By Eric Taylor
A first glance a playful panel discussion at the Western Museums Association 2013 Annual Meeting Program
What happens when imagination takes flight at historic sites? What kinds of electric connections spark when artists tailor their creative impulses to heritage places? One never knows for sure, but that is the magic of a new program that embraces the unexpected in matching the creative community with landmark locations. Through these unlikely pairings, Historic Site(s) Specific projects enhance, reinterpret, raise public awareness, and draw new audiences to often-overlooked, but culturally significant sites.
At the Western Museums Association’s (WMA) 2013 Annual Meeting, a panel comprised of Arts, Heritage, and Preservation staff from 4Culture, King County, Washington’s cultural services agency; a local site steward; and a performance artist will demonstrate the effectiveness of the program and the varieties of expression it engenders. Examples from last year’s competitive application round include: a dance company teaming with a historic mansion; installation artists working in a cemetery; Butoh performers infiltrating an active train depot museum; and a sculptor erecting a temporary piece at an abandoned mine hoist.
As a cultural development authority, 4Culture is a unique combination of public art, arts, heritage and historic preservation under one roof. Located in Seattle, but serving all of King County, Washington, the agency provides financial support to individuals and organizations for projects, operating costs, buildings and equipment. In addition, 4Culture-generated initiatives have provided the platform for targeted creative expression through commemorative events, heritage tourism, cultural convening’s, and the Site-Specific program.
When Site Specific began, the program tapped 4Culture’s network of local arts agencies, nonprofits, businesses and city governments as partners in commissioning and presenting art happenings, performances, installations, and events, each created in direct and specific response to a place. With the new spinoff Historic Site(s) Specific program, instead of artists proposing the location, site stewards post descriptive information to a roster and invite inquiries and ideas from King County-based creative types interested in exploring the unique history or architecture of that place.
In addition to Historic Site(s) Specific’s rewarding outcomes for audiences, the truly collaborative nature of the program stretches the thinking of both site stewards and creative partners. The goal of enhancing a site’s heritage interpretation through public programming poses a challenge for artists, who must generate concepts and produce results within parameters dictated by a location’s geography and history. For site stewards, the introduction of new interpretive ideas from inventive collaborators opens a world of possibilities for in-house and contractual public programming.
From 3:30-4:45 pm, on Saturday, October 12, 4Culture staff, and site steward and artist collaborators, will outline and illustrate the evolving nature of Historic Site(s) Specific in the WMA Annual Meeting session, Unlikely Pairings, Unexpected Results: Living Artists and Historic Places. The panelists’ differing viewpoints are emblematic of the creative tension that fuels the development and implementation of site-specific projects, thus providing inside/outside perspectives of the program.
In the WMA session, panelists will engage audience members in a dialog about the mutual and universal benefits of enacting a program like Historic Site(s) Specific and will encourage attendees to adapt this innovative model for their own situations and locales.
Eric Taylor is the Heritage Lead for 4Culture in Seattle, Washington He currently serves as president of the Washington Museum Association board, and actively participates with heritage groups nationally, regionally, and locally.