An approach to creating projects that I’ve employed many times (other artists have as well) and that I think is an interesting option generally, but is not often used by emerging artists (I’ve rarely run across MFA projects of this sort), is what I’ll call the delegated model. My sense is that because there is such an engrained sense that the “artist” is supposed to do all of the “work” by themselves in a studio (as perpetuated by the studio/gallery market based art system) approaches which seem to counter that approach are largely not considered, even if they make a lot of sense.
So this is what I mean by a delegated model— the artist person or collaborative group comes up with a structure and an intended outcome that necessarily involves contributions by many other people (or organizations, etc) to be produced. There are some obvious advantages to this approach— multiple sources of knowledge and or skills can be included that go beyond the artist’s person ones, the project can be of a larger scale by having many small parts working together to form something bigger, and a variety of people can be involved and invested which also extends to those people’s built-in audiences, increasing the number and variety of people who experience the work.
Any subject matter and set of participants can be addressed and included in a delegated model, and the project can be variable in its scale and context— in other words the approach can be used in any possible situation, just like other methods of making art works like painting or photography or performance.
This might all be a bit too abstract, so let me describe a particular project as an example. I’m currently working as part of a collaborative group called Public Doors and Windows on a project for Shine A Light at the Portland Art Museum. Shine A Light is an annual event where the PSU Art and Social Practice program creates interventions of various sorts in the museum for one evening (this year it will be on June 6th.) The project that Public Doors and Windows is organizing is a distributed “book fair” that will take place in various locations inside of PAM. There are twelve participating book organizations (one of them isn’t an organization but an author, Julie Ault). Each of those participants will have a “book station” in which to display and sell their books during the night of Shine A Light and the following day. Each of the book stations (for lack of a better term) is being designed and built by either a sculpture or architecture undergraduate student from Portland State University. The students have been asked to consult with the book entity that they are paired with to find out their interests and needs, while also considering formal and sculpture concerns in regards to what they want to construct. In this way the students who wouldn’t normally have access to showing their work in a museum context have the ability to do that and at the same time they are fulfilling a functional need. All of the students have been paid a small fee to produce the structures and are being credited in the publication that goes along with the event as collaborators on the project (and are encouraged to list it on their resumes, etc. as well.)
The project is engaging to me because it creates something I’d like to experience in the museum (I’m a major book enthusiast and always like to encounter interesting publications in any context.) It works with the content of a set of mostly local and independent book publishers and sellers (and gives them an opportunity to gain exposure and sell some product), and the project also facilitates the production and display of art works by student/artists who otherwise wouldn’t have made the work or had a venue to display it in. Hopefully the project will also bring in a wide variety of interested people connected to both the book entities and the students, which broadens the audience for the project itself, the larger Shine A Light event, and the museum in general.
The delegated model is not right for every situation and leaves a lot to be desired from certain perspectives (for instance if you as the artist want to actually make an object of some sort by yourself), but it is another good optional approach that can be used effectively if artists and institutions see it as a viable and valid way to work.