Benjamin Franklin once said that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. As we all know, the purported truth of these words of wisdom has been frequently disavowed by the concerns of the marketplace. With regards to contemporary artistic practice, it's become common parlance in the art world to claim that investment in art today has more to do with the accumulation of a rarified form of capital than engagement with ideas and knowledge-gathering. But what if this notion of investment in art, as well as the accrual and dispersal of its surplus value, was turned on its head? What if we started thinking about the production, buying, and selling of art as a holistic cycle that encouraged radical new forms of learning and generated novel notions of public ownership?
Trust Art is a New York-based social enterprise and collective that provides a creative new model for both supporting the production of artists' projects and re-shaping the ways we can think about art, capital, and publics. Initiated in 2009 by Jose Serrano-McClain and Seth Aylmer, the basic premise of Trust Art derives from the tenant instilled in Lewis Hyde's The Gift—the idea that objects, ideas, and works must always be moving and transforming. The model borrows and adapts the concept of a publicly traded company. Investors are given shares for every dollar or hour they give to a Trust Art project. These funds are used to produce public art projects, in chapters, over a period of three years. At the end of the three years, works, remnants, and other ephemera from the projects are sold at auction and the proceeds are re-distributed amongst the artists and shareholders, who agree to re-invest the returns into a new round of public art projects. This system has allowed for the creation of works in New York by emerging artists whose practice considers the very formation of publics.
Anne McClain is an artist and perfumer who underwent an investigation to discover the scent of compassion through the auspices of Trust Art and the project's shareholders. Starting in 2009, the Humanity project has taken on several distinct chapters, and continues to develop. After the initial phases of inspiration and discovery into what could constitute the scent of compassion, McClain began manufacturing a retail-edition of the fragrance, which funded its subsequent and most public iteration—a public fountain in McGolrick Park, Brooklyn. Intending to spark a conversation about compassion, relationships, and public space, the fountain became a site for conversation and curiosity in the neighborhood. Future phases of McClain's project include a series of workshops on perfume and aromatherapy to continue to develop further ideas on how scent affects and transforms relationships between individuals.
Skewville is a duo comprised of twin brothers, Ad and Droo Deville, who have been making street art in New York for the past fifteen years. Trust Art is responsible for working with them on an ambitious project that explores the transforming demographics and identity of the neighborhood through the creation of an art park. The aim of the Bushwick Art Park is to develop a permanent public space in the neighborhood on a currently under-used and trash-ridden street. The programming of the Bushwick Art Park will be integrated within the already existing community infrastructure, as Skewville plans to work with new artists to the area as well as street artists and local businesses with deep roots in the community in order to ensure the park as a creative platform amongst various stakeholders. Skewville plans to formally propose the de-mapping of the street for park construction to the city of New York after a series of community block parties evoking the future park, the latest of which featured the local city council member delivering a speech in support of the initiative.
School of the Future was a project instigated by Cassie Thornton and Chris Kennedy that completely re-examined the concept of the school as a structure and form. Over the course of July 2010, School of the Future ran as a free, pop-up lateral learning environment, housed outside in Sgt. Dougherty Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Breaking down the teaching/learning binary that has become standard practice in schools across the world, Thornton and Kennedy encouraged would-be students in the school to propose topics they would like to learn. Classes ranged from the whimsical to the theoretical to the utterly practical—examples of courses offered included Guerrilla Gardening, Tree Identification, and Philosophy Yoga. School of the Future continues as an ongoing research project that will manifest into a document to be distributed to the U.S. Department of Education.
Legacy Russell's project for Trust Art, OPEN CEREMONY, is one of a two-part project that explores notions of rite and remembrance in the public sphere, namely Lower Manhattan. A series of site-specific performances, OPEN CEREMONY operates as a means to document and build a dialogue with the various memories of inhabitants from the Lower East Side and East Village. Over the course of Summer 2011, armed with a table, two chairs, and a typewriter, Russell moved throughout public sites in these neighborhoods asking passers-by, "What memories do you have of living here?" The second part of Russell's project, American Idolatry, is an exhibition that explores broader themes of ceremony, ritual, and remembrance through emerging contemporary artists. American Idolatry opens October 29, 2011 at the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, New York.
The inaugural Trust Art Triennial Auction will be in Spring 2012 in a historic building on Wall Street.
Chelsea Haines is an independent writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She received an M.A. in Visual Culture Theory from New York University in 2009. Her thesis on the development of public art projects in post-Katrina New Orleans will be published in a forthcoming anthology by Routledge. She has written and presented widely on educational movements, artist collectives, and contemporary art and politics. Haines is currently the Education & Public Programs Manager at Independent Curators International, where she develops and coordinates ICI's educational initiatives, including curatorial training programs, think tank sessions, professional networking platforms, and public events and conferences.