Fostering Community Access to the Arts: Andrew Cain, MFA ’22
A native Californian, Andrew Cain found his love for the snow in Boston one winter 2021 night, tinkering with his projector in a snow-covered baseball field in Jamaica Plain, MA near his apartment. “I find ways to introduce myself to people through weird, fun projects and this was one of them. I invited some other students to bring their work out that night to experiment with projecting it onto the snow,” he said. Flor Delgado, MFA ’22 turned up with a fluorescent painting of a skull on plexiglass. Mack Baker, a post-baccalaureate student, adjusted the projector lights and lens, and Cain watched as the two enlarged their images onto a snowbank, setting the stage for the students to mingle in person in a casual, creative setting while following COVID safety guidelines.
“Using the vehicle of artistic practice to open up conversations with the communities I work with is my main goal in my practice,” said Cain. Ironically, this proclivity started out with a brawl with another boy that took place in fifth grade at an elementary school in Modesto, California. The principal broke up the fight, sat them down, and threatened suspension unless the two kids were able to find an activity that they both enjoyed, and do it together peacefully. “We were both super into drawing comic books, and drew our favorite characters for each other, starting a friendship that would last to this day,” That experience was when I realized how art can bring people together.”
“Most of my work is done with people that haven’t historically had access to art-making or cultural institutions. The conversations, problem-solving, and collaborations with others is what ultimately what I'm after,” he adds. Cain has a deep background fostering community building in the arts in California’s Central Valley, an area that didn’t have approachable institutions or much local support for public art until very recently.
He’s helped organize countless exhibitions, live music performances in local halls and desolate buildings left empty by their owners, worked with the CSU Stanislaus printmaking club to raise funding for events and visiting artists—all centered on creating connections between the public, community college, university, galleries, and local business community in Modesto. In 2010, he began working at Modesto Art Museum as an exhibits coordinator and ultimately became the Executive Director in 2015. Intriguingly, the Museum doesn’t have a permanent physical location and shows art with a pop-up model. Cain’s mentor Bob Barzan referred to it as, “a guerilla Art museum.” Ultimately, the Museum’s presence work resulted in the creation of a formal design district in downtown Modesto.
Cain was a 2019 summer series intern at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, and was the liaison between the Ranch and artists for the program. These conversations were a huge part of pushing Cain to shift focus towards his own artistic practice. At a school fair in San Francisco, he met Lennon Wolcott, Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions at SMFA at Tufts University, who he said was “just absolutely awesome,” and armed him with the certainty required to apply to the MFA program 10 years after his undergraduate graduation.
As someone who thrives on creating collaborative art, the isolation of the pandemic presented some real constraints initially. But Cain adapted by putting in long studio hours, throwing himself into making an impact as a teaching assistant, and helping curate with other graduate students in OFF-GRID, an edgy student-curated group show. If anything, the global circumstances forced him to become lastingly nimble in his practice—leading him to experiment with collaborative art on Zoom as a virtual performance medium.
We Are All Here Even Though We Are Apart, came about after inviting his Instagram followers for a thirty-second to five-minute Zoom call. With the video rolling live, Cain beckoned individuals to use the space to spontaneously do whatever they wanted. He called it “a potluck,” and captured cameos like a writer turned homeschool teacher reciting potential names for a pandemic baby, a drum performance on improvised five-gallon Home Depot buckets, a dog barking incessantly, and a teacher rocking out to an electric keyboard in a basement.
Cain curated the performances together into trios, each set fading in and out like a musical performance that seemed so far away due to the pandemic. The work was projected onto a jagged, three-dimensional sculptural wooden stage installed on a plinth in front of a blank white wall. The limits of geography, political borders, time zones, and architecture collapse and dissolve.
The initial project was created for Mary Ellen Strom’s video course, but Cain plans to make it a series and is currently exploring additional themes and grant opportunities to scale it up. “I'm going to do a lot of different iterations of this. I even thought about building a stage where someone can perform during the videos,” he said, already at work planning in his Mission Hill studio for his second year in the MFA program
Lead image: Andrew Cain in his Mission Hill Studio. Image by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University