Kickstarter: The Woman Behind a New Art-Funding Initiative
Visionary patrons are a critical part of the arts ecosystem. I first met Alexandra Shabtai while I was visiting faculty at Otis College’s Graduate Public Practice program, led by artist and activist Suzanne Lacy. Shabtai had recently completed an internship in the Hammer Museum’s Public Engagement program, working with curator Allison Agsten, after realizing that her post-graduation goals all revolved around community engagement and art. Impressed, I invited her to work with Otis students and faculty members Consuelo Velasco Montoya, Renée Petropoulos, and Andrea Bowers to help realize the program’s year-end exhibition at ForYourArt.
Shabtai has now developed SPArt, an ambitious funding initiative, the aim of which is to empower artists and their work as agents of change. SPArt supports Los Angeles-based Social Practice art projects that work in cooperation with communities to address current social issues and conditions. Fellow advisory-board member John D. Spiak (director and chief curator of Grand Central Art Center) speaks to the need for such an organization: “SPArt is supporting artistic practices that are not currently being funded by traditional foundations and grant organizations. It believes strongly in the efficacy of contemporary artists working within their communities through socially engaged art.”
SPArt recently announced its first three grants to Dorit Cypis, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, and Christina Sanchez (above). I sat down with Alexandra to hear more about her vision.
Why a grant program?
Social-practice art fills a void, giving art a purpose to create change rather than simply being collectible. There is a huge gap in funding for it by art collectors and traditional funders. The art world hasn’t yet found it to be something worth investing in, and philanthropic entities don’t see its potential for community organization—they see it only as “art,” and therefore not applicable to them.
For arts funders, it may not fit into any of the traditional exhibition or public-art formats they’re used to supporting. Are you hoping to inspire others to support art like this?
Absolutely. I’m hoping that traditional art collectors start to see this more ephemeral work—both less materialistic and less materialized work—as having significant value. And that non-arts-related foundations see the enormous potential in funding social-practice projects—which only sometimes involves the on-the-ground work those funders are usually expecting. These kinds of projects bring awareness to social issues that affect people much more deeply than just reading an article or clicking a “Donate” button online.
As a millennial, are you optimistic about your peers supporting this kind of work? Museums, for example, often struggle to attract younger donors.
Yes. My peers—and the generation before and after me—all have a desire for the hands-on experience that social-practice art provides. The ability to get involved with something productive, which makes a difference, is increasingly important. Using art as a tool to accomplish this is very appealing.
How do you plan to develop SPArt in its first year?
Since SPArt is dedicated to the particular visions of the artists it funds, and because it doesn’t have a home, it’s easy to remain nimble. We’re definitely taking this first year as an opportunity to hone our approach to supporting this amazing field.
For more information, visit spart-la.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Bettina Korek