ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Kara Gilmour, Gibney’s Senior Director of Community Action and Strategic Initiatives.
Kara Gilmour is Gibney’s Senior Director of Community Action and Strategic Initiatives. She brings years of experience developing artistic and public programs as well as education and health initiatives. Kara works to develop community engagement strategies crafted through collaboration and anchored in the artistic process. Her work at Gibney focuses on nurturing innovative partnerships with artists, foundations, city agencies, community-based organizations, and collegial institutions. There is a shared goal of integrating art and creativity into civic conversations and public policies to effect social change, as well as providing new avenues for sustainable artistic careers.
Prior to joining Gibney, Ms. Gilmour served in a leadership role at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy for eight years where she oversaw the development of the Education and Stewardship programs as well as spearheading the Conservancy’s first Capital project. She has also worked with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Applied Research and Consulting, Education Development Center, Lincoln Center Institute, and Planned Parenthood.
As a professional dancer, Kara was a member of Gibney Dance Company (NYC), Compagnie Marie Chouinard (Montreal, QC), and Paula Josa-Jones Performance Works (Boston, MA). She holds a BA from Wesleyan University and attended NYU’s George H. Heyman, Jr. Program for Philanthropy and Fundraising. Kara was selected as a 2016 New York Community Trust Leadership Fellow and a 2017 Advocate of New York City.
Kara Gilmour and son, Abie Temple. Photo by Tim Sternberg.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
I feel like everything has been impacted at this point. At Gibney, we have focused on moving programs online which has been successful. That said, there are some programs that will never be the same in digital form, and I am anxious to return to live programming and in-person communication.
I believe that we will collectively emerge from our seclusion with ideas and skills we never could have imagined a few weeks ago. I think that the effects of this time will be a residue that is seen and felt for decades. Without an overt reference, those of us who have lived through this will notice a reference, a framework, a gesture that will evoke a memory of this time of seclusion and isolation. What that will look like, I don’t know, but I think that we will all recognize it when we see, hear, and experience it.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
I started dancing when I was very young at a small studio in Vermont run by a former Broadway dancer named Ilene Blackman. I was lucky to have connected with such a skilled and special teacher in a very rural area. I just spoke with Ilene last week. She has advanced-stage cancer and is at home with hospice care. It is in times like these that it feels more important than ever to reach out to people who have deeply impacted our lives and say thank you. Ilene opened up the world of dance to me. The creativity combined with discipline, the musicality, the need to be present in the moment, the expression and exploration: these all became part of the foundational weave of my childhood and truly impacted my life and who I am today.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
I try to practice an embodied version of those same foundational principals I learned in dance class so long ago. I have a decades-long yoga practice that grounds me, and I add in elements of strength training to counterbalance it. I also spend as much time as I can outside. As I transitioned out of dance as my primary creative practice, I moved into making things. I sew, I build with wood, I build with stone; I am constantly creating things out of found or repurposed objects. There is a sustained complexity to both dancing and building that intrigues me and continually inspires me.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I am outside of the city for this shelter-in period, and I am working on a large, sculptural fence made entirely of twigs and brambles. This “meditation fence” is a good example of my practice. It is environmentally-friendly and composed of all-natural, found objects. It is a big project (spanning over 100 feet at this point) with a functional purpose and a low environmental footprint. It is meditative and physically vigorous all at once. And it is community building. When friends and neighbors walk by, they cannot help but find a twig and then see a place to tuck it in. Similar to walking by a jigsaw puzzle and seeing a piece that fits, there is an innate desire to add to the creation. Thus the project becomes a community engagement tool as well as a utilitarian and artistic object.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
In many ways, I am at a loss right now. I realize that so much of my practice is grounded in the creation and celebration of community. I prefer to work collaboratively, I build things that are to be used by others, I host people, I am a nurturer. So while on one hand, I love the time with my family and time to create things on my own, on the other hand, there is an underpinning of sadness to my days because I miss working collectively and in partnership with others.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Top photo by Scott Shaw.