The Ostracon: Dispatches from Beyond Contemporary Art’s Center, an arts writing site by Nicole J. Caruth and Paul Schmelzer, looks at figures and ideas outside the mainstream of contemporary art—from public policy, indigenous rights, and folklore to community organizing, historic preservation, environmental science, journalism, and food justice—that may offer insight into new forms of making art that are more responsive, relevant, and connected to the way we live now as individuals and communities. Taking its name from the pottery shards used in ancient Athens when voting to ostracize community members, the site aims to celebrate, instead of push out, voices from art’s periphery.

Who’s behind this blog?

Nicole J. Caruth is an independent curator and writer whose work examines place and identity. She works with contemporary artists in gallery contexts and public spaces, organizing exhibitions such as: The Grace Jones Project; Fallen Fruit: Power of People, Power of Place; Derrick Adams: Crossroad—A Social Sculpture; and, most recently, Build Better Tables, a temporary public-art exhibition commissioned by Metro Arts: Nashville Office of Arts and Culture. Her writing has been published in ARTnews; C Magazine; Gastronomica; Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art; Public Art Review; and the Phaidon Press volumes Vitamin Green and Vitamin D2. Caruth earned her bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University and her master’s degree at the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies.

Paul Schmelzer is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Focused on the intersection of art and justice, he has written for publications including Adbusters, Art 21,, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, The Progressive, Raw Vision, and Utne Reader, among others. He has contributed to books, including Ficciones Typografika: 1642 (Formist, 2019), Collecting on the Edge (Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, University of Utah, 2018), and Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts, 2006). For 18 years (1998–2007, 2011–2020) he worked as an editor at the Walker Art Center, where he managed the Walker Reader digital publication. From 2003 to 2015 he authored the blog Eyeteeth: A Journal of Incisive Ideas, which explored the terrain where art, community, and activism overlap. As of June 2023, he is editor of the Carleton College Voice magazine.

What inspired The Ostracon?

Although contemporary art draws on a multitude of thinkers and modes of making, contemporary art narratives still tend to focus on one person (e.g. the myth of the creative genius or the hero-industrial complex) rather than affirming the interconnectedness of people and ideas—an ongoing cycle of knowledge and information exchange. Through this site, we seek to give homage, authorship, and credit to the people who inspire artists or influence contemporary thought but whose stories aren’t told often enough.

Who’s your audience?

Because of our backgrounds and the philanthropic organizations supporting this project, we suspect that our primary readers are largely artists and cultural workers. However, we hope that the diversity of ideas and practices presented on this site will appeal to a much broader audience and this is one of our goals. We are still in the process of developing marketing and content-sharing strategies to diversify our readership/extend the reach of our content. If you are interested in reposting or printing anything published here, please contact Nicole or Paul.