Featured Organization: SALTA Collective
When was the SALTA Collective founded, and why?
SALTA was founded in the spring of 2012. We wanted to make space to see and show dance in the East Bay that didn’t cost money and didn’t feel constrained by the pseudo-professionalized vertical ladders that hierarchize dancing and dancers. We wanted to hang out and learn from and be with each other. It was also a response to our dance punk and femme-friend feelings, never quite at home in the bunhead/dance pants world.
Renny Pritikin’s “Prescription for a Healthy Arts Scene” lists 23 requirements for a robust cultural scene in any city. How do you think the Bay Area is doing, and how does your organization fit in? (And please, feel free to disagree with any of Pritikin’s points!)
Answer #1: We are really glad you brought up Pritikin. We think this is an excellent opportunity to foreground how little we care about cis-man head curator types who make rules for what makes a “healthy” “art” “scene.” We look forward to the moment when healthy art scenes are constituted by taking over museum spaces, expropriating all resources in them, and refusing the partition of the world into legitimized and non-legitimized “artists.”
Answer #2: Based on Pritikin’s requirements, the Bay Area is not doing so well at supporting a more vibrant art scene. In fact, lack of institutional support is why SALTA began hosting DIY events for free. We wanted to start an affordable rehearsal/performance/community space, and when that proved financially impossible, we started a series that was meant to build a scene of artists in Oakland, who could connect with each other and share work.
Answer #3: We address some of his requirements throughout this interview.
Who is your audience, who are you trying to serve, and who do you hope to reach?
Audience: Although SALTA is not billed as public art, it is free and open to whoever walks in the door. Sometimes that’s Anna Halprin, sometimes it’s my mom, and sometimes it’s someone who lives in the neighborhood who’s into it and helps clean up at the end of the night. We try and have an open space, but this is complicated by who (SALTA) is making that space (how do we address diversity as a group of all-white, college-educated women?).
ARTIST4ARTIST: The shows are structured to strongly serve the artists, and to make space for folks to experiment and test new ideas in a low key and supportive environment.
Tell us how SALTA Collective is structured. How many people work as part of the collective? Staff or volunteers or both — or some other configuration?
There are seven of us. We meet as a collective weekly at someone’s home, bring food and drink, and bust out an agenda. We volunteer our time to SALTA outside of our many jobs and individual art practices. We have rotating administrative roles and rotating production roles that are flexible with each performance. We often co-curate our events and seem to find a new way to do that each time. We write as a group (we wrote this as a group). We travel together. In some configuration or another our members are business partners, roommates and/or collaborators; friends making work, friends making do, friends making out…
Of great importance to SALTA seems to be an engagement with space as a way of fostering community — as you put it on your About page, “Performance is in many ways an excuse to be together. […] We invite everyone to think about how we are in spaces and with each other…” Could you discuss a couple instances where this ethic played out before, during, or after a performance? More generally: How have you found that experimentation in dance affects or engenders community-oriented ethics and discussions about ethics?
Since our first evening of performance in June of 2012, SALTA has curated thirty-six performances, each held in a space donated to us. The structure of inhabiting new and donated spaces has allowed us to offer dance events that are free to attend. This non-monetary exchange has allowed us to experiment with a format for presenting dance where we rely more on connections and relationships with our surrounding communities and the resources they can provide than on monetary exchange or institutional structures.
Roving from space to space has also consistently challenged us to think critically about the politics of space in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. Who feels comfortable in which spaces and why? And how can we resist dynamics that often use artists (and artist spaces) to “revitalize” (read: gentrify) historically underserved neighborhoods? By invoking a thoughtfulness and criticality around space — that which we take up, inhabit, occupy, preserve, etc. — in our pre-show announcement, SALTA invites the audience and performers into these questions with us. We don’t have all the answers, but we hope that the experimental and social atmosphere that SALTA fosters will encourage the conversations.
People are often vocal at and about our events. Sometimes this is a dissenting voice and quite challenging for us as curator/facilitators, but ultimately it seems healthy in a place as politically complicated as Oakland. We see the politic, the social, and the artistic as inseparable.
What is the greatest challenge facing your organization currently?
SALTA is currently shifting in function and focus due to the fact that some members of our collective are moving away because of basic shit that comes with living in this world: the increase in the cost of living in the Bay Area, taking jobs that don’t incubate good feelings in us, not being able to find an affordable apartment, not knowing how to have space and time to feel alive as a dancer. Because some collective members are moving away, the structure and composition of our group is changing. How do we continue to fight for dance in the Bay Area when we ourselves are exhausted by the energy it takes to live here and resist increasing rent, homogeneity, conservatism, tech breaux, and artistic formalism?
We are taking a break from the platform of free performance events we have been curating for the past four years; what shape do we take in the East Bay at this point in time? In what ways do we continue to function and serve as a group of people who care deeply about dance, and radical politics, and queerness, and feminism, and inclusivity, and, and, and? So, while we have faced many challenges over the past several years, the dominant challenge right now is in response to our changing dynamics as a group.
These are challenging times for arts institutions, especially smaller ones: Any words of advice for others interested in starting an organization like SALTA?
Know that you are entering an ecosystem, not a vacuum. Get to know the context, people, and histories of your community and neighborhoods, so you can contribute thoughtfully and be in conversation with what is already there. Remember that all of us as individuals and organizations can coexist and support each other, rather than feel like we are vying for the same limited resources. We’ve learned time and time again that we will keep making mistakes — if you can stay humble and go easy on yourself, you will learn a lot!
What should we be asking you?
What are the historical and material conditions of possibility that have allowed the collective to exist and function?
By what means have you purchased tortilla chips for your events? Where does this money come from? This is really a question about money.
What has been very embarrassing in your four years as a feminist women’s collective?
How does SALTA make decisions? What interpersonal and social dynamics have organized the group?
WHO ARRRRRREEEEE YOU?
How do you negotiate your attitude towards institutions with the institutional opportunities that you accept?