[Painting by Betsy McCall, now in the permanent collection at ModNomad Studio. This imagery and Betsy's social practice project, the Art Monastery, have been crucial to the development of ModNomad. To get back to the main site you can always click on our logo at the top of the page, or right here.]
Since our societal and environmental breakdown went into overdrive in January 2017, I've been toddling toward some new way of being in this world. My organizing principle came from Martin Luther King, Jr.; I hoped to discover and contribute to a movement calling this nation to a higher destiny.
This project is a work-in-progress, but after two years, I am finally emerging with the frame and movement to which I feel a natural affinity. With the help of mentor/collaborators such as Betsy McCall and Gregory Sale, I see my current project, ModNomad, as a part of the social practice movement and art discipline. This is a relatively new field, which I will continue to study and to which I hope to contribute.
Social practice describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work. Curators at the Tate Modern Museum describe the participatory element of social practice as key, "with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them. In his book, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, Tom Finkelpearl writes that social practice is "art that’s socially engaged, where the social interaction is at some level the art."
This piece in ArtNews by Carolina Miranda discusses two of my heroes in this field of social practice, Thomas Hirschhorn and Rick Lowe. I interviewed Hirschhorn about his Gramsci Monument in 2013 for a video produced by the Dia Art Foundation, and I am inspired perhaps most directly by Lowe's Project Row Houses, which have transformed a group of neglected shotgun houses in Houston into an African-American cultural hub. For this work, Lowe received a MacArthur Genius grant.
ModNomad's approach has been to instigate an outpost for social creativity in service of the common good within a wealthy community which, in 2019, has been deemed by the California attorney general's office to have an unconstitutionally segregated school system, with residents navigating the intersectional challenges of inequality, materialism and privilege. Traditional journalism and activism are falling short in bringing the community together to develop shared sets of facts and potential civic solutions. ModNomad is an evolving social sculptural approach to this complex civic challenge, a social practice to integrate with and conduct various local and national collaborative actions aimed at contributing to a new civics for our era.
As the poet and activist Audre Lorde taught us, "Divide and conquer must become define and empower." This is at the very heart of our social practice and I'll be sharing the evolving story about our collaborative actions and developing campaigns here on the blog, but this is where our evolving language about ModNomad is currently:
ModNomad Studio / a social sculpture
#startingathome / #healcreaterelate / #civicwisdom / #socialpractice
ModNomad Studio is an evolving social practice art project.
It is both private home and fluid collaborative project exploring how change begins and builds, and what it means to live our values.
It is both creative studio and sanctuary overlooking mountain and sea in Sausalito, California.
It is both physical and mental space and platform dedicated to social creativity and civic wisdom.
ModNomad is social synthesis.
Heal. Create. Relate. This is the place.
What is your idea and how can we help?
In addition to the collaborative projects and campaigns in which we engage, ModNomad offers free and subsidized residencies and collaboration opportunities to social creatives of various disciplines who are instigating for the common good. We also offer flexible shelter and community for social creatives and other individuals and families experiencing crises of health and housing.
Recent featured artists and creative/collaborative residents at ModNomad include:
Chuchito Valdes / Cuban jazz great and member of the three-generation Valdes jazz dynasty from Havana, including his grandfather Bebo Valdes, and father, Chucho Valdes
Betsy McCall / Painter, social sculptor and founder/abbess of the Art Monastery
Daniel Amat / Jazz virtuoso
Porochista Khakpour / Acclaimed novelist and essayist
David Knowles / Journalist and novelist
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar / Political refugee, writer and human rights activist
Wendell Potter / Health insurance whistleblower, journalist and founder of Tarbell
Matt Stannard / Writer on capitalism, class and cooperation, producer and podcast host at Solidarity House Cooperative
Brittany Powell / Photographer and creator of The Debt Project
Roger Bonair-Agard / National Book Award-nominated poet
Donna Smith / Former National Nurses United organizer and Progressive Democrats of America Executive Director
Gregory Sale / Master social practice artist and instigator of the collaborative exhibition, Future IDs at Alcatraz
Lauren Dillon / Sculptor, master plaster artist and historic preservation advocate
Tracy Schlapp and Danny Wilson, creators of Folsom50, a series of concert performances at Oregon prisons featuring spoken word and songs from Johnny Cash's "At Folsom Prison"
Jeff Smith / Sculptor, creator of the Smallest House in the World and collaborator on ModNomad's Dock House and GoGo Kitchen installations
Kristin Kaye / Novelist, essayist and social creative
Sabrina Reid / Artist, restorative justice activist and advocate for formerly-incarcerated citizens
Tracy Ruggles / Songwriter, sound healer and creative consultant. Curator of ModNomad's house concert series
Along with our collaborations and residency program, ModNomad seeks to bring citizens together to introduce new possibilities and paths to get there. At our Cognitive Potlucks, we invite the likes of journalists, artists, designers, visionaries, historians, economists and public intellectuals of integrity to explore the major issues and key forces polarizing and paralyzing us, and identify opportunities to synthesize efforts to disrupt and change narratives and dysfunction.
We also host free house concerts, book parties and documentary film nights, and we open up our space for intimate networking and collaboration gatherings held by other organizations and individuals instigating for the common good.
Let's network and leverage and nourish. Let's go further faster together.
People and planet need us to, in the words of Dr. King, "call our beloved nation to a higher destiny."