Elsewhere[uds-billboard name=”elsewhere”]During my three week residency this Fall at Elsewhere, I interviewed George Scheer, co-founder and co-director of Elsewhere and grandson of Silvia Gray, for this profile that may serve as a glimpse into his current thoughts on the project that just turned 10 years old.
Look out for a companion essay on Elsewhere to be posted shortly.
Address: 606 South Elm Street, Greensboro, NC 27406
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (336) 549-5555
Open Hours: (March – November) Wed – Sat 1-10pm
How is the project operated?
How long has it been in existence?
What was your motivation?
Early on our motivation was to create an alternative format for artists to create their own community in a unique space. We looked around at our community of artists and we found things very disciplinarily separated. When, among the expatriates and the Modernists, Gertrude Stein was having Picasso and Matisse and Hemingway over it was writers and artists living in this sort of ecstatic world and then going off in their own individual spaces and creating. So the idea, initially, was how to bring the practice and production of art, writing, music into a community space–but to do so in such a way that the context and the space was integrally a part of the creative practice. The differences in disciplinary approaches and processes would benefit and come to understand one another through the sharing of resources and walking into this unfolding artwork that they were a part of. The environment itself would be able to trace the various artists that had come through. Ultimately, our motivation was to understand how context influenced, recorded, produced, and supported further creative production among multiple disciplines.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
Initially it was myself and Stephanie and two friends, musicians from University of Michigan, but before long it was just a whole community of various people. Currently we have 5 curators and 2 directors and a host of fellows and interns who work with the organization. We also have 6 artists at a time who are as much a part of the organizing principles of the space, aesthetically and conceptually, as the curators are.
How are programs funded?
50% grants, 25% earned income, 25% individual private donations. We have a pretty strong earned income stream so we try to utilize that to help support the programs we do. Earned income includes everything from admission, education fees from programs we do, and artists fees.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Currently we operate for 9 months a year, we have events at least once a week, if not twice a week as it usually tends to be … plus six artists operating in the space doing their own stuff, 72 events a year plus another 8 special events a year, I don’t know, maybe 80 events a year?
What kind of events are usually organized?
There’s a whole host of different kinds of events. We think of it as interactive participatory ways of engaging the public. On a day-to-day basis, simply opening the museum and the way new artists position themselves and their work in it is event-like. We also do lots of dinners. We like events to be multifaceted. We operate with stations, where a lot of different things are going on throughout the space. We do special projects; a commissioned artist residency might have an opening event.
Our fundraiser is a huge three-floor event with multiple artist projects and bands going throughout. CITY is a really unique event–in building the space we’ve always imagined it as a city inside of a building, so when we play CITY it’s an unfolding unscripted narrative where we open a button exchange currency, people buy and sell, and set up businesses. Sometimes there’s a theme and sometimes not. It is all videoed and then cut into segments like short cartoons. We have a Political Party once every four years, with election returns.
Who is responsible for the programming?
Of course as directors we help direct, coordinate, and organize the programming. Our production curator is responsible for how things are produced, but each of the artists also produces their own program ideas. Ultimately we try to set up platforms. We really want, like other spaces that are event-focused, for the artists to come up with the program as a way of integrating their work with publics and engaging publics with their work. Whether it’s First Friday which is a really open format, or a dinner, or CITY, or a lecture, we look to the artist and help support them in producing the kind of experiment they want to put forth. We have a lot of different facets: we’re a living museum, we’re a residency program, and we’re evolving our education experiments.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
We explicitly don’t accept proposals for our residency. We don’t want more artists who have a preconceived idea of what they’re going to do. We want them to come in and discover the collection and explore it before coming up with a project. We don’t exhibit preexisting work; it’s just not what we’re interested in. We don’t do exhibitions. Work doesn’t go up and come down; there’s no formal process in that way. It is layered and evolving at every moment.
What’s working? What’s not working?
The museum is gaining attention and focus. You don’t have to understand or care about art per se to love being at Elsewhere: it’s a vibrant community, there’s a lot going on, it’s highly colorful, and it’s filled with all these objects from personal memory. People are able to connect in this really wonderful way. The next challenge for the museum is more unique curatorial approaches that allow visitors to understand the multiple facets that are going on underneath, the larger concepts of reuse and repurposing, relationships to objects and memory, the way that artists are thinking socially and creatively about objects and are trying to actively reproduce culture in certain ways, how representation works at the level of the museum as monolith or memorial, how artists are producing within the museum, and even the history of the museum itself as being a site where artists make work. Audiences could come to understand not just the meaning of an artwork but the artist’s process of creative thinking. We don’t catalog our objects or artworks so there’s a certain level of catch-up that we need to do, but coming across this problem at this stage allows us a lot of unique flexibility and experimentation about how and to what purpose we would want to inventory. Our current notion is invent-stories, building storytelling around the museum process of cataloging, so audiences could engage in the cataloging process themselves to understand the museum through its internal processes made public.
We have an amazing pool of residents that apply and we get to be relatively selective and I think that’s great because we have a lot of interesting people, and a lot of wonderful emerging artists that are interested in our program, and increasingly so, more established artists who are looking to experiment and expand what they do.
We’d like to go deeper with our research. We have 6 artists at any given time; they’re all producing works in 3-6 week stays, a very short creative process. It certain cases it can be life changing and affirming for artists who want this sense of community and network . Elsewhere allows artists to work site specifically and create things with materials that are perhaps beyond their means.
I think a lot of those concepts are working, but we could push them further with more studied longer term research-based projects. We are really pushing this year to get more artists working across disciplines, so we want people who identify as scholars or cooks or puppeteers, musicians, or cultural critics, researchers, or even scientists. We want people who find the materials, the concept, the museum, the collection, or an anthropological/archaeological notion of the space as a place to explore.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
We’re integrally related to our local community. As downtown Greensboro grows, we do. We want to have a role as civic builders. We can begin partnering more with social service and social justice organizations in our area to provide a creative rethinking of how organizational cultures, people flows, and capital flows function in an emerging downtown space. The better we understand those concepts and can help push those concepts though various grant projects, initiatives, and networks that we have globally, the more we can support Greensboro in thinking really creatively about its process of revitalization. We’ve been a part of it since the beginning, since we first started and they brought Richard Florida to speak. We were a bunch of kids hanging out in a thrift store and didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We went to his talk and he asked us, “What the hell are you doing in Greensboro?” and we said, “We have a place.” And he had no idea what we were talking about.
From that moment when you could play tennis in the streets of downtown after 5pm to a point where there’s hundreds of people on the street, this change is not simply a push for retail and consumption–but can actually look at the cultural assets that exist in our community and further embed them. So the people who work for the nonprofits located down here are seen as an integral part. So that the movement of the homeless from the bus station, to the shelter, and to the IRC (which is a really creative day center for the homeless), is a people flow that is respected and understood as part of an ecology of downtown. We want to create policies in the growth of our downtown that actually recognize the diversity of economies and purposes as an integral part of what makes a downtown interesting. We want to build on some of those existing assets and understand them economically and culturally as values that are important and should be supported in future development efforts.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
I’m really excited about colonizing Mars, I think it’s gonna be really great–we’ll just all get out of here and go live on the Red Planet. I’m really excited about hover crafts–I really wish that all the things in Back to the Future had come true and that we had them. I’m really excited about Skype, which we do have. I’m really excited about starting an artist’s patent office where artists can patent their processes and their artworks as inventors, legally, and see themselves as inventors. I’m really excited about restoring our third floor workshop space and what it means to restore our building as is rather than restoring it as it was, and what that means in the national city building dialog around artist live/work spaces and historic properties. I’m really fearful and excited to know what the hell they’re going to put in these giant plots of land that will change the direction of downtown–I really hope some of the good ideas win and the bad ideas lose but whatever happens we’ll deal with it.
I find a growing collaboration happening between organizations in Greensboro; we’ve been champions of that but that it has taken off in its own way, so I’m excited to see how collaborations between the Library, the Civil Rights Museum, the Carolina Theatre, Triad Stage, Beloved Community and Church World Services, all located around four blocks, are beginning to look to one another for programming ideas. I’m excited to see what that means for Greensboro to grow as a place that is competing for a limited amount of money but ultimately is collaborating in the use of that money.
I’m really excited for teleportation so then I can live anywhere and work anywhere and meet anyone and it would just be great. I’m really excited to have moved to 5th Avenue in Greensboro, and to integrate a little bit more into Greensboro life. I’m excited to do other work around the country. Personally I’m really excited about exploring this notion of art in civic building, and critically so; the appropriation of artists’ labor, the way art is economized today–this is happening on a national framework. What can be good out of it, what also is problematic out of it, and what happens when those monies dry up? Also understanding if there is some sense of a renewed civic duty, especially in the financial situation in America, and what it looks like if artists are helping lead that reculturalization of our daily lives and what role artists could play in civic and municipal life.
Slideshow images courtesy of the author.