Convening the Joan Mitchell Fellows: A Gathering in NYC

At a group of four round tables with white tablecloths, a group of about 25 people of various ages, dress, and skin tones are engaged in conversation in pairs. Behind them, light streams into an office area lined with windows.
Photo by Sarah Dhobany

This month, the 2021 and 2022 Joan Mitchell Fellows gathered in New York City for the annual Fellows Convening. This event is an opportunity for artists in the second and third years of their five-year Fellowships to take a break from their routines, connect with their peers, and reflect on the possibilities and challenges they face in their practices.

This year’s Convening centered conversations about legacy and narrative framing, sharing artwork as a starting point for connection, and negotiating one’s identity while setting boundaries based on one’s values. It also allowed artists to gain financial literacy and self-advocacy skills that may be useful to them as they navigate their careers.

We began the sessions on Friday, June 9 by reflecting profoundly and expansively about how artists engage with the field and tell their own stories. VoCA (Voices in Contemporary Art) presented a version of their Artist Interview Workshop, specifically tailored for our group. The session featured oral historian Sam Redman, VoCA’s Program Director Margaret Graham, and artist Daniela Rivera.

Margaret Graham and Sam Redman presenting their Artist Interview Workshop. Photo by Melissa Dean.
Margaret Graham and Sam Redman presenting their Artist Interview Workshop. Photo by Melissa Dean.
At a group of three round tables with white tablecloths, a group of about 16 people of various ages, dress, and skin tones are engaged in conversation in pairs.
Joan Mitchell Fellows interviewing each other in an exercise during the Artist Interview Workshop. Photo by Melissa Dean.

On Friday afternoon, we built in time for the Fellows to share their work with each other, recognizing that this is the language that visual artists use to connect. We heard from many attendees throughout the rest of the weekend how powerful it was to see each Fellow’s recent work and hear them speak about it in their own voice.

In a slightly darkened room, a group of people at round tables look towards Henry Payer Jr, a Ho Chunk Native American with medium-light skin and a beard holding a microphone and gesturing towards a projection screen with his artwork on it.
Henry Payer, Jr. shares his work (indian) LAND during the Fellows workshare.

Following the Fellows Workshare, we were joined by three exceptional curators and artist advocates —Allison Glenn, César García-Álvarez, and Marcela Guerrero—for a candid panel discussion. This session was planned in response to previous conversations with the Fellows, which revealed that many of the artists had questions about different aspects of working with art institutions.

In front of a partially visible audience, Allison Glenn, a Black woman with medium skin tone and Marcela Guerrero, a Puerto-Rican woman with a medium-light skin tone, listen to César García-Alvarez, a Mexican-American man with a medium skin tone as he speaks into a microphone.
Allison Glenn, Marcela Guerrero, and César García-Álvarez in discussion during “Ask Me Anything: A Candid Talk with Curators.” Photo by Melissa Dean.

Following a group dinner with the Foundation’s staff and board, we reconvened the Fellows for a second day of sessions on Saturday, June 10. Having heard from the Fellows that many are working on negotiating their identities and protecting their integrity within a field that can be transactional and tokenizing, we returned to the topic of narrative framing. Through a session entitled, “Not for Sale,” artists and educators Tiffany Lenoi-Jones and Noor Jones-Bey centered wellness and boundary setting in a discussion around personal history, identity, and values.

At a group of three round tables with white tablecloths, a group of about 16 people of various ages, dress, and skin tones look towards the front of the room, where two speakers stand: Noor Jones-Bey, a Black woman with medium-dark skin tone, clear glasses, and curly brown and blond hair, and Tiffany Lenoi-Jones, a Black woman with medium-light skin tone, bright green glasses, and black and gray curly hair.
Tiffany Lenoi-Jones and Noor Jones-Bey leading discussion during “Not for Sale: Intersectional Storytelling and Narrative Framing.” Photo by Melissa Dean.

On Saturday afternoon, the Fellows had the opportunity to meet with Pamela Capalad and Dyalekt from Brunch & Budget to work on “getting shameless” with their money and building on their financial planning skills. We know how key these competencies are to a healthy financial life, and ensuring artists have the capacity to focus on their work.

In left image, an audience at round tables faces Pamela Capalad, a woman with medium-light skin tone, long black hair and a red floral dress, holding a microphone, and to her right, Dyalekt, a man with with medium-light skin tone, curly shoulder-length black hair under a mustard newsboy cap, speaks into a microphone. Behind them is projected a slide reading “Expectations vs Reality” with a straight line versus a tangled squiggle. In left image, an assortment of orange and yellow Post-it notes on a glass wall in front of an office. The words on the Post-its include: faux painting, house painter, teaching, curating, selling artwork, waitress, nanny, nothing, lyft driver, sales/teaching grants, visiting artist talks.
On left: Pamela Capalad and Dyalekt lead workshop “Financial Planning: Get Shamele$S”, photo by Jenny Gill. On right, Fellows shared all the different jobs they’d had in recent years that provided income, photo by Melissa Dean.

Finally, we spent Saturday afternoon on field trips for a close look at some of the exciting exhibitions and opportunities New York has to offer. One group of Fellows visited the Whitney Museum of American Art, where we were treated to a visit to the Study Center to view a selection of works-on-paper by Joan Mitchell Foundation past grant recipients and current Fellows (along with a print by Joan Mitchell).

A group of 14 people of various age, dress, and skin tones are gathered facing the camera on the front steps of the Whitney museum. Behind them, the museum, a portion of the High Line raised park, and brick buildings are visible.
Joan Mitchell Fellows and staff at the Whitney. Photo by Jenny Gill.

Curatorial Fellow Scout Hutchison also displayed a range of archival storage solutions for housing works-on-paper. Following the visit to the Study Center, our group had a guided tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s retrospective exhibition, Memory Map.

Scout Hutchison, a white woman with curly brown hair, handles gray archival boxes housing paper, as Kambui Olujimi, a tall Black man with dark skin tone and Rocio Rodriguez, a Latina woman with light skin tone and blonde-grey hair look on.
Photos by Jenny Gill.

Meanwhile, another group of Fellows went to Long Island City for a curator-led tour of Daniel Lind Ramos’ exhibition, El Viejo Griot, at MoMA PS1. Curator Elena Ketelsen González shared insights into Lind Ramos’ practice and how his exhibition was installed, while also treating the Fellows to a short history of the neighborhood and the founding of PS1 as a museum.

On left, 4 people of various age and dress face a large sculpture by Daniel Lind Ramos, formed of the prow of a boat, and flanked with burlap bags with various dates on them. On the right, various people sit in a cube shaped room, lined with wooden benches with tall slanted backings. A rectangle of light is cast on the wall from the square opening in the ceiling that reveals a perfectly blue sky.
Photo by Melissa Dean (left) and Sarah Dhobhany (right).

Following a quick look into the James Turrell room at PS1, the Fellows visited the nearby Socrates Sculpture Park to view Mary Mattingly’s exhibition, Ebb of a Spring Tide.

6 people, of various skin tone and dress, in their 20s to 40s stand in a line on a grassy area, smiling with their arms around each other. Behind them is “Ebb of a Spring Tide”, a sculpture formed of a scaffolding holding various plants, vases and containers, with water filtering through hoses throughout. Behind the sculpture, part of the NYC skyline is visible.
Joan Mitchell Fellows at Socrates Sculpture Park. Photo by Melissa Dean.

In-person convenings are a cornerstone in the design of the artist engagement aspects of the Joan Mitchell Fellowship. We are grateful to all of the Fellows and consultants who joined us in making this year’s Convening a successful opportunity to share knowledge and build bridges among artists from all across the country. As an organization that was founded by an artist for artists, we trust the artists we are engaging with to guide us on what types of support and opportunities they can most benefit from. That belief is at the heart of our mission and intended impact, through unrestricted grants and our efforts to build and strengthen a learning community.

The 2023 convening was fantastic and left me feeling inspired and reenergized as I stepped back into the studio this morning.”

Adam de Boer, 2021 Joan Mitchell Fellow

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