East Village, Manhattan, NYC
To many of us, the "art world" seems impenetrable - somewhat rigid or unwelcoming. New York nonprofit Slideluck Potshow breaks those barriers, offering an egalitarian way to engage in the arts community - a place where famed artists like Chuck Close or Gregory Crewdson can show alongside an unknown painter or amateur photographer. Founder and Director Casey Kelbaugh mashed up the words "Slideshow" and "Potluck" to name this event where community members gather to share their own artwork in a slideshow and the cost of admission is a dinner dish.
In recent years, Kelbaugh and Carly Planker, Slideluck's Producer, have broadened their focus beyond traditional Slideluck Potshows to other events that maintain the community-building focus and fun atmosphere. On May 19th, New York will be host to another one of their events - but this time it is bike themed. With bicycle-based entertainment, photobooths and unlimited food and drinks, the evening is going to be tons of fun.
We sat down at Kelbaugh's dining room table to chat about the upcoming bike show, read a passage from David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries and find out a bit more about how Slideluck grew from a backyard to a worldwide network of creatives and foodlovers. Here is our conversation.
How is the bike show different from the traditional slideluck model?
Carly Planker: The place we’re having this event is the Hostelling International Flagship, it’s a really big, old building in Harlem. The Five Boro Bike Tour used to start there. Hostelling International used to be a sort of biking based hostel organization. They would encourage “bike and beds,” with hostels in locations around the city where you would bike for a day to reach the next hostel, bike for another day and get to the next one. So they have a history of cycling. Hostelling international has a really cool backyard space and a patio – it seemed like the perfect space to have an outdoor event.
Casey Kelbaugh: I’ve been riding my bike every day for 8 years in New York, but I’ve probably never ridden more than 5 miles in a day, because I just use it to get around. There are many reasons why I think biking is fantastic… specifically in New York. It’s such a logical grid system, it’s flat, and nothing is very far.
CP: You get everywhere twice as fast.
CK: Yes, and it’s environmentally positive. You’re outside in the middle of the street, so you can really see what’s going on around you and you get to learn the city so much better than going underground and popping up somewhere else.
What do you think about the bike culture in New York vs. other cities?
CK: At our event in Amsterdam, for example, I’d say about 90 % of people showed up on their bikes, with their potluck dish in a basket on the front of their bike.
CP: And a friend on the back of the bike.
CP: I think the big difference between a city like New York and a city like Amsterdam is respect and acceptance of bicycles. Bikes are the top dogs in Amsterdam, where in New York cars are definitely the most respected vehicles.
CK: I’m very excited about the new bike share program in New York. Last Monday it was announced that CitiBank was donating millions of dollars to a bike share program in New York like they have in Paris. So 600 bike pick-up locations around the city will be installed. Thousands of bikes, and it’s not going to cost the taxpayers a dime. It’s incredible! (Details here)
When is that going to be implemented?
CK: As soon as July! So that’s going to completely change the game here.
CP: As soon as more people ride bikes, bikes start being respected around the city.
CK: Bike culture in New York is so vast, I don’t really feel like I’m part of it.
CP: I think there are specific niches of New York bike culture. Biking in Brooklyn is very different than biking to work in Manhattan.
CK: We’re trying to weave all these niches together for the show. We’ve been pretty successful so far – we’ve got hardcore racers, messengers, BMX biking, our friend runs the Red Hook Crit, which is this amazing, illegal bike race. Well it’s not illegal anymore, but it was when we first covered it for the NY Times. It’s become one of the most important races on the east coast, but it’s in the middle of the night in Red Hook, it used to be just on the cobblestones so people would hit cars, etc. But now it’s a lot more established. They’re helping us organize a group ride leaving from Prospect Park at 4 pm, where there’s the Great GoogaMooga, a big food fair. We’ll connect with a stop in the Lower East Side around Chrystie and Houston, and then as a group we’ll go up the West Side Highway to get to the space in Harlem.
If you’re encouraging people to bike there, are you embracing sweaty individuals too?
CP: Yeah! I mean that’s part of my problem with biking. I get frizzy and sweaty.
CK: You have to pace yourself! But I’m guilty of that too, I guess.
I know that you’ve had a lot of high profile submissions in different events. And there is a piece with Zeitgeist films and Bill Cunningham in the upcoming Bike Show. Do you think including well-known artists changes the vibe of the show?
CP: Well I think that it’s a mix, and that’s what SLPS is about... mixing work from people who might be amateur level with professionals. Showing the work together is part of the community building aspect. Being able to show both side by side, having both artists hopefully come to the show, is something that’s always been cool about Slideluck.
CK: It’s meant to be very egalitarian in that way. But to be clear, we’re showing a clip from the documentary that’s about Bill Cunningham.
CP: Peloton Magazine is going to publish one of the artists from the Bike Show – the issue they sent us includes a manifesto about cycling, and about the psychological aspect. There’s a healing aspect to movement.
CK: Here, let me read something. We do a lot of sitting around this table and reading… usually we all cook lunch together and then sit around the table and read. Right now we’re reading Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake. Ok anyway, this is from David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries:
“I myself find that the physical sensation of self-powered transport coupled with the feeling of self-control endemic to this two wheeled situation is nicely empowering and reassuring, even if temporary, and it is enough to center me for the rest of the day.
It sounds like some form of meditation, and in a way it is. Performing a familiar task, like driving a car or riding a bicycle, puts one into a zone that is not too deep or involving. The activity is repetitive, mechanical, and it distracts and occupies the conscious mind, or at least part of it, in a way that is just engaging enough but not too much—it doesn’t cause you to be caught off guard. It facilitates a state of mind that allows some but not too much of the unconscious to bubble up. As someone who believes that much of the source of his work and creativity is to be gleaned from those bubbles, it’s a reliable place to find that connection. In the same way that perplexing problems sometimes get resolved in one’s sleep, when the conscious mind is distracted the unconscious works things out.”
CK: I like that link to creativity.
Anything else you can add about the Bike Event?
CK: Three people actually came out of the woodwork and told us they’d like to perform at the event.
CP: One of them is a group who does, what they call, “water ballet on bikes.” I’m not quite sure how that’s going to work, but the other one is more of a typical bike performance.
CK: What is a typical bike performance?
CP: I don’t know! Involving a unicycle? We’re just looking forward to having people entertain us.
CK: We’re borrowing an old tandem bicycle and we’re going to have it on a backdrop and do a photobooth.
CP: And we’ll probably have either live music or a DJ. It’s hard to communicate on Facebook on a flyer what we’re really doing. But I mean, if you go you pay $10 for unlimited food and unlimited beer. We’ll also be raffling off a ton of great stuff – we’re selling tickets for $2 for a bike raffle.
How many cities have you hosted events in?
CK: This year alone we have been to Amsterdam, Boston, Baltimore, Washington DC, London, Philidelphia, Barcelona and Berlin. But I think we’ve been to about 50 cities total, and we have a lot of new cities in the works right now. Pittsburgh, Dublin, Tucson, Oklahoma city. We have requests from Dallas, Vancouver… It’s kind of a never ending story.
So are you present at most of these events?
CK: We’ve been present at most of the launches, but this year we’re experimenting a little bit with letting them hold the event on their own.
So how much production goes into an event that you’re going to launch in a different city?
CP: A lot of the shows are facilitated through this office. The city has its own team that is collaborating with artists and setting up the space, but we are just providing them with a structure within which they will build their event to match our brand model.
CK: They’re like chapters. There are probably 250 people involved in organizing SLPS around the world, but our main team is really small – it’s just Carly and myself, Simone who is a part time webmaster and two interns.
How many submissions do you typically get per event?
CK: It depends. The Bike Show was very specific and kind of unusual for us, so we got fewer submissions.
CP: But the quality was really high. When you choose a theme, you’re eliminating a lot of people. But the New York shows typically get a lot of submissions.
CK: For other shows with less specific themes we probably get up to a hundred or two hundred submissions.
What is your editing or reviewing process like?
CK: It depends. Sometimes we curate, sometimes there is a local curator or we co-curate it, sometimes we do it here. We look for range, diversity and different styles and genres.
Do you feel that SLPS has become kind of a ritual?
CP: I think it becomes a ritual within cities because people come again and again. Also, I think when SLPS starts in a new city it kind of builds its own identity there. Each team in different cities has its own way of approaching the event. Some emphasize the food aspect, some have stronger art aspects and food is more of an after thought. In Amsterdam, for example, both the art and the potluck are really intense. People cook really great food and the slideshow is very curated. It’s one of the only shows that I’ve worked on where, even though it is not themed, the curator’s vision is definitely clear.
How does the location of an event contribute to themes or styles?
CK: This specific location, for the bike show, is perfect for a spring, outdoor event. It’s a big grassy court. The building is very regal.
CP: When you did the event in 2010 at the Brooklyn bridge park the theme was “Bridges.” The slideshow was in the old tobacco warehouse, which doesn’t have a roof, and you were under the Brooklyn bridges.
CK: Right. We try to keep the themes really open so they can be attacked from many different angles. So when Obama was running for President we did “Change,” and we’ve also done “Family,” “Patterns,” “Stakes,” and “Grace”…. Last year when it was the Arab Spring we did “Upheaval.”
Which themes have attracted the highest responses?
CK: London just did a show about gender and identity. That got a great response.
CP: And also a very high level of work. They had to turn down a lot of great artists.
CK: They could have done two shows.
How did you first come up with the idea for SLPS?
CK: Well, it started at the beginning of my photo career. I like to cook, and I was frustrated that there wasn’t a place to get feedback or show your work to friends. Everyone seemed isolated in studios and darkrooms, but I knew a lot of creative people. So we decided to just have a potluck and show a slideshow of our work. There was a really great response – about 50 people squeezed into a tiny little side yard. And it grew very organically over many years. For the first 3 or 4 years SLPS was just a little hobby. And then, once I moved to New York, it sort of took on a life of its own. There was so much thirst for authentic outlets for engagement.
It struck me that New York was the place were SLPS took off, because I don’t see it as a place where people are especially interested in community building activities.
CK: I didn’t think New York could get with a potluck either, but I was wrong. Keep in mind, this was before TED, it was before Pecha Kucha, it was before all these other things. So I think it was really a novel concept – getting people together and sharing their work in short form. Once we started getting attention in New York, started asking to bring SLPS to their city or town.
Have any artists that have shown their work come back and told you they’ve had really amazing feedback or really great opportunities because of involvement in SLPS?
CK: Definitely. I mean, people have gotten gallery representation, have gotten jobs.
CP: People have actually gotten married after meeting at Slideluck.
CK: There’s been a lot of good connections made, but that’s not something we track. It’s a by-product of the event.
Where did SLPS expand to after New York? Was there a specific point when the network got really big?
CK: All the expansion has been by request. We don’t just decide we want to go to a city. There have been a few times that we have pushed to hold an event in a particular city and it doesn’t work. There has to be demand or else it seems like people from New York imposing something. After New York we went to DC, LA and Barcelona. It’s all about having a healthy, vital, communicative team in each city. But they come and go. We had this fantastic, dynamic team in Chicago for a long time and then people gradually got married or moved away and now the team is almost gone.
You guys are in such a great position, being able to orchestrate these events without having to directly control them.
CL: It’s definitely collaborative. We try to pass the power off as much as we can.
CP: Some people want as much advice and support as you could possibly imagine giving them, and then other people just pull off an incredible event without much help. Those Europeans… some of them are really organized. But in Berlin, for example, a girl from Mississippi has been running SLPS for the past three years.
CK: It’s a very friendly, inviting environment. It still has the same vibe as it did in my backyard. It’s not fancy or super high-brow.