Making It Work

Two and a half years ago, I met a fellow Kansas artist who had read my writing and invited me into a curatorial collaboration. Maria Velasco and I persevered through pandemic delays and other upheavals, conducting the bulk of our work via Zoom when we couldn’t be together in person, and we’re thrilled to have finally realized our project. Making It Work: Art + Parenting showed at the Lawrence (KS) Arts Center from May 27 through July 30, 2022.

We describe the exhibition this way:

A child from the future finds a portal in the park and tells you a story about ecological collapse

You see your favorite reading lamp and armchair in a new way during lockdown and turn them into a domestic sculpture 

A mother-artist-activist invites us to think about how we care for the 21st century while hanging out in a disco installation

Artists who are also parents navigate all-consuming roles that compete with each other, in the best of circumstances. Living in pandemic times further exacerbates these challenges. How, then, does one as an artist, a parent, a caregiver, a professional in the world, “make it work”? Some artists embrace the generative possibilities of parenthood, through subject matter, collaboration, or new rhythms and processes. For others, caring labors offer a lens through which to consider institutional structures, political reform, activism, intergenerational knowledges, and more sustainable futures. Making It Work brings together six contemporary artists from around the US whose familial bonds and extended caring communities creatively inform their artistic practices. Through drawings and prints, audio and photography, installation and participatory work, these artists engage the ties of kinship, tell stories across generations, posit caregiving as a political act, and develop community-minded initiatives for change.

Installation view of work by Pilar Aguero-Esparza (foreground), Alberto Aguilar (back left), and Jina Valentine (back right)

The six artists we included in the exhibition–Pilar Aguero-Esparza, Alberto Aguilar, Lise Haller Baggesen, Christa Donner, Cara Romero, and Jina Valentine–took their role of parenthood as a generative position. They work not only to make the status of artist-mother or artist-parent more visible within contemporary art but also to address a variety of issues that plague our world. Parenthood becomes a lens through which to address climate change and species extinction, racial and ethnic identity, police violence, and the pandemic.

Lise Haller Baggesen, detail from Mothernism installation

While we had initially planned that some or all of the artists would be present in the space, whether doing residencies or conducting workshops or giving presentations, ongoing pandemic uncertainties dictated that we curtail many of those plans. Pilar Aguero-Esparza traveled to Lawrence to help install her work, but otherwise artists had to engage virtually. Jina Valentine coordinated virtual programming for The Black Lunch Table, and several of the artists gave Zoom interviews that now live on the Lawrence Arts Center website.

What Color Are You? installation by Pilar Aguero-Esparza

Maria and I are so pleased to have received a good amount of press about the show throughout the summer. Here are some links to news articles and interviews with the curators, as promoted also by the Lawrence Arts Center on their website: 

Read the featured Making It Work article in the Lawrence Kansas Times.

Check out the radio interview with María Velasco at local KC radio KKFI for ArtSpeak with host Maria Vasquez-Boyd.

Read Rick Hellman’s article about the show Making it Work: Art and Parenting.

Listen to Maria and Rachel discuss Making It Work on KPR’s Conversations podcast.

This article in the Kansas Reflector by Kansas Poet Laureate, Huascar Medina, is a must-read.

And finally, listen to Maria on Renewing the World as she discusses the generative possibilities of being an artist, a parent, and an academic. In this episode, Maria Velasco addresses both the challenges and the promises of those intersections in her own life and work while also touching on issues of migration, displacement, parent-child collaboration, and curatorial practice.

Cricket, by Cara Romero

Maria and I were both in Lawrence last week for some closing events. On Thursday, July 28, I gave a short talk about my book, Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity and how that book laid some of the foundations for this show. Maria then held a screening of her award-winning film All of Me: Artists + Mothers. We had good attendance and a great Q&A.

On Friday, July 29, Making It Work was part of the Final Friday gallery crawl so we had walk-through traffic. An unexpected gift was that an artist from Kansas City, Poet TLSanders, contacted the Lawrence Arts Center and asked to perform some poems that he had written in response to the art in the exhibition. He responded particularly to works by Pilar and Jina, and he performed to a very receptive crowd during the Final Friday event.

Drawings by Christa Donner, which corresponded to the sound piece, a collaboration with her daughter Stella, installed nearby in South Park
Part of the reading room in Lise Haller Baggesen’s Mothernism installation, including Inappropriate Bodies and other great books!

Now as we think about what comes next, we’re beginning to consider some possibilities for how to travel this show. We heard such a positive reception to the exhibition, and this is an always-timely and ever-evolving topic.

And in a full circle moment, one of my students from a decade ago, and one of our best babysitters when my kids were small, attended the closing events with her own baby. It’s such a joy to see the cycle continue and to know that this work continues to reach, and be relevant to, new artist-parents.

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