Why GO Won’t Be A Popularity Contest

09/07/2012 12:26 PM |

Crucifixion, 2011, by two-time award recipient at ArtPrize Mia Tavonatti
  • “Crucifixion,” 2011, by two-time award recipient at ArtPrize Mia Tavonatti

Tomorrow, we’ll be trekking all over Brooklyn for GO, in which artists from Greenpoint to Coney Island will open their studios, and the community will vote on their favorites. The winner(s) will be selected from a pool of the top-ten nominees by Brooklyn Museum curators and will be featured in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in December. The stakes are high, and as we’ve seen before, Jesus tends to win at these things, and someone’s going to get their 500 friends to vote on their studio. So we asked co-organizers Sharon Matt Atkins, the Managing Curator of Exhibitions, and Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, how they’ve structured the event.

How long has this project been in the works?

Sharon: While we started talking about this project a year and a half ago, the real work began in earnest within the last year and then really ramped up in late spring when we hired our project coordinator and 21 neighborhood coordinators to work with artists and the community in their areas to create excitement around the project.

How important is the contest element? Does that mold the tone of the event at all?

Sharon: GO is about what happens this weekend. It’s first and foremost about artists opening their doors, and visitors talking with them about their work and getting a glimpse into the creative process. Shelley and I talked about organizing this simply as a borough-wide open studio weekend without an exhibition component, but we really wanted to think of a way to bring all of the activity and excitement of the weekend back to the Museum in a meaningful way.

The rules state that voters will nominate ten artists, based on the highest number of votes, and then curators will select two or more nominated artists for an exhibition. Say one nominee gets 40,000 votes, while another got 150. Would the volume of votes impact the decision?

Sharon: We hope to include as many of the top ten nominated artists as possible. At the same time, we have a limited amount of space, so we need some flexibility in terms of scale of work, number of works, etc. By the time we get to selecting the work for the exhibition, we will be focusing on the art, not the numbers, to create the best show possible.

Did ArtPrize affect the way you structured GO at all?
[ArtPrize is an annual Michigan competition with the world’s largest cash awards for artists. It’s decided by both a jury of art experts and the public, so that both public and professional opinion are equally represented. We all saw how, last year, public vote led to Mia Tavonatti taking a $250,000 grand prize for her massive stained-glass Jesus on the crucifix. It started a public debate about how decisions should be made, how events like these may be better used to educate people about contemporary art, how one fanatical group can easily muscle out the competition, and whether it’s fair at all to have artists compete for such a large prize.]

Shelley: Even though ArtPrize was part of the inspiration for GO, we wanted to change the participation model a bit towards something that was more aligned with the Museum’s goals. In asking people to see five studios in order to nominate three, we’ve raised the bar for participation and we’re shifting participants toward a selection process that is a bit more complex than a straight up/down vote. We believe it’s incredibly important during this process to move people away from the “like” button and more toward a process that encourages them to go deeper by seeing many things, asking them to make choices, and to marinate on things a bit before making their final decisions. During the open studio weekend, participants simply “check-in” using a unique code given to each artist – this tells us they’ve been at the studio and seen the work in person. We also liked the open studio model because visitors can see a body of work rather than a single work in isolation. After the weekend concludes, voters who’ve checked in to at least 5 studios will be eligible to nominate from the list of those they saw. We think removing the nomination process from the event itself allows voters the chance to sit with their thoughts prior to making the final decision.

If all goes well, would you hope to do this again?

Shelley: We structured GO so that it could be run again, but we are really waiting to see what happens throughout the entire process before deciding to do so. At the end of the weekend, we’ll be asking all participants (artists, voters, volunteers, and GO staff) to share their stories. It will be really important to hear many perspectives – both good and bad – and really try and understand how this project functioned from a local and participant-driven perspective.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Shelley: There’s a lot of at talk about tech in this whole process, but both Sharon and I believe that getting out and just going is what’s important this weekend. Even if people don’t register, don’t check-in, don’t vote – it’s still a big win if they visit studios and gain a greater understanding of their communities and neighbors in the process.

2 Comment

  • This story does nothing to convince me that the open studios event is not a popularity contest. And for the sake of decent journalism, shouldn’t the L Magazine point out in articles like this that it is media sponsor of “GO”?

  • “participants simply “check-in” using a unique code given to each artist – this tells us they’ve been at the studio and seen the work in person”.

    Really? I’ve gotten plenty of emails from artists whose work/studios I haven’t seen, sharing their code numbers and asking for votes. Pretty easy system to game.