Increasing Exposure to Art Photography in the Bakken Region is Proposed by Meghan Kirkwood

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

I learned about the Crusade for Art grant last year from a colleague. I was intrigued by the concept and spent some time on the website looking at (and being inspired by) projects from previous finalists. The grant’s emphasis on reaching and connecting new audiences to photography is different than many public arts grants, which are often geared towards supporting known outreach strategies. The particular challenges to artists in the Crusade for Art grant were what inspired me to propose my project. In the Bakken region of western North Dakota there are numerous institutional and perceptual barriers that limit how audiences access and perceive visual arts, and new, creative strategies are needed to move beyond the limitations they impose.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I came up with the idea for my project by thinking through challenges I have faced working in western North Dakota. The Bakken region is huge, and comprises many different communities, some of which have been in the area for centuries and others that only arrived after the most recent oil boom. As such, connecting with “local audiences” is not an easily defined endeavor, and I have been challenged to think about what it means to make work that is both relevant and accessible to a particularly diverse set of residents. I believe that photography can uniquely contribute to and inform ongoing reflections on natural resource extraction and its attendant impacts among the various communities in the region, but to do so, it needs to draw upon a non-traditional venues/distribution modes (especially in an area that has few to no galleries or arts institutions).

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

The “job” of the artist has changed so much in the past few years (artists must be excellent makers, designers, writers, marketers, and personal advocates), that I’m hesitant to offer suggestions on what role artists should play in educating the public about their art. That said, I do think artists have a responsibility to think about who their audience is when they design long-term projects. If artists (like so many of us do) want to take their work beyond the white cube, we need to do more than find a new, more public “cube” to show our work in after we’ve finished it. Rather, we need to develop new strategies to integrate art into the public sphere (where it can reach a completely different set of audiences), and these strategies need to be a part of our working process from the outset.

Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?

I think many people find art intimidating because they’ve had limited opportunities to interact with it.  If you’ve never had the chance to study art, work with an artist, or view art made from and about your community, how do you learn what art can do? How do you know that art can be relevant to you and your life? Moreover, I think many people associate art with a specific set of venues and events, which may be places or occasions that they do not themselves feel drawn to. To encourage more people to engage with photography, artists need to find different ways to meet audiences where they are at and – through their work – show them what art is capable of. We (photographers) were all lucky enough to have had some experience that created a desire in us to make and collect images; we need to think of ways to create such experiences for audiences who haven’t yet had the same opportunity.