At the end of a hectic day we sat down at Art Bar in West Village, where Prerana Reddy kindly met us for a drink and a chat. We contacted Prerana since she has been the director of Public Programs & Community Engagement at the Queens Museum (QM), but found her just switching to the hyperinteresting non-profit organization A Blade of Grass (ABOG). ABOG funds and nurtures socially engaged art nationwide through fellowships, public programs and a series of short documentary films on artists and art-practices in the field.
Prerana shared with us her experiences and learnings from many years of work with community engagement in film, arts, programs and collaborations and how to find sustainability within those forums. It was very interesting to hear about different positionalities when you are an independent organization and when you are working from within an established institution. How do we get prepared to face the establishment with radical ideas?
We discussed the importance of social practice within the arts and how Prerana’s work at the Queens museum is a pioneering long-term project in this sense, focusing specifically in social practice. Of note is Tania Bruguera’s residency at QM and the long-term community initiative called Immigrant Movement International that evolved from an artist-led community project and now is an autonomous community initiative in Queens where the museum acts as an adviser. This led us to consider what does social engagement mean in a borough with 3.1 million people where more than 500 languages are spoken? What is the role of the museum within this community and what does “reaching out” mean in this context? How do we understand “local impact” from the perspective of arts initiatives? This was especially significant for us in the context of IDAs vision of a future diaspora arts space and how to best listen to and cater to needs from the communities themselves.
We talked about the relevance of museums in places like Queens and belabored questions like: Who does the museum serve, and what is the museum a medium for? Prerana shared with us both how the program she established at QM functions internally with different departments for education and for programming and the advantages and disadvantages of that structure. How can we think of organizational models that sustain long-term community engagement? At Queens, there are several programs working in partnership with local organizations, like the program New New Yorkers, and other initiatives that occur both inside and outside the museum. What methods can we bring to the community from the art world?
In A Blade of Grass, Prerana will be Program Director with an exciting initiative focusing more specifically on social practice and socially engaged art with focus on a fellowship program for artists, but also in different media and program initiatives that document practices in communities, which altogether provide a visibility mechanism for the aims of such practices. Content production is thus focused on creating a media channel for social practices also to act as a basis for research and insight into communities and methods. ABOG has both an internal documentary team and a researcher on staff. With documentary film and a media channel, the vision is to change the power dynamics by aiming for a more equitable power structure in society.
It was an extremely rich conversation with much to think about in IDA’s future. We hope to be able to visit Prerana at ABOG next time we visit NYC!