Keep Exploring

KEEP EXPLORING

Swoon on experimentation, building community, and learning to embrace online communication

By Siena Oristaglio

Swoon The Void Academy
Photo courtesy of Bryan Welch

Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) is an acclaimed mixed media artist who became known for her street art in the late 90s. She has since expanded into large-scale installations and explores the relationship between people and their built environments. Her mission is to use art to rebuild communities and humanize today’s most pressing social and environmental issues.

You can discover and experience her beautiful work all around the city of New York.

You mentioned in an interview in May of last year that you are interested in venturing into experimental film. Have you started to explore that genre? What new projects are you most excited about in the upcoming year?

Yes, totally started exploring! It’s incredibly fun to add the dimension of time to the visual language I’ve been building for the last 20 years. It makes me realize how much narrative already exists within my work. I’m just excited to take some time this summer to keep exploring. It’s all an experiment at this point.

How have you used social media and/or online tools to benefit your artistic practice? What are your favorite and least favorite aspects about engaging with the internet as an artist?

I was surprised to learn that I love social media. I avoided it like the plague for years, until one of my studio assistants started an Instagram account for me as a parting gift when she was leaving the studio to focus on her jewelry making career. I guess it had been really useful for her and she wanted to share the good. Slowly I started posting, just bits here and there, but then eventually I realized that I am such a communicator - it’s in every fiber of me to want to express ideas and images, and so the more I shared, the more rewarding it became. I can really work through ideas and share big pieces of who I am through my channels. And it helps me support my studio and projects through being able to announce print releases or Kickstarter campaigns.

My least favorite thing are the trolls - it takes practice to remember that some people are just puking out their nastiness and suffering onto the world through these channels too, and not to take it personally.

SwoonCAC-TodSeelie-21_The Void Academy
"Thalassa" at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. Photo courtesy Tod Seelie.

Can you tell us a bit about the methods you use to to fund your work? We know you’ve run a couple of Kickstarter campaigns via your non-profit, The Heliotrope Foundation — what was your experience with this method of funding? What other funding methods have you found effective for your artistic practice?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a strong art market around my work, which really got traction through my show with the gallerist Jeffrey Deitch back in 2005. When I very first started to support myself through art (rather than waitressing), I would sell prints out of my apartment to people who found me online through a website some friends had included me on. Then for a while after my work started to sell more widely I spent all of my money on community based projects, but eventually that became unsustainable and so I started an organization and started hosting events and throwing Kickstarter campaigns to fund the projects. These things take A LOT of energy, and it’s easy to spend so much making the rewards that it feels like there’s never enough for the project. We also run a print site where I trade artists a piece of my art for the use of one of their digital images, so they get art, as well as supporting our work in Haiti for example, and that has been a strong source of stability for Heliotrope over the years.

Margaret Austin Photography Chandran Opening_The Void Academy
"Yaya and Sonia with Amanda and Moni Jewel Boxes" from Chandran Gallery, San Francisco. Courtesy of Margaret Austin Photography.

Speaking of The Heliotrope Foundation, what have you learned from creating and managing a non-profit organization? What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own?

I have found that my friends, and my closest collectors, people I know fairly well are still Heliotrope’s biggest supporters. Even when the base for a project grows, it’s still the people who know you and care about the work who will be the core of it - so start with that in mind. Ask yourself who gets you, who believes in what you are trying to do? Start building together from there.

As an artist who balances so much — from institutional shows to creating personal work to organizing social impact projects — how do you stay organized and manage your time effectively?

Delegating is everything. Finding a good team and trusting people to do their jobs well. Even when I was a waitress I would occasionally hire people to help me with aspects of my art. Even on my tiny waitressing salary, it was still that valuable to get help sometimes. Also clearing some days or even weeks with no meetings to just focus on art making - to be able to shift into uninterrupted creative mode. Trusting your instincts about when to go ahead with a project and when to pause. Morning meditation helps a lot too. Helps me get stable to handle the day ahead and whatever it’s gonna throw at me.

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"Medea" at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. Photo courtesy Tod Seelie.

Swoon Caledonia Curry The Void Academy

Caledonia Curry, who exhibits her artwork under the name SWOON, is a classically trained visual artist and printmaker who has spent the last 14 years exploring the relationship between people and their built environments. Her early interventions in the urban landscape took the form of wheat-pasting portraits to the walls of cities around the world, and her public practice has expanded to using art to rebuild communities and humanize today’s most pressing social and environmental issues.

She co-founded Konbit Shelter in 2010, an artist’s response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti that same year. Other community-based endeavors include collaborating on the construction of musical architecture in New Orleans, and a neighborhood revitalization project in North Braddock, PA. Alongside her place-based work, she has a studio practice of drawing, printmaking, architectural sculpture, and installations. Curry’s work has been collected and shown internationally at galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and the São Paulo Museum of Art.

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Our Community Artist Website Round-Up

OUR COMMUNITY ARTIST WEBSITE ROUND-UP

We are creating a roundup of websites belonging to artists in our community!

By Karina Vahitova

Community Website Roundup

The website is one of the most important internet tools an independent artist can wield. This tool connects artists to their communities and deepens that connection by enabling communication between artist and audience. Websites allow artists and their work, voice, and vision to operate in the world even when the artist is not physically present. Websites are not just databases — they tell stories and collect documentation and ephemera.

Last week, we put out a call for artist websites to those on our weekly mailing list and received a gushing response of folks sharing their websites, their experiences with our resources, and their general struggles as independent artists today. We've decided to publish them here so artists in our community can get to know one another's work, draw inspiration from each other, and connect further.

We will be updating this page in the coming months to continue including the websites of more artists in our community, but for now, it is my pleasure to share with you the first installment of our artist website roundup.

A

Alexander Chamorro is an artist in Upstate New York.

Amara Brady is an actor, playwright, and theatre maker based in New York City.

Anthony C. is a multimedia artist based in South Florida.

Antonio Garza Zertuche is a Mexican artist based in Los Angeles, CA.

Alfonso de Anda is a Mexican illustrator based in New York.

Andie Lerner is a theater artist / collaborator / maker based in New York.

Abe Lincoln Jr. is a street artist.

Angela Mary Vaz is an illustrator and blogger currently living in Bangalore.

Alex Parrish is an actor, composer, teacher based in New York City.

Anna Sirota is a fine art photographer specializing in dark, ethereal imagery and is based in New York.

Alexis Smithers is a queer black creator based on the East Coast.

Annie Wong hand crafts short form videos, GIFs, and stop motion content for the digital world and is based in Oakland, CA.

Anubis is a printmaker and art student based in San Francisco.

 

C

Carol-Anne McFarlane is a conceptual artist based in Florida and New York.

Carol Boruta makes mostly mosaics using stained glass, vitreous tile, smalti and millefiori and is based in Plainfield, IL.

Coco Corral is a metalsmith and artist based in Maine.

Cecelia Murphy creates one of a kind patterns from her studio in Austin, Texas

Caroline Nevin is a contemporary Canadian artist who creates alchemy inspired fine art.

C.Nick is a young artist who specializes in oil painting and drawing. She is based in Southern California.

Ciera Tague is a graphic designer located in Portland, Oregon.

 

D

Darragh Dandurand is a multi-disciplinary multimedia maven based in Brooklyn.

Dawn Leas is a poet, writer and writing coach based in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Devin Greenwood is a New York City-based recording artist, filmmaker and musician.

Diane Hollis is a creative artist who mainly works with mixed media.

 

E

EJ Landsman's work ranges in scope and style from detailed scientific illustration to hand embroidery. They are based in Seattle, WA. 

Elissa Carmona is a singer and founder of Morrisania Band Project, an award-winning R&B soul collective based in New York City.

Epiphanio Alexander is a contemporary painter, writer, and musician based in Washington state, USA.

Erika King is a Miami based artist known for her corporate, commemorative, sports and celebrity collages.

Emily Rainbow Davis makes theatre, fiction, music, blogs and podcasts.

 

F

Félix Rodríguez Gutiérrez is a multilingual creative writer and photographer currently living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Frank R. Sofo is a fine artist and children's book illustrator living in East Hampton, NY.

 

G

George Richardson is a photographer and multimedia artist originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Gladys Jimenez is a fine artist based in Escondido, CA.

 

H

Howard Pflanzer is an award winning playwright, poet and performance artist based in New York.

 

J

Jackson Clawson is in a band called Pumpkin Bread and is based in Boston, MA.

Jodi Ferrier is a painter living and working in Washington D.C.

Jouanne Roberson is a fine artist based in Sacramento, CA.

Jerry Hardesty is a visual artist based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jackie Hoopz is an actor, writers, model based in Los Angeles.

Jimena Munoz is a visual artist from Mexico currently living in Nelson, New Zealand.

Janaka Stucky is an American poet, performer, and publisher based in Boston.

 

K

Kathleen Faulkner is a jewelry artist and painter living in Cascadia, along the Salish Sea in the northwest corner of Washington State.

Kathleen Frazier is an author, actress, sleep activist, and Reiki master based in New York City.

Kirsty Little is an aerialist and sculptor living in Washington D.C.

Karen Johnson is a painter based in Iowa.

 

L

Lauren Denitzio is an interdisciplinary artist and musician whose work examines the visual representation of women, gender non-conforming, and queer folks in domestic space. They are based in Philadelphia.

Leslie Holt is a painter currently based in Mt. Rainier, MD.

Liz LaManche creates large-scale works that enliven the built environment and is based in Boston, MA.

Laurent Pelletier-Neault makes analog collages and is based in Canada.

Lukas Huerta is a photographer based in San Diego,CA.

 

M

Marion Webber is a fine artist based in Vancouver, BC.

Michelle Bonneau is an aspiring freelance graphic designer & visual artist based in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Meryl Pardoen is a textile designer.

Margot Terc is a zine-maker, writer, and visual artist obsessed with projects and creative resistance based in Bronx, NY.

Mina Teslaru is a Brooklyn-based photographer.

Michael Lewy is an artist who works in a variety of media including photography, video and computer graphics and is based in Jamaica Plain, MA.

 

N

Neil Martin is Kirtan leader based in Los Angeles, CA.

Nikki May is an artist and designer from Paducah, Kentucky. 

 

P

Phillip Brady is a poet, writer, and publisher based in New York.

Peter M. Krask is an artist based in New York City whose practice is concentrated in photography and writing.

Primordial Dance is a participatory performance initiated by D.E. Franklin.

R

Robert Mankowski is an illustrator, fine artist, designer, and tattooer. He is based in Rahway, NJ.

 

S

Sam Harang is a visual artist based in Los Angeles, CA

Sandra Yuen MacKay is a visual artist and writer from Vancouver BC, Canada.

Sean T. Kelley is a musician and sound engineer. 

Sue Latta is a mixed-media sculptor based in Idaho.

Scotis Tanigawa is a graphics designer.

 

T

Terry Erickson Brown is a visual artist based in Eugene, Oregon.

Teresa Martinez makes unique handmade steampunk jewelry and is based in the Denver area.

Tathy Yagizi is a performance artist based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

W

Wade H. Williams is a painter based in Durham, North Carolina.

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Work Independently, Not Alone

Work Independently, Not Alone

Allison Wyper on Los Angeles performance, community, and supporting other artists.

By Karina Vahitova

Allison Wyper
Allison Wyper. Photo by Amanda Bjorn.

Allison Wyper is a movement-based artist and arts organizer based in Los Angeles. Her performance work has been seen across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany, and she has been published in Platform, The Dancer-Citizen, Itch, The Present Tense, Contemporary Performance Almanac, and Emergency Index. In this interview, we chat with Allison about her role in supporting other artists, what community can look like, and the difference between being famous and being respected. 

How do you describe yourself as an artist?

I am a movement-based performance artist who tends to create intimate, site-specific, participatory encounters. My projects invite empathy, collaboration, and exchange between performer and spectator, activating the performance space as a site of critical action. Offstage, I have always been an organizer and supporter of other artists, and that has taken many formal roles, from stage manager to bookkeeper to workshop facilitator, and on and on…

In 2014, I created Rhizomatic Arts as a way to formalize the various ways that I support artists under one conceptual umbrella, and to claim my space as an independent entrepreneur, and to conceptualize that work as a creative social practice. Through Rhizomatic Arts I facilitate a peer network of artists and lead workshops on collaborative creation, all of which is funded by designing websites in collaboration with individual artists and artists with very small companies (usually 1 staff member). I also work part time as Artists Knowledge Manager at the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI), which provides professional development funding and training to artists.

What does sustainability mean to you?

In terms of cultivating a sustainable life and a sustainable career, it means living in abundance as opposed to lack. Abundance for me includes healthy and plentiful relationships, dependable income, not being ruled by debt, and constantly fueling the fire of curiosity, growth, and happiness. For me, it involves a great deal of autonomy. I’m not someone who is happy being dependent upon an employer, institution, parent, or partner for my financial, professional, or emotional health. But it’s also important to me that I feel like I’m part of a community—a family, even—so I would never want to go it entirely on my own. That’s why my slogan is “work independently, not alone.” I think that strong relationships and horizontal structures for exchange and resource sharing are essential to sustainability.

Allison Wyper
Allison Wyper performs at the Electric Lodge in Venice Beach. Photo by Shelby Brage.

How has living in Los Angeles impacted you creatively and emotionally?

When I moved here in 2008 for grad school, I immediately became part of a close-knit family of peers. The friends I made in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance are still some of my deepest adult relationships. When I finished UCLA, though, I  shifted my center further outside the dance world, into the performance art community. Los Angeles has an incredible experimental performance scene, and the first thing that made an impression on me was that people here are constantly creating opportunities for one another—from opening art spaces, to producing festivals or guerilla-style pop-up performance events, I immediately felt the invitation to join in, as opposed to a pressure to compete. Resources here are as scarce as anywhere, but the artists I gravitated to seemed to feel like we would all have a better chance of succeeding together, rather than in competition.

How do you balance between supporting other artists through your work at CCI and Rhizomatic Arts and your own arts practice? What has shifted for you over the years in terms of this balance?

It’s definitely a challenge. I don’t dedicate nearly as much time to creating my performance works as I would like to. But I’ve also been shifting the way I think about my work as an artist. I’ve started writing, and I am more frequently facilitating collaborations around the actual creation process—which is actually my favorite part of making work. I’m much more interested in the process than in the product.

 

Los Angeles has an incredible experimental performance scene, and the first thing that made an impression on me was that people here are constantly creating opportunities for one another—from opening art spaces, to producing festivals or guerilla-style pop-up performance events, I immediately felt the invitation to join in, as opposed to a pressure to compete.

 

But also, after the 2016 presidential election fiasco I quickly re-assessed my goals and decided that I would rather put my energy into creating opportunities for more marginalized artists than focusing on “making it” myself, because there are some voices that we really need to hear right now, and some bodies that we need to see in institutional spaces. Shortly thereafter, I got the job at CCI, which has given me the opportunity to hire artists of color as trainers, and administer a grant program supporting arts-based entrepreneurial projects serving marginalized communities in Los Angeles. Working at CCI forced me to step up to the plate as an arts worker in Los Angeles, not as a performer, but as a facilitator of interpersonal connections and equitable resource distribution. It’s pretty radical work, when I step back and look at it. I’m pretty proud of what I’m contributing to there, and it’s totally in alignment with Rhizomatic Arts, which continues to sustain me as well.

How have you been able to fund the creation of your artworks? Is there anything you've learned about the business of art that you wish you knew when you first got started?

Funding is always a challenge. My larger projects have been funded by international festivals (in Canada, specifically) and in partnerships with my collaborators in Australia. But I’ve generally scaled back my work in the past 10 years so that I’m doing very low-impact, easily tourable work—work that can be performed essentially anywhere. I’m not super interested in working in theaters for hundreds of people. I’m more interested in performances for one person at a time, or popping up in a public space unexpectedly, for an accidental audience. For the past 6 years I’ve been part of a group of artists in Los Angeles who engage in a practice called “Encounter.” Encounters are unplanned, improvisational events that take place in public and private spaces usually without any announcement. We’re not interested in performing for an audience or documenting the event; we’re instead interested in how we encounter different spaces and different collections of co-performers, in performance mode.

 

De-coupling the work from the funding structure can be really healthy. I think I’d encourage young people to make the work they want to make regardless of its fundability, and to work with the human network in your community.

 

So, to return to your question about funding—I suppose I could have been exposed earlier to different models for performance outside the concert format… But I was, really. I was always interested in performance in protest settings, street performances, salons, poor theater, and things like Fluxus, Allan Kaprow’s “happenings,” or Anna Halprin’s dances in nature. Those kinds of works or experiences don’t require the kind of funding that concert performances do. (To say nothing of the fact that they’re often unfundable.) De-coupling the work from the funding structure can be really healthy. I think I’d encourage young people to make the work they want to make regardless of its fundability, and to work with the human network in your community. There’s a lot of abundance there if you ask.

Do you feel that community building for performance art is uniquely different from community building for other forms of art?

I don’t know… My community is very interdisciplinary, and includes primarily visual artists, as well as dancers, and also philosophers and writers. I have never found much value in identifying performance art as something distinct from the “fine arts” or “performing arts” because we all tend to bump up against one another, and our work mixes together… I suppose if anything live performance has the advantage of generally calling upon people to show up, in person, at the same time and place, so in that way it is theoretically conducive to face-to-face community building… though you can be plenty anonymous in a dark theater, and art openings are all about the social. So, I guess the answer is “no.”

Allison Wyper
Allison Wyper performs Sibling Rivers at Contemporary Calgary in 2014. Photo by Monika Sobczak.

What is Rhizomatic Arts and why did you decide to create it?

The mission of Rhizomatic Arts is to cultivate sustainable creative lives. We offer web and graphic design services, professional coaching, workshops, and community hangouts that help artists work independently, not alone. Through Rhizomatic Studio we produce artistic projects (performances and workshops) premised on collaboration and exchange. We are dedicated to social and economic justice from a grassroots, person-to-person level, and uphold the feminist ethos: if one thrives, we all thrive. You can learn more at http://rhizomaticarts.com!

Bonus! Is there a question you wish someone would ask you so you could answer it? What is it and what is its answer?

“What is your definition of success? Is it more important to be famous or respected?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of being a person of integrity. Like, being a model for others in your community. To me, that’s more important than being well known (or even well funded). Having worked on all sides of this industry, I think people forget that when you behave badly, people notice. And people talk about you. And you’re probably not going to be invited to participate in things when you have a bad reputation. Now, that said, we all know there are plenty of successful assholes getting shows and grants all the time. But, honestly, do YOU want to work with them? Because, honestly, you don’t HAVE to. I believe in being a good person, being kind to everyone I work with (Performers: BE NICE TO YOUR TECHNICIANS! THEY’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR LIGHTING YOU/MAKING SURE YOU LOOK GOOD ONSTAGE!) I also believe in the power of what my college improv teacher called “the good natured NOPE.” You can choose not to take part in systems that are oppressive. Maybe not all the time, but when you can, I think you should. And you ALWAYS have the power to not be an asshole. People notice. Young people learn from your example. People in positions of power might learn something, too.

For more of Allison's work, visit allisonwyper.com

Allison is generously offering free 30 minute consultations on artist statements and general presentation of your art identity (including writing about yourself and your work for grants, funding campaigns, websites, social media, as well as visual presentation.) Become a member today to receive the code! 

Allison Wyper

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist and founder of Rhizomatic Arts, which provides professional services and community for independent artists and creatives. Her performance works produce charged, often participatory encounters between performer and viewer that encourage intimate exchange and critical solidarity. Her performance work has been seen across the US, Canada, Australia, and Germany, and she has been published in Platform, The Dancer-Citizen, Itch, The Present Tense, Contemporary Performance Almanac, and Emergency Index. Allison curated performances for Play the L.A. River, a year-long interdisciplinary civic art project. She is a former Artistic Associate of Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s La Pocha Nostra, and she founded San Francisco-based Black Stone Ensemble from 2005-2008. She has an MFA in Dance from UCLA, and a BA in Theatre Studies from Emerson College. Allison currently works as Artists Knowledge Manager at the Center for Cultural Innovation.

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Rhizomatic Arts takes an holistic approach to creative sustainability, supporting the cultural eco-system through professional consulting, services, and training for artists and creatively-oriented businesses, and cultivating networks in which these communities can interconnect through short-term collaborations and lasting partnerships. Rhizomatic Arts implements the creative vision of director Allison Wyper through interdisciplinary art projects, performances, and workshops that activate the performance space as a site for critical action, challenging viewers to become participants. We are dedicated to social and economic justice on a grassroots, person-to-person level, and uphold the feminist ethos: if one thrives,
we all thrive.

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We hope you enjoyed this interview! If you did, click here to jump on our mailing list and be the first to know when we release new content. You'll also instantly receive our free 15-page guide that helps you to build emotional and financial sustainability as an artist or creator.

Emotional Energy

Emotional Energy

Photographer Harshvardhan Shah on isolation, identity, and finding community

By Siena Oristaglio on July 18th, 2018

Photo by Zayira Ray
Photo by Zayira Ray

Harshvardhan Shah is a queer South Asian artist and photographer based in New York City and Mumbai. His work has been featured in Refinery29, PANSY Magazine, Subvrt Magazine, and more. We chat below about his upcoming projects, how his work inspires other people to feel comfortable in their sexuality, and his personal definition of success.

To start, what project or projects that are you currently working on that you feel most excited about?

I'm going back home to Mumbai for a while during the summer and I'm always excited about having a change in my surroundings since I spend a lot of my time between New York and going back home during breaks in my college semester. I'm hoping to photograph a series and meet new people from the queer community in Mumbai, especially since I've really enjoyed making photographs there in the past. I don't want to reveal too much until it's actually organized and planned out, but I'm trying to capture more stories and have some kind of documentary feel to it.

What is one challenge currently you are grappling with in your photography practice? How are you addressing it?

I think being from Mumbai and having the opportunity to study in New York has dramatically shaped who I've become these past few years, and I've always used photography as an outlet for my emotions or anything I'm going through in my life. My relationship with home has been pretty complicated these past few years as I don't feel as free and comfortable as I do in New York with how progressive people are towards the queer community. In a lot of ways coming back home is challenging, as I don't feel as comfortable or safe. I was born in Mumbai and it literally is my 'home', but I spend most of my time in New York on a visa for college, and that's where most of my friends are too. I'm trying to figure out how I can photographically present the feeling of loneliness and isolation (possibly through self-portraits). I often feel as if I don't necessarily belong to either place or feel settled, but at the same time find strength and inspiration from the two to keep going.

Photo by Harshvardan Shah
Photo by Harshvardan Shah
Photo by Zayira Ray
Photo by Zayira Ray

What is one reaction you hope audience members have after viewing your photographs?

A lot of people have told me that seeing my work really helped them feel more comfortable about their sexuality and embrace their femininity as a brown/Indian person. That makes me feel so great as it's something I've struggled with for a long time and it's so freeing to get to that stage where you make decisions only for yourself and for your own happiness. I think if people are encouraged to be themselves and feel like they can do whatever they want, instead of what society expects them to do, that's amazing.

Success means something different to every artist. Can you describe a time in recent history that you felt that you succeeded creatively?

I think being able to form a community of artists I've met through photography has been so rewarding. A big reason as to why I continue to work with a lot of South Asian artists is because it's so hard for people in our culture to become artists. A lot of families are so traditional and want to encourage their kids to pursue science or something "safer." So many South Asian artists I meet have many similar stories and it's such a great feeling to know there's someone else who feels the same way about breaking the barriers we've been held under for so long. I think the fact that I've been able to be a part of so many people's creative journeys is wonderful. I channel a lot of my emotional energy into my work and it keeps me happy and productive. So for me, if I've been able to connect with somebody, and learn something from them and push myself to keep improving with my skills, I feel like I've succeeded.

harshvardhan-shah-chippy
Photo by Harshvardhan Shah
harshvardhan shah
Photo by Harshvardan Shah

Whose artistic work most influences and/or sustains your creative practice?

I'm really drawn to all the music I listen to. I recently saw M.I.A's documentary and it was amazing to see more of her story as she's someone I've looked up to for a long time. She's also been one of the very few brown people talking about the middle ground of belonging to the east and the west and I find myself thinking of my own identity in a very similar way since I keep going back and forth between Mumbai and New York. Her work and activism has really inspired me. I also love Lykke Li, she's so honest and raw with her emotions; you can tell she feels deeply. We're both Pisces so I guess it makes sense.

For more of his work, follow Harshvardhan on Instagram: @harshhy

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Harshvardhan Shah is an artist and photographer based in New York City and Mumbai. He is currently enrolled at The New School and studying culture and media. Most of his work revolves around the themes of South Asian identity and the LGBTQ community.

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We hope you enjoyed this interview! If you did, click here to jump on our mailing list and be the first to know when we release new content. You'll also instantly receive our free 15-page guide that helps you to build emotional and financial sustainability as an artist or creator.

Confronting Limitations

Confronting Limitations

Alok on performance, emotional survival, and loving in a violent world

By Siena Oristaglio

Alok Vaid Menon
Photo by Elif Kücük

Alok Vaid-Menon is a NYC-based gender non-conforming performance artist, writer, and educator who writes about dismantling the gender binary, misogyny, white supremacy, and more. They released their inaugural poetry chapbook in 2017 titled FEMME IN PUBLIC, and have been featured on HBO, MTV, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and more. I chat with them here about touring, their relationship with the internet, and building sustainability within their artistic practice.

I know you’ve recently left New York for a performance tour. What aspects of touring and/or performing internationally are you most looking forward to?

My favorite part of touring is connecting and collaborating with other gender non-conforming artists. My creative practice is deeply enriched from hanging out with my friends — my muses, my colleagues, my greatest inspirations. This time around I'm going to be performing with Travis Alabanza and Malik from London, Keith from Munich, Kami from Paris, Angel-Ho and Tazme from Cape Town, Umlilo from Johannesburg, the list goes on and on! My art — no, myself more generally — is the accumulation of all of the energy and spirit and joy I get from the other artists I love. Without them, there would be no art!

Are there any aspects of touring your live show that you find particularly challenging?

I feel like I give it all on the stage. My performances are so intense and personal because I genuinely want to destroy everything trying to destroy me and hopefully create a different, more kind world. After performances I sometimes feel really sad because I have to confront my limitations and the limitations of the stage more generally. The performance ends, but the world feels the same. The status quo continues — perhaps a little bit more frazzled — but it continues. It can feel impossible, like I'll never make the change that I want. I have to remind myself that even if one person in the audience was transformed — that did something. There is meaning there.

Alok Vaid Menon
Photo by Mukul Bhatia
Alok Vaid Menon
Photo by Elif Kücük

How does the internet (and your relationship to your audience through it) impact the kind of art that you make?

I grew up on the internet and it's always been a component of my art practice. It's a relationship that goes both ways: I put so much into it and get so much back. I think at the most fundamental level I didn't have an audience for my — unapologetically queer — work in real life, so I used the internet to find people who understood what I was doing. That sense of, "Is there anyone else in the world who feels this way?" is still how I approach the internet — assembling a hodgepodge and growing community of people across the world who feel like I do.

What types of support feed you? Can you think of an example of a time you deeply appreciated an interaction with someone who had experienced your work?

The biggest compliment is someone making a work of art inspired by mine. Of course I appreciate when people compliment my work, but when they go on to create something informed by it that gives me total joy! To know that I sparked creativity in someone in a world that tries to dispossess us of it, that just feels great. I recently got the chance to meet drag artist Sasha Velour who unbeknownst to me had been engaging with my work for the past five years! She told me how it informs the images she's putting out into the world and I geeked out because I was like OMG NO WAY, SAME!

What’s one action you’ve taken that has helped you to cultivate sustainability (emotional, financial, spiritual, or other) within your practice?

A few years ago I started keeping a detailed diary of everything that I do/think/feel during the day. This has been one of the most important exercises for me that keeps me grounded in who I am and who I am becoming. My writing practice was always a means of my emotional survival, so when it became a means of my income...I felt like I still needed an intimate relationship with it, unmediated by public spectacle. This type of quiet writing and processing allows me to rejuvenate and engage in the public-facing work.

How do you hope to grow as an a writer and/or performer in the coming year?

I have so much room for growth. This past year I've been allowing myself to be more and more funny, writing more jokes. Comedy gives me so much joy. Make them laugh, and then stick the truth in their mouths while they're open! I want to start doing more comedy clubs next year — expose my work, my body, my politics to audiences who never would have encountered it any other way.

What questions are on your mind today?

How do we get people to realize that they deserve to be free? How do we move beyond the imperatives to be beautiful and powerful? What does it mean to need one another? Is it possible to love in a violent world? What is the role of art in that violent world? And of course: Who am I, anyways?

Alok Vaid Menon
Photo by Abhinav Anguria

ALOK (they/them) is a gender non-conforming performance artist, writer, and educator. Their eclectic style and poetic challenge to the gender binary have been internationally renowned. Alok was recently the youngest recipient of the prestigious Live Works Performance Act Award granted to ten performance artists across the world. In 2017 they released their inaugural poetry chapbook FEMME IN PUBLIC. They have been featured on HBO, MTV, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The New Yorker and have presented their work at 350 venues in more than 30 countries.

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How to Create a Simple, Effective Design for your Website

How to create a simple, effective design for your website

Get started with web design without getting overwhelmed

By Noah Blumenson-Cook

No matter how you're building your website, making decisions about which design elements to focus on can be intimidating. In this lesson from our Web Presence for Artists course, we'll give you a simple system to keep things basic and focus on the elements that really matter.

If you found this helpful, consider becoming a Void Academy Member! You'll get the whole Web Presence course with helpful PDF worksheets and tutorials, plus all our other courses and a community that will help you grow your art practice into a sustainable, fulfilling career.

If you liked this article, jump on our mailing list here and get immediate and free access to our artist resource library, as well as our Fundamentals of Crowdfunding for Artists online course, discounts from our awesome partners, artist interviews, weekly DIY arts business tips, and more!

The Heart of Artist Sustainability

THE HEART OF ARTIST SUSTAINABILITY

What factors keep an artist's community healthy and strong?

By Karina Vahitova

 

Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash
Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash

As an artist, the process of sharing your work and growing your community are one and the same. As you do the former, the latter follows. In the video below, Void Academy co-founder Siena Oristaglio explores this process using the metaphor of a human heart. What elements keep the heart of artist sustainability healthy and strong? How do these elements help artists to grow their communities and become fulfilled by the impact their art has on the world? Watch below to learn more!

 
If you liked this article, jump on our mailing list here and get immediate and free access to our artist resource library, which includes a PDF version of this article, as well as Fundamentals of Crowdfunding for Artists online course, discounts from our awesome partners, artist interviews, and weekly DIY arts business tips.

GET OUR FREE ARTIST GUIDE!

Jump on our mailing list to instantly receive our step-by-step guide to help you build emotional and financial sustainability as an artist or creator.

We promise not to spam you.

How To Write A Great Project Statement For An Artwork

How to write a great project statement for an artwork

Breaking down the components of a simple statement that answers key questions about your work

By Siena Oristaglio on April 4th, 2018

Project Statement The Void Academy

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

Many artists we work with struggle to create strong, succinct project statements for their artworks. In our online course, Step by Step Crowdfunding for Artists, I take an example from musician Kaki King's Kickstarter to break down the creation of a simple project statement that answers key questions about your artwork. View the video below!

 
If you liked this article, jump on our mailing list here and get immediate and free access to our artist resource library, as well as our Fundamentals of Crowdfunding for Artists online course, discounts from our awesome partners, artist interviews, weekly DIY arts business tips, and more!

GET OUR FREE ARTIST GUIDE!

Jump on our mailing list to instantly receive our step-by-step guide to help you build emotional and financial sustainability as an artist or creator.

We promise not to spam you.

Create An Amazing Artist Newsletter In Six Simple Steps

Create an amazing artist newsletter in six simple steps

Starting a newsletter can be intimidating. We'll help you get one running in no time.

By Siena Oristaglio on March 7th, 2018

The Void Academy Newsletter Mailing List

Step one: Take the leap

This step is simple. Go for it! Take the leap!

Sign up for a newsletter platform. Right now. Go with Tinyletter if you want something super simple or Mailchimp if you want a bit more customization and some extra useful tools at your disposal. 

I promise it will be easy and painless to sign up! Go. Go. Go. Go. Go create an account on one of those two sites and then buy yourself a slice of pizza, come back here, and we'll continue. I believe in you. Do it! Go!

Step two: Make a plan

Woohoo! You did it! So here we are, eating a congratulatory slice of pizza, ready to begin. Like with any new and unknown quest, the idea of how to keep a consistent mailer can feel like an ambiguous blob of question marks.

So how do we befriend the blob and turn it into a beautiful, satisfying experience, much like the pizza you are currently eating? We make a plan!

Having a Plan

A good mailing list plan consists of two elements: a clear idea of what you'll put in it and when you'll send it out. The "what you'll put in it" can include anything from "upcoming events" to "behind the scenes process photos" to "images / documentation of new work" to "a list of artists that are currently blowing my mind" to "a list of pizza toppings that are currently blowing my mind."

In deciding the kind of stuff to include in your mailer, think about what currently gets you the most excited to share, and then pick a couple (one or two!) of those basic categories to start with. Keep it simple, and remember, the plan can always change — but to know whether you want to change it, you have to start somewhere.

Moving on to the second leg of the plan, when you'll send it out depends on what you feel would be most sustainable for you as an artist. Remember, you can always reassess after sending out a few mailers to see if this timeframe feels right to you.

So, if your first instinct is that you could put out a mailer once every three months, start there. If it's once a week, start there. Then try this plan on like a pair of sweatpants (covered in pizza emojis, duh) and see how it fits!

Mailing List Plan

As long as you try to stick to two legs of your plan and communicate with your people about any changes you make to it, you're in good shape! Speaking of communicating with your people, let's move onto the next step.

 Step three: Tell folks about it

Okay, step three is to tell folks about your mailer. You're going to need to tell people that you have a place where they can sign up to be regularly sent cool things from you.

This call to sign up for you mailer can happen in person or online — and ideally both. Basically, any place that a person has had a chance to resonate with your work is a place where you can let them know that you have a mailer and encourage them to get on it. If you need help creating a simple website that'll get people excited to sign up, check out this article here as a starting point.

When telling folks about your mailer, this is what I suggest: tell them what to expect and when to expect it. Luckily, this part shouldn't be hard, because you already have a plan! (See previous step.) 

A solid call-to-action for a mailer looks like this: "Sign up for my monthly mailer to receive updates on upcoming work and behind the scenes photos of my process."

Here, you are telling them about both legs of your plan, and in so doing, turning their own question marks into delicious pizza, which encourages and excites them to sign up!

 Step four: Welcome your people

Send them a hello, welcoming them to your mailer! Here you can provide them with a little sample of what's in store for them by showing rather than telling. Most mailing list platforms have a way to automate this, and the email can something be as simple as: 

Hello, [their name]! 

Pizza Sweatpants

Welcome and thanks for signing up for my mailer, where you'll now be receiving monthly updates on upcoming work and behind the scenes process photos.

To give you an idea of what this means, here's a photo of me in my studio, working on a recent work, entitled "Pizza Sweatpants.”

 I look forward to being in touch!

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

Step five: Write your truth 

The next step for an kickass mailer is to make sure your artistic voice is represented as authentically as possible. If people are on your mailing list, it means they've connected to your work and want to know more about the art and the artist who made it. This mean that as long as you are staying mostly within your plan, you can go wild within that structure to find what feels best for you with respect your own visual and written voice.

On the visual front, I recommend making life simple by creating a standard visual design template (delineating sections where possible) and then mixing up the types of media you include — i.e. videos, images, text within that structure. For your written voice, I recommend being as truthful and clear as you're willing to be in order to give people the best chance of making a connection to your work and the human behind it.

Let yourself shine through, everywhere from your subject lines (i.e. "April updates" makes me far less excited to open an email than "Pizza sweatpants: behind the scenes!" would) to the bodies of the emails themselves. Every artist has a different comfort level with respect to how honest and personal to get with people who support their work. Again, the thing to do here is to experiment, try on different ways of communicating, and see what is most enjoyable and sustainable for you.

Step six: Tell them what you want

This is the last step for now, but certainly not the least important. The best artist mailers I've ever seen include clear calls-to-action! What this means is, when I open an artist mailer, I know the main thing they want me to do after reading it (that is, of course, assuming there is something they want me to do. There usually — but not always — is.) If there is some action you want the people opening your mailer to take, make sure you answer important questions about that thing first: who, what, where, why, how much does it cost, et. al. Then ask directly and clearly and thank them in advance for doing the thing.

AN ASSIGNMENT

That's all for today — thanks for reading! Here’s your assignment for the day: Get inspired. Finding great mailers that inspire you is the first step toward creating a newsletter that will inspire your community.  It's also a great opportunity to assess what you enjoy or don’t enjoy about how other artists keep in touch.

If you are signed up for any artist mailers that you think are particularly fantastic, please send them our way using our contact form here! We're creating a database of awesome artist mailers to share with our community and we'd love to add your favorites (and maybe even yours!) to it.

If you're in need of some newsletter inspiration right now, check out this list of great artist mailers we've put together for you. We also talk about how to make great mailers in our free online course, Fundamentals of Crowdfunding for Artists. If you haven't already, click here to get that course and continue your learning journey!

 
If you liked this article, jump on our mailing list here and get immediate and free access to our artist resource library, which includes a PDF version of this article, as well as our Fundamentals of Crowdfunding for Artists online course, discounts from our awesome partners, artist interviews, and weekly DIY arts business tips.

The Three Most Important Things You Need For An Awesome Artist Website

The Three Most Important Things You Need
For An Awesome Artist Website

How to make three important decisions that will set you down the right path.

By Noah Blumenson-Cook on February 28th, 2018

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Most artists are taught to think of websites as an extension of their professional portfolio, a sort of online business card, a white box gallery space to hang your work. For most artists, their website is only a place for people to experience their art. And that is a missed opportunity.

Giving people a chance to join you in your journey as a creative person is at the center of what we talk about at the Void Academy. It's what transforms people with a passing interest in your work into a community of supporters. The most effective websites feel like active experiences. They give you a clear, obvious way to engage in some way, to go deeper than just browsing a brochure.

This is a quick guide to the first three things you need to have a basic but extremely functional site with one goal in mind: to start consolidating and growing your online community.

Today we're going to choose:

1) A domain name, 

2) A platform, and,

 3) A purpose. 

Let's dive in!

CHOOSING A GREAT DOMAIN NAME

In my opinion, there is only one rule for domain names. You have to be able to shout it across a crowded bar, and the person you're shouting at should be able to remember it and write it down. at's it.

So, to use an example, while “henri-detoulouse-lautrec.com” might be accurate, it would never pass our test. If Toulouse-Lautrec had had the Internet in the 1880s, he might have been better off with “cabaretportraits.com". Or "iloveabsinthe.com". Get creative.

Henri

We’ve all had that moment where someone has told us a domain name to remember. We smile and nod and maybe even write it down, but later we either can’t remember it or we transcribed it wrong. It’s an easy problem to solve if you follow this simple rule, so get to brainstorming!

WHICH WEB PLATFORM SHOULD I USE?

Right now, there are really only two worthwhile platforms for non or semi- technical artists in our experience: WordPress and Squarespace. Let's talk about the relative benefits of each.

WordPress is an old, established, wonderful thing. It started as a blogging platform back in 2003 and has blossomed into a complete swiss army knife of a platform. You can do practically anything you would ever need to do with WordPress, but compared to a more purpose-built platform like Squarespace you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

The WordPress you get from wordpress.org is free software. It’s not an all-in-one solution like Squarespace or Tumblr, so you’re going to need a web hosting company to actually host your site. Most of the popular ones like DreamHost, BlueHost or HostGator have a simple one-click install process for WordPress. While you’re building your site, it usually makes sense to start with a low-cost plan, around $10/month or less. You can always upgrade later!

For every feature you can think of, there’s a WordPress plugin. Most of them cost some amount of money, and figuring out which ones are worthwhile can be a chore. When building a new site, the free versions of BeaverBuilder, Wordfence and Mailchimp for WordPress are the first things I’ll install. is gives you a handy, drag-and-drop way to build pages, a good baseline for security and (most importantly) a way to get people onto your mailing list easily.

The flexibility of WordPress is its blessing and curse. If you know you’re eventually going to want to extensively customize the commerce options on your site, or built-in social engagement like forums or memberships, WordPress is the way to go. If you don’t, and you’re new to all this, consider Squarespace instead.

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Squarespace is easy to get up and running, reasonably cheap, integrates well with the major things you’ll need (i.e. mailing lists and social networks), and the commerce stuff is serviceable and easy to set up. Here’s the main thing: It’s actually kind of hard to make a crappy looking website. All the basic elements already look good. The tradeoff here is that you can’t go too far outside the box with your design, but their templates do a very good job of being very effective while staying out of the way of your content.

The downside to Squarespace’s approach is that you must do things the Squarespace Way. If you want to build a deeply interactive site with features that Squarespace doesn’t currently support, it can be a challenge. at said, if you’re building your first or even second or third version of your site, Squarespace’s limitations likely won’t be a problem.

Think of it this way: where WordPress is a big, fat, swiss army knife with every tool you could ever need (and a lot you don’t), Squarespace is a beautiful golden spork.

DEFINE YOUR SITE'S PURPOSE

Finally, let’s get into the purpose of your site. I’m going to give you one to start with. Repeat after me: “My website exists to give people who resonate with my work an opportunity to join my community.” And the best way for people to join your community right now is your mailing list.

We wax rhapsodic about mailing lists because they’re one of the most powerful tools in any artist’s arsenal. There are many, many great ways to build a community and generate revenue through your website, but in our experience, building a mailing list is the best first step.

If it seems like an overly reductive way to describe your site, you’re right. The point of boiling down your basic intention into a single, short sentence is to give yourself a guiding light that can cut through the overwhelming possibilities of what you can make. Building a website is an exercise in nearly infinite possibility, so starting the project with a single, clear goal in mind is vital.

As you continue to build your site, your purpose statement will evolve and grow. Eventually, your site can become the central place for all the content you create, the hub for everything that it takes to make your art exist, a vehicle to impact your community and the world at large. But it’s important to start small and expand into that larger vision rather than tackle it all at once.

Minimalism is key. For every feature or section or piece of content you put on your site, think about whether it’s serving your purpose statement. If it doesn’t, leave it out. If you’re ever unsure, get in touch with the people who sign up for your list and ask them for feedback. Your website is there for people who care about your artwork, and their opinions matter.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is this: Have fun. Play and experiment. Do things wrong, learn, and evolve. And when you get stuck, get in touch with us. We’re here to help!

AN ASSIGNMENT

This week, find and bookmark five websites from other artists that made you want to take action. Think about what resonated with you, how they presented their work, and how it felt when you came to the decision point for their call to action. Understanding how it feels to go from browsing the web to joining a community is an important first step in being able to build your own. And if you find any sites that you think really stand out, get in touch! We'd love to hear about them.

If you're looking for a place to get started, check out this list of great artist websites we put together. Better yet, if you become a Void Academy member, you'll get our full Web Presence for Artists course and much, much more. Click here to get started!

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We hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, click here to jump on our mailing list and be the first to know when we release new content. You'll also instantly receive our free 15-page guide that helps you to build emotional and financial sustainability as an artist or creator.