The Storyteller Series is proposed by Judy Walgren, in collaboration with SF Camerawork

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

I saw the Crusade for Art grant posted on Facebook, of all places, and thought - "What an amazing idea that is totally in line with what we are trying to do with ViewFind - get photographers' work out into the world in new and innovative ways to drive new streams of revenue for them as the traditional media budgets and outlets dry up." I liked the shorter entry requirements for the first round for the grant, as well. That made it much easier for me to apply.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I have worked on and off for newspapers and print media for the past 30 years, which has been a wild ride. I was around for the heyday of newspaper making and traveled the world covering the most amazing stories one can imagine and I also worked for a newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News, that was shuttered by its parent company. I had a great time working as the Director of Photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, after I finished my MFA, I knew that it was time for me to embark on a new adventure and try and disrupt the downward spiral for work directed at documentary photography. That is why I joined ViewFind as the Editorial Director - a visual storytelling start up aimed at disrupting and enhancing monetization pathways for photographers who tell visual stories. When Glen Graves, the founder of PhotoArts Marin, approached me about his idea to start a visual storyteller series with Heather Snider, the executive director at SF Camerawork - it was a no-brainer for me. The goal is to support visual storytellers, get their work out in front of a broader audience such as collectors and editors, and give them a platform to talk about their work, their passions and their processes. I know from experience that audiences love to be connected to visual storytellers to hear about the why and how they do what they do and the also appreciate the chance to ask questions and engage with the photographers. We decided to have an up and coming photographer paired with a well-known photographer - to give exposure to those trying to break into the industry. For our first presentation - I invited Leah Millis, a young photographer who I have mentored for the past 6 years and hired at the Chronicle a year ago with my dear friend, Todd Heisler, a Pulitzer Prize winner and staff photographer at the New York Times. He agreed to do the talk for no honorarium, I used miles for his plane ticket and he stayed at my house. Leah lives here. I have a lot of friends who will do this for me - but am running out of miles. We are doing something similar for the second talk coming up May 24th. Artist Suné Woods is coming up from LA and Wesaam Al-badry is a student at SFAI and lives in San Francisco.

What is the most engaging art event/collecting event you’ve been to?

I think the most interesting and engaging art collecting event I have been to is the SF Camerawork Benefit Auction - their largest fundraising event each year. They showcase a incredible selection of photographic artwork that is donated by local, national, and internationally renowned artists to be auctioned off to attendees. Collectors, members and supporters of SF Camerawork and the photography community come out of the woodwork to check out the extremely high quality prints and have a great time connecting with the community as they bid away.

What do you think is the greatest struggle/weakness facing artists and the art community right now? What is the greatest opportunity/strength?

The greatest struggle facing artists today, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, is housing and studio space - both in terms of their own living situation and studio space as well as the ability for galleries and other outlets that monetize their work to also maintain a location in the city centers. It is a huge problem in San Francisco and Oakland and artists are being forced out in droves - draining the cities of the people who helped the Bay Area become a formidable International hub for creatives, the people who comprise the soul of these cities, to be honest.

The opportunities available are also amazing! There is literally no barrier to entry to have your artwork displayed and distributed to the public through social media and websites that are easily updated by the artist, herself! And as you know, humans have always been telling stories visually - think about the cave paintings. And now, more than ever, humans are engaging through visual imagery which is also increasing the visual literacy worldwide - to some degree. I would say that humans are becoming more and more aware when a GREAT image comes their way now as the 1000's of innocuous imagery passes by them unnoticed. I think people are appreciating great visual art now, more than ever, to be honest. Whether they are buying or not - that is another question...

How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?

This is a great question and really the reason why we started the Storyteller Series - artists - at least most artists - can speak passionately and articulately about their work, their research - about what drives them to create. And the audience - whether adults, teenagers or children - are most times overwhelmingly engaged in these discussions - whether in person, on webinar panels, on hangouts - wherever! I am giving a lunch-time gallery talk at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco on Friday - a 20-minute talk in front of a few photographs by Roman Vishniac. The response has been incredible and it is such a great idea - an easy way for the public to engage with art over a lunch break!

Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?

To be honest, the public today is not the same group of people from 50 years ago. The art, as well as the artists who create the work, is more diverse in concept and creation. The artists and their work are both more approachable and less reliant on the mystic of artistic genius to determine the worth of the work. More and more work is being created through social practice and inspired by the notion of changing bigoted perceptions, stereotypes and other discriminatory legacies. Subsequently, audiences are connecting through commonality of purpose, as well as aesthetic alliances and appreciation.

Ways to lower the barrier to entry for collecting work is through events like the SF Camerawork auction - both brick and mortar auctions and digitally produced auctions, through pop-up shows in non-traditional gallery settings, through First Friday events and Open Studio events in artist communities. Lowering the overhead costs can significantly lower the overall price of the work and the funds go directly to the artist, as well.