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and the like.
“People love to give to the arts,” said Kadlubek, tongue ever so slightly in cheek, “but they especially LOVE giving stuff away to kids.”
Kadlubek isn't just teaching these kids how to be artists—he's teaching them how to be revolutionaries. But while getting free stuff is good, getting cash is king. Kadlubek has a handle on that as he produces a stack of sponsorship packets that outline exactly what the magic number is for Project Dreamscape—try $15,000. And so, in addition to sending his young artist/guerilla finance team out into the thickets of suburbia to try and find free paint and nickels, Meow Wolf and Co. are also launching an online crowdsourcing campaign through the IndieGoGo website to fund Project Dreamscape—and to fund the dream of making great art.
“The point of what we're doing is to show young artists that in order to make great work, you need great concepts—but you also need to have the ability to fund your projects. No one will do it for you. Learning how to fund art projects is the missing component of arts education, and we've been really driving that point home throughout this process.”
Meow Wolf has been sophisticated in getting their own projects funded, using a combination of private donations, corporate sponsorships and in-kind donations. On three occasions, the organization has also used crowd-sourcing websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo—and this time, for Project Dreamscape, they will assist their students in going directly to the general public with a campaign on YouTube and IndieGoGo.
“The arts are a sector of the community that have been hit hard by the economic downturn. We consider this project and this request for funding to be a means to generate a culture around the notion that the arts are important to this city. We consider this project to be a pilot program of sorts—it's great to have been able to do this with a dozen kids, but what about doing it with 50 kids or 100? Or getting involved with APS as a whole? In asking the public for financial support of the project, we are seeing what we can do to generate a culture of interest around artistic collaborations like these,” said Kadlubek.
Asking for help with a project—be it a self-published book or record or a massive collaborative project—requires a certain level of moxie and the ability to tap not just our friends but also people or entities with whom we may have no common ground. But in the course of determining the value of the arts in our communities, we often find that people are eager to step up to the plate and support even the smallest gesture of artistry, for even the most cynical among us know our lives are so much the richer with the artists—and their dreams.