View of Minneapolis from the Guthrie Center's Endless Bridge.

WPA Joins "Hand-in-Glove 2015" Conference in Minneapolis

By Nathalie von Veh

Two weeks ago, I attended the third iteration of the Hand-in-Glove conference hosted by Common Field and Works Progress Studios at The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Common Field is a national alternative arts network (to generate solidarity amongst organizations and organizers working outside of the commercial gallery world). Hand-in-Glove 2015 was the launch of Common Field’s website -- a beautiful platform that I hope will help sustain and continue the momentum that was achieved in Minneapolis this September. Over the four day conference, I -- alongside my fellow DC representatives -- and 400 other artists, activists, and organizers from all around the country had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk honestly and critically about our work and our common challenges. 

Shanai Matteson from Works Progress Studio welcomes the attendees of Hand-in-Glove 2015 at The Soap Factory.

The panel discussions took place in the spacious and raw Soap Factory, a 25 year old non-profit that was one of the first spaces for emerging visual art in the Twin Cities. It was an ideal location to discuss space and how difficult it is to secure spaces in the face of continual gentrification and displacement. Those of us from DC felt particularly connected to these conversations. These discussions were led by an impressive and diverse representation of individuals, projects, and organizations like Arts.Black, Roosten Woo, Springboard for the Arts, Creative Capital, Epicenter, Project Row Houses, and W.A.G.E.. There were many underlying themes throughout the conference, but the one that resonated most deeply with me was connecting communities through writing and archiving. Many panelists came back to the issue of cultural erasure and that one way to address this is through remembering and retelling.

View of the Mississippi River just a few blocks from the Soap Factory.

At the panel “Place, Race, Geography, and Power” Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz from the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Lambey Press asked the audience, “What does it mean to be rooted in a community that is continually pushing you out?” The panel extended this dialogue beyond artists to talk about the people that are pushed out before. Every time a group of people are displaced, their stories, visions, and traditions are forgotten -- erased. Shawn(ta) and Dylan Miner from Michigan State University debated whether ownership was violence or if ownership was the solution to end this cycle of displacement and erasure. Shawn(ta) argued that the violence was the erasure of stories and culture. She proposed a dream to us -- a world where everyone, no matter their race or identity, could create what they wanted to to make a living wage  to buy their own home.

The group sharing a community meal curated by Seitu James.

Continuing this important discussion the next day, Complex Movements presented their incredible project “Beware of the Dandelions” which was so powerful many of us in the audience got goosebumps. “Beware of the Dandelions” is an immersive movement memory project to retell the story of Detroit -- to remember the people that came before and heal those who continue to fight and battle intense gentrification and poverty. Artists belong to a much deeper and complex web of relationships and transactions and the only way we can attempt to address this issue is by thinking beyond us. What is our responsibility to the greater world as art practitioners? Are we all social practitioners? Can art be as powerful as political action or is it a separate movement?

It was a refreshing and inspiring experience to have the space to question current systems and ponder whether there is an easier and better way to do things. I am left with more questions than answers after Hand-in-Glove but I feel a renewed sense of commitment to our community. I was reminded of the importance of slowing down, remembering to talk with those around us and to listen to those that came before us. 

Wendy Clark from the NEA engages in a frank discussion on artist wages and fellowships during the "Art Works?" panel.

Videos of every panel can be found online: and written responses written by others in attendance can be read here:

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October 1, 2015