“We Need More Voices”: Introducing the Momus Emerging Critics Residency

David Hockney, "The group XI, 7-11 July 2014," 2015. Photo: Richard Schmidt.
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In late August 2019, Momus will be launching its inaugural Momus Emerging Critics Residency, in collaboration with Montreal’s Concordia University. We’re incredibly excited to begin working with young critics: helping to guide a new generation of professionals in the field, and providing them with practical tools for succeeding in a precarious, complex, but also energizing and rich moment for online art writing and publishing.

Momus Publisher and Editor Sky Goodden was recently interviewed by Amelia Wong-Mersereau, an MA in Art History at Concordia, about her aspirations for the residency and how they fit into the broader mandate and future-oriented vision of our publication.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Momus works with emerging writers all the time. It’s a really important mantel of what we’re doing in terms of nurturing those voices, directing their energies, and trying to sort of pull their energy and enthusiasm for the field into the most relevant discourses. Through a rigorous but rewarding editing process, we build relationships with these young writers, that all-important trust and intimacy that can emerge between a writer and her editor, but is now all too rare in the publishing world. We carve out their critical edges, we amplify their strengths.

I do see in the larger industry more and more writers coming to the practice with fewer professional skills than they’ll need, in terms of how to negotiate, how to work with an editor, how to pitch, how to budget their freelance life, which is always a challenge. And most importantly, how to strike at the heart of a critical position, right out of the gate. That’s what you really want to be seeing from a young writer is the ability to sell an idea, to sell an argument, to target the critical relevance and stakes of a subject, and not get lost in the tall grass of descriptive or overly promotional art writing. And so that’s where this stems out of. We can do this one by one as editors and publishers at Momus, and we will continue to; but what if we mobilize this effort into a classroom setting and approach it generationally? School by school, group by group. That’s sort of the bigger ambition.

What are your future plans for this residency? Do you see it growing, and perhaps taking root in other locations as well?

I expect so. We’re thrilled to be working with Concordia, a natural collaborator, but I would really like to see this plug in to other art schools, as well, with multiple iterations per year where, say, we do a couple weeks at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, or OCAD University, or CalArts, or CUNY. There are art schools in Latin America as well, where we have a strong readership. There are art communities around the world that need more voices, that need a stronger sense of encouragement and direction in the field. But I have to say, I’m thrilled that this is starting at Concordia, where I go back, in fact, to my art history education as an undergrad. It’s a full circle for me to be in this position, now, where I’m shaping emerging critics. I was shaped there, too.

As much as we’re keen to have people travel to us, we also want to travel to these communities themselves, in part to make sure this does not become economically impenetrable for students in financial need. I want to make sure that this isn’t becoming just another enclosure that you can’t gain entry to unless you’re a “critic of means.” On that note, the home institution for our first year – Concordia University – is offering scholarships to cover the tuition for its students and recent grads. This is an important facet of what we’re doing.

What will the residency look like, exactly? Who will be participating, and what will they bring to the table?

Including myself, we’ll have 5 incredible workshop leaders on deck – writers, editors, publishers, podcasters – who will each take a day to teach on a few subjects that are close to their experience in the industry, whether that’s pitching, collaborating, interviewing, budgeting, editing, or reflecting on the differences between print and online publishing, or the experience of freelancing versus working from within an editorial institution. Coming to teach, we have Merray Gerges, who in a very short time has gone from emerging to establishing herself as one of the most exciting critical voices to watch. Then there are two of our Contributing Editors, the incredible critic and art historian Saelen Twerdy, the prolific journalist and critic, Mark Mann. And then of course myself and my invaluable Senior Editor, who also writes like a dream, Casey Beal. We’ll parcel it out day by day in terms of workshops. I’m super excited to hear what these people have to impart, I think each one will try to tackle a different strength or, as the case may be, a weakness in their experience and the trajectory of their career that they’ve had to navigate. As much as we can, we will try to keep our eye on the practical realities of breaking into the field, of establishing yourself in the discourse, with an eye to some of the larger debates and discourses affecting contemporary art today, especially online. Because as much as we’re trying to “slow down the internet” with longform, rigorous, thoughtful criticism, our online model allows us to work quite quickly. So I want to keep an eye on how that reality asserts itself versus the print industry, as more and more writers and publishers, podcasters, etc. flock to online platforms.

What kinds of feedback will the participants receive in this workshop? What can they expect to accomplish and learn?

The pilot residency is only one week, so we will temper our expectations in terms of assigned writing, and instead focus on making sure that students come away with is an entrenched sense of where the stakes are, where the challenges and opportunities in the field lie, what’s available to them, and where their energy should be directed in contemporary art publishing. I want to relate to them personally, and make sure that the professional realities and opportunities in this field feel tangible, feel navigable. As far as whether or not they’ll have writing projects assigned to them, we will see how feasible it is without overwhelming the curriculum in such a short, intense spurt. It’s possible that we will have them working on a pitch, though – that might be an attainable objective for the week, that we can hone a single pitch over the course of a few days from the various perspectives of editor, writer, and publisher.

How does creating something like this residency allow you to advance the aims of the publication? What opportunities does it afford to pursue bigger picture goals than the day-to-day of publishing?

I can’t tell you how excited I am. I have to say working online and working from home as many of us do in this career, especially with online publishing, it can be kind of isolating. You’re not necessarily talking to your peers, and even if you are it’s over Gchat or email, so there’s a sense of distance. I’m looking forward to bridging that gap for a week. To sort of draw on and draw out our experience in the field. Maybe you go to the occasional conference or run into one another at an art opening, you do make these efforts to break out of your shell and seek each other out – but it usually comes at a cost, and there’s usually a professional momentum or a metabolic rate to those events that impinges on long, exploratory conversation. Personally, that’s the part that I’m most excited for, the ability to draw out some of these issues in a really thoughtful, exploratory, and unpressured kind of way.

Given a recent New York Times opinion piece, where the authors urge art publishers and editors to make a more concerted effort to amplify voices of color – which has exploded into several more think pieces this past week, and really demonstrated how much energy there is for this kind of conversation, right now – I have to say, we’re bringing a lot of intentionality to this, and not only to seeking out and encouraging emerging critics, but also willing forward a diversification of the field. We need more voices, manifold voices, especially as we see our galleries and institutions increasingly programming really culturally complex work. This is a conversation that is peaking right now, around what responsibility looks like, around who gets to speak. So the timing feels right. We publishers need to begin attending to the gaps and the holes and the lack, we need to be putting our shoulder into this, providing momentum, inspiration, direction; we need to be making space for change.

 

For more information about future iterations of the residency, contact Sky Goodden at skygoodden@momus.ca. The 2019 application process for 2019 is now closed.

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