One Year Later: Hemispheric Institute

Above, an Audio Postcard about the starting conditions for the project. 

Since 1998 the Hemispheric Institute has been bringing together artists, activists and scholars to explore performance practices throughout the Americas, because “these are ideas that can’t be thought from any one place; they have to be thought in conjunction with other thinkers, with other makers,” according to Founding Director Diana Taylor.

With support from the Rockefeller NYC Cultural Innovation Fund the institute has expanded opportunities for artists to present their work and increased their visibility in the New York arts community through the Hemispheric New York Performance Network (HNYPN).

Last fall they expressed apprehension about starting an ambitious program with a staff of only four, however, as they have launched artist presenting and residency programs they have been surprised by the ways in which they have been able to leverage pre-existing relationships into new opportunities for the artists and organizations in their network.

The Hemispheric Institute has set out to “do the possible in new ways,” according to Associate Director of Arts and Media Marlène Ramírez-Cancio.

The Innovation

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Hemispheric Institute launched the Hemispheric New York Performance Network (HNYPN), which leverages new and existing partnerships with local organizations to provide increased opportunities for the development of artists engaging with scholars and activists in New York City.  The new opportunities include artist residencies, an Emerging Artist Fellow, a Visiting Artist Series, and EMERGENYC, a training program for emerging artist-activists.

Progress to Date

Over the past year, they have successfully engaged new artists in their network and brought greater visibility to their work in New York City.  Dan Fishback and Daniel Alexander Jones were selected as Artists in Residency; Beatrice Glow was selected as an Emerging Artist Fellow; and a new cohort was selected to participate in the 2012 EMERGENYC program. The project has also enabled them to solidify their relationships with local presenting organizations such as Brooklyn Arts Exchange, La Mama, and Dixon Place. Through these partnerships they have been able to:

  • Increase opportunities for artists to develop and present work: Students in their EMERGENYC training program for activist artists presented a work at La Mama and artist in residence Dan Fishback presented a run of a critically claimed performance, The Material World,  at Dixon Place during the HOT! festival.
  • Leverage grants and relationships to extend their reach: Thanks to the Rockefeller CIF award, they arranged for in-kind support from NYU, which hosts the Institute, for artist housing and were able to support four artists in residence instead of two. They were also able to connect La MaMa with NYU Libraries, and will begin to digitize and preserve their video archive via the Hemsipheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL).

Key Learning

increased through their recent initiatives, but they found that they had laid the groundwork for these partnerships’ success by sustained relationship building. From the successful launch of the residency and EMERGENYC programs they learned:

  • Face-to-face contact is crucial to relationship building and program development: Through their dramatic increase in local events in NYC, the Hemispheric Institute learned that in-person meetings and conversations enabled new ideas to flow freely and trust to be built more rapidly.
  • Each event and project strengthens and provides leverage for the work of the organization overall: The relationships the Hemispheric Institute had built with organizations like La MaMa and NYU Libraries enabled them to facilitate further projects and collaboration, such as the archive digitization project and participation in the Fourth Avenue Arts Block coalition.

In working on these projects Ramírez-Cancio explained that they have learned more about what innovation means for their organization. “Normally we think about innovation as something that has never happened before,” she said, “but something we’ve learned is that innovation evolves organically from something that was happening already.”

Biggest Challenge

Taking advantage of opportunities and launching new programs has been challenging because the Hemispheric Institute has a small staff and their partnering organizations also have limited staff, time and budgets. The Hemispheric Institute has focused on prioritizing. “It’s a question of how do we best use our resources to make the best intervention that we can in the communities that we work with,” explained Taylor.

Next Steps

In the next year the Hemispheric Institute will be concentrating on the archive digitization project as well as working with partners on further presenting opportunities. They are planning a biannual festival in São Paulo and are looking to get more local artists involved and connect in person in order to build on the success they have found working face-to-face with artists and partnering organizations in New York.

The Hemispheric Institute is showing there is not one way to innovate, echoing the way they work with artists, activists and scholars. “There’s no one ‘right’ way to do something like social justice,” said Ramírez-Cancio, “Whether its community organizing, research, or fostering artistic work, for us it’s about opening up conversation about the fact we are in the Americas, not just in America, and what impact does that make in one’s own work?

Eleanor Whitney is a writer, educator, arts administrator and musician raised in Maine and living in Brooklyn, New York. Currently, she is the Program Officer for External Affairs and Fiscal Sponsorship at the New York Foundation for the Arts. Karina Mangu-Ward is the Director of Innovation at EmcArts.