MISSION, HISTORY & VALUES
DIRT PALACE MISSION, HISTORY AND VALUES
The mission of Dirt Palace Public Projects is:
To enhance the cultural life of the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, RI by producing public arts exhibitions, facilitating artist residencies, and building relationships between artists, educators, and the community at large, through educational events focused on street-side public displays, as well as lectures, artist-talks, and workshops.
To create opportunities for female-identified artists and other people historically marginalized within the arts.
HISTORY, VALUES AND THINKING ABOUT CHANGE
The Dirt Palace began as a self organized collective that supported feminists artists by providing affordable studio space, facilities, shared resources, opportunities, a culture of cooperation, and by maintaining visibility in the community through a committed public arts presence and long term relationships. Since 2000 the Dirt Palace has served as an incubator for hundreds of feminist artists, and has become an underground institution. The Dirt Palace is trans-inclusive, strives to be accountable, and works intersectionally.
In 2015 Dirt Palace Public Projects was founded as the not for profit umbrella for various DP programs and projects. Today the Dirt Palace supports five different types of residencies across our two locations.
The Dirt Palace was founded in 2000 out of a sense that participation and success in the arts was often not based on merit, but deeply affected by various intersections of identity. Our focus has been on gender and sexuality. The changes that we’ve had the opportunity to be a part of, and to witness over the past 20 years, have been profound. However, if these changes are not interwoven with advances made on racial justice, they fail the approach to feminism and the Providence arts community to which we are indebted.
The Dirt Palace has historically been a white led and majority white and light-skinned organization, and this has positioned us with many privileges within the system of white supremacy. We are working to counter, dismantle, and repurpose the privileges we have and invest them in our community and in fighting for equity. Some of this work is building on the foundations and relationships that we have nurtured in our neighborhood and the city over the past 20 years, and some of the work will be direct changes in how we support artists, redistribute resources, and imagine long term leadership.
In 2015 the Dirt Palace began the process of shifting from being a well known yet underground space to formalizing and doing planning work on a variety of levels. That year the building in Olneyville Square received a Certificate of Occupancy as a legal Live/Work space, a board of directors was set up, and a not-for-profit structure was put into place. In 2016 the Dirt Palace engaged in a strategic planning process with a focus on thinking about widening access, building long term sustainability, and growing diversity along different vectors including age, race and socioeconomic status. From this process came the decision to expand to an additional facility, and The Wedding Cake House project commenced.
As part of this continuing work we are actively prioritizing artists of color within exhibitions, residency programs and leadership. This shift is an important next step in advancing our work and shifting the concentration of opportunities and affordable live/work space from primarily among light-skinned artists to artists from a wider span of backgrounds.
While we do this work to decenter whiteness within the Dirt Palace, we acknowledge that there is a risk for BIPOC entering spaces that have been historically majority white/light skinned. It is necessary to shift the culture of Dirt Palace at a deep level and our commitment is beyond superficial tokenism or optics. Risk fundamentally only changes when power changes. Core components of the Dirt Palace project are about addressing ways for power and resources to shift, change and be shared. We aim to do this in a way that sets up individual artists to work towards meaningful personal and community growth. The Dirt Palace’s movement in 2015 to start formalizing, stabilizing and building supportive mechanisms came in part from a recognition that the biases and lack of equity built into our society are institutional and structural. By expanding to a formal board, widening leadership, developing resources, and deepening a safety net, we aim to mitigate risk taken on by new BIPOC members at the original Dirt Palace facility. We are actively seeking other mechanisms to approach this risk that is taken on by BIPOC members in an equitable way.