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VAN Partners Converge in Philadelphia

Posted: Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 at 5:21 pm in News

by VAN Program Director Ann Kaufman

This past May in Philadelphia, the Visual Artists Network (VAN) convened a two-day gathering of the VAN Partner organizations. This was the third national meeting of VAN Partners since the program’s inception in 2008 when the newly selected VAN Partner organizations gathered in Seattle for the NPN Annual Meeting. Modeled after NPN’s performing arts program, VAN is intended to create a national model for visual artist residency practices that nurture under-recognized contemporary visual artists. Networking is key but uncommon in the field of visual arts, outside of market-driven arenas. VAN explores the possibilities of such a network – inspired by curatorial practices and experimental work, where artists and curators alike have the opportunity to come together.

Just as the NPN Partners gather regionally at four Mid-Year Meetings in late spring, VAN held their Mid-Year Meeting in May.  Attended by the 15 VAN Partner organizations, which hail from all regions of the United States — from Birmingham, Alabama to Portland, Oregon, the meeting was hosted by NPN/VAN Partner Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia. Over the course of two days, May 20-May 21st, the VAN Partners embarked on an intense itinerary, including policy discussions, the presentation of artists’ work, art excursions, and evening festivities. VAN leadership organized a forum where the curators and directors of the VAN Partners could engage in conversations about the work of their organizations and overarching issues in the field. Each of the VAN Partners presented the work of the artists they had hosted through the VAN Exhibition Residency Program, thus introducing artists to the national network. Culminating the discussion forums was a joint meeting of the VAN Partners and the NPN Partners of the northeast region. Of the thirty or so organizations present, each Partner representative spoke about the state of their institution – from fiscal health and core stability to creative endeavors. Through these conversations, VAN looks to build peer support across geographic divides, helping organizations overcome isolation and share insights about their challenges and accomplishments.

To introduce the visiting VAN Partners to Philadelphia’s cultural community, Asian Arts Initiative’s Executive Director Gayle Isa planned an art excursion, woven together with a cross-city driving tour hosted by the Mural Arts Program to see the city’s urban mural landscape. The first stop was Taller Puertorriqueño, known as el Corazón Cultural del Barrio, where youth and adults participate in studio workshops and gallery exhibitions. The next stop was the Village of Arts & Humanities, a sprawling, eclectic collection of buildings and lots that are connected through public art works, edible gardens, writers’ workshops, and other programs serving the community of North Philadelphia. The last stop on the tour was the Crane Arts Building, a warehouse in an industrial redevelopment corridor transformed through commercial enterprise to house artist studios and vast gallery spaces. Although incredibly varied in their practices, each of the three sites are imbued with a purpose uniquely defined by their surrounding communities, a quality shared by the VAN Partners. In addition to the guided tour, Gayle Isa mapped a walking tour of Philadelphia’s downtown independent galleries, which the VAN Partners explored on foot – a veritable treasure hunt of cutting-edge arts spaces from Vox Populi Gallery to Space 1026.

To further welcome the VAN and NPN Partners into their cultural and artistic community, Asian Arts Initiative hosted a reception on the evening of May 20th – inviting local artists and arts organizers to mingle with the national visitors in a relaxed and festive environment.

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