Along with trying to introduce you to great under-the-radar events throughout the week, and keeping you in the loop on the comes and goings of our arts and culture scene, we also want to introduce you to the people and their places that drive our Northern scene. With that thought, we’re super duper excited to bring back our semi-regular Studio Visit feature. Check it out!
Interview by Max Hougland + Photos by Ben Innes
Eric F. Avery and Mike Hoyt share a studio space on Minneapolis’ south side. Both have far-reaching, interdisciplinary practices that tie them to their communities. Eric is a performer, designer, and ever-evolving artist and teacher. Mike has taken a winding path through many
methods as a community practitioner, painter, and arts administrator. Eric and Mike’s practices freely combine in an unrestricted way in the space they share and as a result their space is in a constant state of creative flux.
Secrets: Can you describe your practice in a few sentences?
MH: Although my formal training is in painting and drawing, over the past decade my work has evolved to take the form of interactive sculptural installations, and situations in which public participation is a key component.
EFA: My practice is a moving target. Currently it lands some place between experimental performance, visual art, and community development. I’m much less interested in any specific medium and more attracted to art and events that are responsive to what is happening now in the multitude of ways that NOW can be interpreted.
Secrets: Can you describe who you are and where you’re from?
MH: I was born in Northfield MN, and grew up in the Twin Cities. I am a Minnesota based artist and I have always believed this to be my home. I consider myself fortunate to exhibit artwork and produce public art across a wide range of communities and venues. This work has manifested in many forms and platforms including visual art (painting, drawing, installation, sound, new media) and work in across and within different sectors.
Themes and interests that have carried through my work over the past 20+ years include:
– Embodied self representation
– Transracial diaspora, hyphenated heritage, in-between-ness
– Art for social change/justice/healing/advocacy
– Youth development
– Practice embedded in my immediate community
– Resource redistribution and the creation of new systems and platforms
EFA: I’m a queer artist of color. I’m the youngest in my family. Originally from Topeka, KS. I’m much more shy and introverted than people realize. Love Minneapolis, Love Minnesota. I want my art and my life to have some positive impact on the world.
Secrets: Can you describe your history of using/having your own space, and what turning points have your studio space(s) created for you?
MH: I believe that I am currently at a pivotal mid-career stage in my creative evolution.
Although I consider myself fortunate to have achieved some level of success, upon reflection I
would summarize my career as a practice of meandering and perseverance, as I am sure many
artists would similarly attest.
I have most often been categorized as either a studio artist, or a community artist-social
practitioner, almost always separate and apart from one another. For two decades I have
worked to maintain a footing in both worlds simultaneously, as I have never felt there has been
room for these dual trajectories to be seen as one singular artist identity. Often there is a push
and pull between an institutionalized focus that is traditionally academic, theoretical, or formal,
verses the work of the community practitioner measured by equity, accessibility, and social
justice. Over the past decade, the identity of social practitioner and studio artist has been
shifting and even slowly merging into one. This shift has allowed me to step back and re-
examine my overall body of work, and rearticulate my role as an artist for the next decade or
Although I am now in my mid 40’s, a renewed understanding of my creative practice has just
now come into focus. I can honestly say that this is the first time in my career that I have
identified myself as simply “artist”.
EFA: My background is in theatre, which relates to space in such drastically different ways than my current practice. What is similar is that the place where the art is made is drastically different than the place it’s presented. In theatre the space where the things are made don’t usually belong to the individual artists in most cases. So to have a space of my own has been huge. Rather than conforming to the circumstances of the entity providing the space I have the luxury of letting my process and projects fully root themselves in a space. To be able to leave a given project sitting for two days and come back with it untouched has been a revelation. There is a quiet comfort and control in knowing that there is a place I can go to become fully immersed in my work with minimal distractions. From my time at Sans Comic I’ve learned that I want to have my own studio whenever possible. Especially one that allows me the freedom to rehearse, to build, to meet, and to sometimes do nothing.
Secrets: You are each at different points in time with regard to artistic career arc. What changes would you like to see in the twin cities art economy? What changes do you hope for in the future of your industry?
MH: I do get excited about different models/platforms to support artists work. I think programs like the CURA Artist Neighborhood Partnership Initiative is a really great example of grantmaking. I’ve never really been part of the for-profit art economy, but my career has benefited from the non-profit art economy (for better/for worse?) that is unique to MN.
EFA: I hope to see more opportunities for artists to have an ongoing presence in programs and places. I feel that there simply aren’t enough routes for artists to be fully focused on their art outside of the freelance model. I think this has been shifting with programs like City Artists in Residence in St Paul & Creative Citymaking, but from what I understand both of those programs come with plenty of administrative duties.
I want to see more creative thinking about the ways in which our public and private dollars are considered. 1 million dollars might not go far when we’re talking bout the bottom line for one of our larger institutions, but how many individual artists or small organization would that chunk fund for so much longer? I wouldn’t mind a few of the larger institutions to be dismantled or to fail quite frankly.
I think we will see more attempts at broader inclusivity, but due to the nature of capitalism it won’t be as much as I’d like. I think the arts scene here is driving and only getting better, so these are all pretty nit picky things.
Secrets: How did you find a home for your practice? Why the MPLS + STPL?
MH: I guess I never left MN and never really wanted to leave. My practice was always here because my wife and I wanted to be in MN, raise a family here. As I mentioned, I peaked relatively late receiving my first fellowship/grant when I was 41. Therefore my artistic practice was something I just did and maintained over the course of my life (the whole meandering perseverance thing). It is, in many ways, not more complicated than that. Just a whole lot of work and grinding with an occasional exhibit, show, or project sprinkled here and there.
EFA: In some ways Minneapolis was inevitable for me. I’m really proud of my midwestern roots, but also like I said before, I’m a queer artist of color. I think the most obvious choice for me would be Chicago, which I love. I lived there for a year after I lived in Minnesota for about 2 and there was no comparison. No place that I’ve lived has stacked up to the Twin Cities. It has all the things that a metro should have, easy access to nature, the best arts funding in the country, and it’s affordable. I travel quite a bit for work, so I think about this question a lot. Time and time again I’m so thankful to be returning home.
Secrets: What are you working on right now?
MH: My current and ongoing work is a long term project called Dreamsland. On Dec. 5th 2014 I purchased a 33 x 118 lot in the Central neighborhood of South Minneapolis for the purposes of exploring land as an artistic medium and a platform for an ongoing practice. This vacant structure-less lot is situated roughly 1/2 a city block from our family residence, and is adjacent to a well organized cooperative community garden. The empty lot was purchased with the intention of making a free public space where all neighbors are welcome to engage in creative exchange and collective stewardship of the property in order to cultivate and deepen neighbor to neighbor connections.
My short-term goal is to erect a small shed/work shanty at Dreamsland this Spring and to transition my art making to Dreamsland. I see this as an opportunity to permanently embed my practice as an artist in a radically porous manner.
EFA: I’m one of the Artists on the Verge Fellows this year, and our show will be opening in March so that’s gearing up quickly. My main project at the moment is a called the Life and Death of Eric F. Avery, which I’m producing in NYC this year with intentions to bring it back to Minneapolis in 2017. There are also some smaller projects that might find legs, but maybe not.
Secrets: Eric, What are some of the adaptations you’ve had to make in order to split your work up so much geographically? It seems really daunting to produce work that has a community development component and autobiographical components in more than one place. What kind of a ‘mode’ do you have to be in to make that happen?
EFA: For as much as I love Minneapolis it’s been an essential lesson for me to learn that I can’t necessarily get everything I need as an artist from just one place. Yes, I can win a grants here and afford to produce work, but there are a lot of gaps to fill between these opportunities. What I do outside of my own work varies. I sometimes freelance as a performer, director, designer, educator, etc. These opportunities are available in lots of place and sometimes the offers are better than I would get here at home in Minnesota. It’s less about adventure, or prestige, or strategic planning and more about just making a living. I do think this will change and in the next few years I will be much closer to fully supporting myself in Minnesota, but even then I wouldn’t totally cut myself off to outside opportunities. I think it’s really healthy to not always work in the same way with the same people. Right now I’m at the extreme opposite of that idea, but I hope to come closer to the middle eventually.
Working in a community that isn’t my own is incredibly challenging. Logistically, ethically, aesthetically. It’s difficult. I would like to continue learning from this piece in particular and figure out what mode i need to be in or what models of engagement are most effective, but I have the sense that it’s somewhat of a moving target. Every community is it’s own island. I think whether is geographic or cultural there are plenty more bridges connecting us, but visiting is not the same as being embedded in a place. I have lots more questions about this work than I have answers and that’s part of what draws me to it. I love a challenge. I think art has the capacity to address and solve larger issues that we give it credit for. I’m trying to dream bigger than I have before and I think like any growth there are accompanying pains.
Mike, you mention that at the point you’re at in your practice, some changes have recently come into focus. What you do, the way you identify. How would you trace the genealogy/history of these kinds of changes? What’s the balance between where you’re driving yourself to versus where the world you work in is pushing you?
It’s a great question and I think that it relates to how all artists are working to make meaning of, and establish some sort of grounding in, the current arts ecology. I think that when I completed my undergraduate degree (waaaay back in ’94) I was still buying into the notion that there were discrete pathways, institutions, and/or metrics for what it meant to be a successful artist. I witnessed several of my close artist peers have success within those structures and as a result, the pathway opened up for them. Yet there was bottleneck. Like many emerging artists at the time, none of those conventional art world doors opened for me early on in my career. This was always a source of both frustration and fuel. Upon reflection, I trace my genealogy to choice points along the way. As an Asian American artist, I became more engaged and aligned with artists and peers working within newly devised systems or structures that supported my particular experience and needs as an artist (Asian American Renaissance, Diaspora Flow, theatre Mu).
I think that at this stage in my career, I am experiencing a moment where I am simultaneously catching up with the art world and, in some ways, it is structurally catching up with me. The reason I dislike the term “Creative Placemaking” and I don’t like to be referred to as a Creative Placemaker is because although these fields have been coalescing in current national conversations driven by big philanthropy, community development, municipalities, across many arts sectors, in a way I (and many artists of this generation) have been doing this work for 20+ years. So the push to engage locally, to build new platforms, to explore new definitions of “artist” was a result of feeling a real displacement from what was already the prevailing norm and that the capital “A” art institution was simply too elusive.
I think the other significant part of what has pushed me and my work into the public sector, and particularly in the community in which I live is a desire to push towards a more equitable, and accessible arts ecology. I wrote about this a little on my blog in 2014.