Submitted by Patricia M. Allen
September 24, 2007
Contact: Betsy Siersma
Visiting Curator
Mead Art Museum
Stacey Schmeidel
Director of Public Affairs

AMHERST, Mass.—The Amherst College campus community and interested individuals from the broader area community are invited to participate in creating nine large-scale public artworks on Friday, Sept. 28, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Valentine/Fayerweather Quad at Amherst College. The artworks—portraits of students, faculty and staff from Amherst College—have been generated by the college’s visiting artist-in-residence Wendy Ewald and guest artist Brett Cook, with participation from students in Ewald’s seminar The Practice of Collaborative Art, members of the campus community and the subjects of the portraits.

The Sept. 28 day of collaborative artmaking is a creative social event. A menu of local and organic food will be provided by the Amherst College Dining Services, and music will be provided by area musicians Chris Buono, D.J. Root and Amherst College students. Food and music will complement opportunities for creative expression in working on the portraits, as well as many chances for dialogue and community connection. There will also be materials for people to work in clay, with cameras and in sketchbooks, all with the intention of reflecting on and representing community and learning.

The project will culminate on Thursday, Nov. 29, when five 10-foot x 30-foot portrait triptychs will be mounted across the campus and an exhibition of one of the triptychs will open at the Mead Art Museum. The Mead exhibition will also include documentation of the collaborative process. The exhibition will run through January 20, 2008, and a catalogue will document and highlight the full experience.

Working collaboratively with communities represents a recent phenomenon, as it upends the notion of the artist working individually within a rarified context. Collaborating with “non-art-world” communities extends and expands the creative potential of artmaking, as it incorporates many different experiences, stories, points of view and ways of seeing. For Wendy Ewald and Brett Cook, it is a way of being as well as a way of working. The rewards of working in a participatory way hinge on generosity and reciprocity.

For more than 30 years photographer Wendy Ewald has taken an unusual artistic path, working with children and adults around the world, encouraging her students to become photographers and working as a “translator” of their images. Using creative collaboration as the basis of the artistic process, she has worked in communities in Labrador, Appalachia, Colombia, India, South Africa, Holland, Mexico, North Carolina and, most recently, Margate in England. Her artistic collaborations have been widely published and exhibited, and she has received recognition for her innovative creative practice, including a MacArthur Fellowship and major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation and others. She is currently senior research associate for documentary studies at the Center for International Studies at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., as well as visiting artist in residence at Amherst College.

Brett Cook has exhibited in museums and galleries and has engaged in public projects since 1991. His public works, often ephemeral in nature, have been executed in the U.S. from California to Maine, and internationally in Brazil, Barbados and Mexico. Some have been commissioned by museums or pubic agencies, while others have been self-initiated interventions in abandoned spaces. Among his public projects is a collaboration in South Central Los Angeles addressing divinity, and the Development/Gentrification Project with 10 installations throughout Harlem. The work involves the participation of the subjects, giving people a voice and empowering marginalized communities. His work is currently on view in the exhibition Portraiture Now: Framing Memory at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Amherst College Collaborative Project is sponsored by the President’s Office, the Mead Art Museum, the Department of Art and Art History and the Center for Community Outreach.