EM’s List: Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago

EM’s List Member
A Community Engagement Residency
[This post is by EM’s List Editor/Curator, Stephanie Moore]

The mission of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago positions it as an innovative and compelling contemporary art center where diverse audiences can experience works and ideas of contemporary artists as well as understand the context in which the art was made. This includes creating a space for open discussion and contemplation about contemporary art and culture while creating a sense of community among diverse constituents. In 2010, MCA initiated a creative residency, The Mark Bradford Project (TMBP), focused on community engagement prior to the major solo exhibition of works by Mark Bradford, MacArthur Fellow and LA-based contemporary artist,. Bradford’s interest in connecting with different types of people and observing the impact his works have on public and private spaces parallels MCA’s current focus on audience engagement. This residency was created based on Bradford’s interest in community engagement. TMBP was designed side-by-side with the artist, community partners, and museum leaders with the specific intent of connecting the museum with Chicago residents.

During this yearlong residency, Bradford encouraged discussions and community engagement projects among diverse Chicago communities. He worked closely with Chicago students at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and teens participating in the YOUmedia program at Harold Washington Library. He also led a discussion about art and community at Trinity United Church of Christ, after expressing an interest in giving a Visiting Artist talk in a nontraditional setting.

Sixteen students at Lindblom Math and Science Academy collaborated with Bradford and one another on projects reflecting the ideas of journey and reflection. Throughout the five-month collaboration, students discussed their inspiration and ideas while receiving daily critiques from one another, Bradford, and their teacher Nathan Diamond. Through video conferencing the students were able to catch a glimpse of Bradford’s open studio and of his assistants working on the day-to-day business of an artist while he critiqued the work they had been doing. The students learned to engage in positive critiques and built a new language for collaborative art-making.

YOUmedia students connected with Bradford by analyzing his work and promoting dialogue around the authorship, format, audience, and message of his works. This critical perspective helped the students understand the connection between the artist and his work. As part of this collaborative process YOUmedia students connected in person and through an online social learning network to propose projects, complete research, and critique each other’s work focused around the themes of mapping, collage, video, mixed media, and layering.

The outcome of the this residency with Lindblom Academy and YOUmedia was (Re)Connect, an exhibition which showcased the student works at the Pop-Up Art Loop Gallery. This show changed the dialogue between Bradford and the youth from production to presentation: engaging in discussions about how a viewer will interact with their works and how their works fit within the exhibition space. This experience built a collaborative spirit among the students and allowed them the opportunity to understand the business of being an artist.

The Mark Bradford Project was successful because the partners shared a willingness to work together. MCA staff, Mark Bradford, Lindblom Academy, and YOUmedia created an environment within which the residency could function. Bradford paralleled the experience with his painting technique saying that the residency was made of many little bits and without all of those bits it would fall apart. This idea is an important part of the community engagement experience. Truly involving diverse participants requires a willingness to work together and an understanding that the connections between all of the parts make it stronger.

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