LEA or Bust

Yesterday, I received an email from Rowan Derryth that the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) was accepting applications for Land Grants. At first, I thought nothing of it, and made a mental note to revisit the email and attachment at a more convenient time. Later that day, it hit me – is it just me or has LEA become an all-powerful entity in the SL art community? It seemed that even last year the SL art scene was much more grassroots and independent. Now, I’m not saying that LEA is bad and destroying the SL art community, far from it, but it does seem (and perhaps this should not come as a surprise given the proprietary nature of SL) that art in SL has become much more “controlled.” Let me put this in another way – when I started discovering SL in 2008 (I was a late-comer), the possibilities seemed endless and so much of that stemmed from the artistic freedom that came from not having to please galleries, critics, big corporations, etc. While LEA is guided by what their Wiki calls a “dedicated board of renowned Second Life artists” the exuberance that came from not having a “boss” seemed to have waned.

I don’t know how to explain this other than compare Dadaism and Surrealism.  While both movements are superficially similar, Dadaism has a freedom that Breton’s structured definition of surrealism did not. In fact, Breton’s often commanding leadership position and authority over surrealist artists and their work lead many to leave the movement. At the same, and reinforcing my comparison, many prominent Dadaist artists joined the surrealist movement, in part because the very freedom the movement gave them failed to reach crescendo. Ultimately, I have heard and experienced many wonderful as well as not so wonderful things about the increasing dominance of Linden in the SL art scene. A highlight, in my opinion, was definitely A Rusted Development, curated by Rowan. Given that I have had only limited experience in SL prior to the conceptualization of LEA and have minimal experience or knowledge of art in other, non-proprietary virtual worlds, I would like to hear your opinion as well as where you think LEA has/will positively and/or negatively affect art in SL. A

Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

14 thoughts on “LEA or Bust

  1. Hi Kat. You’ve beat me to the punch in so many ways here. First, I was hoping to write about the new round opening here on irez, so I’ll go ahead and paste that link here: http://www.lea-sl.org/application/lea-land-grant-application-round-three

    Secondly, Vaneeesa had asked me to guest blog my experience curating A Rusted Development back when it first opened – and I just haven’t had a chance. So I’ll hold off on talking about that in particular.

    But I would like to just clarify something regarding ‘the increasing power of Linden’ you suggest: the only reason ‘Linden’ is in the name of the LEA is because they donated the sims. The original committee was selected from a pool of applicants by Linden Lab, but as it stands just under half of the original members are still on the committee, with new ones having been subsequently elected. So Linden Lab has very little involvement in the LEA outside of providing sims and, when their time allows, helping to promote LEA activities via the Destination Guide. There is no one that participates in the selection process for Land Grants, they do not tell us what we can and cannot do with them.

    Calling the LEA an ‘all-powerful entity’ is somewhat puzzling to me, as everyone is free to create art anywhere they like. There are still many successful artistic endeavours outside the LEA. Someone has to manage these sims that have been donated, though, and I for one am pleased that is it a community-driven effort rather than an LL one. The current LEA committee does not, from what I have witnessed, seek to be arbiters of taste, nor define what virtual art should be. Certainly individuals on the committee have different views on this subject, but the very fact that there are different viewpoints is a strength.

  2. Yes, Kathleen, I think the same thing. Not 2008, but even just a year ago, could have just been me, but I don’t recall LEA having the sway that it seems to today.

    It’s funny that you refer to “them” in non-nefarious, yet vaguely hegemonic terms, since, as we’ve seen, from Burning Life, to SL9B to SLCC, Linden LAB has seemed to be retreating from engagement… but I agree that LEA seems ascendant.

    I think some, and Rowan et al, truly know 1,000x more about any of this than I do, but I think some might map a sort of baton pass from UWA to LEA. Not that LEA wasn’t previously there, but the zeitgeist that previously flowed around LEA seems to now be focused right there.

    I’m a natural born outsider and generally suspicious of authority, so I have to be sympathetic to your thoughts, but I do have to say the work I’ve seen at LEA has be overwhelmingly strong. So many inspiring visions I hate even to start mentioning one or two.

    Perhaps it’s partly your point, is there any sense that by being sanctioned, the art is somehow constrained? I’ve certainly seen a lot of diversity of ideas, styles, cultures there.

    1. I guess I have to ask – is it truly ‘sanctioned’? The LEA has sims, they select a group of artists based on proposals they write. After that, there is little-to-no involvement (perhaps even to detriment, I know the committee is working on ways to offer more curatorial support). So Linden Lab certainly isn’t sanctioning the art outside of saying ‘here, use these sims’. Which, btw is for me what they SHOULD be doing. Well done on donating them, and not worrying about handing over control.

      I’ll also add that it does ever so slightly bother me to see my lovely exhibit poster up there to illustrate an article questioning the LEA. Because outside of asking me to guest curate an exhibit on one of their main core sims, they had nothing to do with it (no disrespect at all, I appreciate the opportunity). I do see in the text that Kat was using it as an example of a positive thing… but I did see it and went ‘ACK!’ Heh. Speaking for myself, I would have never had the chance to curate an exhibit on this scale without this opportunity, and I am grateful for it. And I guess that is ultimately how I see this (growing and certainly far from perfect) organisation – as providing opportunities for the arts to grow. Is that a bad thing?

      1. I’m sorry if I offended you in any way, Rowan. I want to stress first off that my intention was NOT to criticize LEA, but rather to gain a better understanding of LEA and the SL art scene through a discussion with individuals that have greater knowledge of its inner-workings. With that said, I uploaded your poster because I was blown away by the exhibit and believe that it is a shining example of the good LEA has done. If you want me to take it down, I’ll understand. I do, however, want to thank you for your feedback; it did shed light on LEA and its committee of artists. Basically, LEA came out of nowhere for me and was suddenly everywhere. My conceptualization of it as “Big Brother” was founded not in facts, but rather in a feeling that it was suddenly “overtaking” the art community I had grown to love. I hope we can continue this discussion, and I can learn more about LEA.

        1. Without question, the LEA sims form a kind of behemoth. Whether it’s a good or bad behemoth for the SL art community depends on, I think, four basic issues. First and (hopefully) foremost is whether artists use the sims well, and on this I think the record is very positive. Second is how artists react to the name “Linden,” and the negative feelings here mainly have to do with (a) the good will that Linden Labs repeatedly obliterated, and (b) ignorance of who the members of LEA are and how they operate. The artists getting LEA sims probably don’t bother about any of that, the main issue for them is getting the opportunity to work with a whole full sim. Possibly the people down on LEA might consider those artists as sell-outs, but I’m not sure how much that actually happens. However, some artists who could do wonderful things on a LEA sim refuse to apply, I think largely because of these issues. Third is whether LEA stirs up jealousies and animosities between artists. I have no idea if it does or doesn’t, but I’d keep an eye out. Fourth is what effect, if any, all those sims might have on independent installation spaces, and as a part of that small band, I’m still taking a “wait and see” approach, although I’m pretty certain one artist reneged on an agreement to build at my place after getting a LEA sim, and the sheer volume of sims pulls a lot of potential artists out of the pool I can consider inviting. On the other hand, they’ve drawn my attention to people I hadn’t heard of before, so that’s all to the good, and at least one independent curator (Zachh Cale) sees the LEA sims as presenting an opportunity. Anyway, my two cents.

        2. Hey Kat! No, not offended really… I knew you weren’t being critical of the exhibit too, that was clear. I appreciate the compliment. And I think your observations are certainly valid, and any misperceptions out there are not wholly down to people not being clued in, but also the lack of PR that was done by the LEA in the past. I don’t think they truly came out of nowhere, though, but rather that things really kicked off when they received the additional 20 sims for land grants, which is just closing on its first year. Somewhat like the UWA, it is a programme which grew rapidly. I can see where this might come off as ‘overtaking’, especially when some of the older arts organizations have found temporary homes there. In the case of Pirats, for example, they applied for a land grant after keeping their own sim was unsustainable (and I think there might be a similar situation with the Caerleon group but I’m not sure). The Art Screamer sim is, I believe, in addition to their home one – kind of like Guggenheim Bilbao. So I personally can’t see it as overtaking, since the LEA would have no purpose or function with out the very strong arts community already in place.

          Now what IS interesting to consider is whether this situation is less down to the LEA being some powerhouse, and more about the general economic client in SL, especially after the non-profit and educational discounts were killed. More and more, unless your activity is a commercial one, tiers are difficult to meet… and full-sims for artists are largely unrealistic (IBM left as well, recall). So in many ways, the LEA is filling a much needed gap… and as I said before, I’d rather see these sims run by a group of experienced artists, arts administrators, and curators, than the Linden Community Team. And that isn’t a dig – it is simply that I wouldn’t expect them to have the appropriate skill set for the task.

          1. Thanks for your comments, Rowan! They are definitely helping me get a better grasp of what LEA is all about and their role in the SL art community. I would agree that a lack of PR has, to some extent, made LEA appear as if it came out of nowhere and is set on “becoming” the SL art community as opposed to helping it (at least for those anti-governmental paranoiacs). It is interesting that you bring up the general economic nature of SL and the possible threat to non-profit and educational organizations. When I first started writing this post, this was exactly where I was going; especially after witnessing the Pirats fallout. Ultimately, and as I personally admitted, my knowledge of LEA was (and still is) very limited. I’m glad to be learning more about it as well as to find out that it is helping these non-profits and educational organizations find a voice in an otherwise profit-driven world. Looks like RL and SL are not so different after all!

      1. Aloha katcool! We are contemporanies 🙂 (in world since 2008).

        Before the LEA, it was the Burning Life, a Linden’s project inspired in the Burning Man (USA), that also count with the cyberart community of Second life. But no idea why, the Burning Life project was over a couple of years ago.

        About the freedom… it’s true that if we, as creators, would like to continue working in what we like and feel like a intrinsic part of our body, we need to please to art institution, but I believe in the words of Danto:

        “What we see today is an art which seeks a more immediate contact with people than the museum makes possible… and the museum in turn is striving to accommodate the immense pressures that are imposed upon it from within art and from outside art. So we are witnessing, as I see it, a triple transformation—in the making of art, in the institutions of art, in the audience of art.”

        1. Hey Noke! Thanks for visiting! 🙂

          Actually “Burning Life” transformed into “Burn2”. Burning Life was an “official Burning Man Regional Event,” (apparently the only of the regional events allowed to “burn the man”)

          BUT it was run by Linden Lab, in coordination I think, with the Burning Man Organization.

          A couple of years ago the maker / provider of Second Life, Linden Lab “gave” control of the even to the BMO and they renamed it Burn2. So it’s now actually run by the Black Rock City peeps. However it is also no longer subsidized by Linden Lab, so instead of 40 regions of “free” land, it’s closer to 4 regions that the event pays for itself.

          And yes, as you’ve noted, LEA has really been a rising star of late. IDK the history, but I think LEA is not actually “new,” but just finding more prominence.

          1. Aloha Vaneeesa! Interesting post, so 😉

            Good to know about Burn2, but what a pity about the difference in the number of lands availeable! I guess this happens more of less between 2010-11, when LEA was formed (“The LEA was initially formed in early 2010 but put on temporary hiatus that year. The committee reconvened in 2011 and is now planning a variety of events and experiences for the Second Life community to enjoy.
            The Linden Endowment for the Arts is proud to announce its first official event in May 2011: the Month of Machinima (MoM).”, http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Linden_Endowment_for_the_Arts)

            What was the reasons to change?

            Talking about other old event that always was organized by LL, but not this year: the SL9B was “now privately run (not sponsored by Linden Lab) for Residents aged 16 years and older.” (http://sl9b.wordpress.com/event-policies/).

            1. Oh, I forguet to say something! 😀

              I’m one of the new artists chosen in R3 LEA AIR, so I have an entire sim to do my project by free during 5-6 months. “By free a sim”… that words are candy to my ears, and I guess same happens with a lot of creators.

              Debates appart, LEA project gives that land opportunity by free to people as I to open a door to proffessional RL promotion (as, per example, digital/CG artist experienced in building in 3D metaverse platforms, community manager or events organizer), or to use it as free software for learning 3D building concepts (as Blender, but with an immediate feedback), or to evaluate the viavility of a possible project in RL,… Or just to stablish a brigde between in/off world. And to LEA can also apply educational projects, quite important to little non-profits with limited money to spend.

              LEA can do more? By sure! But as I know very few about LEA, I don’t have a formed oppinion yet. It would be very interesting to see what some experienced artists on LEA talk about.

              And… It would be a pleasure for me if you all would like to visit me and my Tear in Rain installation there when ready 😉

              Un saludo!

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