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.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →

Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.