Writings

Art: What I can do

When faced with a challenge, and this year has presented a few, I just try to focus on what I *can* do. Sometimes I feel small and what I cannot do seems pretty daunting. So I look instead at what I can act upon, in love and with courage.

Recently I had lunch with the artist Amy Scofield, and shared with her my newly written out strategy for how to proceed as an artist, or in Austin Kleon’s words, how to “Keep Going.” 

I fail often. In the pain of those lessons, it is easy to get discouraged. This is my current strategy about how I can make art and keep shining:

Feelings for me and viewer:

  • Transcendent
  • Surprised
  • Original (synthesis)- New Experience – not like other things seen before
  • Make us feel connected, grounded, and in commonality with others

Elements:

  • Human hand/craft evident – doesn’t look like it came from a machine
  • Visceral relationship to human body scale
  • Geometric
  • Reference to sacred space architecture

Materiality:

  • Does not create “inventory” or “distribution” problem
  • Does not create “storage” problem
  • Inexpensive to produce
  • Materials and finished piece are not too precious
  • Originals can be affordable to most everyone $200-$2000
  • Reproductions can be affordable to most everyone $20

Nice to have:

  • Easy to scale up or down to fit location
  • Has elements of light and color
  • Easy to ship and install
  • Modular or sectional if large
  • Can be reproduced inexpensively or with fancy materials
  • Environmentally sustainable

I imagine your “What you can do” list is different. What’s yours?

Montano painting Writings

Letter to my niece

From my niece via FB:

I was going through my storage unit today trying to find some more treasures to stock our estate sale with (it’s this Sunday!) and found an amazing letter written to me by my Aunt Jennifer Chenoweth my senior year of high school. Her advice – which as a dumb-stupid teenager I barely listened to – was so incredibly profound and wise. Maybe someone else can benefit from it.

Dated: September 24, 2000

Grace,
When you are planning your future, and don’t yet know about long term consequences, it is hard to imagine how important the planning is. Imagine you are building a several story building and your teens and twenties are your foundation. Each year after that is a new story of the building. If you do not plan for sustainable growth, the building will be unstable – no fire escapes, no stairs between floors, not enough protection from elements when there is a big storm to weather.
So what kind of building do you want to build? What do you need?
You really will live past 25, and 35, and 55. You will want to be stable for yourself and your children. You will want to be someone who is loved uniquely by your chosen mate. You will want to be able to choose your choices, not be led or forced into them. You will not want to make the same mistakes as your parents and their parents.
To do this, your building needs to be strong and sensible, aesthetically interesting and thoughtful to sustain your interest for a long time. Your life is a long time. You will wake up every day in the building that you made – if it is chilly, or cracking, you will spend more years repairing the damage than building and planning carefully the first time.
So as you put together all the parts of your life, make sure you build well because everything else gets built on top.
– Your love relationships
– Your friendships
– Your body
– Your education
– Your financial stability
And everything you choose now will direct the beginning, the foundation of your every day. Take care of yourself for the long run by taking care of yourself now. Take risks, but do yourself no harm on purpose. Troubles will come enough on their own. Your education is *really* important. Ask everyone all kinds of questions in order to find out everything you can. It really matters. *You really matter.*
Love, your Aunt Jen

I wish I had listened better, but looking back, I am proud of the life I have built, regardless of the mistakes I made and the failures and hardships I experienced. Everyone needs an Aunt Jennifer that is looking out for them, but if you don’t have one, you can borrow mine because she’s pretty amazing.

The Sun Masthead Press

Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play in Wilkinsburg

February 2017

Visual artist, Jennifer Chenoweth, visited Wilkinsburg last month to present her temporary placemaking project for the community: Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play. Through a series of meetings and events, including a pancake breakfast at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Vigil at the Train Station, Jennifer shared her project ideas and gathered feedback. The placemaking project is a two-year partnership between the WCDC, Wilkinsburg Community Art & Civic Design Commission, and the Office of Public Art, with funding provided by Neighborhood Allies.

Based in Austin, Texas, Jennifer was selected for the project through an open call to international artists to apply to be a part of a new community art project that embeds artists within communities. Selected to work in and with Wilkinsburg, she brings her active studio art and social practice to the community. Jennifer is most excited about discovering the people and architecture of Wilkinsburg. Her project, Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play, will include a variety of free community events, including artist talks, domino games, and community dances in Wilkinsburg. Additionally, she wants to explore the historic public and sacred architecture of Wilkinsburg, and make drawings and artworks to share with the community. She is interested in visiting and documenting buildings and finding original floorplans and elevations from which to make studies. Jennifer will be returning to Wilkinsburg this spring and summer. To learn more, email jennifer@wilkinsburgcdc.org, call 412.727.7855, or just stay tuned to the WCDC’s Facebook page, fb.com/WilkinsburgCDC, for updates and opportunities to connect with Jennifer and get involved!

READ MORE

The Sun Masthead Blog Posts

Artist Produces Sacred Spaces Tour for October

 

Artist Jennifer Chenoweth is organizing a Sacred Spaces Tour on October 13 from 11 a.m.–6 p.m. to celebrate community and highlight Wilkinsburg’s historic architecture and arts programming. This family-friendly event will include a tour of historic churches, mosques, historic buildings and feature music and arts programming at each stop. Participants can visit each of the locations throughout the day. Volunteer docents will answer questions and assist with navigating the tour. A free shuttle will travel between locations. Information will be available at each tour stop. A reception will be held from 6–8 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Urban Christian School Auditorium located at 809 Center Street. The Sacred Spaces Tour is part of Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play, Chenoweth’s temporary public art project begun in 2017 in collaboration with the Wilkinsburg Arts Commission and the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation. This tour is a result of the Temporary Public Art and Placemaking Program by the Office of Public Art and Neighborhood Allies, funded by the Hillman Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. “There are over 40 churches in Wilkinsburg, with 21 of them located in historic buildings. Within two square miles, there are hidden gems that include remarkable stained glass, pipe organs, carved wood, intricate stone detailing, and handcrafted details on every surface,” said Chenoweth.

READ MORE

90.5 WESA Press

‘Sacred Spaces Tour’ Explores Wilkinsburg’s Historic Buildings Of Worship

  OCT 11, 2018

The historic architecture of 25 churches, mosques and other buildings will be highlighted this weekend at the Wilkinsburg Sacred Spaces Tour.

Dallas-based visual artist Jennifer Chenoweth curated the interactive art project, and said one of the tour stops includes a vacant Presbyterian church along South Avenue.

“It’s hand-laid stone, it’s called ashlar construction, where you lay the stone in kind of a mosaic, it’s got huge Gothic arches in the inside and gigantic sections of stained glass it’s kind of monumental and old world,” said Chenoweth.

The tour also will also serve as a history lesson, where participants learn notable facts about specific buildings, like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Mosque, also on South Avenue.

“In the ’80s, for a while, it was a punk rock venue, all kinds of people played there, Nirvana played there,” Chenoweth said. “So, it’s just a really beautiful space.”

Chenoweth curated the tour as part of a temporary public art project with the Office of Public Art, and Neighborhood Allies. She said she immediately felt connected to the fabric and culture of the Wilkinsburg community.

A map of the sites open to the Wilkinsburg Sacred Spaces Tour on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018.
CREDIT COME OVER, COME EAT, COME PLAY / FACEBOOK

“There are beautiful buildings and spaces and Gothic cathedrals and hand carved stone and just amazing things,” Chenoweth said. “Some of the things that I think are most beautiful is when a newer black evangelical church is singing a gospel choir out the windows of this tradition German heritage church,” said Chenoweth.

Because of the high concentration of churches, Wilkinsburg has sometimes been called the “Holy City.” Chenoweth said she wanted to create a project that would pay homage to the people of the borough.

“My commissioning organization asked me to come and get to know the people and the place of Wilkinsburg before planning the project so they wanted me to actually respond to the people and the place, rather than just drop some art off,” said Chenoweth.

During the tour, volunteer docents will be on hand to answer questions and assist with navigating the tour, which takes place Saturday Oct.13, from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Activities are free and open to the public. Registration can be found here.

READ MORE

Neighborhood Allies Blog Posts

Where Are They Now? | Temporary Public Art &…

 

Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play | artist Jennifer Chenoweth with Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation and the Wilkinsburg Community Art and Civic Design Commission

July 30, 2018 10:24 am

Come Over, Come Eat, Come Play is a multilayered endeavor that includes community engagement, and a survey of historic buildings with a special focus on churches. Chenoweth’s work in Wilkinsburg began with community meals, dance parties, and other pop-up events as a way for her to meet residents of the neighborhood, and for residents to meet each other. Chenoweth also drew the local churches on table tops and placed the tables throughout the neighborhood to begin conversations about architecture, culture, and history over meals, meetings, and sometimes games. Her goal throughout the engagement period of the project was to bring people together, garner trust, and find out what makes Wilkinsburg unique. Come Over, Come Eat, Come P/aywill culminate in a tour of Wilkinsburg’s historic buildings, with arts programming at each stop. The tour is scheduled for October 13, 2018. For more information, visit tinyur l.com/O PA-ComeOver. 

READ MORE

Mapping Your Inner World Press

Mapping Your Inner World

THEY CALL HER A HUMAN EXPERIENCE CARTOGRAPHER. ARTIST JENNIFER CHENOWETH IS MAPPING COMMUNITY WELLBEING IN A WAY THAT JUST MIGHT BLOW YOUR MIND.

It’s one of the coolest things we’ve come across.

A project that geolocates spots in a community based on the emotional experiences shared by its residents. XYZ Atlas uses story and technology brilliantly to map collective experience in Austin, Texas.

But artist Jennifer Chenoweth didn’t set out to blow your mind. She was simply interested in why people call a place home, and the strong sense of connection to place among those who live in Austin.

“Most of what happens in the art world is a chess game of insular thinking,” she said. “It’s not understood unless you’re a PhD. I pursued art to use the freedoms that I have as a free thinker to inspire others.”

Be glad she did. Picasso once said that the purpose of art is “washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” But Chenoweth takes that dust and gives it a life that speaks of everyday experience in a way that surprises and unites. The project provides a rich snapshot of community wellbeing through intimate stories of identity that both touch and compel those who encounter it.

The genesis of Chenoweth’s projects was a simple color wheel based on psychologist Robert Plutchik’s theory of emotions from the 1970’s. One of Plutchik’s followers assigned it to a color spectrum, which Chenoweth enhanced. The chart, she said, helped her understand emotional wholeness – how all of an individual’s feelings and experiences contribute to being “whole.” Through an interactive question-and-answer series, 503 participants answered a 20-question survey about their life experiences and where they occurred, and thousands more participated in scale-mapping events. The locations were then captured in a mapping system – an X, Y point – and coded to an emotional color on the chart. A Z point indicates whether an experience was positive (a spike on the map) or negative (a valley or drop).

What resulted was an emotional topography of Austin that captures the fabric of community through story. The idea is that when emotion is connected to location, location is no longer space, but place. And place matters. It provides context for the story of our lives, providing a sense of identity and meaning. Place holds our pain and longing, triggering memory or aspiration.

Chenoweth also discovered the work is an active tool for wellness. The map doesn’t tell just the story of happiness, but presents the experience of emotions as a way to understand and accept one’s self, to frame and help healing over trauma. The variety of responses amazed Chenoweth.

“I could get lost in thought for hours, the moral reflection that these stories led to.”

TEDMED Press

Q&A with Jennifer Chenoweth, Human Experience Cartographer

Visual artist and entrepreneur Jennifer Chenoweth is the creator of XYZ Atlas, a hedonic map that portrays the feelings, stories and life experiences of people living in and visiting Austin, Texas. By asking people where they had their most significant emotional experiences, she created a topographic map of emotions of a city. Jennifer spoke at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her talk here.


Posted on 

TEDMED: What is your artistic medium?

Jennifer Chenoweth: I consider my artistic medium to be change. I began using art as a way to change me. Each artwork is record of growth, one marker along a path, indexing a moment in time. Now my art embraces change in my community and world, marking a moment in our collective experience. We experience place through the framework of time. I try to observe change, document change, flow with change, facilitate positive change, recognize loss, and create artworks that give people a way to consider change and to be courageous about change. I think of art as a tool that can change someone’s awareness and expand their perception. I also love learning about new tools and mediums, and new technology allows for so many more choices.

TM: How did your work evolve?

JC: I am interested in the creative process as an investigation into something I am curious about. It is a fascinating time to be alive and to be a life-long learner. My art projects and social engagement are a way of spending time investigating without an expectation of any certain outcome. As an artist, I’m free to pursue the paths that most interest me, which is the privilege of intellectual freedom. I allow participants, or my audience’s questions, to drive the direction of my work. And continue the conversation of learning. Art is the universal language. Sometimes it can be used to better relate and describe change.

TM: How do you decide what art projects you create?

JC: I am inspired by conversations that I have with friends and people I meet. When I was hosting community art events in Austin, I was struck by how devoted people are to their home, and I was very interested in learning about how one comes to have that sense of belonging. In order to have a healthy and whole life, which we are all seeking, feeling a sense of belonging to a place or a community is very high on the list, along with safety, access to healthy foods, and the possibility of meaningful work. So I started asking questions that allowed people to share their stories that create belonging to home. As I set out to evolve myself, I learned that we feel self acceptance through connection with others and working with a purpose. I try to check the motivation for my projects to see if they create connection and help people find purpose.

READ MORE
Sightlines Press

As High Costs Drive Austin Artists Away from the…

A longtime East Austin Studio Tour destination closes, while a new house gallery pops up on the West Austin Studio Tour.

Last year was the final East Austin Studio Tour for Jennifer Chenoweth.

Beginning with the first EAST in 2003 — when only 28 artists participated — Chenoweth annually invited a different group of artists to exhibit in her East Second Street home. Chenoweth’s orange bungalow became an EAST fixture, an annual destination that for 16  tours showcased 50 artists and fostered a kind of regular EAST community, with Chenoweth’s homemade pozole filling the house with comforting smells.

“I’m a collaborator by nature,” says Chenoweth. “Being a studio artist is a lonely gig and it’s always more fun when you can share with others.”

Chenoweth started the non-profit Fisterra umbrella organization under which she launched a number of collaborative projects, including her EAST group exhibits.

Jennifer Chenoweth’s house during the 2015 East Austin Studio Tour.

But, life changes. And now with a blended family of six, Chenoweth says the not-large East Austin house is no longer a viable home proposition. Neither are its property taxes.

“I have been unable to break even as an artist and it’s really heartbreaking,” she says. “Austin’s lack of affordability is not just an artist’s problem, it’s an everyone problem. My family has grown, and we have to shift gears, and we can’t do that and stay in the house I’ve lived in since 1999.”

Of course, in the nearly 20 years that Chenoweth has lived just a few blocks east of IH-35, the once-modest and historically African American and Latinx neighborhood has been gentrified tremendously.

But the real bitter irony? The artist-initiated East Austin Studio Tour helped brand the Eastside as “artsy” and ripe for gentrification.

In May, EAST originators Big Medium hosted the exhibit “Fisterra Retrospective.” A sweet tribute to the 64 artists Chenoweth hosted and the community they shared, the exhibit nevertheless felt like something of a memorial too — a symbol that a community era is passing while its creative environment is commodified.

“I’m not done being an artist,” says Chenoweth. “But there isn’t any freedom and creativity in poverty.”

READ MORE

Why Does This Giant Metal Flower In Patterson Park Open And Close At Different Times Of Day? Press

Why Does This Giant Metal Flower In Patterson Park…

  NOV 30, 2017

Finding the artist behind the flower was easy enough. Jennifer Chenoweth is the first one listed on the plaque next to the piece.

The contemporary artist created it as part of her XYZ Atlas project, which mapped Austin’s “collective experiences.”

The original blueprints for “Dance of the Cosmos.”
CREDIT FISTERRA STUDIOS

The idea is to represent a kind of emotional wholeness, she says. It came about out of frustration, really. Chenoweth said she had a hard time dealing with much of the negativity in the world. Disasters. Tragedy. Violence.

But through this work – and other pieces in her XYZ Atlas project – she tried to express something that reflected the spectrum of emotions. The good and the bad. The dark and the light.

“This was a way for me to kind of like, get that in my gut,” Chenoweth says, “and to understand that there really is beauty in all of it, even if there is horror in some of it.”

“So it’s a way to embrace an idea that your life is actually a whole flower of experience,” she says.

The colorful tiles in Dance of the Cosmos – and this idea of a “whole flower” of emotional experience – comes back to another preoccupation of Chenoweth’s.

“I’m really interested in a psychological theory of emotional wholeness created by Robert Plutchik in 1980,” she says. “And he drew a diagram using words about how your emotions are connected and relational.”

READ MORE