FotoFocus and Creative Time Promote Discussion and Art with “The Convening”

This fall, the two arts organizations unite for a discussion and performance series about the land we inhabit.

Photo courtesy FotoFocus and Creative Time.

Cincinnati is deeply connected to the land it inhabits. From the city’s forest-covered hills to the Ohio River and its historic importance, Cincinnati’s culture and history is rooted in the land and those who have lived on it. In an effort to explore the ramifications of land sovereignty throughout the city’s history, public arts organization Creative Time and Cincinnati-based nonprofit FotoFocus have partnered to host The Convening. The series of talks and performances will feature artists, curators, activists, speakers, and more to discuss Cincinnati’s relationship with the land, waterways, and trees that support it. 

Creative Time Executive Director Justine Ludwig says The Convening offers attendees to come together and dig into issues rooted in the region. “I am really moved and inspired by the institutions and the creators that are based in Cincinnati,” Ludwig says. “I think really putting them in dialogue actively with international and national voices is going to be something that’s very unique to this convening.”

The Convening will start with a welcoming event at Mecca OTR on October 20, continuing the next day with discussions held at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Contemporary Arts Center. The events will consist of conversations, workshops, and performances centered around the history of the land, specifically exploring issues related to land stewardship, forced migration, and more. The Convening is free and open to the public to provide accessible discussion. 

FotoFocus Executive Director Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth says The Convening is also an opportunity to bring together some of the world’s most passionate to engage with art and discuss major issues. “Even though [FotoFocus] is really very photo-based, we also just recognize the power of art to engage audiences and to bring people together. And so it was important for us to support this really ambitious project,” Siegwarth says. “It’s a moment for people in Cincinnati to really just come and hear passionate people, and learn something to widen their perspective on a topic they either thought they knew about or know nothing about.”

Photo courtesy FotoFocus and Creative Time.

FotoFocus and Creative Time share a mission to encourage conversation through art. Founded in 2010, FotoFocus is a Cincinnati nonprofit dedicated to photography, using the medium to confront important issues. “Our mission is really to champion and celebrate photography and lens-based art, and create moments of dialogue and awareness through photography,” Siegwarth says. FotoFocus organizes a wealth of conferences and symposia, including the month-long FotoFocus Biennial. 

Creative Time is a New-York based organization that commissions public art projects, bringing life to the visions of artists. “We’re an artist-centric organization,” says Ludwig. “We work with creatives to realize dream projects that address the most pressing issues of today.” Creative Time also hosts many discussions and conferences, most notably an annual gathering called The Summit. The Convening harnesses both organizations’ experience with art and conversation to address land use and sovereignty. 

The Convening precedes The American Manifest, a large-scale public art project by Charles Gaines. Commissioned by Creative Time with the sponsorship of FotoFocus, the project consists of grand works in multiple sites in New York City and Cincinnati. “We’ve been working on the project with Charles for about a decade,” says Ludwig. “It is a true dream project for him, and it addresses the reality and legacies of forced migration within the United States. These are ramifications that we continue to contend with today, but are rooted in the founding of this nation.” 

Photo courtesy FotoFocus and Creative Time.

The project provides a lens to view the history of slavery, specifically exploring how “free” states both perpetuated the practice and worked to abolish it. Moving Chains, one chapter of The American Manifest, is a 110-foot sculpture embodying the hull of a ship. Set to debut in Cincinnati in 2024, the sculpture will sit on the banks of the Ohio River, highlighting the importance of the exchange between north and south that contributed to the slave trade. 

According to Ludwig and Siegwarth, The Convening exists as an independent opportunity for conversation while also creating “entry points” from which to view and understand The American Manifest. “I think one of the powers of art is that it allows an opportunity for what is often perceived as difficult conversations,” says Siegwarth. Through the art, performances, and speeches at The Convening, participants may better understand regional land issues while also earning a new perspective prior to Moving Chains’ debut. 

Finally, The Convening will invite participants to personally evaluate and address their connection to the land they walk on. “We are citizens of this planet. We have an obligation to think about what care and repair looks like, and sort of interrogate our relationship to the land. I think we’re seeing the realities of it in every aspect of what we do on a daily basis, that ignoring our relationship to the land is actually not serving us in any way,” Ludwig says. “[The Convening] is an opportunity to think through that.”

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