Artist Todd Brown, who began the Red Poppy Arthouse in 2003 as a personal studio and saw the space develop into a community of artists and supporters, which eventually spawned the Mission Arts and Performance Project (MAPP), is in the process of launching an alternate model for arts organizations that might not only bring people together based on their artistic impulses, but may also alter the way we think about civic engagement.
What made the Red Poppy a special place, Brown noticed, were the relationships that formed around it. The 'staff consists of over 20 people, all on essentially one salary. Many who volunteer there have done so consistently, with varying levels of commitment, for years. They have helped one another with their respective projects and become friends in the process; the space has developed as a result of the relationships that have formed within it.
Out of the Poppy came MAPP, a sort of intimate arts walk on steroids that creates pockets of public space -- through the homes and gardens of private residents -- where art functions as an extension of community. Neighborhood volunteers serve as curators for the bi-monthly event, which has no set organizers. Whether you help to plan MAPP or simply stumble upon it, the experience is an adventure; maps are passed out on the day of the event, and people can be seen all over the southeastern corner of the Mission District, in pairs or in clusters, looking for the next house-turned-event space. Once inside, there's almost no telling what you'll find.
This sense of communal adventure and pending surprise is much-needed in our culture. That many of our lives revolve around work -- going to, being at, coming home from, and making the rest of our decisions as a result of work -- is a large part of the reason we are not more socially engaged. Almost everywhere we interact socially operates on a principle of profit, so that we hardly escape the world of work even when we're out of the office. Places like the Red Poppy Arthouse, and community-based events like MAPP, offer an aternative.
The ITCH: Investing in the Creative Hunch, seeks to form and sustain this type of participation on a much larger, longer-term scale by establishing small teams around existing artistic projects. Most artists who attempt to support themselves through creative projects know that there are other, tangential tasks that need to be completed: social media, design, grant applications, etc. -- necessary components that often take away from the artists' ability to spend time and energy toward artistic innovation. Often this results in compromise or even failure.
But imagine an infrastructure that consists of people who bring their respective skills to the proverbial table based on their interest in a particular artistic project. Now imagine the proverbial table is actually a monthly potluck dinner table, with each member of the project responsible for bringing a dish. Not only does a diverse group of people form around each project as around the dinners they share, with each person having accountable roles toward both the project and the dinners; they do so in an atmosphere wherein all roles are equally vital to the project's outcome. Also, each person is invited to bring a friend.
In the pilot version, there are 14 projects that range from sculpture to song, dancing, multimedia storytelling and theater. For example, Adrian Arias' Book-Objects: The New Library, takes books found on the streets and transforms them into sculptures, to be exhibited at Galeria de La Raza in 2012. Arias is looking for roles as diverse in scope as Project Coordinator, who will be the go-to source of information for the project and the contact for all meetings, and Web Master, who will maintain an updated online presence.
Meklit Hadero, the local songstress who essentially got her start at the Red Poppy only a handful of years ago and gained a national reputation in 2010, touring nearly all of 2011, is releasing two albums this coming year and needs help with everything from building and managing a database of all Ethiopian businesses in the United States to tour administration. Anyone can find out information about these and the other projects -- diverse in discipline, goal, and need -- at the website facetheitch.com.
"When you think about the big scale," Brown says, "one of the big poisons of our society is apathy. People who don't think they can do anything, don't think they can create anything." The point of the ITCH is to reassert the fact that we all have creative impulses, and to inspire us -- above all else -- to invest in them.
Still very much in its most nascent phase, the ITCH is a simple idea -- to create a sustainable infrastructure that depends less on funding than on a sense of connection and participation to bring (and keep) people together -- with complex ramifications: a culture in which more and more people recognize this dedication to the creative impulse as an integral part of a healthy society -- and one we not only wish to support, but also have the means by which to do so on a large scale.
For a more in-depth explanation, you can watch Todd Brown present the ITCH for the first time on Litseen. But you can also see for yourself.