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Art Kibbutz

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
3 – 5 years
Target audience
Arts & Culture

Art Kibbutz is a volunteer-driven artists’ community, residency, and a hub that offers artists of all mediums, ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and affiliations opportunities to explore universal issues through a Jewish artistic lens. Art Kibbutz provides inspiring and peaceful space to work, learn and seriously explore the rich heritage of Jewish experience that informs their creative process.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Art Kibbutz explores important conversations about economic, environmental, and social conditions in a 21st century Jewish context. We live in compelling times. We are called upon regularly to reflect on our values, our personal purposes in life, and how we are interconnected in a society with layers that we barely know or understand. Therefore every Art Kibbutz residency has a different theme, a topic that artists explore together in Jewish learning sessions - then use the newly acquired knowledge to inspire others through their art that they create at Art Kibbutz.

At Eden Village we started exploring Jewish responses to the environment and our connection to the land (through land art). Last year we moved on to 21st century interpretations of Shmita. This summer Art Kibbutz is focusing its artist residency on Governor’s Island on an exploration of social justice in Jewish art context. We always look at how do we take Jewish teachings, values, and history, and move the dialogue to a place where change can be effected? Is there a role for artists in this process?

A bit more detail about our process - report from our first residency at Eden Village: As Putnam Valley roused itself from its wintry slumber the rich and vibrant landscape of Eden Village (Jewish environmental summer camp, where we hosted our first residency) was enlarged and enhanced by several pieces of art installed and made part of this land's long history by thirty international Jewish artists from eight different countries, who participated in the first pilot residency of Art Kibbutz. The residency was created to harness and maximize residents' creative work related to Jewish responses to the environment, farming and sustainability. Besides a bedroom and regular nutritious, kosher, vegan meals, each artist was provided with shared studio space. The residency program balanced concentrated, productive work time with the stimulation of cultural exchange and communal events. Artists also had the chance to acquire practical farming skills, learn about the larger context of our contemporary food systems, and how our traditional values and practices can inform our decisions, actions and art today.

Artists in residence shared their work, ideas, and experiences with each other in the evenings in a relaxed and informal setting at each others’ studios. The programming included daily discussions, events, trips, and artist beit midrash with Jonathan Schorsch (Columbia University), as well as planning sessions for the future of Art Kibbutz. We engaged with our host communities, both Eden Village as well as the Jewish Farm School, through discussions, working the land together and donating artwork for their communities. This innovative program was one of its kind to create a new type of a diverse, grassroots, intentional artist community (kibbutz) that is based on the premier Jewish value, ‘loving your fellow as yourself.’ The art works that were created reflected the traditional Jewish philosophy, that we are partners in creation; therefore residents used gentle, biodegradable, natural materials for their land art that would communicate their message, but not leave a permanent mark on the Earth.

Ceramic artist Emmett Leader created a beautiful gateway for the 2.5 acre organic garden that The Jewish Farm School’s intentional community is developing day by day. This gateway was dedicated on our Open Studio day on May 12th, when more than eighty people -- friends, journalists, families, came to spend the day, visiting artists' studios, and enjoying the beauty of the awakening landscape. They all got more than a glimpse of our artist residency, which is also leaving behind numerous prayer flags made by Carrol Philips.For the entire time of the residency Asherah Cinnamon from Maine and Nikki Green from Western Australia were busy scouring the woodlands of the campgrounds, the hills surrounding the glacial lake collecting the branches, roots and saplings which they used to construct a twelve foot shin representing the Shma:Listen which the group jointly moved from the studio to the lakeside.

At sunset it was launched and set afloat on the lake. Its vibrations will long remain in this valley, possibly longer than the impact it had on the community that helped launch it and witnessed its movement across the lake. The water inspired Cynthia Beth Rubin is creating a video portrait based on the micro motives found in the mud of the lake. Israeli composer Kobi Arad’s improvisation explored the Divine Names of Hashem in nature. Kobi created an entirely new musical language based on Kabbalistic numerology that inspired several collaborations. He started recording his new CD at Art Kibbutz and created a groundbreaking collaboration with Ikhlaq Hussein Khan, Pakistani sitar maestro who is on a similar quest from a Sufi perspective.

Diversity has been one of the most unique elements of our experience as art created a common ground for open and serious discourse. The residency provided a peaceful environment where leading professors from Canada seriously engaged a range of topics with a young, orthodox, emerging artist from Latin America straight out of yeshiva.

The atmosphere was safe enough for participants to be able to engage with artists from different disciplines, including those who worked in fundamentally different ways. Yet, collaborations, friendships, mentoring relationships, and even love affairs grew from these interactions.

Internationally known ecological artist Jackie Brookner with EcoArtSpace founder and curator Amy Lipton initiated a joint art project on an environmental theme. LABA Executive Director Ronit Muszkatblit (Germany-Israel) and Tirtzah Bassel (Israel) as well as several resident artists, COEJL and Jewcology answered their call.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

Art Kibbutz has had 5 successful artist residency programs and has been at the forefront of Jewish environmental and social justice movement, giving creative responses from a Jewish perspective to 21st century discourses. Art Kibbutz has engaged 200 artists (ages 16-82 from 20 countries and all over the US) – all different disciplines these past years.
Every year we present a 4-months-long Summer Artist Residency program in New York City’s Governor’s Island between June and September offering studio and presentation space as well as Jewish learning and engagement opportunities.

Art Kibbutz’s Summer Residency offers shared, cooperative multidisciplinary space where artists experience a retreat-style residency just a short ferry ride from the frenetic buzz of New York City. While on Governors Island, artists create new works, develop their practice, and find potential collaborators, while drawing inspiration from community, learning, and our beautiful natural setting. On Sundays, open studio events, lectures, artist talks, and arts fairs draw a large public audience to Governors Island. During the annual River To River festival, Governors Island Art Fair and Figment Festival, Art Kibbutz shares in receiving thousands of visitors (7000 - 25,000 visitors on weekend days) to the island through our own programs of live performance and visual art installations in this stunning parkland setting. As the only Jewish organization currently participating in Governors Island summer activities, Art Kibbutz attracts a unique mix of artists and audience.

Art creates a common language that brings together artists and audience members from completely different backgrounds – folks who wouldn’t otherwise meet. Our residency program is open to artists of all disciplines, ages, nationalities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Artists, young and old - unaffiliated (35%), Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox (20%), Liberal Jews (45%). In terms of nationality: Israelis and US-based expats (20%), Russian Jews (10%), internationals from Australia to Argentina (20%), US-based (50%).

Artists, as a whole, generally work in isolation and are disconnected from other artists as a result of the nature of their work as well as from the art world's built-in system of competition for limited opportunities, resources and recognition. Although there are more than 1000 artists' residencies throughout the world that provide a quiet haven for individual artistic growth, Art Kibbutz is the only one with a Jewish focus that fosters a sense of community among diverse Jewish artists of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. It offers the cultural connection that is sought by and enriches the Jewish identities of religious and non-religious Jewish artists alike.

In the past, we have measured the success of our programming and community building through both product (as evidenced in the artists’ creations, many of which are shared at the end of each residency in a public exhibition) and process evaluations (conducted both informally as part of the residency activities, and through written submissions). One of the goals of an Art Kibbutz residency is for artists to produce works of art that contribute to their personal and professional growth. At its longer-term residencies, Art Kibbutz holds daily voluntary check-in circles to discuss the challenges and advances each resident has experienced, and exchange useful suggestions and feedback.

At each of the residency, participating artists have an opportunity to present their finished work in a public exhibition, readings and presentations. In order to measure the effectiveness of each program design and implementation, every participating artist has been asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire about their experiences, including the quality of the communication among the Art Kibbutz leadership and participants, the suitability of the venue, the sense of community that was developed and the organizational details. The responses have informed each of the subsequent residencies and programs and resulted in stronger programming. The artists have responded anecdotally and in written evaluation forms that they have learned from and with each other, and discovered new ways of thinking and expressing themselves both artistically and Judaically as a result of their participation in the residencies.

We created several exhibitions and public programs - as an example: "Rooted: The Ecological Duality of Nature and Jewish Identity" at the Manny Cantor Center on the Lower East Side, NYC in 2016 that explored the connection between Jewish identity, art and nature from the perspective of both the artist/creator and the viewer. The Jewish Week wrote: "The show grew from a series of residencies that Art Kibbutz established over these past years; the most recent used as its theme Shmitta, the biblically-mandated Sabbath year in which the land in Israel is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity is forbidden. Some of the pieces in the exhibit were created in the Art Kibbutz creative oasis, while others were produced in various places and times but all have in common a relationship with the artists’ roots, their connections to the earth and to their Jewish identity. As Rabbi Joanna Samuels, executive director of the Educational Alliance Manny Cantor Center stated in her introductory address, “What does its mean to be rooted, to let things grow? Shmitta feels very alive when I think about the current struggles in Israel. If everyone on all sides could just loosen our tight grips on the land, just for a moment, we might be able to let something grow and be nourished."

As another example: in 2014 Art Kibbutz was invited to the New Museum to contribute as the only designated Jewish voice to Pawel Althamer's innovative, interactive, work of art entitled, Draftsmen’s Congress. This residency involved making of one large collaborative drawing that took up the entire fourth floor space of the museum. Art Kibbutz was one of the groups invited to participate in this project to explore how a community could connect and create through shared interests, art and image-making. An interest or perhaps rather ambition of the Draftmen's Congress was to gather these visual expressions, that come from many different places, but all somehow have something in common, and then seem them together and experience them in a dialogue with each other, lets say a dialogue that then happens on purely visual terms, which is important. Art Kibbutz was invited to bring 'the Jewish perspective' whatever that means to each participating artist - and responded with a select group of 35 international artists.

Prior to their residency at Draftsmen’s Congress, resident artists of Art Kibbutz from all over the US, France, Netherlands, South Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Georgia, Japan and South Korea met with artist Michael Somoroff and Rabbi Naftali Citron for two learning sessions to develop an approach to the project that was founded on Jewish values and practices. Using the Kabbalah and the Torah for inspiration, the group focused on the Torah’s fundamental concept of “loving your fellow as yourself,” to underscore what Althamer’s exhibition is trying to create: a non-judgmental, harmonious conversation among a diverse community that fosters dialogue and understanding.

Over the course of the day, Art Kibbutz artists were pulling instructions previously contributed by members of the group from a hat and handing them off to each other for execution. In this way they created a community of images that represent an interactive exchange of ideas. They also created images in circles, based on one of Abulafia's poem. At the end of the Congress the work was divided into manifold pieces and distributed to the public and the participants for free. Participating artists did not receive a commission, but materials were available by the museum.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

According to the Pew Research Center’s Survey of U.S. Jews conducted in 2013 and entitled, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans," a full 83% of Jews feel that being Jewish is more about culture and ancestry than religion. They connect to Judaism through culture, rather than through prayer and observance. In addition, the study indicates that only 1/3 of Jews today say they belong to a synagogue at which they can access cultural as well as religious experiences; only 1/5 of Jews report that they belong to other Jewish organizations. The Pew Survey, then, reveals that although 83% of American Jews relate their Jewish identity to culture and ancestry, less than one half are accessing Jewish culture through mainstream Jewish institutions.

Since its creation in 2010, over 200 artists from 23 - 82 years of age have participated in 6 residencies and 5 public art projects sponsored by Art Kibbutz that have taken place in the New York City area. These residencies have attracted Jewish artists from across the country and from Israel, Russia, Hungary, Netherlands, Japan, Pakistan, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, Korea, Australia, Argentina, Georgia, Germany and Canada.

Art Kibbutz also features the general Jewish population and has worked with over 1000 creative volunteers in more than 30 locations. Regular feedback from audience members, such as Barry Tillman, one of the main organizers of Figment Festival NYC substantiates the need for enriching, intentional, cultural Jewish art residencies when he said: "Art Kibbutz's project was one of the most meaningful Jewish experiences of my life." Barry invited Eszter Margit and Art Kibbutz artists to address the Festival's closing ceremony this past summer.

Arielle Stein, visual artist: “I have not participated in any particularly “Jewish” art spaces before. For me, this was a first step in defining myself as a Jewish artist, versus an artist who is a Jew.”

Liz Savage, writer: “I think you succeeded tremendously. To a certain extent, the act of just creating in a house with other artists was incredibly nourishing. Every environment ends up playing a role in whatever one is creating. Certainly Governors Island was an incredibly special place to work, especially with like-minded folks. Wondering how and then incorporating Jewish tradition is/was important.I went into the summer was the incredibly ambitious aim to write a play, which I did! It absolutely would not of happened without Art Kibbutz. Being given the space, time and permission made it a terrific experience for me.”

Bronwen Mullin, composer: “The ultimate goal was to making me feel good. Making me feel part-realized. Judaism has never quite felt ‘making me more realized’ .It was always realizing something else, something outside of me. It was interesting that Art Kibbutz is in that weird place where they sort of push for what is the way in which you can realize both yourself and your art and your Judaism at the same time.”

Art Kibbutz also measures its own success by the degree to which it builds lasting relationships with participating artists; strengthens ties between the artists themselves; provides networking and learning opportunities, helps to increase Jewish identity; and develops a thriving community. To that end, the organization has documented how many of the artists continue their association with Art Kibbutz as a result of their participation either as volunteers in the organizational structure or as repeat attendees at Art Kibbutz events. To date, 50% of the participating artists have a continued role in the organization and express a renewed or sustained sense of community.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

This innovative program attempts to create a new type of a diverse, grassroots, intentional artist community (kibbutz) that is based on the premier Jewish value, ‘loving your fellow as yourself.’ Art Kibbutz is an artist-driven, grassroots, volunteer organization that works on shoe-string budget in vacant, underutilized buildings. Everyone contributes to the success of the project.

It is not possible to report on the doings of all the participants, the writers, sculptors, dancers and musicians whose work will bear fruit after their residencies at Art Kibbutz. But we know the Art Kibbutz community, the Jewish art world has been enriched by the hands, hearts and minds of all those who have been inspired by our community.

The professional and cultural experience of Art Kibbutz enabled our gifted participants to transform the inspirational environment into work, which contributes to the constantly transforming Jewish sensibility and culture. This experience extends the knowledge and capacity of Art Kibbutz, which enables us to pursue with increasing confidence our goal to be a transformational force in Jewish culture – and beyond.