'Locally Made'

The RISD Museum unleashes DJs, drag queens, and hundreds of other artists in a landmark show
By PHILIP EIL  |  July 17, 2013

WHAT'S HAPPENING? Press the button, the box knows.

The RISD Museum’s new show “Locally Made,” which opens July 18, defies easy description. Sure, the museum’s marketers have come up with a sexy tag line (“3 galleries/300 artists/4 months”) and, last month, Brown University Public Humanities Program Director Steven Lubar seemed to sum up the show nicely in a single tweet: “The most ambitious museum programming EVER. . . .”

But for a newspaper that prides itself on in-depth arts and culture coverage, obstacles remain. How do you properly cover a show in which media range from videos to paintings to sculptures to spoken-word poetry to artisan chocolate to bespoke apparel? And how do you even begin to describe one particular performance (of literally hundreds of live events the show will feature), scheduled for a Friday in October, at which RISD Apparel Design grad and Hasbro toy designer Ricky Katowicz plans to enter the museum’s Lower Farago Gallery shrouded entirely in white, then proceed to stitch drawings of museum guests into his clothing using a sewing machine and black thread, while electronic noise music swirls and clangs in the background?

Before our brains burst while trying to meet this challenge, we remembered something we were told by RISD Museum Educator Hollis Mickey, who helped organize the show. The show’s varied exhibitions and programs “give the opportunity to engage not only with the product of making locally, but the process of doing so,” she said. She returned to this theme repeatedly during our conversation: this is a show about process, as much as product.

And so we thought it would be fitting to throw back the journalist’s curtain to reveal some of the notes, numbers, riffs, ideas, quotes, and thoughts that go into an article such as this.

Who said artists have a monopoly on sharing their process?

It started here

First, a self-congratulatory background anecdote.

About a year and a half ago, while reviewing a multi-media survey of Rhode Island artists entitled “NetWorks 2011” on exhibit at the Candita Clayton Studio in Pawtucket, Providence Phoenix art critic Greg Cook asked, “When is the RISD Museum going to take up this cause and regularly tell our local art history?”

“RISD is better than many museums at plumbing art made in its hometown because it often exhibits its teachers and alums,” he wrote. “Since so many Rhode Island artists are affiliated with RISD in one way or another, this can cover a lot of ground. But RISD still acts as a place apart from Providence, and doesn’t really dig into the art community and assemble the story of what has happened here.”

“Locally Made” appears to be a resounding response to that question. The program notes read like a census of local artists and designers, from Rhode Island Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin to letterpress wiz Dan Wood to drag queens (Gloria Gardenburger), DJs (Dox, Nick De Paris, lynx pearl hovercraft), and the founders of Olneyville Square’s legendary arts collective, the Dirt Palace (Xander Marro and Pippi Zornoza). The list of the show’s participants is seven pages long.

“When we say ‘local,’ we mean that Providence is the closest big city,” Hollis Mickey says. “That means they don’t live in Brooklyn or Boston and commute here. . . but they might live over the state line.”

As a result, the museum is calling the show its “first large survey of work from the greater Providence region in more than 20 years.” And we at the Phoenix don’t mind taking a little bit of credit.

You’re welcome, Rhode Island.

FABRIC FACES Two stitched self-portraits by Ricky Katowicz.


The ‘rules’

Wild as it may sound, “Locally Made” isn’t a total free-for-all. There are rules — particularly for artists appearing in the show’s a 15-week live programming series called “One Room.”

We got our hands on a copy of the list distributed to artists:

1. You must not bring flammables; materials with strong odors toxic vapors, dust, or airborne substances (e.g., solvents, glue, etc.); animals; or organic matter (e.g., wood, plants, dirt, etc.) into the RISD Museum. Flowers purchased from professional florists or nurseries that have been treated for pests may be allowed at the discretion of the RISD Museum staff.

2. Bodily fluids must not be a part of your presentation.

3. Certain food items are not allowed in the Museum; these include but are not limited to red wine, tomato, and cranberry juices.

4. Materials approved for use must be protected to prevent spillage or leakage.

5. Sound levels (bass, low end frequencies) must be below 80 dB (decibels) to reduce vibration.

6. You must disclose in full the content of your presentation a month prior to your program to ensure that the RISD Museum is able to properly publicize, staff, and inform visitors of this program (e.g., adult content, flashing lights, etc.).

7. You must submit a materials list for review one month prior to your program. The materials list must include quantities, brief descriptions (media, color), and sizes.

8. All artistic products within this program must be original and in fact your own work. Any copyright clearance which may be required for use of materials is the responsibility of the participant and not the RISD Museum.”

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