“Collective abundance for artists and sustainable economies for art”: The founders of New Art City on the future of virtual exhibitions

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For 1854 and BJP’s latest open-call, we’re partnering with growing nexus of the digital art space, New Art City, to create a once-in-a-century virtual exhibition. Founders Don Hanson and Sammie Veeler muse on the future of showcasing art, building a more accessible creative climate and more

Enter Edition365 now | Deadline: 4 August 2021 – 23:59 (UK Time)

Since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world in March 2020, all of humanity have shared – and documented – an extraordinary experience. History has unfurled in front of our eyes; cracks in our systems have been magnified, and across oceans and borders, ways of thinking, acting and existing remain in flux. 

Conceived to stand as a historical reference for many decades to come, Edition365 is the newest open-call from 1854 and BJP, set to produce a global and multi-faceted portrait of the year that changed everything. Traversing tales of love, loss, hope, solidarity – humankind’s collective will to resist, persist and rebuild – Edition365 will culminate in a major virtual exhibition in collaboration with growing nexus of the digital art space, New Art City: namely, “one of the most ambitious group shows [they’ve] ever attempted.” 

An artist-run organisation, New Art City’s mission is to open up a vast new world of creative possibilities for artists that transcends what is possible in the confines of physical space — proving a better, more accessible, and more sustainable way to exhibit their work. We caught up with the founders of New Art City to discuss the future of virtual exhibitions, how Edition365 will come to life with the help of their toolkit and more.

Images © Cristina Fontsare
© Harley Bainbridge

BJP: Can you give us an overview of what New Art City is all about? What sets you apart from other digital exhibition spaces?

Don: New Art City was born out of experiments around how to exhibit digital art in its original format while keeping the social experience of seeing art together with friends. There have been countless attempts to show digital works in physical art exhibitions over the years with varying levels of success, but the innate art experience of these digital files loses some of its meaning when they are translated into physical space. The idea with New Art City is to create an online space and exhibition format for digital artworks that puts the needs of the artist first — and shows their work in a way that suits it better than a physical space. The virtual setting opens all sorts of creative possibilities for artists to construct the ideal 3D environment for their art, and puts their work in an intimate setting with viewers on their own personal devices.

Sammie: New Art City is an artist-run virtual space and our values are central to our approach. Access to virtual space is a privilege just like access to physical space. Our work must be oriented toward access and redistribution. We reject the platform model which defines Web 2.0 and turns users into products for advertisers. Our mission is to produce collective abundance for artists and sustainable economies for art. In comparison to peers in the virtual space, of which there are many stellar examples, we prioritize collective experience through our multiplayer functionality, which supports more simultaneous visitors than any other virtual gallery we’re aware of.  

Images © Sanne Romejin / © Phoebe Theodora / © Zuzanna Szamocka

BJP: What are your thoughts on the future of digital exhibition spaces in a post-pandemic world? And what role will New Art City play in this future?

Don: Online communities of all types will of course continue to grow and thrive. The idea of virtual exhibitions existed before the pandemic, and the community of artists we’re supporting around them will continue to grow after it’s over. The pandemic accelerated innovation in this type of exhibition format, and now the artists who’ve designed and launched shows using our toolkit have a valuable skill in a new market. From the successes of our partner organizations we see immersive virtual exhibitions as a current and exciting way to reach an audience beyond what a physical show can do, and we’re building the best toolkit to support that goal.

Sammie: While the pandemic made our work more urgent for a major cross-section of the art world, we have always felt that a tool like ours emphasizing ease of use and co-presence was overdue. I want virtual world-building to be easier and more accessible than Garageband. I want the boundaries between game, website, art piece, and art exhibition to be blurred beyond recognition! I trust artists to make art that surprises me and to devise clever ways for distributing it. I hope I can keep helping. All I can know for sure is that New Art City will work hard to preserve the culture of care and mutual aid that we enjoy today, and continue putting artists first as we expand our toolkit. 

© Kate Warren

Is there anything you’re hoping to see from Edition365 entrants? 

Don: As an artist I try to evaluate my work in terms of conceptual interest, technical ability and aesthetic beauty. If an artwork can hit all three (or go really deep into one) it’s going to be an interesting piece. In addition to that I’d like to see work that embraces the flexibility of the virtual space, and the possibilities of multimedia in general.

Sammie: Diversity of expression. One of the great things we’ve experienced in our work this year is the varying perspectives from people of all backgrounds around the world, whose work I might have never seen otherwise. This is also the first time BJP has expanded their call to include artworks beyond traditional images. I look forward to seeing how artists respond to these wider parameters. I especially hope to see work from transgender artists like me, and artists outside the major metropolitan poles which dominate art discourse. 

Images © Elena Orta. / © Joe Habben.

How do you think the concept of Edition365 will come to life with the help of your toolkit?

Don: We’ve done lots of group shows, but nothing quite like this. It will be exciting to have the collective interpretations of so many participants together in a single exhibition. The content of the entries will really shape how we build the space and the experience, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what people submit.

Sammie: We’ve seen a lot of approaches this year and we look forward to applying that knowledge to one of the most ambitious group shows we’ve ever attempted. We’re glad that the open call extends through the summer, which will give us a lot of time to engage with the work we’re showing, and to empower the artists to realize their work virtually in a way that feels authentic to them. 

What has defined the last 365 days for you?

Don: Adaptation. There’s so much outside of one’s control, I’ve had to choose growth when familiarity isn’t an option in a lot of situations, and that has been good in its own way.

Sammie: Community. It sustained me, amid so much uncertainty and horror, to be in a virtual community with such a mass of brilliant artists, and to share our resources with others who needed them.  

Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.