PM: One of the things I asked you to do was to help me de-silo the Center, and to create a lot of energy and synergy across the various program areas that we fund here.
AG: The Center’s logo was what first struck me—and that the white box at the center of the logo, the space shared by the various programs, was more virtual than real. How could we enhance that share of space in the context of the daily life of the Center, both for the people within it and people visiting?
PM: You were the first to see that central box as the space that was there for the making, for the inhabiting.
AG: The other thing that I noticed was that the closest thing to that white box for the visitor is, in fact, the reception area. You enter the Center and then you are ushered pretty fast into the door marked with your discipline. And the closest physical iteration of that white box for the staff is the kitchen, where everybody meets and has spontaneous conversation across their tasks and disciplines.
PM: And part of your thinking, as I remember, was that there is, understandably, a barrier and a power differential between funders and their grantees. And your sense was that it was helpful for the artist to see what really goes on in a funder’s office day to day. So you created the White Box Residencies, for which you invited local artists to participate in mini-residencies at the Center. Both of the first two artists were given access to our directors’ meetings, among others, and they came out of those days with a different idea of the kind of conversations we have. Our third White Box artist is just starting his residency. At the end of the directors’ meeting he attended, I asked him, “So what did you think?” and he said, “It was completely different than what I thought it was going to be.”
I don’t know if that is a function of our specific kinds of directors’ meetings or just any funders in general sitting down for a closed conversation. But I do know that I have sat and watched the faces of the artists that we’ve invited into these meetings. And I see a kind of door being opened—some sense of, “Oh, I get it. They actually do care about our work and about forwarding the work in the community.” That in itself is an important revelation for them.
AG: It’s a two-way street, but one of the things I wanted all the artists to see in that moment was that the meetings are about one-quarter business and three-quarters philosophy. They are a lot more like an artists’ conversation than they think. I wanted to make that visible.
By the same token, for these residencies, I wanted the staff and the directors to see an artist actually in the midst of making—to see how many things each artist does during the course of a five-day residency, which may not look like they’re doing anything but which actually shows up in what they make. Because I think both things are less visible than they should be for both communities.
PM: The first resident, Tania Isaac, is a choreographer and a dancer and she got us all to dance, or tried to. After enough trust had been built up over time, she asked us to “flock” with her.
AG: She also created a process where she gave all the staff sticky dots with their initials, and then placed pieces of paper along the various corridors of the office, so every time a person passed, they had to leave a dot. That way she could mark the traffic patterns, the choreography, the movement of the work life of this floor, and literally cause people to notice how often they do or do not move around, how often they do or do not go to someone to say something as opposed to emailing them from four inches away.
PM: It was really interesting to see the clusters of dots in certain places, and then the relative shortage in others; the meeting places and the terra incognita.
AG: What Tania chose to do could not have been more optimal for the launch of the White Box Residencies. She was highlighting for herself and for the staff the life of the 18th floor in a way that was not visible to either party. And, as a movement artist, she was tracking the daily choreography of the Center.