|Rowan as Curator of "A Rusted Development" at LEA1|
Quan Lavender: Rowan, thank you for giving me an interview about the current situation at LEA.
Rowan Derryth: : My pleasure! I'm happy to talk about this from my own view... I'm not a full voting member and I don't mean to be the voice of the LEA. These are my own observations and experiences… so fire away! :-)
QL: As we have seen by the invitations to the next application round, you are back! So tell me, what's new at LEA? New members? New work? New rules?
RD: Yes yes yes! It's pretty exciting, to me anyway... The LEA has basically been rebooted, in my view. The projects that were working well remain and are ongoing, like the Land Grants, etc. But I think the present group really recognised that while some things were great, others needed work... I think the first, most important thing that came out of recent events was that they sat down and actually wrote a governing document - by-laws - for the group. I can see how, when the group was new, this wasn't necessarily thought to be a necessity - they weren't given much guidance or any requirements really by LL, and I also don't think they knew at the time what they would become, in terms of growing into a form of arts council. But obviously with the expansion of the past year, and other events, this really became a necessity. And so that has been priority one over the last couple months. I was happy to volunteer to help with the draft, as it is something I have professional experience doing for arts organisations. But it was largely the work of the committee, led by PatriciaAnne Daviau - who is now a full member. That has now been ratified - and btw it includes a detailed accounting of elections, terms of office, etc. And it will become a public document on the website for anyone to read.
QL: How will you actually work in the future?
RD: Part of the new system is that Advisors will serve a term of 4 months before being asked if they want to serve on the committee as a full voting member. So, for example, Chantal Harvey has come back, but will need to serve for 4 months before coming back in full. I think this is a fair system. And I know people have wondered how they can get involved - I think this group is very open to expressions of interest. I've said elsewhere that I felt that the LEA needed more help from people with curatorial experience, so I was very pleased to see they recruited Zachh Cale. He is also a new advisor. As for myself, with these changes and with the current group, I was happy to be an advisor again, so agreed when they asked me to return.
QL: And what has changed in the line up of committee members?
RD: The committee currently stands at 7 full members ... Patti has moved from advisor to full member, and I came back as advisor (which is all I ever wanted to be, lol) with Zachh and Chantal. I'm a big advocate of being as transparent as possible, and I am definitely not alone on the committee for that. I think the only thing they are confidential about is entirely reasonable... Land Grant decisions etc. (oh, but the decision process is included in the new application materials, for everyone's info).
QL: And Sasun Steinbeck? Solo Mornington?
RD: Sasun resigned, I think that has been printed elsewhere. She was travelling for the summer, and I think the break will be good for her. I know people have certain perceptions about her, but she worked very very hard for the LEA and instigated many good systems. If, when she returns, she decides she'd like to be involved again, my understanding is that she would have to go through the advisor process first. Basically, with the ratification of the new by-laws, it's a bit of a restart, like I said.
QL: I got from the artists that she was very helpful.
RD: Yes, very. I think her departure has left a bit of a hole, simply because everyone has a role to play, and hers was curatorial. But we have plans in place - both immediate and for the next round - to hopefully get that back on track. This is basically a team of volunteers, and I think them putting their energy into reviewing their policies was absolutely the right thing. But of course that means there was less time to pick up some of that slack.
|At Art Screamer (ltr): Chestnut Rau, Rowan Derryth, Zachh Cale, Claudia222 Jewell and Amase Levasseur|
QL: Regarding the next round: You told me some things are ew, what is it? And why don't you only give whole sims rather than half or quarter? Bigger size does not always guarantee better quality.
RD: I'm not sure I entirely know the reasoning for that, but I have heard that in the first round, they did actually divide up some of the sims, and some artists were offended that they got only a partial instead of a full. So that MAY be one reason, but again I can't speak to it. I would also be guessing, but I think that last round at least there weren't as many applications as everyone thinks, and in MY opinion, having read them, I'm not sure I could have even picked 20 really strong applications... I could have perhaps picked 16, then filled in the remaining 4 with people who I wasn't as confident about.. So at that point, do you just give everyone some land, or do you support those that really seem to put the work in and have a vision? One of the changes that has happened this round kind of relates to this question. I asked the committee if I could rewrite the application materials - with their input and approval of course. Before, it was VERY basic.. name, project name, general description, etc. The application is now MUCH more detailed, we are asking for timelines, a more detailed plan, etc. Some applicants may hate this, but this is really for two reasons, to my mind... To help them really consider what is involved in having a full sim for 6 months, and to help us really see what the plan is. I won't name names, but we have had applications before that said little more than 'my work speaks for itself'... Some people perceive the LEA as a body that governs sim they 'pay for' with their Linden dollars (tier, etc.) - ok, I'm not sure I agree, but if that is the case... if you were to write a grant to ANY arts council as an artist, big or small, that application would land in the bin. THAT said... I tried to make it very clear in the application materials that we really really want to see proposals from new artists, and that we hoped language barriers shouldn't be an issue. This shouldn't be intimidating, but rather a way for people to really think it through, you know?
QL: I understand that the application form needs information and a concept. But you know too that many artists fast run out of words. That's why they build and express that what we might do with words.
RD: This is true Quan, but part of being an artist, sadly, is writing grants. In fact, in my RL I teach art students. And I teach them to write. And when I do, I tell them it is because if they want to be successful, they WILL have to write grants and proposals to work. So in my own personal view, its the nature of the beast. But I also know that the LEA will NOT be like grammar police when they read these... and will also understand that the finished product may look nothing like the application.
QL: On the other hand the committee has a responsibility and has to ask for that.
RD: Yes! Honestly, no one is looking for an NEA or AHRC type application. It can be very simple.
|Rowan: "What it feels like to curate."|
QL: There is a problem with the definition of artist in SL. I met several great builders who avoid to be seen as artists as they regard the artists as blown up and show off people instead of creating quality. And I guess they are not totally wrong. There are more people who could create great things.
RD: Oh, I agree with there being a problem with the definition of artists - but honestly, I get MORE annoyed by people trying to tell me what art is, and what art isn't. And that happens on ALL sides. I get just as annoyed with people saying that virtual art should not have realism as I do with others saying that things that are abstract, performative, or even disruptive are NOT art.
QL: hahaha, so true!
RD: Like I've said before, it's a stupid conversation to me... I'm more interested in WHY is art.... why is this art? Why does it work? Why does it NOT work? In terms of the LEA - my OWN opinion is that they should not be in the business of judging what is and isn't art. And I do think they manage this by the virtue of having a committee of people who have different opinions. I know that there are some who I completely see eye to eye with, and others I don't. And we don't sit around debating this topic. We talk about projects, ideas, etc. And so it works well.
QL: Sure, but my intention was to say that I think there are talented people with great ideas but they do not dare to apply at LEA.
RD: Oh Quan, I agree, and wish they WOULD. Some LEA members - myself amongst them - really want to see people beyond the visual arts apply. And as a Design historian, I see some of the grid's content creators as the most amazing artists out there. I'd love to see someone like Max Graf or Alchemy Cyanis apply. Or hell, what might LeeZu do if she decided to take a break from commercial production and just create something...
QL: Oh yes and there should be named much more! Hearing that I would like to ask the LEA committee writing an open letter to all “builders” in Second Life, encouraging them to apply.
But let's talk about something else too. As blogger I talk with most of the artists and I heard lots of complaints about the hosting. The artists had problems to get help with issues that has to be managed by the land owner.
RD: We are really going to try and be more supportive to artists-in-residence now that we've had two rounds to learn from... The plan is to have 5 liaisons from the committee, each with 4 artists. So they can have a more direct 'go to' experience. I think one of the issues that artists perhaps don't realise is the difference between having a show at a 'gallery' sim like Art Screamer or Split Screen, where there is a curator who provides a very supportive service and having a sim at the LEA. Getting the LEA sim is fantastic, but it is also a bit more of an autonomous thing, which has benefits and drawbacks. There will still be expectations of the artists so that we can provide support - for example, getting us your press materials in a timely fashion so we can help you promote it. But I think people have expected that we would write the press and materials for all 20 exhibits. Not everyone thinks that, just some. But anyway, hopefully we will be able to better orient people and help them understand the way it all works from the start. We've also set a much clearer timeline... Six months (it was 5 before because there were only 10 months remaining on the original LL grant once the programme got running)... a 4 month build period, so that all sims will be open with exhibits for a full 2 months. We debated that one a little bit... some artists might show 3 exhibits in that period, which is great! Others - well - they might never finish, lol. We wanted people to realise that we do expect an exhibit by the 4 month deadline (if it is an exhibit project, of course). So if that isn't something they can deliver, then perhaps it might not be a good fit.
|A Rusted Development, curated by Rowan Derryth|
QL: But maybe it would be good to alternate building phases and exhibition phases. At the moment all regions are in the same period and either you see nothing or too much...
RD: Yes, this is true. But I think strategically it might be hard to get that going because all 20 sims are on the same cycle. If we were to instead switch to a quarterly application in order to facilitate that, we'd have empty sims to get it going. Maybe there is another way to work it... but in terms of the 'seeing too much'... that's why we want to make sure there are two full months to see. And of course many artists will finish before that, which is fine. Some sims will likely be curated outposts, so exhibits will change. It's more about setting up expectations on both sides so we can make it work a little better - and most importantly, so artists feel supported.
QL: Who owns the sims now?
RD: The LEA *grins*
QL: Wait and see which ego's are coming up now ^^
RD: Ha! Well, it's a bit of a moot point actually... The history of this is, the original 9 sims, the 'core' as we call it (that have the sandbox, guest curated exhibits, the theatre, etc.) were owned by Linden Labs. When the land grant came along - as I understand it, and I wasn't there at the time so I may get some of this wrong - LL wanted to hand over ownership to representatives, so two committee members split that. Now I have to interject, this is kind of a technical problem on LL's part, I remember having a similar problem with the FLWVM ( Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum) - SOMEONE has to take on the liability on the part of the group. And then, it did seem like LL preferred to communicate with the sim owners when communication was needed, rather than the group as a whole. But I think that kink has been ironed out. So, when the committee changes came about and land needed to be handed over, this was all fixed... no LEA sims are under the ownership of LL anymore, including the core, the ownership is split between 3 members and there is language in the LEA by-laws that stipulates that land shall be owned by no less than 2 members on behalf of the group, and that all land decisions are by group vote. Also, all voting members have Estate Management rights on all sims. Which is awesome because before if you had an issue and needed helped, there were only a handful of people you could go to - and they were different for various sims. And just to be clear, EVERYONE on the LEA was happily on board with this. There were no ego battles, everyone thought it was a great plan. It was really easy.
|A Rusted Development, curated by Rowan Derryth|
QL: That sounds good. So what about transparency on the work of LEA?
RD: As I already said - the only things that aren't to be transparent are reasonable - decisions about applications, etc. I think in some ways it has always been that way, but PR and communication weren't necessarily a priority, due to time more than anything. I think the group grew really fast, and people were focused on some really great projects, but then suddenly those on the 'outside' were like... 'Umm... what are you guys doing, and who are you?' There are some odd perceptions out there about the group as a whole, and individuals. Some I can see how they developed, others baffle me. You can't please everyone. And some people are determined to be displeased no matter what. And for some artists, resisting authority is the only true way to make art. So... I guess the LEA is the big bad establishment. In my view, if it helps them make GOOD art, rock on, lol. But I for one want to hear the valid criticism. Actually, it's the reason I got involved in the first place. I was one of the ones who didn't know what they were doing, and as a journalist in this world, I wanted the scoop! I know you get that ;)
QL: Thank you Rowan for the interesting interview!
All photos taken by P.J. Trenton.