Curatorial Statement

Chats About Change on Michelada Think Tank’s Race Art & Survival

In January of 2015 the first Chats About Change event was held at California State University Los Angeles and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE). The discussions were meant to be a grassroots intervention in the ways people talk about art and politics and a grassroots conversation about arts and politics. Five chats covered thematic territory including; antagonism, participation, ecology and site, art and spirit, and interdisciplinary methodologies. Chats took place over two very full days, and it was clear to all involved that we’d barely scratched the surface of a conversation on art and social change in Los Angeles. With this in mind, LACE invited Chats About Change to continue our curatorial project during the summer of 2015 in their project space. We immediately thought of inviting the Michelada Think Tank to produce an experimental residency at LACE, as an extension and evolution of the first Chats About Change event.

We’d been hearing about the Michelada Think Tank (MTT), a collective of artists including Noe Gaytan, Carol Zou, Shefali Mistry, Mario Mesquita and others formed during graduate studies at the Otis College of Art and Design’s Public Practice program. We first became aware of MTT during the 2014 Open Engagement conference, where they had set about to engage with the racial biases surrounding social practice art. Upon their return they extended this conversation into the social spaces of Los Angeles with boozey conversation about concerns of representation by artists of color here in Los Angeles. During our January Chats About Change event the conversation around participation specifically questioned the participation of underrepresented artists of color in the white dominated “artworld.” Given the national and local conversation that has been brewing around issues of race and survival (including the “De-colonizing The White Cube” conversations that have been taking place at Human Resources) we understood the urgency around these topics. We invited MTT to develop a project in LACE’s project room, which became “Race, Art, and Survival – Michelada Think Tank & Chats About Change.”

The goal of “Race, Art, and Survival – Michelada Think Tank & Chats About Chage” has been to create a People of Color (PoC) survival guide for artists. MTT acknowledged the difficulty of creating this guide in the first place, as there is not one “solution” or “guide” that a PoC artist can use to survive the “artworld,” and so MTT set about to use crowd-sourced knowledge and open-share conversations to create this guide.

More than 500 years after Columbus and 40 years after the Chicano Moratorium, Anglo-American culture shows no sign of loosening its hegemonic grip on culture. The that non-Anglo American’s bring to culture may point to relationships beyond dominion; relationships that do not place humans and their economy at the center of the world. If these outsider perspectives are meant to last through coming ecological and economic tribulations they must show a capacity to withstand the market meant to tame them. It is a tall order; and whether or not the MTT’s draft version of a survival guide for People of Color is such a blueprint or not, we shall see. However, to take on the project in the manner that they have ­– looking to see where the language lies in the field rather then constructing it from their own preconceptions or privileged and disciplined artists voices – this anti-hierarchical, at times unwieldy, public approach to imaging a guide is something to hold up.

“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”- Eduardo Galeano

-Chats About Change (Robby Herbst and Elana Mann), September, 2015


This was a space for our shared constituencies (you) to ask your own questions to Los Angeles, about the nature and character of creative social change practices in Los Angeles. This existed as an open, public, and editable document.


  1. Does LA’s geography affect the nature of critical practice, and if so how?
  1. Does this landscape support some kinds of politics over another?
  1. How does the sprawling nature of Los Angeles as a city support/inhibit larger community conversation? Could this potentially restrictive feature of the city become advantageous to creative social change practitioners?
  1. What constitutes a “success” or a “failure” in creative social change practices? Are these terms even useful?
  1. How do social change practices and discourse in Los Angeles engage with, respond to, challenge, and/or confirm an art world whose practitioners are predominantly white?
  1. How does neo-liberal ideology line up with the public art/social art agenda in Los angeles, and do civic institutions (museums, governments) reproduce similar ideologies through cultural policies locally?
  1. Does social change practice hide its own political agenda?
  1. What do we want to achieve? What is it we want to achieve through the means that we have gathered here?
  1. What are the truths in LA that keep us apart, that allow for hate, distrust, and ultimately exploitation through the differences inherent in the landscape of the city and the world? In what manner might these truth be made bare in such a way that they participate in a process of overcoming and healing and growing while not collapsing the necessary differences of the moment?
  1. What are the truths and material realities that we can insist upon or make real or virtually real that can assist in insisting upon/making actual our better world?
  1. How can we address the dramatic wealth disparities within our movement?
  2. Is there a regional or bioregional model of socialism that can be cultivated here without engaging in the dominant national political structure of this nation?
  1. What geographies of solidarity (at the level of neighborhoods, regions, national and international) currently exist, have existed in the past, might exist in the future?
  1. Do artists or those interested in social practice politics ally themselves with movements? If yes then how? if no, then why not? Is a new (or old) art movement centered on justice possible?
  1. How does social practice avoid imperialism or totalitarianism?
  1. What are the ethical (meaning usefully productive) relationships between art and social movements, how do they vary in relationship to particular movements?
  1. Why doesn’t every roof in Los Angeles have solar panel on it… I mean, duh?
  1. How can we create a space in LA where artists can lead by example in creating their own inclusive, eco-friendly/permaculture community outside the capitalist paradigm?
  1. What are some examples of social practice projects in LA that have successfully addressed multiple audiences (i.e. local community vs. art world vs. political leaders and activists)? What strategies might artists use to reach multiple audiences with their projects?
  1. What have been the best/major exhibitions and publications that have documented LA’s artist-activist community and history? Can we come up with a reading list?
  1. Which LA museums and curators are our best allies for supporting social practice? Are LA museums and curators doing enough to support social practice? What are the ways in which social practice is currently being supported by the major institutions in this city?
  1. Is the Bay Area more or less radical (or any other politically oriented qualifier) then Los Angeles? If so why? Is this reflected in the culture? Is this an idiotic question?
  1. Why aren’t the “subaltern allowed to speak”1 and when they do, how do we listen and translate? *

(this questions refers to the incorporation of radical practices into the dominant     conatus of the neoliberal project) Ex:( Lyotard and Deleuze speaking for the working classes of the “third world”) Makes me think from where does one acquire knowledge of the marginal or will the humanities be forever stuck in hierarchy and historicism? If so, then the humanities, our philosophizing of what is progressive also needs to be questioned, and maybe the gendered subaltern woman of color is the only sovereign subject in history, the rest of us more or less automated through the medium of western discourse, I guess this question is also part of question 6. s/o to question 6)

  1. How do you respond to Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells?
  1. Social change is never a “controlled experiment” but always an unwieldy intervention,often creating unintended consequences in its wake, for better or worse. This better or worse perspective may vary a great deal, depending on who you’re talking to and where they’re coming from. How can people involved in such projects better take account and engage with the plurality of cultural perspectives out there in LA, including, for example, some troubling or challenging groups (i.e. challenging to those who promote social change) that we may “want” to change, but perhaps do not want to change? Put differently, if much of culture or society tends to strive for stability or is recalcitrant to change, how much change is too much change? Is there a wrong kind of change?






Artists Of Los Angeles How Will It be?

Introductory remarks for Chats About Change gathering at LACE(Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) 1/17/15

–   Remarks by Robby Herbst

The freeways and bike paths of our city connect us, they do not divide us.

There are second, third, even forth languages that can be used to speak, address, and push the creation of unfamiliar relationships, otherwise known as art, beyond the familiar English of our most simple survival games.

Art should always be a risky investment

An art education is not a condition of debt bondage

Art has nothing to do with “creative destruction” or “new creative economy” unless we’re talking about destruction of illegitamate power, or the economy of the daring gesture.

The beautiful and critical words many of us are taught to use, words that are echoed in all the institutions that push back at us (schools, police, work, stores, governments), those words are only a shadow of the actual words we need to use in the project of making the world we want to be in.

The history of social art, social practice, relational aesthetics etc…, it is a history contiguous with all avant-gardes. Any history that tries to enclose those terms as separate from our social, and vanguard movements, those histories are trying to make you a sucker and cheapen the actual richness of our world.

Los Angeles is undergoing its own period of market intensification. People with interests other than taking care of you and me, much less any concern for our human imaginations and spirits, are claiming to know what is worthwhile. They attempt to write our stories for us, and aim to trade in our well being for their own profit. We should guard against them gaining control of the systems of reproduction and probably battle against there housing developments and their creepy galleries. There capitalizations if successful will erase the structures that have always allowed us freaks the space to prosper; we stand for cheap rent, rasquache traditions, and the possibility of daring encounter in heartfelt and odd ways.

The flavor of the time is “Money Runs Every Thing,” from social policy to art. As a base reality, this needs to be overcome.

All of these concerns are not specific to Los Angeles nor are they specific to artists, but we wish to talk about specific conditions, rather than generalize them.

Environmental Collapse, The murder of Ezzel Ford, Skid Row, LAPD, rape culture, the NSA, US Border, permanent war, Islamophobia, drones, the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

The painterly cadre of Black Lives Matter, The libidinous annex of Earth First!, the gestural communion of NARAL and NOW, The brutalist sculptor of Critical Resistance, Organizer with SEIU, Founder of Friends Of the Earth, Member Of the BAR, Collaborator with the Workers Center, camped at Occupy LA, mother, father creature on the planet.

We know the “value” of creativity is in the way it rearranges our understanding of what is in the world and we must insist on this as its value, nothing else.

To Be Clear:
Who holds together the critical dialogue amongst artist & visionaries in our city? Who supports works that not only challenge the cities “taste”, but discomfort its sense of well being, agitates its imagination, questions its social order, and insists on an agenda that takes no account of the selling of things? With Chats About Change we propose that it is the creative practitioner themselves “us here.” We are responsible for making and controlling our own destinies: both in terms of setting the terms of the dialogue as well as having the capacity to respond to the daunting ecological and social problems of our day.

Artists of Los Angeles, How will it be?

Are we a pack of sycophants chasing our own version of the Hollywood star-system and the lamest and mediocre notions of practice that the newspaper’s Style section throws at us? Or are we players in a different tradition?

Chats about Change developed from friends asking friends questions about guerilla practice back in 2013. Our conversation was open and needn’t arrive anywhere. It only needed to proceed in a way where ideas could be felt and where an array of opinions could be considered. We realized this community of asking and listening was a thing we loved about what it meant to be an artist in LA. Honestly this is a secret shared by anyone in any vibrant community around the world. Together through Chats about Change we seek a forum where we can ask, listen, challenge; to sustain and nurture this culture of inquiry, demand, and experimentation.

Discussing the 1994 indigenious Zapatista rebellion in the Mexican state of Chiapas the anarchist writer Daniel Flood said:

 This intercontinental network of resistance, recognizing differences and acknowledging similarities, will search to find itself with other resistance’s around the world. This intercontinental network of resistance will be the medium in which distinct resistance’s may support one another. This intercontinental network of resistance is not an organising structure; it doesn’t have a central head or decision maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist.”

 While our value system tries to divide us into ultra-competitive sociopaths, when stripped away it’s our understanding that artist of many stripes are a part of this intergalactic network. For many of us the only thing missing is the hive-mind-awareness that though our tactics may differ, as culture workers our strategies are similar. We synthesize relationships, language, constituents, plaster, experience, words, hospitality, and pencil into equations whose ends support one another. In acknowledging these differences and these similarities, we can strengthen the cause of our struggle from the admittedly necessary banalities of career like getting paid, to a full blown project of revolution. In acknowledging these differences and these similarities we can enter into a pact of critical inquiry, every project a beta-test for the coming insurrection, as a group of researchers do we cheer it on, interrogate its failings, or both?

Our Chats about Change found inspiration in the Zapatista notion of the consulta: a gathering of a constituency as an act of power and referendum on inquiry. Online, and soon here, we ask the community to put on their shoes and compose questions addressed to the city of Los Angeles on the nature of creative social change practice here in Los Angeles. Questions act as tool: to answer them we must assemble, discuss there meaning, hear each other, organize ourselves to arrive at answers. These answers can be acted upon as plastic or social sculpture.

Some of the online questions we received are:

  1. Does LA’s geography affect the nature of critical practice, and if so how?
  2. How does neo-liberal ideology line up the public and social art’s agenda in Los Angeles, and do civic institutions reproduce similar ideologies through cultural policies locally?
  3. Why doesn’t every roof in Los Angeles have solar panels on it… I mean, duh?


  1. How do social change practices and discourse in Los Angeles engage with, respond to, challenge, and/or confirm an art world whose practitioners are predominantly white?

So now I’m gonna end this introduction and invite you to participate in this consulta? We are hoping you’ll take a few moments to formulate a question or questions addressed to the city of Los Angeles, about the nature and character of creative social change practices in Los Angeles. (move into consulta…)



Taisha Paggett

taisha paggett’s work for the stage, gallery and public space include individual and collaborative investigations into questions of the body, agency, and the phenomenology of race and gender, along with an interest in expanding the languages and frames of contemporary dance. most recently her work has been presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem, Danspace and the Whitney Museum of American Art (NY), and supported by The Headlands Center for the Arts, CHIME, UCIRA, and the MAP Fund (in conjunction with LACE gallery.) paggett is a member of the full-time faculty of dance at UC Riverside.

Shana Hafner

Shana Hafner is currently working as a co-organizer for Chats About Change and an intern/liaison with Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE). She recently graduated with honors from Colorado College where she studied Art History and developed a passion for the intersection of contemporary art, social change, and public participation. As an avid proponent of socially engaged artistic practice and community building, she is thrilled to be a part of Chats About Change and hopes to continue to work in this field.

Robby Herbst

Robby Herbst is an artist, writer, and radically oriented cultural organizer. He is co-founder and former editor of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest (2001-2010), as well as the instigator of the geographically sited critical-landscape projects of the Llano Del Rio Collective. His writing and artworks engages with contemporary and historic experiments in socio-political aesthetics. He is a columnist for KCET’s Artbound, and has an extensive history in underground media. He has organized many events addressing the relationship between culture and politics including the Street Signs & Solar Ovens  (CAFAM 2006), An Other LA Is Possible (Plaza Del Oro 2009), Failure, Ridiculous, Terrible, Wonderful  (Park Projects, 2007), and The October Surprise (Highland Park,  2004). He is the recipient of the third annual Graue Award for a large scale public project to be completed in 2015 in San Francisco. He has had solo exhibitions and performances at the Dumbo Art Center (NY), Human Resources (LA), Machine Project (LA), David Patton Projects (LA), and the Santa Monica Museum Of Art. He’s lectured internationally on radical aesthetics, action, and social practice. He’s taught New Genres Art at USC, Interdisciplinary Art at Goddard College, and curation at Otis College of Art. He is a recipient of a Warhol Foundation writer’s grant for essays exploring the relationship between social practice art and political protest.

Elana Mann

Elana Mann (b. 1980, Boston, MA) is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA  who makes visible the unseen power of sound, listening and the voice. Her explorations of political dialog has led her to organize multiple public conferences including, “Exquisite Acts & Everyday Rebellions: 2007 CalArts Feminist Art Symposium and exhibition” at California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA and “Shares and Stakeholders: The Feminist Art Projects Day of Panels at CAA,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Mann has presented her projects in museums, galleries, and public spaces all over the world, including the Ford Foundation (New York), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Park (Washington D.C.),  the Getty Villa (Los Angeles), the Ben Maltz Gallery at the Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles), and A Gentil Carioca (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). She is a recipient of the California Community Foundation’s 2009 Visual Arts Fellowship and a 2012 and 2013 Center for Cultural Innovation ARC Grant. Her projects have been written about in such periodicals as the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, NPR, O Globo, El Pais, and X-Tra magazine.

Daniel Joseph Martinez

Throughout his career, Daniel Joseph Martinez has engaged in an interrogation of social, political, and cultural mores through artworks that have been described as nonlinear, asymmetrical, multi-dimen- sional propositions. The works utilizes a conceptual operation ranging from the solid to the ephemeral, are executed in a wide range of media, including text, sculpture, photography, painting, installation, robotics, performance, and public interventions that delve into topics of empire, race and the sociopolitical boundaries present within American society. Ongoing themes in the work are contamination, history, nomadic power, cultural resistance, war, dissentience, mutation, post human evolution, consciousness and systems of symbolic exchange, directed toward the precondition of politics coexisting as radical beauty. Martinez was born and raised in Los Angeles and has received three National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artists Fellowships, a J. Paul Getty Fellowship, an Alpert Award in the Arts Fellowship (2014) and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Tiffany Fellowship, Fellows of Contemporary art Fellowship, Flintridge Foundation Fellowship, Martinez has also received the United States Artists’ Fellowship (2008); the Rasmuson Foundation Alaska’s artist-in-residence award (2009) (2010) and the Fellows of Contemporary Art Fellowship (2010). Notable exhibitions include the Whitney Biennial (1993 and 2008), Venice Biennial 1993, He represented the United states in the American Pavilion in the10th International Cairo Biennale (2006) and the Site Santa Fe Biennial (2011) (2014), 12th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey (2011), Lima biennial (2009), Quebec Biennial, Havana Biennial, San Juan Biennial, Berlin Biennial, Martinez’s work can be found in public collections in the United States including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California; Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, Florida; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; and the Pace Foundation, San Antonio, Texas. Hatje Cantz published a monograph of Martinez’s work, A Life of Disobedience, in 2009; The Report of My Death Is an Exaggeration; Memoirs: Of Becoming Narrenschiff was released by Roberts & Tilton in September 2014, his 5th monograph. He is represented by Roberts & Tilton in Los Angeles

Image courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton Gallery.

Image courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton Gallery.

Sarita Dougherty

Born in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. UCLA MFA 2012 and current member of the Art & Nature Collective, e.i.m. set and the Post-national Department of Transcultural Youth. Sarah works to replace contemporary estrangement from intuition, ecosystem, and the material histories of things through transcultural codes, plantings and painting. She installs her homes and curricula in site-specific collaborations to transfer healing properties of color, pattern and place onto willing participants. Her oil paintings mediate the intangible energies in rooms and views with post-national artifacts of domestic mysticism and daily life. Of Bolivian and Irish roots, she lives and works in LA.