Mellon Foundation grant will fund new Creative Exchange Lab

Portland Institute for Contemporary Art has received $500,000 to fund a new artist residency program

Large grants aren’t unheard of at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Arts. PICA received a $1 million Doris Duke Charitable Foundation grant in 2001, for example, to support commissioning new work, develop its residency program and aid its presentation efforts, and to establish an artistic programming endowment. But the three-year $500,000 Andrew Mellon Foundation grant that it received back in September (and announced a couple of weeks ago) is for a brand-new program, and that’s a first.

The Creative Exchange Lab is a residency program, but according to Angela Mattox, PICA’s artistic director, it’s one intended to solve a specific problem: As the boundaries between performance and other art forms have blurred, how can artists in different disciplines learn from each other and then have a place to experiment with what they have learned, without a specific performance or exhibition looming? So the Lab, which will welcome its first cohort of residents in April, will gather artists from various disciplines for a few weeks of work and talk.

Jennifer Lacey and Wally Cardona. Cardona is part of PICA's first Creative Exchange Lab./Photo by Ian Douglas

Jennifer Lacey and Wally Cardona. Cardona is part of PICA’s first Creative Exchange Lab./Photo by Ian Douglas

It will diversify in other ways, too, by age, nationality, and where the artists are in their careers. And slots will be reserved for Northwest artists. PICA will host two groups of 8 to 12 residents a year, including a Fall session that will overlap with its Time-Based Art festival. The grant will pay for artist fees and expenses, including studio and workshop space. The first group includes Wally Cardona and Myint Mo, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Dawn Kasper, Holcomb Waller, and Lucy Lee Yim, a sort of test group that will meet for a shorter period than subsequent resident groups will.

Cardona is a New York choreographer in mid-career, whose work has taken an interesting turn lately—he’s begun working with dancers from traditional dance forms to make duets. Myint Mo, for example, is a dancer from Myanmar. Cardona has performed in Portland since 2000, including the memorable “Everywhere” at the TBA festival, which I reviewed for The Oregonian in 2005: “The tightly wound ‘Everywhere’ isn’t a release from our day’s accumulated insults. Yet it understands deeply the restrictions in life that often generate those insults, and then converts this understanding into a movement attack that grows in ferocity as the dance unfolds.”

from "Niagara" from Jibade-Khalil Huffman on Vimeo.

Huffman is a writer and poet, who works in photography, video and performance; he’s performed and exhibited at the Hammer Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and MoMA/P.S.1 in New York.

Kasper is a New York visual artist who has also done some performance work.

Holcombe Waller "Hardliners" Music Video from Two Penguins on Vimeo.

Waller is a popular Portland performer, composer and musician; he’s creating a community-based choir LGBT Requiem Mass, working with both PICA and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Yim_Lucy_TUNNEL from Lucy Yim on Vimeo.

And Yim is a Portland choreographer whose work is multi-disciplinary and focused on a range of political, psychological and sociological issues.

Mattox envisioned the idea for the Lab even before becoming PICA’s artistic director in 2011, and she has talked to the Mellon Foundation for years about various iterations of the idea, she said. PICA had already done a lot of experimenting with artist residencies that involved some degree of peer-to-peer sharing, and the TBA festival acts as an impromptu exchange lab, because so many artists are in one place at the same time. With the Mellon grant, She’s hoping to craft a program specifically for that purpose, to “gell a culture of artistic inquiry and collaboration” at PICA that honors the time and research it takes artists to develop new work. And she’s hoping that PICA, Portland and the Northwest become known as a hub where that sort of deeper, multi-disciplinary collaboration can take place.

The artists won’t be expected to produce work specifically for the TBA festival, although Mattox said that she hopes the chance to establish deeper relationships with them will often lead to TBA festival appearances.

PICA also received a $75,000 Creative Heights grant for the same program last fall, which Mattox expects to use on documentation of the residencies, among other things.

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