OE 101

Published April 30, 2016, 12:45pm
Oakland, California

2016 marks the eighth year of Open Engagement. OE began as, and remains, a grassroots artist-led and artist-organized conference. OE is about creating a site of care for the field and supporting artists, activists, administrators, educators, and cultural workers who are engaged in transforming the world through creativity and radical imagination. Over the past eight years Open Engagement has become a critical site of convening around socially engaged art, and has worked hard to expand the networks of support for this work. In an effort towards transparency of our process, we share with you this update on the conference as we enter the first year of a new model of collaboration and sustainability. As we take the conference across the U.S., starting now and reaching to 2018, we invite feedback and support on how to improve our processes and move forward together.

Selection Process
The majority of Open Engagement programming continues to be coordinated through an open call for submissions. Within the selection process, like all of the work of the conference, collectivity is emphasized. Each year we form volunteer selection committees to review the proposals. It is critical to us that these committees first and foremost emphasize the local, as well as include national perspectives. This year the selection process was led by the curatorial guidance of René de Guzman from the Oakland Museum of California. Artists, educators, activists, funders, students, and community members were invited to participate in the selection committees. A driving vision of the selection process is for the conference to reflect the local context in relationship to national and global issues, and we work to include as broad of a variety of presenters as is possible within a convening that fills three full days of programming. Programming that is not coordinated collectively through the Selection Committees or the open call, such as the Conversation Series, is achieved by reaching out to individuals and groups that we have identified with help from local partners as key voices to invite into the dialogue at Open Engagement.

Presenter Demographics
This year the conference features over 264 presenters, with 124 of those presenters representing Oakland and the larger Bay Area. This year, Open Engagement began requesting that presenters self-identify and share information with the conference. Of the OE 2016 presenters who chose to self-identify during the registration process, 55% identified as either Afro-Caribbean, African American, East Asian, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Latino, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Arab, Native American, Alaskan Native, or First Nations; and 45% identify as White or Euro-American. Of the OE 2016 presenters who chose to self-identify, 55% identify as female, 22% identify as male, and 23% identify as non-binary gender, or made multiple selections. (Due to a an error with the Eventbrite, 30 presenters registered before the questionnaire was available, and did not receive the option to participate in the poll.)

2016 marks the first year of our partnerships with the OE National Consortium that includes the Oakland Museum of California, the California College of the Arts, University of Chicago School of Art & Art History, Queens Museum, and A Blade of Grass. Moving this conference coast to coast allows us with each iteration to focus on the local issues, context, organizations, and conversations happening in each host city.

This year, in addition to activating 16 sites across the Bay Area, we have collaborated with a dozen organizations representing a wide spectrum of arts ecology in the Bay Area. We are featuring arts organizations, but also groups working at the intersection of art, activism, and social justice, such as Destiny Arts, Black Lives Matter Oakland, Justseeds Artist Cooperative, Indian People Organizing for Change, the Anti Police-Terror Project, San Quentin Prison Arts Program, Bay Area Video Coalition, Chapter 510, and many others.

Cost Structure for Presenters
All of our presenters and local partners attend the conference free of charge. Volunteers receive free passes, and we tried to prioritize those for whom the cost of purchasing a pass would prohibit their ability to otherwise attend the conference.

We are honored and privileged to be able to create this intersectional space for the field of socially engaged art. We are in the midst of OE 2016 POWER here in Oakland, and we are looking forward to OE 2017 in Chicago, with the theme of JUSTICE.  2018 will mark our 10-year anniversary, when we will return to New York to focus on SUSTAINABILITY.