Cross-Currents : Art + Manufacturing Strengthening Place


Funding Received: 2012
Multiple, NC
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
January 10, 2013

ArtPlace spoke with Janet Kagan and Jean Greer, Principals of the Public Art Collaborative Art-Force Program, an innovative effort to diversify economic development in rural counties by partnering artists with manufacturers to generate core products and stimulate a community’s social and economic connection to place.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you have faced to date?

KAGAN + GREER: There have been several thorny issues: three radically different team interactions, scheduling demands independent of this project, and how each professional communicates.

The Program was conceived and designed to have the artists and the manufacturers work side-by-side throughout the year, most intensely during the beginning and end of each design and fabrication phase. One of the purposes of this collaborative residency was to enable material and design experimentation on site, thereby accelerating and compressing into twelve months what is typically a two to three year product design process. However, each team also had its own independent scheduling demands (from urgent manufacturing priorities to gallery exhibitions, from delays in materials orders to private commissions to teaching.) This required not only a varied understanding of complex workflows but also modifications to individual and team schedules to accommodate these constraints.

During this period of creative exchange, words and ideas - which had different meanings and assumptions - required teams to adapt to the design and production methods of contrasting professions. For instance, artists’ CADD drawings needed to be translated to corresponding engineering software for plasma cutting of steel and aluminum. For another, the artist experimented with aggregate formulas for 2D application to transform them to 3D forms. Through scheduled interactions, professional and experiential vocabularies whether spoken, drawn, and digital merged to become shared team languages as they reached the prototyping phase.

Inherent to any design process with multiple participants, work processes diverged in how time was allocated, how priorities were evaluated, how design concepts were critiqued, and the need for or absence of strategic and long-range planning to accomplish project goals.

ARTPLACE: How did you address or resolve these “thorns”?

KAGAN + GREER: During late summer, we decided to convene the three teams for a mid-term work session that would not only introduce them to one other but would also offer the opportunity to learn from each other’s product development processes. It was essential that workforce training begin with a restatement of project goals and a review of project phases for educational advancement. We have always been committed to seminal opportunities for cross-currents of design and production among the artist-manufacturer teams, and this day together offered time for discussion and realignment. Everyone was energized and motivated as ideas flew back and forth among all project partners, and we will continue to encourage these currents within related product applications.

We created three workflow charts by team and phase of work. This initiated a dialogue about the possibility for concurrent methods and scheduling for retraining current employees as well as identifying sites and support for workforce development. There was consensus among the three rural manufactures that finding, training, and retaining a high-caliber workforce is a critical and ever-present concern. The expressed and shared values are that in hiring, attitude trumps technical skills, apprenticeships and fine handwork are more important than management training, and specific skill sets such as quality control can be taught and learned if there is a rigorous work ethic.

Moving forward, we are focused on the transition that completes design and prototyping to a process for workforce training that maximizes efficiencies of production.