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PlatteForum’s ArtLab Program

An Interview with Rebecca Vaughan

PlatteForum’s ArtLab Program
Katie Lunde: What is PlatteForum and what is your role there?

Rebecca Vaughan: I am the Artistic Director of a non-profit called PlatteForum, which hosts artists from all over the world, for 8-week residencies. When they are with us, we pair them up with youth in the community to create art about social change. I have the great job of helping artists create some ambitious projects―projects that they’ve always wanted to dive into, but never had the space, time, and support of a team of youth interns to assist in the creation. One artist called me a “dream-maker!” I will wear that mantle happily!!!!

KL: Can you tell us a bit about PlatteForum’s ArtLab program? How long it has been around, projects that have been completed, number of students, etc.?

RV: ArtLab is one of our most meaningful programs; it’s a group of about 15 high school students, who are all paid interns. Once they begin their time with us, they stay until the summer after graduation. They are constantly working with socially-minded artists and creatives, always thinking about how their voice can change injustice and oppression. In a typical year, they work with around 5-8 professional artists on both small-scale and large exhibition projects. One such project is when they worked this past spring with artist George P. Perez to photograph the Women’s March on January 21, as well as other areas of their lives,and converted those photographs into flags. They had critical discussions about what makes a flag, and the practice of converting one’s identity into an emblem and graphics. Their show at PlatteForum was filled with their fabric flags during the 2017 MoP city-wide event (Month of Photography).

KL: How are students selected for this summer program?

RV: To get in, they go through a competitive application process. They all come to us basically because they are not getting the full breadth of arts involvement that they want in their school. A lot of them are hungry to express their ideas through materials and performance, which they just don’t fully get in their high school experience. We listen to what they want and work to support them, many of whom are quite political and civically-engaged. I adore them; they’re the next social justice warriors and I want to see them CHANGE. THE. WORLD. <3

KL: How did you become involved with Black Cube? How did you choose Cortney as a mentor for these high school students?

RV: I have had the great pleasure of knowing Cortney for many years through the Denver arts community, but then more closely at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, when I was the Chair of Fine Arts and she was the Director of the PJ Steele Gallery. We held countless events and shows in tandem and also both served as advisors to many students and faculty.

My very first choice for a curatorial mentor for the ArtLab interns was Cortney because I regard her as someone who is deeply engaged in supporting local artists all the while very savvy in keeping her eye on the national and international art landscape. Also, she’s a serious professional, and I knew that it would be good for the students to see a strong, critical thinker in action.

KL: What other professionals/artists/art organizations are a part of this program?

RV: For this project specifically, we are working with artists from our building called The Temple. PlatteForum is the anchor entity for The Temple, which, in the floors above us, are filled with more than 30 professional artists and creative businesses… We’ve asked Cortney and Black Cube to coach the ArtLab students in putting on an exhibition which features our neighboring artists from The Temple. It’s a great way to activate a collaborative relationship between all of us, as well as provide a presence of their work to the larger art community.

KL: This summer’s project with Black Cube is a group exhibition; can you tell us a bit more about the final project and the social issue that it is aimed at addressing?

RV: Cortney wisely broke the ArtLab interns into three different groups, providing them with more experience working on the professional aspects of putting on an exhibition. The groups each developed different themes, and all are thoughtful and timely in addressing contemporary experience.

They are as follows:

There are a lot of ways you can define identity, especially when it comes to culture, ethnicity, personality, etc. Identity is a strong, behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable. Our theme of Identity is focused on who we as society are and how did we become ourselves. This collection of art exhibits the controlling societal structures such as vocation and class. Through these structures, society is made out to be more organized and have these structures create a loss of individuality through the mass grouping of people through their vocation and class.

The audience will explore the human body in varied forms ranging from traditional visual representations to immersive and interactive experiences with 3D sculpture pieces. The use of multiple senses can create provocative thoughts in the viewers' minds, reflecting upon the use and experience of the body in everyday life and its importance. The conversation between the artists' works demonstrates how a change of perspective and the method of interacting with the body or a representation of it can provide important insight as to how expectations of certain traditions can be let go, allowing viewers to explore new ideas not only about the art, but also themselves.

In the age of social media, there is less and less physical interaction between strangers. Having artists that push for interaction with artwork and provoke conversations is important because we all have a notion that strangers hold nothing good for us. By pushing for people to interact with each other and the artwork, strangers will create temporary friendships and hopefully have thought provoking conversations about the interactive art.

KL: What are some of the successes from this immersion program? What would you like to build off of?

RV: The biggest takeaways are that the students get to experience a side of exhibition planning and presentation that they don’t usually get to witness. They all told us that they appreciated that we are sharing with them all of the discussions and foibles and technical aspects of working on an exhibition, and with The Temple artists. Most of them have told me that they want to work in museums and galleries after high school, but have been too removed to ever be able to see how it works. They can now see all that goes into this endeavor.

KL: What is the next step for students after they complete this program?

RV: We proudly boast that our ArtLab students have a 99.97% high school graduation rate… and we like to think that we were there to support them as they achieved this goal. Most of them go on to college to study varying pursuits… and there are some who want to get involved in politics and others who want to become professional artists.

KL: What’s are you most excited for at PlatteForum right now?

RV: We are getting ready to celebrate our 15th anniversary year here at PlatteForum! We are close to announcing our 2017/18 season programming, which will highlight some of our previous Resident Artists who have gone on to further success like Jordan Casteel, Kwantaek Park, and Denver-based lauded artists such as Theresa Anderson and Homare Ikeda, and many more!

PlatteForum’s ArtLab Program