Project Stream: Arts Ecologies

This stream grew out of two tributaries: Organograms and the Flexible Art Worlds Map. Organograms were poetic organization diagrams, created from 2006 – 2009, mostly by invitation. They were based on conversations with stakeholders, working in or associated with arts organizations. The Flexible Art Worlds Diagram grew out of my attempt to visualize a syllabus, in 2009. Organograms were printed in two versions, large for display at the organization it reflected, and as a poster/postcard for distribution to its users. The Flexible Art Worlds Diagram is a framework for talks and lectures, delivered in small settings with a prepared Whiteboard or more broadly with a Keynote presentation. It is updated frequently, through audience feedback.

There have been 3 Arts Ecology projects to date. All were carried out with students of the Arts Administration and Policy Program at SAIC, a department I currently chair. I believe that the recently conducted Chicago Cultural Plan (2012) has opened a door, locally, for organizations to consider more formal inclusion of art inflected perspectives in community and urban planning processes. I also believe that as an artist with a cultural policy skill set, I ask, observe, listen and hear differently from typically sociology-based researchers. All Arts Ecology projects are located in or near Chicago: in Evanston, and in Chicago south and west side neighborhoods. They are based on interviews with stakeholders in bounded geographic areas. The project in Evanston culminated in an exhibition. The Chicago based projects generated posters for general distribution and feedback sessions with funders and stakeholders.

South East Chicago Commission (2014)


Homan Square – North Lawndale (2014)


Evanston Art Center (2013)

Flexible Art Worlds

In the fall of 2009, I took on the core introductory course, “Arts Organizations in Society,” in the MA program in Arts Administration and Policy at SAIC. The syllabus was to cover key areas: National Cultural Policy, Cultural Economics, Heritage and Tourism, Public Art, issues in Museum Studies, Creative Industries, Digital Heritage and Electronic Policy. Given my proclivities, I sketched out a diagram of the course content as I assembled it, a first version by hand, subsequent ones in Illustrator. I recounted familiar narratives from museology - the emergence of the museum from budding scientific, archaeological and ethnographic classificatory systems in colonial and domestic political contexts on the one hand, and from the Wunderkammer to contemporary dedicated architectures on the other. I also constructed a lineage I had not found spelt out in literature, the emergence of what is now designated as 'Creative Industries' from the discoveries and proud and crude parading of both industrial innovation and ethnic difference at world fairs at the same time as the museum emerged, to the economic centrality of innovation and the marketing of diversity today. 

The diagram proved so helpful that I decided to use it in the classroom as well. For that, I broke it down into stages, so that I could present it cumulatively, as a Keynote slide show, commenting on each area as it was added in, marking possible collaborations and professional paths. After this first use, the diagram evolved and grew, as it continues to do. It was presented to other groups of students and to colleagues on several occasions. With each conversation areas were discovered that needed to be included – the growing phenomenon of private museums, for example - and relationships were identified that could be clarified by spatial shifts.

From the classroom and other SAIC venues, the art world diagram migrated into the museum. Pre-printed on a whiteboard, it was one of five narratives at hand in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, “Without You I Am Nothing,” in March 2011. For a week, I gave daily noon time talks and was available for individual conversations during afternoons. Armed with markers and sheets of magnetic vinyl that could be cut to size, the diagrams were marked up and modified on the spot. The diagram will stay a work in progress.