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Creative cultivation 

Artists can be solitary creatures. For many, shutting out the world with all its demands is an essential part of the creative process. Isolation though, has its downside and, as the saying goes, it's good to get out once in a while. At some point, whether it be through exhibition, publication, or performance, the work needs to get out too. The Field helps artists to do both.

            It started in 1985, in New York City, when Wendy Lasica established The Field as a performance space in SoHo. Soon it developed into an affiliation of emerging artists who met regularly to show and discuss each other's work. At first they all came from dance and theater backgrounds. But as the organization grew, artists from other disciplines got involved. Now programs are also offered to people who work in music, text, performance art, and film or video, and they are held in 14 cities across the country.

            The 14th city was Rochester. Liz Hallmark, artistic director of Hallmark Danceworks, brought the core program, called Fieldwork, here in the fall of 2002. Once a week for two hours over a couple of months, a small group of artists comes together to critique and develop personal projects. The first Rochester session included, amongst others, a painter, textile artist, poet, playwright, actor, and several dancers. At the end of it they put on a show.

            I attended this final presentation with some trepidation. I must admit I was somewhat skeptical of the whole process, especially the formalized structure of the meetings. In accordance with methods set out by The Field, at each session artists perform or exhibit (Hallmark is the first to bring visual artists into the mix) what they have been working on over the past week, but the others are not allowed to comment or applaud. Only afterwards, sitting in a ring, are they invited to give feedback. But they are restricted in what they can say: They can talk about what they did or didn't like, but they cannot suggest changes. During all of this the artist is not allowed to respond, but is encouraged to listen and take notes. At the end of the allotted time, the artist may ask for more specific feedback from those who have made comments.

            This softly, softly approach --- which sounds more like a therapy session than a meeting of artists --- has its advantages and disadvantages. It enables a group of people who may not know each other to interact on a critical level without confrontation and, as Hallmark pointed out, "if you don't have to respond, you listen better." On the other hand, you wonder to what extent controlling the dialogue in this way hinders creative opportunities. Of course artists don't like to be told what to do, but what if someone actually has a good suggestion?

            Fortunately, despite my reservations, I enjoyed the show. Clearly something was working, as I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the performances: Vanon Mentor rapped a sensitive love song, Hallmark choreographed an energetic denunciation of war, and Roy Wood, who can only be described as "multidisciplinary," performed his outstanding I Got the Globalization Blues, a madcap but intelligent satire about world economics.

            There are plenty of talented people in Rochester, but many of them never get the chance to meet each other. In art, as in life, it is often easy to settle into a self-satisfied clique, where everyone speaks the same language and goes to the same places. But this can lead to stagnation. One of the best things about Fieldwork is that it tries to shake things up by bringing together artists of all ages from a variety of disciplines. The results can be mixed, but such is the nature of creative experimentation. Fieldwork fosters an atmosphere in which artists are encouraged to take those necessary risks.

A founding principle of The Field is that meetings should be non-curated and open to anyone who can afford the fee. In Rochester, $60 covers all sessions and the final performance. The next series of workshops begins soon, so if you have a project in mind, and could use a supportive structure with a deadline, then this might be just what you need. The Field's motto is Art Grows Here. Time to sow those seeds?

Two Fieldwork groups will start in January 2003: Wednesdays, January 15 through March 5, 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.; or Sundays, January 19 through March 9, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. To sign up, call 244-0962 or e-mail fieldwork@hallmarkdanceworks.org.

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