October is arts and culture month here at Repair the World. Join us here all month for our 31-day celebration of the transformative, world changing power of art and culture in all their many forms.
Artists thrive in the company of other artists. They share ideas, inspire one another and, more often than not, find ways to collaborate. Whether their discipline is writing or visual art, dance, or performance art, it is just what artists do.
It is on this premise that Patricia Eszter Margit, a novelist and Hungarian-native living in New York City, founded Art Kibbutz NY. Margit was inspired by residential artist colonies that provide artists with a place to live, work and connect, and hoped to recreate something similar for Jewish artists. Since 2010, she has done just that, creating short term residency programs with socially-minded themes, that have attracted Jewish artists from around the world.
Margit took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Repair the World about the challenge of writing Jewish fiction in Hungary, the stunning diversity and age range of Art Kibbutz’s artist roster, and how artists can give back to their communities.
When did you launch Art Kibbutz and what was the inspiration behind it?
I started it back in 2010. I am a fiction writer from Hungary. There are very few other fiction writers in the country, and it can be challenging to write about Jewish themes there. When I moved to New York City, I made friends with other artists and tapped into a community. A lot of artists would reach out to me saying they wanted a place to stay, to work, to rehearse, and to connect with others both Jewishly and artistically. It was out of these conversations that Art Kibbutz was born.
What type of programs do you run?
We are an international artist colony of 600 different artists. We do not yet have a permanent location, though that is something we’re working towards. For now, we do temporary residency programs. Last May we held a residency program at Eden Village Camp – it was before the campers arrived for the summer. We brought 30 international artists aged 23 to 83. We had writers, performing artists, visual artists, dancers, and everything from Orthodox to completely secular Jews, and everyone in between. Each artist had their own studio space and worked on the common theme of the environment. During the day they worked on their own projects, and in the evenings we had programs for them to share their work, as well as lectures and presentations about Jewish responses to the environment.
Wow, that sounds like an incredible experience.
The artists came full of ideas and enthusiasm. One woman brought her whole wood working studio with her. Asherah Cinnamon from Maine and Nikki Green from Australia created together an amazing 12 feet long letter Shin, that they floated on the lake of Eden Village Camp. It stayed there for the whole summer for the kids to enjoy. Another artist created prayer flags modeled after Tibetan prayer flags, but with Hebrew letters. All of the art was created from environmentally friendly materials. Jewish teachings say that we are partners in creation, and we wanted to work in a way that was in sync with nature.
Did you involve the surrounding community?
Yes, there was a lot of interaction. We had an open studio day, that drew 100 visitors. Some of the artists donated work to the Jewish Farm School and Eden Village. Right now we are putting together a traveling exhibition. We are currently looking for locations for a traveling exhibition that presents some of the best work created at our pilot environmental residency.
What plans do you have for the future?
We hope to do two residencies in 2014. We are interested in going beyond the traditional conversation about what Jewish art is, and focusing on giving Jewish artistic responses to current issues in fields like social justice. The artists want to be involved in the community. The arts can be such a powerful tool within the realm of social justice because they can help create larger visibility for issues and introduce new, surprising perspectives that could inspire others. It is a beautiful way for artists to give back.
We also have a new program called artist space match, which brings artists to different Jewish spaces like synagogues, NGOs, JCCs, old age homes, camps, schools, and museums. In exchange for a space to work, the artists will run programming for the local community. In the meantime, we are also looking for a permanent home where we can have programs and residencies year round. In the long run, we want to provide a space for our network of artists to learn and connect. We want them to step out of their regular environments and explore new things and new people with different cultural and religious backgrounds. After all, this is about community.
Learn more about Art Kibbutz and check out the work generated during the environmental residency on their website. While you are at it, make a donation to support their work! Learn more about Margit’s writing on her personal website.