Theaster Gates to Present at United States Artists Assembly in Chicago

This invite-only gathering is meant to spark interdisciplinary collaboration.

Theaster Gates Photo: Lloyd Degrane

On March 22, the nonprofit arts institution United States Artists will convene hundreds of creatives from various disciplines in Chicago for a three-day conference. The purpose of the gathering? “To bring artists from around the country together to do something meaningful, with the overarching theme of collaboration,” says USA’s new CEO, Carolina Garcia Jayaram, who conceived of the event as one of her first acts in the position.

United States Artists is an annual fellowship program that provides $50,000 awards to be used however recipients sees fit—from purchasing materials to paying off student loan debt. This departs from programs that are project-based or require recipients to get approval before spending grant money.

The annual assembly will bring together not only current and alumni fellows in the disciplines of architecture, dance, literature, media, music, theater, performance, and visual art, but also the program’s funding partners and local members of the arts community. Alumni including artists Mark BradfordAnn Hamilton, and Theaster Gates (see Theaster Gates Splits Artes Mundi Prize Winnings with Nominees) and singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello are slated to present at the event.

Fruitful Connections

Jayaram says she was inspired by the natural and fruitful connections made by graduates (including Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker, and Catherine Opie, to name a few) at the yearly USA awards ceremonies.

“What we learned is that many of the artists who were meeting for the first time at these ceremonies would end up doing projects together,” she explains. “So my idea was to create an inspiring environment without being overly prescriptive, and bring in people who would end up creating interesting projects, experiences, and relationships. We’re going to be creating spaces where hopefully, very robust conversations can emerge.”

Jayaram also noted that the Assembly comes during a time of unprecedented interest among artists in doing cross-disciplinary projects and collaborations with other artists. “I’ve been going to arts administrator conferences for many years, but there isn’t a lot of that kind of convening for artists themselves,” she says.

The Assembly will change locations each year, and is confirmed for Jayaram’s native Miami in 2016. “By the next year,” she says, “my hope is that we can go somewhere really rural, because a lot of our artists come from rural areas.”

The United States Artists Assembly will take place from March 22–24 in Chicago, Illinois. It is an invitation-only gathering.


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