Highlights from the Creative Capital Retreat: Part Three

by Paddy Johnson on August 28, 2015 Events

Creative Capital consultants take the stage at the conference to give thanks for all the work the organization does on behalf of artists.

Creative Capital consultants take the stage at the retreat.

Within Creative Capital circles, grantees and staff will sometimes describe themselves as a cult. I’ve always took this as a reference to the unified vision of their community—grantees and staff deeply believe in the importance of the organization and don’t hesitate to share that belief with others. If there are naysayers in this community, they are very quiet.

To be fair, I’m not exactly an outside source myself. As an Arts Writer grantee I am a beneficiary of some of that same funding, so perhaps it’s not a surprise when I say there simply isn’t another granting organization like them. I’ve drunk the koolaide, as they say.

The fact is, though, there isn’t. Creative Capital has given a total of $35 million to 465 projects since their founding in 1999. It’s an impressive sum and only a part of their support. They make sure their artists are given the resources to most effectively manage the money they are given. This comes in the form of workshops, their annual retreat, and a vast network of artists willing to support and collaborate with each other.

I love all this, but my favorite aspect of the organization isn’t only what they do, but who they are. In one of her many talks at the retreat this July, Creative Capital President & Executive Director Ruby Lerner spoke of the importance of keeping the organization weird. The short explanation of what this means is simply that she wants them to continue to fund projects that aren’t beholden to the market. (Lerner has announced her retirement, so the succession planning has begun in earnest.) More specifically, though, it means supporting artists who bring a point of view to the table, who aren’t afraid to fail, and who pursue excellence in whatever field they work in. These are artists who exemplify the creative spirit. Their work must be supported.

In my previous two posts summing up highlights from the Creative Capital retreat, I’ve tried to highlight presentations by artists who I felt exemplified those qualities. (They can be read here and here). In my last post on this year’s retreat, I highlight three more. Here goes.


Gala Porras-Kim’s album of Zapotec whistle sounds.

Gala Porras-Kim

The indigenous Zapotec Language from the Tlacolula Valley in Oacaca, Mexico doesn’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. It’s tonal in nature, and during the colonial period, a whistled version of the language emerged, as a tool of resistance to the Spanish Authority. This language is now endangered.

Enter Galas Porras-Kim, an artist who works with the Zapotec language and has created an album of all the whistles. She’s also excavated artifacts engraved with undeciphered early Mezzo American language from a polluted river bank in Oaxaca and is working with experts to interpret the language. According to Porras-Kim, Oaxaca is one of the most linguistically diverse sites in the world—these languages can be as different as french and Italian—but are still all described as Zapotec.

Porras-Kim will come up with any number of creative ways of presenting her work. What I like most about her practice is that medium is secondary to intent: her artwork is a vehicle for expressing a brand of research-based activism of great importance. Ask the artist what that importance is, and she has an immediate answer.

It is important because Oaxaca is one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, where there is a socio-political struggle that is manifested by the deterioration of these languages. This is where a linguistic colonization is happening, and where strategies of dissent could actually be implemented. It is important in general because the world’s knowledge is contained within its languages. Where else do we find what the word is for the second clipping of an plant after it has been harvested? I didn’t even know there was any difference between the two. But there is a specific regional knowledge that is contained within the words of each village that needs to be available.


Miami-based duo Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva made me want to see everything they’ve ever made. In their seven minute performance they showed the audience pictures of a psychedelic coral farmer they shared a studio with in Florida and clips from old monster movies; they drew equal inspiration from both. Miami, they told us, is very very weird.

Um, yeah, it is. Post Modern, their 14 minute sci-fi pop musical, tells the story of two Florida girls who explore the singularity. Mayer, who plays the lead, has a chip sliced into her forehead so she can be freed from the limitations of her body. In another video Mayer gives her love to her yet to be born grandchild by putting on an array of headdresses while singing “I am your grandma”. I can’t decide whether most children would be traumatized or excited by the message—some of those masks are really creepy—but as an adult, I love it.

For their Creative Capital project they promise a Cuban-American monster movie inspired by weird Miami. I can’t wait.

Neal Medlyn

Neal Medlyn’s Lionel Richie opera promo shot

Neal Medlyn

Neal Medlyn’s already received quite a bit of ink from this blogger. This past January I attended all seven pop star operas Medlyn produced for the Abrons American Realness Festival, describing them as “the kind of DIY-fairy tale fan fiction a pop-star-obsessed gay teenager might create alone in his basement.“ Basically each opera built out a narrative from a pop star’s signature album—Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Prince amongst others were all featured. “I’m the Phil Collins I want to see in the world” he told us at the retreat.

Creative Capital supported that work, as well as his new project as Champagne Jerry, a performer who writes and performs his own rap-inspired songs. His Youtube Channel is bit inconsistent, but there’s enough good stuff in there that it’s impossible to think that he won’t eventually make something truly viral. A favorite, Business Pony, cats Medlyn as a office worker rapper who in lusting after a co-worker cries out, “Check out that motherfucking pony tail!” “Ah, ah, ah yeah!” “Motherfucking pony!”

More of that, please!

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