Untapped Cities is a proud media sponsor of No Longer Empty’s latest exhibition “How Much Do I Owe You?” at the abandoned Bank of Manhattan in Long Island City. For exclusive Untapped Cities/No Longer Empty events, sign up here.
It may have been freezing outside, but the mood was certainly getting fiery in the last edition of Death Match, held last Thursday at the “No Longer Empty: How Much Do I Owe You?” exhibition space in The Clock Tower at Long Island City. While I did know that this was a debate in which three experts would battle it out over the issue of arts funding, I didn’t realize that the audience would be in on this game, making their presence felt through opinionated hoots, angry whistles and an assortment of other sprightly noisemakers.
The setting for the discussion seemed oddly appropriate–we were seated in the former Bank of Manhattan building, surrounded by artworks that were related, in some way or the other, to money and its connection to society. Large kites made out of currencies loomed over the audience, with the dispassionate faces of Mao and Lincoln looking down on us. On the wall behind us, the colorful collage made out of scratch-off lottery tickets was a beautiful distraction. The huge bank vault downstairs was awesome, but so were the installations around it, especially the hissing serpents clad in business suits.
It was in these striking surroundings that Steve Lambert, visual artist and the co-founder of the Center of Artistic Activism, Alexis Clements, writer and fellow at the Cultural Strategies Initiative, and Deborah Fisher, executive director of A Blade of Grass, debated on the topic of arts funding and how it affects artists in today’s world. The discussion, which was hosted by Flux Factory, was moderated by the non-profit art collective’s Christina Vassallo and Douglas Paulson, both of whom held a tight rein on the proceedings by wielding aids including “smackdown” cards, sputtering fog machines and more.
The debate touched upon a variety of topics, with all three speakers putting forward thought-provoking points for discussion. Clements, for instance, talked about how MFA programs have created a divide of sorts in the art world by placing artists with MFA degrees on a higher creative pedestal than the rest, a practice that, according to her, was certainly not benefiting art and its creation. While Lambert said that he advised people to enroll for a MFA only if they didn’t have to pay for it, Fisher readily admitted that her years in the program—which she didn’t pay for—were the “best three fucking years” of her life.
From bemoaning the practice of paying female artists less than their male counterparts to dueling over communism and its possibilities, the debate was a lively one, and the audience was given a number of interesting and intriguing points to think about. Passive spectators were hard to find here, with the audience ready to throw in flaming questions, boisterous support and, at times, angry protests. But the moderators kept the discussion on track by restricting the time allowed for every speaker, although there were a few instances when I wished they would just stand back and let the theatrics explode.
As the night drew to a close, Clements and Fisher were selected by the audience as the winners of the debate. Although this event marked the end of the Death Match series, the No Longer Empty exhibition continues until March 13, and will be presenting a number of other programs in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for Untapped Cities exclusive events, like our tour into the abandoned bank. Entry to the exhibition and the events is free, and a full schedule of the programming can be obtained at the No Longer Empty website, or by simply following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Get in touch with the author @thisisaby.