RIVAA: Small Community Gallery of the Unique Island

By Wei Wei

Roosevelt Island

Between the island of Manhattan and Queens, there is a narrow island named Roosevelt Island in New York City’s East River. Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA)1, a non-profit organization composed of an international diverse group of artists, dedicates to enhancing the quality of life in the community through art, community events and workshops in the unique island. Supported by private donations and artist contributions, RIVAA opened the first gallery on Roosevelt Island in 2002. RIVAA is not just a gallery. It works closely with the community. RIVAA supports the community in its efforts to enhance cultural development and collaborates in educational events to promote public involvement through the arts. I took two days to participate in the outdoor art for “Fall for the Arts” annual festivals and the daily works of RIVAA’s gallery.

Fall for the Arts festival is a creative art activity that the whole community can participate. In the main lawn of Roosevelt Island, all the artist of RIVAA will spend one day to paint or sculpture while the resident can join in the painting or give the opinion to the artist and the artist will teach the young and kids how to paint or mix colors. Those paintings and sculptures will be exhibited on the lawn for two months. This event shows the community gallery’s property of participation in public involvement and education for the community. The gallery is not only an institute of art collection and exhibition but also a bridge and communication medium between community and artist. This kind of responsibility gives the community gallery more works to do, such as musical performances, theatre, dance, book signings and poetry readings and various community gatherings.

Fall for the Arts Festival

Which means inside the gallery, things usually are not simple. The artists in RIVAA will volunteer to organize and do the daily works in the gallery by a swift worksheet. At the same time the organization has its own management team with backgrounds in business, finance or management to focus on the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the gallery. This kind of combination makes lots of misunderstanding between the managers and the artists. The artists are visual-oriented which means all they matter is whether this art product is looked beautiful. While the managers are usually been marketing directed and mostly care about the budget and social influence. In the book of The Alienated Librarian (Nauratil, Marcia J. 1989)2, it pointed out “libraries have traditionally been product-oriented. The materials, Programs, and information ……have been directed toward increasing public awareness of this value. In contrast, the market-oriented organization identifies the needs and desires of various market segments, develops products and services to appeal to selected segments, and then promote them.” This kind of difference between the manager and the artist makes they have some silent conflict inside the gallery. “The marketing orientation lies in its essential compatibility to the privatization and commoditization of information.” which makes the community gallery looks not exactly like its self-introduction. Nauratil also mentioned “quality of work-life movement has been toward participative management. Worker participation can range from slipping ideas into a suggestion box to codetermination- shared decision making between labor and management.” With no doubt the more participation can reduce divergences and enhance collaboration. But I think the first thing should be find out an agreed, unified principle and purpose to work on together. A work environment without burnout is probably an impossible goal. But a pleasant working conditions, reduced paperwork, time-out, variety, and clear organization goals can buffer job stress and help individuals to feel better about their works.

One interesting thing between the managers and artists is when artist has no clue of the name of his/her paint the manager usually will force to name it to label and record the paint. The fact is when the painter drew it s/he doesn’t consider too much meaning and just want the paint looks vivid (especially for some abstract paint). But with the label of name, when people watch the paint people get to connect the literature words and the deep meaning of the work combine with their own experience and apprehension. In the book of Archive Fever: Freudian Impression3 Derrida asserts that archive cannot remain outside what it memorializes and this removes some of the objectivity with which records and archival documents are typically treated. A well-know advertisement of Dove aired this year also indicates the similar opinion with Derrida. In the video, several women describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist who cannot see his subjects. The women also are described by strangers they just met. The sketches are compared, with the stranger’s image invariably being both more flattering and more accurate.

dove you are more beautiful than you thought Dove video advertisement

As a part of the society, records managers are likely keenly aware of the socio-juridical systems that lead “truth” to the records they manage. But during the process of records in different medium and under different people the records itself have lots of change. As in the Dove advertisement, everyone see thing with various perspectives, when you familiar something it will be hard to objective to describe it as when you describe it you are analysis and assemble it with all your experience and your value standard in your mind. This kind of change can be positive also can be destructive. When records the historical information this kind of interpretation under a certain situation and people might change the truth of the history. This will absolutely be a disaster for the future. While the better thing is the RIVAA community gallery has no need to think about such significant problems.

The distinguished difference between the artists and managers is that the artists own their works while the managers own the power of those works. The fact is that tourists don’t come to New York City because of Bloomingdale’s, Fifth Avenue. The majority of them come because of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim Museum, Broadway, and art galleries. Macy’s and Madison Avenue shops make money part of because of art. A place exists arts, the place has blooming business and flourish communities. The power of art and culture in building strong community has long been recognized. Michel Foucault was a French philosopher excavated the relationship between power and knowledge. In Foucault’s4 theories, materials and military are only one element of power. Power is not stable and controllable position but an energy-stream that through the whole society. One source of power is expressing the knowledge. Foucault didn’t see power as a form, but explain it as a way to using social institution to express a truth in order to infliction their purpose to the society. Which means the arts and the artists have no power but the managers and the institutions who and which owned them have the power. So non-profit or profit purpose of an art gallery should always be a question. Small gallery is a microcosm of the public information institution.

  1.  RIVAA. (2013). rivaa.com, About Me Part, website
  2. Nauratil, Marcia J. (1989). The Alienated Librarian. New York: Greenwood Press
  3. Derrida, Jacques and Eric Prenowitz. (1995). “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” Diacritics 25(2):9-25, 53-63
  4. Foucault, Michel. (1982). The Archaeology of Knowledge, Part 3
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