Forth Fund Helps Holcombe Waller & MCA Find a Way with Wayfinders

May 1, 2014  •  3 minute read

by Cameron Heinze, Manager of Performance Programs for Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Holcombe Waller at MCA

Holcombe Waller’s Wayfinder at MCA, Chicago

I think every presenter longs for an opportunity to have more time with an artist. We all work incredibly hard to support work we believe in, which is valuable and commendable, but for me, there’s an ever present twinkling of dissatisfaction when a show sweeps in and out like the Black Rock City “Leave No Trace” principle. I’m sure others share the feeling, but committing additional time and resources to this deepened involvement is tricky; that’s why the Forth Fund is so valuable. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago recently had an exemplary experience with the program as the venue partner for a developmental residency of Holcombe Waller’s Creation Fund project Wayfinders. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience, specifically because the Forth Fund works so well. First, the program is just very practical and useful. Beyond the obvious (and incredibly valuable) financial support, it fosters familiarity, something that quick-turnaround presenters relish (because we so rarely experience it). Wayfinders has now lived on our stage, fitted for MCA’s particular space in a very tangible way. The technicians and designers are familiar with our theater’s equipment and grid, the performers know how to find the dressing rooms, and everyone already has their favorite lunch spot. This means that when Holcombe and his team return for their performance residency, we can skip all of the tiresome orientations and get straight to work, which is enormously helpful and important to presenting the best work possible.
(l to r) Elise Blatchford, Leander Star, Ellen McSweeney

(l to r) Elise Blatchford, Leander Star, Ellen McSweeney

A similarly critical result of the Forth Fund residency is personal (and personnel!) familiarity. I think my favorite moment of the entire week was a casually planned breakfast that we held in the theater before work began for the day. MCA staff had the pleasure of actually getting to know each visiting artist, to discuss art and histories and relationships, not just production logistics or box office reports. I learned how various people joined Holcombe’s eclectic group and even shared some of my own independent projects, finding common interests and experiences. In my opinion, this is developing a true relationship with an artist, something beyond just following the growth of their art making. But speaking of content, a Forth Fund residency clearly provides an ideal platform for helping an artist continue to develop and promote their work. I so enjoyed walking into the theater periodically each day to see what had been added, edited and sometimes scrapped. We discussed these content changes in real time and got a clear sense of the team’s creation and editing process. I’m embarrassed by the number of times I asked Holcombe to introduce and describe his work to new people, either through face-to-face meetings or video interviews. That said, Wayfinders deals in a fair amount of abstraction and I’d like to think that by forcing Holcombe to speak about his work so many times, it helped him achieve further clarity and articulation in how he describes it. And by listening, MCA staff similarly became better at explaining the work to our colleagues and audiences, all of which will contribute to the success of the final presentation in November 2014. There’s also something important to be said about NPN’s presence from creation to presentation. They function like a guide and provide valuable feedback at critical stages of the process. Admittedly, I am especially fond of the Forth Fund model and selfishly wish that many more projects that cross our stage over a season could be part of the program. Certainly, we’re thankful that Wayfinders was. photos courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago The Forth Fund is made possible by Mellon Foundation. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
May 2014