Mentor day at Artist Orientation 2017. Photo by Shamsher Virk.
“Fearless science fiction”
These are just a handful of the phrases captured from conversations about selected artists’ work during last week’s American Arts Incubator (AAI) orientation. The six artists comprising the 2018 exchange cohort were already buzzing with ideas for how to apply their wide-ranging art practices to address social challenges abroad, and had gathered in San Francisco to prepare for their upcoming exchanges in Ecuador, Egypt, India, Morocco, Poland, and Ukraine. The weeklong orientation was hosted at the historic San Francisco Art Institute, providing ample inspiration with its scenic courtyard, Diego Rivera mural, and rooftop views.
During the orientation, AAI artists pitched their workshop ideas to mentors from San Francisco Art Institute, California College of the Arts, Yerba Buena Arts Center, and Adobe; two AAI alum also returned as mentors for this year’s program. The group discussed the social and political implications of facilitating socially-engaged art in a foreign country, and practiced live language interpretation. Artists also had a chance to practice facilitating creative icebreakers that ranged from designing symbols representative of their artistic practice to impersonating jellyfish. Local arts enthusiasts also had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the cohort during a midweek happy hour.
After the whirlwind of orientation was over, the artists reflected on their experience. Dasha Ortenberg (AAI exchange artist to Morocco) was inspired by the diversity and commonalities she found within the group: “It was so valuable to see the different ways in which each of us merges ideas about self-understanding and social empowerment with historic spaces, traditional practices, and new technologies. It is so inspiring that we use such different methods to explore similar existential questions.”
Beatrice Glow (AAI exchange artist to Ecuador) expressed a sense of appreciation for the AAI community and the unique opportunity the program represents: “I feel refreshed to take part in a program where artists are valued for our agency as civic actors and the validation that art and tech may build towards a viable means of social change.”
With both AAI staff and artists energized from a week spent together preparing for and exploring the possibilities of international creative exchange, this year’s program is off to a great start. The cultural and artistic exchange will only deepen when the six artists begin collaborating with overseas participants during their upcoming exchange trips in spring 2018.