Sleep On It is proposed by Sarah Keeling and Anna Nelson

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

We first heard about Crusade for Art last year in an email from a friend and we've been following Crusade for Art's programs ever since. When the application for this year's Engagement Grant came out, we got to talking. As two young artists, we are passionate about developing creative solutions to the types of questions proposed by the grant. Cultivating a wider audience and breaking down barriers to accessing contemporary art will help to create the type of environment we and our peers need to thrive.

The idea for our proposed project, Sleep On It, arose from a desire to integrate fine art photography into locations outside of traditional art venues. We want to bring the art to the people and using hotel rooms as alternative galleries is a win-win. Hotels improve the quality of the experience they are offering to guests, guests learn more about contemporary art in a comfortable setting, and artists’ work is exposed to new audiences. By incorporating the experience of viewing a unique piece of contemporary photography into guests’ hotel stay, we aim to pique their interest and provide an intimate setting in which to view the work. We believe that when people experience the positive value of living with contemporary photography, they are more likely to begin purchasing contemporary photographs for their own home. Guests may also be intrigued by a specific photographer and find joy in following his or her career's progression.

What is the most engaging art event/collecting event you’ve been to?

Sarah: The most engaging project I've seen has to be "Art for the People," which took place during the 5th Auckland Triennial in 2013. New Zealand artists Evan Woodruffe and Catherine Ellis gave away 85 pieces of contemporary art to the public at the Auckland Art Gallery downtown. They set up a booth, which was open for two days, three hours each day, and gave away art donated by New Zealand artists on a first-come first-serve basis. Each piece was wrapped in brown paper so the recipients didn't know what they would be receiving. Woodruffe and Ellis kept track of where each piece of art came from (home address of the artist) and where it was going (home address of the recipient). At the end, they created a map of where art was being produced in the city and where the art collectors (or potential art collectors) where located. The audience response to this project is what really made it a phenomenal success. The public came out in droves and lines wrapped around the block. Woodruffe and Ellis ended up extending the project and collecting more art to meet the public's demand.

Anna: One project that I really admire for the way it engages with an audience is the Conflict Kitchen. This project functions as both a restaurant and a method of raising awareness about the U.S.'s international conflicts. The Conflict Kitchen, located in Pittsburgh, PA, serves ethnic cuisine from countries with which the U.S. is in conflict.  It is currently serving Palestinian food. The food wrappers have text from interviews with Palestinians living in Palestine and the U.S. who responded to questions about Palestinian politics and culture. Food brings people together and the texts spark conversation, transforming a simple meal into a discussion about international politics. 

What do you think is the greatest struggle/weakness facing artists and the art community right now? What is the greatest opportunity/strength?

We believe one of the greatest challenges artists are facing today is the ease in which images are communicated digitally. Cell phone cameras, Instagram, and other photo-sharing sites have led to the creation of a new environment that contemporary photographers must learn how to navigate, to both gain recognition and also to translate internet popularity into sales and shows. 

This is also where the greatest opportunity for expansion of photography as medium lies. We're interested in taking the wide-spread digital access to photographs and channeling it toward developing new ways of collecting, experiencing, and promoting an understanding of contemporary photography. Having an on-screen presence can work hand-in-hand with marketing physical photographic objects and creating a greater perceived value of these objects. Sleep On It relies on these new mediums of communication in conjunction with in-person encounters with the art to connect photographers to each other and to new potential collectors.

How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?

We'd say as creatively as they approach their own work. We think artists can only stand to benefit from communicating the intent, inspiration, content, process, etc. of their work and believe that more invested interest in the field of contemporary photography will come through a greater understanding of its nuances. It's not artists alone who can or should tackle this. We think galleries, museums, and writers can help in the process of creating a more productive dialogue.

While we don’t believe that all artists must also fill the role of educator, we’ve found that when more effort is required to understand a piece, fewer people are likely to put in that effort to engage with the work. Most people receive an insufficient education in the arts, which can sometimes make the entire field seem like a private club. When artists put time into making their work accessible, more productive conversations arise. That said, this transparency doesn’t have to come in the form of a blurb on a website or wall text in a gallery. The approach to communicating information about the work can be as creative as the work itself, or even a part of the work.

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