Hail and FarewellFebruary 23, 2016
The Op-Ed column is a space for readers and contributors to sound off about Art Practical's content and to contribute to the larger conversation about Bay Area art which Art Practical supports.
If I address you as such, it is because you have always seemed familiar to me, the person just on the other side of these words. Imagining you there makes it easier to say that this is the last article I will write as executive director for Daily Serving | Art Practical. On March 14, I will assume the role of executive director at Southern Exposure, one of San Francisco’s oldest artist-centered alternative art spaces, and in my opinion, its most vital.
The implications of this change are still sinking in. It has been almost seven years since I conceived of Art Practical, and it has been nearly three years since I became the publisher of Daily Serving. There will always be more that I wanted to do with these two publications. Even as I write this, my editors are still receiving emails that say, “Keep this in mind.” It is difficult to let go.
We are lucky to be doing what we are doing
But in stepping away, I also grant myself a measure of the success that only comes in the moment of handing something over. It is one thing to bring something into the world, and it is quite another to know that it will go on without you. Whatever reluctance I might feel about leaving, it is a luxurious feeling to have. The DSAP team has often heard me use the word luxurious to describe a problem; we are lucky to be doing what we are doing. The thorny issues that we deal with in running two sites for excellence in ethical, edited art criticism have also given me the greatest sense of gratitude I have experienced in my career to date.
There have been moments when I slammed down the screen of my laptop, frustrated with a stubborn writer who would not let go of a word or sentence. There have been extended debates amongst our editors about style and usage, which seem like esoteric concerns until one realizes that our decisions about gendered pronouns or capitalizing “Black” and “White” ripple out beyond these pages. I have spent countless hours untangling the bureaucratic requirements of paying independent contractors, analyzing site traffic, and proofreading captions well into the night before an article or issue went live. I’ve wondered during these times what I could do differently, what I could do better, or what I am doing in the first place. But since October 2009, I have published more than 1,800 articles, by my estimate. There have been a lot of gifts.
I find criticism fascinating. I have consistently argued for its subjectivity—one perspective residing alongside another in a present moment, each visible to the other.1 But criticism is also a ritual, one that prescribes the boundaries of a locality. From this belief, the partnership between Daily Serving and Art Practical was born. Key to producing criticism on an online platform is circulating it through seemingly frictionless, boundary-less contexts. Complicating this is a mission grounded in the significance of articulating artists’ voices from close proximity. For the past three years we have been quietly resolving these contradictions by building a mission for DSAP that stems from Daily Serving’s capacity to extend from an informed personal description of an encounter with an artwork to the representation of shared subjects across global networks and publishers.
I realized some time ago that it was not my project to violate the familiar forms of criticism or create contradictions within them. My project has been to reconcile those forms—and the editorial rigor their subjectivity requires—to the ethos of online publishing, a format that has little tolerance for sustained and linear arguments. I am somewhat archaic, in this sense. It will be someone else’s project to define new forms for criticism.
We advanced a higher standard for art criticism in the Bay Area and beyond
Over the past two years, my project has evolved from one of creating critical dialogue to creating critical dialogue about artistic labor. I have encouraged artists to make frank assessments of the costs, risks, and investments present in the production of work and institutions to explore more equitable means of exchange. In the past, I received a lot of flak for being unable to pay writers, for contributing to a disservice economy in which artistic labor is consistently undervalued. Art Practical spent four years as a volunteer-driven endeavor; Daily Serving contributors received modest stipends. Income from advertising came slowly; grants were few and far between. Each year there was more money, and every dollar we earned went back into the publications. We never promised exposure, only rigorous editorial review. Writers trusted us with their perspectives, and editors brought a commitment to excellence; together we advanced a higher standard for art criticism in the Bay Area and beyond. Mentoring became part of our mission.
We now pay a respectable stipend to writers at both publications; I am very proud of that. But we also have a program code and budget lines and a payroll. There is nothing inspiring about them other than the fact of their existence and the fact that everything else happens because of their existence. No one writes administrative manifestos, but maybe they should, because I can attest to the tremendous efforts and investments necessary to create a sustainable organization, and how it contains the immeasurable worth of each individual who contributed their talents.
I write this from my home in the Bay Area, whose cultural ecosystem is undergoing one of the most consequential transformations it may ever experience, with the confluence of new spaces opening alongside changing demographics and significant economic challenges. For an art scene to thrive, it must have affordable housing and be supported by fair housing policies. Artists must feel empowered to negotiate for terms they need. Local institutions must be transparent to the artists they work with, and they must contribute to the sustenance and growth of their participants’ practices.
Southern Exposure knows this. It inaugurated the regional re-granting model that fosters the development of independent and artist-led projects; Art Practical received its Alternative Exposure grant in 2009, one week after the site launched. In the years since, I have collaborated on the creation of writing fellowships and of an artist residency grant. But most importantly, in the words of the poet and writer Bill Berkson, I have “created writers of note as well as a site for the writing to thrive.” There is great satisfaction and much humility in knowing that I will lead the organization that helped bring us into the world, and that I am leaving Daily Serving and Art Practical in the hands of an organization that knows their worth, with individuals who know what it means to support good work. It is a most luxurious place to be.
You won’t miss me on these pages. My work remains in evidence. And all of the work on these pages will persist. For that, I would like to thank the following people for the great honor of working with them:
The visionary individuals at CCA who made our partnership happen: Tirza Latimer, Tom Haakenson, Melanie Corn, and Stephen Beal
Our amazing and talented editorial assistants: Jing Cao, Deidre Foley, Mailee Hung, Matt Kelly, Megan McMillan, Grace Momota, Eva Morgenstein, Serena Pascual, Alex Rojas, Yi Shan Tan, Virgil Taylor, Erica Troung, and Audrey Weber
Our collaborators and advisors: Brian Andrews, Bill Berkson, Holland Cotter, Seth Curcio, Stoyan Dabov, Joseph del Pesco, Jarrett Earnest, Julie Henson, Richard Holland, Shannon Jackson, Brett MacFadden, Duncan MacKenzie, Nion McEvoy, Herman Milligan, Katya Min, Scott Oliver, Lucas Shuman, Djinnaya Stroud, Scott Thorpe, Jack Wadsworth, Xiaoyu Weng, and Smitty Weygant
My favorite people, the DSAP editorial team: Jackie Clay, Christopher Dare, Victoria Gannon, Jeanne Gerrity, Liz Glass, Erica Gomez, Emily Holmes, Jackie Im, Vanessa Kauffman, Deanna Lee, Alyse Mason-Brill, Catherine McChrystal, Katy Meacham, Morgan Peirce, Hope Plescia, Addy Rabinovitch, Anne Shulock, Vivian Sming, Francesca Sonara, Jen Stager, Matt Sussman, Matthew Harrison Tedford, Tess Thackara, and Lindsey Westbrook
...and especially Bean Gilsdorf and Kara Q. Smith, the editors in chief of Daily Serving and Art Practical.