Grant Spotlight on ArtsWestchester
“I think there is no greater sort of envelope to talk about issues than the arts.” – Janet Langsam
Since 1965, local arts agency ArtsWestchester has ensured “the availability, accessibility, and diversity of the arts,” as its mission statement reads, to artists and arts lovers alike. Based in White Plains, New York, its activities include grantmaking to cultural institutions, emerging arts organizations, community-based arts groups, and individual artists, and also arts education. Thanks to a dedicated 4,800-square-foot exhibition space, ArtsWestchester also produces an annual schedule of free art exhibits which support artists and increase their visibility, and also foster connections between artists and community residents. In the first round of NEA funding for the 2018 fiscal year, ArtsWestchester received funding to support the upcoming exhibit, Dataism, which will bring together local and regional artists who work with data as a medium.
The agency is all in when it comes to the idea of the arts as a vehicle for exploring local issues and the impact of global issues on the local community. As ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam explained, “I think there is no greater sort of envelope to talk about issues than the arts. When you think about the impact of the arts on community life, on healing, on skilled practices, on self-confidence, on education, the arts are so central.” She noted that the exhibitions also have the added bonus of helping institutions to discover the artists that are important in their own community.
Given a recent report stating that in the U.S. alone, 2,657,700 gigabytes of Internet data are produced every minute, it’s not surprising that the accumulation and use of data, and the risks and rewards thereof, are fervent areas of discussion across many sectors. According to ArtsWestchester curator Kathleen Reckling, artists have long been using data as a springboard for their work. “Artists are making data selfies in their artwork. They’re translating these things that they’re taking from graphs and charts and raw numbers and making them visual,” she said. In fact, the idea for Dataism, which Reckling described as “a topic that’s several years in the making,” was sparked by the work of artist Jennifer Dalton whose artwork based on data-generating surveys was featured in a previous ArtsWestchester show.
With the proliferation of social media apps, fitness wearables, and other data-generating devices, Langsam sees Dataism as a way to get community residents interested in the idea of data generation at a deeper level. “I think there’s something about this exhibition that really gives us an opportunity to sort of turn the page so that kids and families and teens, in particular, can focus on the mining of their data as opposed to the socialization of what they do, and maybe find a different kind of interest in… the tracking of their own personal information.”
To extend the reach of the exhibit beyond the gallery walls, ArtsWestchester has enlisted the aid of several community partners to present low-cost ancillary activities to the public. “I think the partnerships really get us to the ground,” said Langsam. “We are able to work with the community on a different level than simply having them attend our exhibit.” Partners for Dataism include the YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester, which will help develop public programs related to the exhibit; Girls INC, which will develop and lead workshops inspired by STEAM and data collection; and other community-focused organizations.
So how will the arts council know if the project is successful? Langsam acknowledged there are myriad ways that ArtsWestchester measures its success, which can sometimes be tricky to quantify. “I could tell you that success is the number of people who we reach out to. I could tell you that success is the kids and families that might have a different take on their own media activity. I mean there are a lot of outcomes that we could track,” she said. “[Success is] really the fact that we are making a concerted effort to talk about issues and to make our place a place of conversation about community issues, which are also global issues, so that people can find a place here to really be their community anchor.”