Landing a role at ZERO1 almost five years ago to help manage American Arts Incubator, our flagship creative exchange program at the time, was my entry point into working in the arts.
I’d always held a deep appreciation for the value of cultural exchange, having been raised in a binational and bilingual household, majoring in Hispanic Studies during my undergraduate studies, and spending close to a year working at an educational institution in Bangalore in my early 20s.
However, the learning curve from engaging in cultural exchange to being the bearer and molder of this kind of container, while simultaneously deepening my understanding of the media arts field, was a steep one. I’m glad I was able to do so within an organizational culture like ZERO1’s, which focuses deeply on process and encourages taking a critical approach to the tools we use in our work.
I've grappled with many interesting and challenging questions over the last several years: How does one surface and mitigate power dynamics in the context of exchange? How does one approach sensitive social issues in a variety of cultural contexts? What can be bridged through co-creative art making as a vehicle versus another medium, like language? (Also, how does one get an artist to hand in their deliverables on time?).
I’m grateful to have been able to work in collaboration with many artists who also engage with complex questions themselves through their practice, and for being able to craft spaces for them to be in dialogue with each other. I have always been passionate about creating containers and facilitating experiences for others to grow and connect, both personally and professionally.
One of the objectives of our exchange programs is to build mutual understanding between creative communities around the world. To prepare for and contextualize each exchange we facilitate, I’ve delved deeper into a wide variety of topics from the effects of pollution in Alexandria, Egypt to the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine to the Brumadinho Dam Disaster in Minas Gerais, Brazil. On the research trips I’ve made to these locations, after visiting historical sites and conversing with affected communities, I am reminded time and again of the shift from an intellectual understanding to a relational, lived understanding of an issue, rooted in place.
In a time of increased political polarization and isolation due to the pandemic, I feel that exchange through person-to-person connection has taken on an increased urgency. Personally, I have found that the experiences I’ve mentioned above have allowed me to more gracefully toggle between interpersonal relating and awareness of one’s position in larger socioeconomic and political systems while engaging with difficult topics. I often think of Glenn Harris’ words during Race Forward’s annual conference in 2020, “We need to be hard on systems and soft on each other.”
In addition, when thinking about community-engaged artists as civic leaders, I’m reminded of Cristobal Martinez’s conceptualization of “artists as ears” — listening deeply before synthesizing, creating, and amplifying. I’ve also seen this style of leadership modeled by my colleague, Shamsher Virk, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for my entire tenure at ZERO1. As ZERO1 has evolved over the past five years, he has deftly led the strategic charge. He is a skillful facilitator, inclusive community-builder, and arts administrator extraordinaire; I’ve deeply enjoyed our professional partnership.
Working with a transdisciplinary approach in the arts has allowed me to take a step back and critically re-examine my beliefs about knowledge production in a way that has been liberating — opening up avenues to new ways of understanding myself and the world around us.
This job also opened the door for me to explore and better understand the Bay Area arts scene, which has been a life-enriching opportunity that has exposed me to new experiences, perspectives, and ways of living and being that I could not have imagined when I first arrived in San Francisco.
The War in Ukraine
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the current situation in Ukraine in this post. Over the course of my time at ZERO1, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the country twice for our creative exchange programming. My first work trip for American Arts Incubator was to Kyiv in 2017, with a subsequent trip in the fall of 2019. I had the opportunity to work closely with the fantastic staff at IZOLYATSIA, an arts organization that had experienced internal displacement in Ukraine from their site in Donetsk in 2014. I visited many galleries, museums, and cultural sites, as well as engaged in conversations with artists, curators, and other knowledge- and culture-bearers within the creatively prolific country.
One reason I am passionate about exchange is that it challenges the myth of the Other. It is a continuous, visceral reminder that people are people everywhere — deserving of peace and basic human rights. It collapses the distance between here and “elsewhere” when tragedies and war happen. Olia, who participated in our 2020 virtual exchange, is sheltering from missiles in a bunker in Kharkhiv, and many of the artists who participated in our programming remain in Kyiv, which has been withstanding Russian attacks since February 25.
As a parting call, I ask that you support fellow artists, curators and cultural workers of Ukraine through the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund and by getting further informed on the war in Ukraine.
After my departure from ZERO1, I will be spending some time with my family in Japan. I hope to take some time to switch modes from “doing” to “being,” and see what might arise for me in that space. As an arts administrator, I often get asked whether I have a creative practice myself. I’m much more of a dabbler (over the past seven years, I’ve taken poetry workshops, oral storytelling classes, beginner’s contemporary dance, and more), but am curious to see whether I’m drawn toward any form of creative expression in the coming period. I hope to eventually transition to a full-time communications role. If you’d like to stay in touch, please connect with me on LinkedIn!
ZERO1 Program and Communications Manager (2017-22)