A Week in the Country

In late September, I did a weeklong residency at Spark Box Studio in Prince Edward County, Ontario. I was thrilled to have this opportunity.

Residencies are designed to give artists the thing they need the most: unfettered time to work (see my post Who Does She Think She Is?). I understood the importance of this time, but rarely having had it, didn’t realize how absolutely profound it would be. Without the pressure to work at a tightly-scheduled time, my creative practice had space to do what it needed to do. At the beginning, I mostly explored the area, by car and by foot. Prince Edward County is an almost-island that juts out into Lake Ontario, with rocky beaches and rolling farmland. I started photographing the landscape, focusing on pattern and form: storm clouds, the rocky shoreline, a row of trees along the horizon of a field. Back in the studio, I made sketches of these forms, and then juxtaposed them in new ways to make abstract compositions.

As I developed a series of pieces, including a three-by-five foot drawing and an etching, I came to a realization: however deconstructed and abstracted it is, my work is essentially landscape.

Whether it’s the landscape of my mind or a more direct reference to the world I see in front of me, it’s my interpretation of the forms and rhythms of the natural world as it juts up against the built world. I am excited to more explicitly pursue this idea, and am starting to translate my mark-making and imagery into color.

Another aspect of my work at Spark Box, which was so instructive for me, was moving back and forth between making drawings, a process that is very intuitive, direct, and spontaneous for me, and etchings, which requires a very different visual and conceptual sensibility and process. I am excited to continue to work in these complementary ways.

The overall experience was mind-blowing--to be validated as an artist and afforded this space and time, to be able to lose myself in hours of work with no interruptions, and to share a beautiful old farmhouse with fellow residents Folksblogen, Joanna Gresik, and Chrissy Poitras and Kyle Topping, who run Spark Box. Chrissy and Kyle started Spark Box as a way to support other artists while allowing them to pursue their own art careers; their vision and values have inspired me to think more creatively and collectively about how to build a sustainable art career for myself. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and can’t wait for the next residency opportunity that comes along.

Openings, closure...and more openings

The last month of my life has been marked by some pretty significant events--moments of closure paired with new openings and beginnings. First of all, The Multi-Families Project exhibit opened at The Flight Deck. I am so proud of this project and the installation piece that resulted. And I loved seeing the multi-generational, multiracial mix of people in the gallery. Almost all of the participating families attended, and it was thrilling to witness them and their friends and family engage with the installation. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who took part in this project.

The exhibit was also bittersweet for me, because it was my creative swan song to the Bay Area. More than two decades ago, I moved to San Francisco fresh out of art school and dove into the video and performance art scene; later, I began teaching and facilitating community-based theater projects. I’m proud that I was part of a group that brought the late Augusto Boal to San Francisco to headline a conference on theater and social change, and that I co-founded OutLook Theater Project and produced a full-length play with an intergenerational LBGTQIA cast. I’m grateful for the fellow visual artists who encouraged me to reconnect with that side of myself.

I’ve seen the Bay Area arts community go through many phases and transitions, watched the communities and cliques form, reform, and transform. And although many people say that the Bay Area is known for being a transitory place, marked by constant change, the latest economic shifts driven by the tech-fueled bubble felt different to me. The region is losing, and will continue to lose, so many of the people and organizations that have made it such a wonderful, crazy, and unique place to be, a place where every possible subculture existed.

For me, as it has been for many of my fellow artists and nonprofit workers, the squeeze just got too tight. A month ago, our family left Berkeley to move to Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a community just outside of Philadelphia. Today I kicked off my creative career here with an orientation for Mural Arts’ incredible Arts & Artists Outdoors program. Over the next year, I will work with youth at a recreation center in West Philadelphia to develop and create an installation reflecting on the environment. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and am looking forward to getting to know the arts community here. But California is in me; I spent my entire adult life there and I will carry it wherever I go.

Stay tuned for the next phase of Rebecca Schultz Projects--Philly edition!

We Are the 15 Percent

I am excited to include a portion of The Multi-Families Project installation in a group show entitled Kin, opening at The Flight Deck this Friday, June 3rd. Each of the six artists in the show is exploring the concept of kin in very different ways, both conceptually and aesthetically. As this project unfolds, I am continuing to reflect on what kinship means for myself and honored to hear what it means for other multiracial and cross-cultural families.

I was recently looking through the photographs my collaborator Elizabeth Strong has taken for the project so far, and googled “multiracial families photography” to look for other examples and stumbled up the website wearethe15percent.com. The website was inspired by a Cheerios ad that featured a multiracial family and its subsequent backlash. I don’t want to dwell on the backlash because it’s yet another reminder of how many people in this country are behind the curve on exhibiting fundamental human decency...so I’ll stop there. But it is a reminder that while Loving Vs. Virginia happened almost a half-century ago, acceptance of interracial marriage and families remains mixed. In fact, one of the inspirations for undertaking The Multi-Families Project came from a conversation with my amazing and inspiring friend and former creative collaborator Lynn Johnson. Lynn told me that, between being in a same-sex marriage and and interracial one, the latter has a larger impact on how she moves through the world.

In any case, when I opened the link to We Are the 15 Percent, I had to take a deep breath in to keep from crying. It is a crowd-sourced archive of multiracial families all over the country, and the most simple, and beautiful, response to the backlash. I couldn’t stop looking. Sadly, many people can relate to the feeling of not seeing others like them represented in the mainstream media. So when an individual or family “like your own” shows up, it’s a profound feeling. And that’s exactly why I launched The Multi-Families Project--to showcase the beauty and diversity of families in our own community. Stay tuned to hear how the rest of the project unfolds!

Who Does She Think She Is?

In recently returning to my visual arts practice, I am also re-immersing myself in the critical and socio-political constructs of that practice. So I picked up Art on My Mind by bell hooks from my bookshelf. hooks is one of my favorite critical writers of all time. Her writing about feminism, education, and love has been revelatory for me.

In Art On My Mind, which was published twenty years ago, hooks addresses the gaps in critical thought and writing about African American contemporary art and artists, with a particular focus on women. The book includes essays about and interviews with some of my favorite artists--like Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson--who contest and confront the colonial, patriarchal gaze. And in the current sociopolitical climate, where the dehumanization of people of color and women continues apace, this work feels more relevant than ever.

About halfway through the book, I got to her essay “Women Artists: The Creative Process.” This essay, in which hooks writes about the struggles women still face in fulfilling their passion as artists, struck a deep chord with me.

I often joke that art school made me a feminist, but it’s absolutely true. As a painting student at Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was shocked to discover that the “boys club” mentality that I associated with the abstract expressionist movements of the 1950s was still alive and well. A group of male students made work frequently degrading to women and treated their female peers like groupies who were there to serve their egos, a dynamic that was reinforced by several of the school’s more popular professors. As a reaction, my work began to incorporate iconic symbols of women’s power, fertility, and endurance. At the final critique of my junior year, my professor, who I had sparred with all year, said “the imagery in your painting is too feminine for me to be able to talk about.” Over the next year, my work shifted to mixed media pieces incorporating photography, text, and media images that more directly confronted the insidious social messages that shape gender roles. I discovered the  Guerilla Girls and the Women’s Action Coalition (WAC) and stepped fully into the role of feminist artist.

That was more than twenty years ago. Now I am a parent to three children living in one of the most expensive urban regions in the country. Finding the time and space to engage in artmaking, a practice that is so devalued economically, and therefore rarely synonymous with a family-sustaining career, and setting that on top of a life as a full-time parent working full-time, seems almost impossible. Adrienne Rich describes the time women artists, particularly those with families, set aside to make art as “time guiltily seized.”

Seeking more women’s voices about this struggle, I came across a trailer for the 2008 film Who Does She Think She Is?, which follows a diverse group of women balancing the demands of family and their calling as artists. The film sets these personal stories within the larger context of the continued underrepresentation of women artists in the art world. In the trailer, a professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts states that while 80% of the students at the school are women, only seven to eight percent of the women represented in New York galleries are women. A recent survey of women in the arts adds more context.  

In other words, there are two layers to women artists’ struggle: the struggle to carve out the time to create, and the struggle to share what they’ve created with the world. Yet despite these barriers, for the women featured in Who Does She Think She Is?, NOT making art simply wasn’t an option. As ceramicist Janis Wunderlich put it, “I’ve found that, the times in my life when I haven’t had time to do art, I go crazy.”

I’m writing about this because I’m trying to figure it out for myself, and know that other women out there are too. It’s my hope that mutual support can lift us all up so that we can be our fullest selves: artists, parents, and partners. I really want to believe it’s possible.

Belonging in Transition

I'm thrilled to launch my website with a post about my latest project, Belonging in Transition. This was written for the #WhereDoYouBelong project blog (see the original post here).

The exhibition Belonging in Transition opens this Friday. I am excited about it because it will showcase a diversity of creative work--an installation I created, painted portraits by Tasha Rodriguez, and a composed poetry piece on printed posters by Jason Wyman--all of which have a common root: they are inspired by and drawn from the words and experiences of young people all over San Francisco.

I have been creating artwork that directly engages the community for over fifteen years, most recently honing performance-making processes through OutLook Theater Project. OutLook’s ensemble experimented with many different ways of generating material, including story circles, interviews, and online surveys. The interview strategies we are using for #WhereDoYouBelong are inspired by, and iterate on, that work. A central goal of the project is to create a “data bank” of interview documentation that artists can use as material for works of art that reflect on the complexities of belonging.

Belonging in Transition was conceived as a installation piece that would incorporate the perspectives and creativity of transition-aged youth, in particular exploring how belonging is shifting as they move from youth to adulthood. I created a two-phase workshop process to develop the piece: in June 2015, I facilitated a workshop with participants in CHALK's Youth Funding Youth Ideas program, utilizing theater, visual arts, and writing. My goal was to have them generate visual metaphors for belonging that I could draw upon to create the overall form of the installation. Participants visualized places of belonging in their past, present, and future, and created short performance pieces that charted their journey between the three points.

I am used to working with youth over a longer period of time to make performance, which allows me to build trust and comfort; so I was worried that they would feel self-conscious doing this work. However, the pieces, which were created so quickly, turned out to be profound. They reflected stops and starts, places of despair and hope, hesitations and overcoming of barriers, and the sheer will often required to keep moving through life. As I thought about the fact that transition is never a straightforward, linear process, one of the participants put forward the metaphor of belonging as a tree. Branches don't grow in straight lines: they split and curve and stop and sometimes have to be cut in order to keep the tree healthy. I chose to make the tree out of a material that evoked both a continuous journey and referenced childhood: wooden toy train tracks.

I wanted the final piece to both incorporate artwork made by youth themselves as well as by people who came to see the exhibit, and was inspired by memory trees, which are decorated with tags that capture bits and pieces of lived experience. So I went back to CHALK and did a second workshop with YFYI youth, in which they each created a personal collage piece about belonging on wooden tags--a visual “memory.” These pieces are now attached to the tree; if you come to the exhibit you will have the chance to make your own collage and attach it as well.

In the coming year (and beyond), expect more "creative interventions" like this one, where an artist works with a specific community and gathers community reflections on belonging, then creates a participatory work of art. It's an exciting way of working; I can't wait to see how it unfolds.