By Julia Dixon Evans / Arts Calendar Editor and Producer
Poet-in-residence Catherine Kineavy brings Julia Alvarez in conversation with local audiences, plus workshops to map community through poetry.
Artist residencies hit a little differently now. Space and solitude have taken on new meaning since the pandemic began over a year ago, and the public face of the art world has changed dramatically. But Art Produce is committed. The nonprofit gallery and art space in North Park has kept up a vibrant schedule of residencies the entire year.
"We were quite surprised last year with how well all the artists adapted and pivoted to being here, and how well suited the residencies turned out to be to support several artists at a time. Just the structure of the place and that we have the ability to have separate spaces and separate entrances," said Lynn Susholtz, Art Produce's executive director and founder.
For the 2020 season, they had ten artists or performer groups scheduled for residencies, and for the most part, all were able to continue during the pandemic. For some, the space was essential, whether as a safe place to work or much-needed rehearsal space while dance studios were closed.
"Folks really kind of stepped up and decided that they wanted to be here," said Susholtz.
Artist residencies can offer a glimpse into the studio life and practice of artists — and at Art Produce, sometimes that's a literal glimpse, with passersby peeking in from the sidewalk as an artist is creating or installing, and sometimes it's through teaching or artist talks.
Writing residencies, however, tend to be a bit more private and inward. There's less to see process-wise, and traditionally less to participate in as a community. However, Art Produce is trying to turn that on end.
Writer and cultural educator and administrator Catherine Kineavy is currently on-site as the Poet in Residence, with funding from the California Arts Council.
Kineavy's work is by and for the community. "I don't think that an artist is separate from the community in which she or he lives," said Kineavy, who is presenting public workshops, soapbox sessions and poetry conversations with world-class writers.
She's also writing her own work, but this is nourished by the community, she said.
"Even though my writing, the collection of poetry that I'm working on is a collection of poems about family and history and memory and belonging — well, that's what I think it's going to be about, we'll see what happens. Getting an opportunity to create these workshops and read other poems in community with other people, it inspires me," Kineavy said.
Cartography Of A Life
Kineavy's project is called "Cartography of Community." She hopes to reach the community and invite them to their own practice of poetry by mapping their lives, as cartographers, and identifying and sharing their stories.
Kineavy is leading four community workshops, now underway. Participants can register for the final session on April 24, "Poetry of Space, Poetry of Place: Exploring Home and the Environment." The class will touch on what the pandemic has done to our sense of home and space, but also our connection to the natural world. And, ultimately, how poetry can add language to this.
Susholtz said that the residency as a whole looks at a geographic community, but also the other connections — like social activism and shared or common issues and experiences — that may bind individuals together. "Catherine's so good at that, bringing in a broader perspective and historical perspective in her work and her research and her teaching. It really grounds things in a way that we don't always see. And then also, she has this amazing way in her workshops of honoring where each person comes to the table."
Susholtz calls this "community-based knowledge," different from academic knowledge or something that can be googled.
"My sense of what people get is that they feel like they're part of a community, something larger than themselves. They get to share their experiences, because we write from what we know for the most part. And then people make connections," Kineavy said. "I think that's where poetry ties us to our humanity, in what we have in common."
Another component of Kineavy's residence is the "Poetry Conversations." She'll join Dominican Republic-born poet and author Julia Alvarez on April 17 and California-based writer Gayle Brandeis on April 21.
Kineavy met and worked with Julia Alvarez approximately 12 years ago, when Eveoke Dance Theater adapted "In the Time of the Butterflies" into a choreographed production. Kineavy was the dramaturg for the project, and they took the show on tour in the Dominican Republic alongside Alvarez.
"When I thought of having a poet, I wanted to have [Alvarez] because so many people know her through her novels and she's an amazing poet," Kineavy said. "She also wrote a poem about the pandemic."
The poem, "How Will the Pandemic Affect Poetry," is part of an anthology, "Together in a Sudden Strangeness," which also features work from Jericho Brown, Claudia Rankine, Ada Limón and Tommy Orange.
"Will the lines be six feet apart?/Will these hexameters be heroic like Homer's?/(Will) (each) (word) (have) (to) (be) (masked) (?)," begins the poem.
Alvarez will be in conversation with Kineavy — and anyone who registers to attend the Zoom panel — on Saturday, April 17 at 10 a.m.
"I think a key part of poetry is listening, so I very much like the conversations," Kineavy said.
Poetry Soapbox Series
To kick off the residency, Kineavy, along with Art Produce's Nikki Dunnan and Susholtz, brought in writers and poets as well as other artists, like painters, dancers and performers, to the Art Produce outdoor garden space.
During a lull in pandemic restrictions in the fall, they recorded videos with individuals either on or near a wooden crate, reading works they'd written. In one case, dancer Zaquia Mahler Salinas, she was silent and presented movement art on the soapbox.
The videos are online, and feature works by artist Bhavna Mehta, Pasquale Verdicchio, Erica Buechner, Neil Kendricks, Ted Washington, Gerda Govine Ituarte and more.