Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Where is Jewish Art Now?

June 6, 2013 11:24 am 0 comments

Recently, it was announced that the UJA-Federation in New York will not be renewing their funding of the Six Points Fellowship, a program that has awarded about $1.26 million in grants to 30 Jewish artists to make new Jewish art.

In response to this news, there was an article published in eJewishPhilanthropy,Making the Case for the Arts as a Jewish Communal Priority“, where the author Joshua Ford identifies that this incident is part of a trend of declining support for the arts by the Jewish community that will only continue with the next generation of philanthropy. The case he makes is that Jewish communities and philanthropists should not see the arts as a distraction of the other causes they seek to support, but central to them. This comes from someone whose DC JCC, which as far as my sources had confirmed last winter, had discontinued their gallery. Perhaps the author wrote this piece because this is an issue that he is struggling with within his own institution.

As founder of Jewish Art Now, an advocate for 21st century Jewish art accessibility and innovation, I found this to be a particularly interesting call to action as Jewish art has become more and more popular among synagogues and JCC spaces in the past few years. All of a sudden it seems as if so many independent groups feel as if they “discovered” Jewish art. But when it gets to be a hassle or the money dries up, there go the arts.

These things come in waves. The Six Points Fellowship facilitated a new wave of Judaism in the arts at a time when JDub Records was on the upswing, Matisyahu was breaking out into the mainstream, and no one acknowledged Jewish content artwork that wasn’t drawing from the traditional Ashkenazi narrative, the Holocaust, or the founding of Israel. There was also a financial surplus, and using those funds to invest in specific artists laid the groundwork for how Judaism was perceived in the arts for a new generation.

All of a sudden it seems as if so many independent groups feel as if they “discovered” Jewish art.

With a rapidly declining economy, a second wave emerged in the last few years of content creators and appreciators such as the Jewish Art SalonArt Kibbutz, or Jewish Eyes on the Arts, who have pushed ahead with their own independent programming despite a lack of community infrastructure or financial support. Some more religious groups which were actually started during the boom of the first wave and lacked institutional support also thrived in this environment, such as Shemspeed and ATARA.

Each wave has its value, just like every generation can represent a new era in their people’s history. I believe we are at the crest of the second wave, where more and more interest in Jewish art has developed through increasing grassroots initiatives, and it is ready to crash, in a good way, to further hydrate the land. So this begs the question, should Jewish art be supported by the institutional community? Or should it be expected to develop enough mainstream credibility that it survives on its own?

Rather than arguing the value of Jewish art for its transformative value, Joshua Ford says in his article that Jewish art can be used to accomplish other goals that the community has in mind. He cites how gallery neighborhoods are built on mixed use spaces, combining residential and commercial, which foster “builders of community that provide a common cultural gathering space.” Other pointers the article gives are to have more audience participation in the creative process and that the artwork that Jewish artists are producing on their own can be a valuable asset for the Jewish community.

Should Jewish art be supported by the institutional community? Or should it be expected to develop enough mainstream credibility that it survives on its own?

As part of the second wave of contemporary Jewish art, we at Jewish Art Now follow an approach to arts engagement based on current trends in the mainstream visual art world. Our focus is on community building and interaction rather than positioning elite artists that you have to consume as the only point of engagement. We have interactive events with multiple entry ways and content that makes you feel inspired when you leave, because it is genuine both to Judaism’s traditions and visual art’s language. The experience is high quality, but not pretentious, warm and welcoming, but with a major cool factor, like an underground movement rather than a big institutional initiative. We are art experts and appreciators trying to elevate a Jewish community we care about.

Ford notes that Jewish art producers and venues don’t make enough of a case that art is crucial to the community. We agree that this needs to be made, but as grant money is harder to come by, we at Jewish Art Now don’t try to convince people that what we are doing is important for the community in the same way a fundraiser from your local (insert lame institutional event you’ve been bored by) has. What we do is show people a good time, stimulating the senses, and the response is always “we need more events like THIS!”

The younger generation gets it. We are consumers who want our consumption to bring us meaning in our lives, and that we are part of the process, not just a member of the club like a donor list. We need our senses to be overloaded with the cutting edge. The problem is that the major donors (and most individual donors) are older and don’t relate to the contemporary art we are drawn to, the brand of 21st century non-apologetic Judaism we present, and the way we deliver it with our media. They might enjoy our actual event, but can’t conceptualize it or understand its value compared to what they traditionally fund (though I would say helping to create a market of sustainability for talented folks, artists and other professionals, is a dire necessity for them, and for the cultural development of our people). There are no borders on the globalized, interconnected world anymore and we need to start thinking of our artistic community as that wide, with points in any location, large city or small town.

As the first wave of 21st century Jewish art waves goodbye (closing of JDub, diminishing of countless print publications such as Zeek, Heeb, and the revelation of Matisyahu’s bare chin) we aspire to pave the way and lay the ground-work of the third wave of contemporary Jewish art. We see a world where there is widespread collaboration, open-source programming, and curricula that are built into Jewish communities.

Art can be the most captivating experience, but only if it is delivered in a way the next evolution of the community can engage with. It is important to retain an open communication online and in-person, changing perceptions of Jewish art within and without, with participants who would not normally engage at Jewish events or with Jewish subjects.

The art world resists Jewish subjects, and the Jewish world does not embrace the visual arts in a profes­sional capacity.

As we say in our official description of Jewish Art Now, the art world resists Jewish subjects, and the Jewish world does not embrace the visual arts in a profes­sional capacity. As a result there is a community of artists and culture savvy individuals who find them­selves having to choose between the two – or acting alone in their pursuit. Ford wrote “artists will continue to create art – whether we will harness those individual and collective energies into an asset for the Jewish community remains to be seen.” We see a way to create collaboration on a larger scale, leveraging already available resources while provid­ing direction and oversight, that can easily provide communities with culture content and re-engagement.

Elke Reva Sudin is the executive director of Jewish Art Now, an outlet for contemporary Jewish art and design appreciation and advancement. Jewish Art Now was recently ignited by the PresenTense New York Community Entrepreneur Program.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →