In August 2017, Sharon Louden and Jennifer Dalton met at 21c Museum Hotel Louisville to take part in a discussion. This event was Sharon’s 46th stop out of a total of 102 book events across the country and abroad emanating from Sharon’s second book of essays by working artists - The Artist as Culture Producer. Jennifer had contributed an essay to Sharon’s first book, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life.
Over Kentucky bourbon following the discussion, Sharon began to tell Jennifer about all the people she’d met through her tours and all the information she’d collected. The data included more than 80 videotaped discussions and represented thousands of artists she’d met in dozens of communities. She was surprised by the number of people who’d shown up to discussion events even in the smallest towns; inspired by many of the conversations she’d organized and others that were unplanned; moved by the urgent and vulnerable questions posed by artists about their work, careers and communities; and affected by her correspondence with them after the events. These artists’ voices and concerns felt vital and under-recognized, and Sharon realized she was in a position to share and amplify them. It was Sharon’s hope to eventually organize the data and make it available to the public but felt overwhelmed by the tour experience.
As Jennifer listened to Sharon describe the material and her experiences, she recognized the potential of analyzing, synthesizing and presenting this material. Her own art over the past two decades has often consisted of collecting and representing cultural information, querying audiences and reflecting their responses back to them. Jennifer was excited by the possibility of working with evidence of thousands of artists’ discussions in their communities and presenting the information in a way that would be compelling and accessible to a wider audience. A collaboration was sparked!
In August 2018, less than a year later, Jennifer and Sharon presented Validation/Permission/Opportunity: Artists’ Voices Amplified — an exhibition of collaborative artworks incorporating their initial findings from the data. The exhibition took place at the Berea Arts Council in Berea, Kentucky, as part of the ArtistsThrive! summit hosted by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. For the show, Jennifer and Sharon created new video, drawing and installation artworks representing information generated from Sharon’s Conversation Tour. They presented many of the artists’ questions Sharon had collected during her conversation tour and solicited answers from visitors. This section of the site highlights their ongoing collaboration inspired by the data and the artists and communities it represents.
Sharon and Jennifer are currently at work on a publication of the findings to be distributed in 2019.