July 26, 2012  |  Events & Programs, Family & Kids
Creating Connections/Creating Community: Our Second Biennial Community Partner Art Show

Photography from our Community Partners at Project Luz

Since 2007, MoMA’s Community Partnership program has been working with nonprofit and community-based organizations throughout New York City to create new ways of accessing MoMA’s collection across a variety of educational frameworks. Or at least that’s the nice, compact way that we like to describe the program to others. But what does being in a MoMA Community Partnership actually mean? What does it look like when our educators bring first-time visitors into our studios and gallery spaces to start looking at, discussing, and making art? Well, it looks sort of like our Second Biennial Community Partner Art Show, which was on view from May 25 to July 9 in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building.

From left: A view of one of the exhibition walls showcases a variety of work in the show, created by participants from Fortune Society, Passages Academy, GEMS, and Local Project; Another view of the Creating Connections/Creating Community exhibition, showcasing the artwork of Midtown Community Courts’ WISE program, Housing Works, YWCA Fresh Start, Fortune Society, and Passages Academy

From the start, these Community Partnerships have always been about varying levels of dialogue. At an institutional level, they spring from sustained and increasingly involved conversations between MoMA’s Community Programs Department and the staff of the 30 different community-based organizations that we partner with. We realized very early on the need for us to listen to, and learn from, the educators and administrators who knew these audiences the best—audiences that have been historically under-served and overlooked by mainstream museum education programs and who have grown to include incarcerated teens, post-incarcerated adults, English language–learners, GED students, HIV/AIDS service organizations, anti-homelessness initiatives, job training centers, and more. By taking our lead from the partners themselves, we have been able to craft customized art programs that take into account each group’s specific educational and personal goals, merging their preexisting strategies into a closer connection with contemporary art and art-making techniques. For many of these groups, just bringing their audiences into the Museum for art looking and arts-based discussions (and accessing a new, sometimes intimidating, cultural space) is enough to satisfy their goals. Others prefer having our educators come out to their sites for guided discussions revolving around artworks in our collection that connect with their specific cultural, educational, or personal interests.

From left: A large-scale canvas diptych, created by Housing Works around the themes of “neighborhoods” and “community” stands next to the exhibition’s wall text; Identity boxes created by Fortune Society’s young students, based on the work of Joseph Cornell and Lucas Samaras

For other organizations the focus of our programs revolve around the hands-on creation of artwork, which leads to yet another layer of dialogue: a conversation between the artwork in our collection and the emerging artists who are using these works as the inspiration for their own personal creations. Under the guidance of Lauren Adelman, Kerry Downey, and Rebecca Goyette, our three incredible Community Partner Teaching Artists, the participants in these programs have added their voices to the larger art world conversation surrounding both modern and contemporary art. In this new exhibition, titled Creating Connections/Creating Community: Recent Artwork from MoMA’s Community Partnership Program, we were very proud to display these participants’ artwork to the general public. Some highlights of the exhibition include:

Fortune Society’s large-scale mural, based on the Diego Rivera: Murals for the City of New York exhibition; Sculptural pills created by the teenaged students from Passages Academy, inspired by the Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects exhibition and the idea of how we sometimes “swallow our words”

From left: Work from the photography students at Project Luz exploring identity and domesticity, as inspired by Cindy Sherman; Embellished portraits created by the students at Literacy Partners, created after an exploration of the work of Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramović; Video pieces by Abyssinian Development Corporation’s YouthBuild, Housing Works East New York Community Health Center, and Queens Adult Learning Center

And while the photographs above do not even come close to capturing the beauty of the artwork in the show, the show itself didn’t really come close to capturing the beauty of the partnerships themselves. For each artwork on display, there have been dozens of incredible experiences and personal transformations that existed only as moments in time. For each photo or painting that we hung on our wall, there were hundreds of conversations and critiques and questions that were undocumented outside of the immediate experiences of the participants. And while we weren’t able to hang these experiences on our gallery wall, we were able to take them to heart, bringing these new points of view into our larger educational philosophies and bringing new audiences into a connection with MoMA’s incomparable collection of art. These intangibles are the true center of these Community Partnerships, and we’ll continue to do our best to translate this powerful conversation to the public.