Artichoke Dance Company describes itself as “a national leader in both eco-arts performance and climate action.” It is known for innovative and engaging performances paired with environmental activism, education, community building and civic engagement. Founded in 1995, Artichoke has had seventeen New York seasons and toured nationally and internationally.
We recently spoke to Lynn Neuman, Director of Artichoke Dance Copmany, about the origins of the group, what it means to be an eco-arts performance group, and what their impact in education and justice is.
Artichoke Dance Company is based in New York and you can watch their videos on nyxt.nyc/artichokedance.
After the covid lockdown, the first thing we did was create a series of participatory dance alongs aimed to get people moving and breathing. This was important because there was so much uncertainty and fear that our nervous systems were on overdrive. That’s not a healthy state within which to function. Movement can be used as a stabilizing force and inherently increases respiration.
Lynn Neuman, Director, Artichoke Dance Company
How did Artichoke Dance Company come to exist?
Artichoke was chosen as a metaphor for the layers and textures embedded into the company and our work, at the center of which is a sweet heart. We invite audiences and participants to join us in a journey of discovering and interacting with the variety of layers, and to revel in the magnificent flower an artichoke can become. Artichoke Dance Company began as a collective endeavor. Since 2010, the company has focused on environmental issues affecting people and place.
You are national leaders in eco-arts performance and climate action. What does this mean to you? What does Artichoke contribute to social justice and/or education causes?
Working in eco-arts and climate action is interdisciplinary work, its investigative and action oriented. Our work begins with environmentally compromised places, which now is nearly anywhere worldwide. From there we delve deeply into the intricacies of place, its history and potential future. What emerges is an experience that is both performative, educational, and intertwined with action. We use hands on experiences as a way to engage people in doing, making and discovering. In this process there is inquiry and learning. Many of our productions bring people to interact with a place and offer opportunity to take action. This could mean walking along a river or canal to witness the performance. Action can be as simple as signing a petition. It could also mean picking up and cataloging trash on a beach or devising a neighborhood campaign focusing on a local issue. Each situation is different with unique outcomes. Our contribution to justice issues is getting people engaged and providing tools to address the issues.
Lynn Neuman is one of the nation's leading eco-artists known for her work mitigating plastic pollution on Coney Island and banning plastic bags in New York State. She engages people in hands on art making with recycled materials as well as interactive movement experiences and place-based performances. Lynn is an Association of Performing Arts Professionals leadership fellow and has been in residence at universities and arts programs across the country.
What can you tell us about how the organization works?
We work in partnership with communities, schools and organizations to make our programs happen. Sometime these are initiated by us, sometimes they come from the interest of another party. As a non-profit, there is a legal framework within which we operate. The focus and collaborations are built uniquely for each project.
What are some of ADC's recent accomplishments?
In 2019 we created the Future Currents Festival in collaboration with California State University, which focused on Los Angeles River revitalization and involved 7 academic units. We also created the Dance and Sustainability Project at Rider University, which is modeled after our practice of upcycling materials for use in productions, aiming at zero waste. The Gowanus Visions Festival was the culmination of years of deep work in my home community in Brooklyn with many individuals and organizations focusing on the future of the area.
After the covid lockdown, the first thing we did was create a series of participatory dance alongs aimed to get people moving and breathing. This was important because there was so much uncertainty and fear that our nervous systems were on overdrive. That’s not a healthy state within which to function. Movement can be used as a stabilizing force and inherently increases respiration. We also created a video series with four different composers and offered actual live outdoor performances for small groups of audiences. That kind of felt like a miracle.
Does Artichoke Dance Company collaborate with other organizations? If so, what do those collaborations look like?
Collaborations are key for Artichoke Dance, both in and outside the arts. We partner with community and presenting organizations to produce our projects, environmental and educational entities to inform our work and to enhance its scope, scientists and other artists to layer complexity. Each brings their own area of expertise, interests and concerns, adding to the richness of any given project. Technically, collaborations can be formal through a contract or memorandum of understanding, or informal through conversations, presentations, or other mechanisms.
What are some current challenges for dancers and performers, or some significant changes that you have seen in the performing arts?
The only way I can answer this question is in context to the global pandemic of the corona virus. The company’s movement aesthetic historically relies on physical contact and partnering. This serves as a metaphor for both the interconnectedness of society and the earth, and also depicts structures of support and working together in intricate ways that are so needed at this moment in history. In the fall of 2020, we were fortunate to be offered an outdoor residency that enabled us to work in person, as opposed to over zoom. There was such joy in reuniting this way, but then we quickly realized that we had to reframe our working methodologies because physical contact was not an option. What we created was Distanced Dance. It was all about the physical space between us that we have had to maintain as both a safety net and an imposition.
What do you ultimately want to see Artichoke become in the future?
We are working to embed more activist practices in our work, learning from the approaches of others and sharing our own methods. The rate at which this work needs to accelerate is exponential, so amplification within and beyond ourselves is important. We are here to learn, grow and be of service.
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