Commissioning Socially Based Art in New York City

Fisher, Finkekpearl, and Slome head leading organizations in the field of socially engaged art in New York. During the panel, they will  outline the growing world of Social Practice in various local communities, and the challenges of commissioning and producing ambitious work that falls between fine art and community service. They will answer questions such as: How can art stir up a city that never sleeps? How and why do art organizations in New York commission socially engaged work?

Deborah Fisher is the founding Executive Director of A Blade of Grass, a funding non-profit in New York City founded in 2011 that focuses exclusively on socially engaged art. An artist, administrator and entrepreneur, Fisher has worked as an advisor and collections manager for the Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection, as studio manager for Socrates Sculpture Park, and has taught art history, appreciation and studio classes at New York University, St. John’s University and Nassau Community College. She is a co-founder of Urban Farm Syndicate, a social enterprise in its startup phase that partners with developers to modularly farm vacant lots in New York City using mobile containers and distributed design principles. Fisher’s art practice questions the relationship between what we call “nature” and the built environment, and is focused primarily on public projects. For her most recent action, Bed Stuy Meadow, more than 100 volunteers sowed wildflower seeds on every inch of vacant land in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. Fisher’s large-scale sculpture has been commissioned by the city of Peekskill through the Peekskill Project and Middlebury College’s Art In Public Places program.

Tom Finkelpearl is the Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art where he is working on an expansion that will double the size of the museum.  The Queens Museum is situated in America’s most ethnically diverse county, and seeks to serve as a cultural bridge in the community. He spent 12 years at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center where he organized 15 exhibitions in the 1980s, returning in 1999 as Deputy Director and working on the organization’s merger with the Museum of Modern Art.  Between his P.S.1 stints, he worked for six years (1990-96) as Director of New York City’s Percent for Art Program where he organized over 130 public art projects and as Executive Director of Programs at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a residency program in Maine for advanced visual artists (1996-1999). Based on his public art experience and further research, he published a book, Dialogues in Public Art (MIT Press, 2000). His new book entitled What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (Duke University Press, 2013) examines the activist, participatory, co-authored aesthetic experiences being created in contemporary art. He received a BA from Princeton University (1979) and an MFA from Hunter College (1983).

Manon Slome is co-founder and chief curator of No Longer Empty. Since the organization was formed in 2009, she has curated some 13 exhibitions for the organization. No Longer Empty transforms commercial vacancies into professionally curated art exhibitions with accompanying cultural and educational programming. It has revived the history of spaces, such as the iconic Tower Records store, officers’ homes on Governors Island, the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx and the current exhibition, “How Much Do I Owe You?” in the former Bank of Manhattan in Long Island City, Queens. Slome was Chief Curator of the Chelsea Art Museum from 2003 -2008 where she worked with such artists as Leon Golub, Mona Hatoum, Jose Parla, Federico Uribe, Mimo Rotella, Michael Bevilacqua, Miwa Yanagi and Shu Lee Shang. Group shows she curated include “Dangerous Beauty,” “Such Stuff as Dreams are Made on” and “The Incomplete.” At the Guggenheim Museum, (1995-2003), Slome organized “Africa:The Art of a Continent,” “China 5000 Years” and “The Art of the Motorcycle.” Slome has curated exhibitions in Israel, Italy, Germany, and Hong Kong and has published and lectured widely on contemporary art. She was also a curatorial consultant to the Annenburg Space for Photography for the exhibition, Beauty Culture. Slome is a recipient of the Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellowship at the Whitney Independent Study program. She earned her Doctorate at the University of Sussex, England and pursued post- doctoral studies at Columbia University, New York.