Frank Talks

Billy Dufala – Co-founder and Creative Director at RAIR

Billy Dufala - Co-founder and Creative Director at RAIR
Billy Dufala - Co-founder and Creative Director at RAIR

Billy Dufala is a Philadelphia based artist/musician engaged in a wide variety of creative disciplines. He is a co-founder and Creative Director at RAIR, an artist residency located at Revolution Recovery, a construction and demolition waste recycling facility in northeast Philadelphia, RAIR’s mission is to challenge the perception of waste culture by providing a unique platform for artists at the intersection of art and industry. Billy is also known for his ongoing collaborative work with his brother Steven, as the Dufala Brothers.The brothers create drawings, prints, sculpture, performance, music and design. They are represented by Fleisher Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia and co-teach in the Sculpture Dept at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today? 

I am originally from south jersey, pretty typical suburban childhood with not a ton of culture in the area. Growing up the youngest out of 5 boys, with a single mom, our house was pretty much my arts community, our house was the type of place where if our older brothers friends got kicked out of their house, they’d come live with us, so there was always a bunch of kids and young adults hanging out at all times. There were a lot of musical instruments in the house and everyone skateboarded so there was a ton of creativity and resourcefulness happening from as early as I can remember. Being the youngest, one might think that I just got picked on a bunch, but I somehow ended up getting an enormous amount of support in any creative effort I would make. I think there was probably something hilarious to the older brothers and their friends about watching a 3rd grader play drums at a house party, or try to drop in on a halfpipe before knowing how to skate a ramp…either way, cumulatively, I think it all reinforced the belief in that if you dream something up,  you can make it real if you work hard at it and have the right crew there to support you in your efforts… Oh, when I was super little, I remember finding the best things on the curb on trash night and I always wanted to be a trashman , so there’s that too.

What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts?

Depends on your definition of “Job in the arts”??? I would probably consider my first job in the arts to be serving coffee at a coffee shop that was around the corner from an arts college…and I cant limit it to just one important thing, but it was probably something that job exposed me to which was realizing how important community is. 

You co-founded Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) Philly in 2010. Tell us more about the mission of this project and your hopes for the future of RAIR. 

Well, we incorporated as a non profit in 2012, and didn’t have our first open call until late 2013…It started and to this day is an artist residency that challenges perception of waste culture by providing a platform for creatives at the intersection of arts and industry…the industry being the waste industry and our studio being situated inside of a fully functioning construction and demolition waste recycling facility. These days, the residency is fully funded ( which we intend to keep this way)  folks apply from all over the world…we started a fellowship residency and continue to pursue foundation supported special projects with a diverse array of partners and collaborators… we are at a point where we are focusing on capacity growth that will allow us to develop new projects and programs that utilize a portion of a remediated superfund site next door to our location.  We have been given permission by the owners of the land to start piloting initiatives that help RAIR build a broader network of community partners and create opportunities well beyond the flagship residency program alone.

What is one RAIR community project that you are excited about? 

Well, it is a little bit contingent on a grant we are waiting to hear back on, but the funding would allow us to formally dive into a circular economy idea that we kind of have slowly been working up to. The project would allow us to pilot a dimensional lumber program that diverts usable lumber from the waste stream and redirects it to our project partner who builds raised garden beds at an urban farm in south west Philly. Our project partner runs their own business that helps their immediate community establish their own garden beds in their communities while also running the raised bed program for the farm. 

We think that we will generate more than enough lumber to satisfy all of their needs, and when it pans out, it will allow us RAIR to establish a full time yard liaison position that will both source materials for the garden beds, assist artists on the tipping floor, but also help us realistically understand how to wrap our heads around other ways to creatively divert materials from landfill. It has been hard to see a way through formalizing something like this, but we think its possible to do, and it can start cracking open new opportunities when it works.

Tell us more about the artists-in-residence you work with.

Well, we only take 5-6 a year, they don’t really overlap, and we take each resident on a case by case basis and tailor fit each residency to the individual and their project proposal. This past year we had our first composer/musician Josh Marquez who lives in Philly…he collected sounds from the recycling facility and recorded them onto vintage tape we pulled from the waste stream. He mixed the materials in his home studio and came back to stage an installation where he performed his “soundscapes” after operating hours , on the tipping floor in front of  a live audience, and instead of using speakers, his outputs were attached to agitators that he connected to a dumpster that he performed inside of, effectively turning a 40 yd dumpster into a giant speaker box…it was magical. In contrast, our first artists of the season were Anamaya Farthing Kohl and Nathalie Wuerth, They came to Philly from Stockholm and Mexico City and built a giant experimental loom that allowed objects they collected from the waste stream to become the weft in their weaving…their process incorporated workshops that they hosted in the project space with local university students where they developed a process of organizing and using narrative creation to order the objects in the “constellation of things” that became their work. Its never the same project twice, and although cumulatively over the years, many artists brush up on similar interests and related themes, the infinite world of possibilities to be explored in a place that receives all the cities discarded, and an infinite number of paths through that type of immersive experience. 

What has been the greatest challenge in your career thus far?

Saying no, I say yes too much….

Is there a milestone or event this year at RAIR Philly that we can look forward to?

Every open call is a milestone because it means we are doing this again for another year, we are about to announce our 9th open call and we will  be accepting applications until October 31st, tell all yer artist friends! we will also be hosting our 9th annual Trash Bash Fundraiser on November 9th… tell yer art collector and philanthropist friends, it’s a really good party with a bunch of art and a really amazing silent auction that is supported by a bunch of our fam and friends… and folks should be looking out for this years trash boutique.. gonna be hot!

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

Keep doing the work, stick with it, get weird, get wild, go deep, care a lot, set folks up along the way and share opportunities with others. 

In what ways do you think the art world can become more climate conscious? 

Folks should always be actively being self aware of their footprint, how they source materials, being conscious of where their materials come from, consider the impact of the processes that make  materials available in the world, how they get used,how they get  disposed of… thinking through a project from begining to presenting to post presentation and deinstall and having a plan for how break down/storage/ and disposal plays out responsibly is something that needs to just be taught and put into more regular practice.…but It’s not just individuals behavior, institutions and venues, and businesses that support a creative community need to help influence this practice by making criteria  to follow for best practices and pay more attention and support the change in their communities practice as much as their own,  the more individuals that influence or hold to account folks making decision higher up in the chain of command , the better the chances are that you see a change in practice the adoption of standard protocol that curtails the lack of awareness, and gluttony of waste, and becomes more along the lines of a redistribution of shared resources rather than quick and easy answers to the way we have been doing things for far too long..

If you could own work by any five artists, who would be in your collection? 

Dannngg, I don’t really collect art, I have a trash Rothko hanging in my living room… itd be cool if that was real! 

I also have this beat to hell chunk of wood that looks like a Brancusi , itd be cool if it was actually a Brancusi! Ha!

I would love a Sarah Gamble , one with all the dots…

I have a place where I know I would hang a Karyn Olivier print of her fortified installation…

I’d like to commission a copper tubing sculpture by James Maurelle..

Or one of the James ulmers newer paintings, and while we are at it, I’d love a small Jayson Musson, one of the mercerized cotton fiber jams even though I know there aren’t small ones, If there was one that wasn’t huge, id want that one in my house.

 

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