Chats About Change: Critical Conversations on Art and Politics in Los Angeles

Chats About Change is a platform for grassroots conversation about creative ways to foster social change, initiated by Elana Mann and Robby Herbst in 2014.

Chats About Change encourages experimental, locally held, open dialogs between artists, activists, and audiences. During Chats About Change events participants share ideas with the goal of advancing political and aesthetic agendas. Chats About Change represents a response to the national phenomena of the institutionalization of social practice art within cultural organizations.

The first Chats About Change took place in January, 2015 as a public symposium at California State University Los Angeles, “The people’s university,” and at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), the innovative contemporary arts institution. Five conversations addressed contemporary themes that artists and activists were developing in Los Angeles. The dialogues critically engaged the topics of; participatory structures in culture, confrontational art practice, the dialectic of the spiritual and the political, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the politics of land use in a session co-organized with Sandra de la Loza. Chats About Change asked questions, waged debates, and supported the community of people seeking experimental ways to affect Southern California and beyond.

In the summer of 2015, Chats About Change curated the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions' (LACE) Project Room with a residency by Michelada Think Tank (MTT), an artist collective organized by Noé Gaytán, Mario Mesquita, Shefali Mistry, and Carol Zou. MTT inhabited the LACE Project Room with a humorous and critical exploration of survival under a framework of institutional racism in the arts. Through a series of weekly think tank sessions, MTT brought people together to talk about survival strategies for artists of color working in a predominantly white art world. The knowledge generated in these discussions were compiled and published as a “PoC Survival Guide” in LACE’s Project Room. This guide was a tongue-in-cheek look at how artists are impacted by race. If artists of color can come together as a community to make survival easier, we can then begin to foster more radical artistic practices. MTT held think tanks at sites where communities of color were working; some of the sessions were open forums at LACE, while other sessions took place elsewhere.