EMAIL: Jenny Zoe Casey on the closing of MAPP

Still image from Lars Jan’s HOLOSCENES.

Dear Sharon,

This summer, after 23 years, MAPP International Productions closed its doors. The same week it closed, the New York Times noted a trend in small and mid-sized gallery closures, and for me, this concordance raises a specter of diminishing opportunities. I followed MAPP’s projects for years, and I feel a terrible sense of loss when I hear that arts organizations have closed. Perhaps you could share MAPP’s story with Two Coats of Paint readers?

MAPP, at 23, was a grizzled stalwart, a compelling cross-disciplinary project that offered innovative, ambitious, and exciting programming.  As a non-profit in the performing arts space, it had a reputation for providing extraordinary support for socially conscious artists. I wanted to know more about the organization, so I  got on the phone with Candace Jackson of CJAM Consulting and Lisa Yancey of Yancey Consulting. Both women lead nationally focused arts consulting firms and served on MAPP’s Board of Directors. In a separate conversation, I also spoke with Lars Jan, artistic director of Early Morning Opera and MAPP artist.

According to Jackson and Yancey, MAPP provided rigorous, customized support to its artists in a spirit of collaborative engagement. Services might include project development, office support, fundraising, contract negotiation, local-to-international audience cultivation, digital media promotion, opportunities for community engagement, production, and touring.  At its core, MAPP was artist-centered and as the organization evolved over its lifespan, this founding principle remained seminal.

When asked what MAPP’s closing might mean for artists, Jackson and Yancey were guardedly optimistic.  While MAPP remains unique, other organizations now exist that have the potential to at least partly fill its size 11 shoes.  As Jackson put it, “It remains to be seen what the future holds, but artists will always find new forms of expression, new modes of engagement, and new sources of support.”

When I spoke with Jan, who graciously took time to chat with me on a rare free afternoon, he told me that MAPP had invited him to propose a project before he was widely known. From the beginning, the relationship was noteworthy for an exceptional caliber of support and commitment to risk.

In talks with MAPP staff, Jan was encouraged to propose something new and adventurous; the result was HOLOSCENES, a large-scale public work that has garnered the kind of recognition every artist hopes for.

Jan worked closely and collaboratively with MAPP’s Executive Producer Cathy Zimmerman from 2011 until MAPP closed. Undaunted by the amount not known, Zimmerman helped him realize his vision for HOLOSCENES while also moving his professional achievement to a whole new level.  Though the project began as the germ of an idea so ambitious and unusual that Jan had set it aside as improbable, the staff at MAPP listened, asked questions – and embraced the challenge.

Jan emphasizes that Zimmerman’s contribution was both creative and practical. Together they created a network of resources, identified next steps, and developed outside support. Zimmerman was adept at asking the right creative questions to move the piece forward, a rare and valuable gift.

It takes guts to back untested experimental art, and other staff members and MAPP allies also stood out for their willingness to take a leap of faith. For example, Ann Rosenthal (former Executive Director) and Marc Bathumi Joseph (MAPP artist and Chief of Program and Pedagogy at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts showed exceptional courage and commitment in garnering financial and institutional support for the project.

When I asked Jan for his thoughts on MAPP’s closure, he observed that for 20 years MAPP (and it’s predecessor MultiArts Projects & Productions, established in 1994) had been finding and nurturing talent from an atypically broad range of geographies and cultures – and that at least some mainstream institutions have by now begun to adopt this deeper and more accurate understanding of contemporary cultural production.

MAPP may well have helped to move the conversation and zeitgeist forward. But despite all that was achieved, it was a uniquely special organization and will be sorely missed.

Thanks, Sharon, for sharing this story. If anyone would like to learn more about MAPP’s projects, their archives are held by New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections on Washington Square.

Warm regards,
Jenny Zoe Casey

Related posts:
25 hours in New York: Jenny Zoe Casey
Remarks to young artists at UConn’s 2013 Art & Art History Convocation
Another Day in New York: Jenny Zoe Casey

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