As the ten Crusade Engagement Grant finalists plug away at their detailed applications for review by the selection committee, we will be featuring interviews with each of them so you can get a better sense of their program idea. Get inspired, and pay attention too, because next month we will be setting up a poll for a popular vote, and the finalist who wins will receive $1000 to help them start their program (separate from the $10,000 award).

First up is Matt Eich, who proposed a photobook collective program. From his initial application: "We propose the creation of an imprint that will publish regularly (6-12 times per year). The impetus is to promote our work directly to an existing network of institutions and collectors while making work available to a younger collector base by the sale of our publication along with a work print."

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

Whenever I am developing a body of work, the way that I begin to make sense of the mass of files that I've accumulated is to start laying them out in a book or zine. Seeing how images interact with one another on a printed page will help me to recognize what works, and what falls away. 

I launched a self-published set of zines under the title SMOKE SIGNALS as a means of making vignettes of my projects available to my audience at a low price point. Selling a limited-edition number of signed zines in turn helps diffuse the cost of a larger run, which are sent to people in the industry that can help me survive (i.e. editors, curators, collectors, art buyers). Zines are fun to make, but books have even more permanence. 

It is easy as an independent artist to think of yourself as an island, but I make a point of paying attention to work that is being done around me. I'm constantly inspired by the work my peers are making, and I believe that there is a way in which we can come together and help empower one another to self-publish work of personal significance with a certain amount of creative autonomy. With our combined audiences we can begin building a network of collectors (both young and old) while charting a sustainable path for the future. 

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

Probably an event called "Greater Than The Sum" hosted by the photographer's cooperative, LUCEO, which I was a member of. We took the work of six photographers, blended them together into panels which were printed in continuous sheets and wrapped around an entire gallery space. We sold off "cuts" or sections of the wall and the buyer was allowed to physically cut away the piece that they most desired to take home. Price was based on priority, with people who wanted first dibs paying the most, and people who didn't care what piece they got paying the least. It was awesome to see how the audience was transformed by encouraging them to do something that is usually forbidden ... touch the art, cut the art. Create something new by destroying something old. 

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

It certainly isn't a lack of audience ... it's the lack of audience engagement in the process required to produce great work. On a social level, there is a lack of visual literacy, though the need for visual communication increases daily. Our opportunity stems from the changes in dissemination. We no longer need a gatekeeper, we can build and maintain our own audiences. By coming together in a thoughtful way we can redefine the ways in which our work is viewed, and we can develop direct relationships with our audience and our clients. Educating the audience and building an engaged base of collectors and clients is key. 

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

In general, there is an astonishing gap between the artist's intentions and the public's perceptions. It seems most effective when the artist can articulate their purpose directly to an audience of people who want to engage with the work, though that is a rare opportunity. Usually in the editorial realm, our work is usurped by a media organization and then twisted to fit their vision of the situation, which is rarely the reality we experienced. We give up the ability to control the message in exchange for a paycheck. The purpose of Little Oak Press is to give the artist a basic framework, and a creative flexibility in order to express the full complexities of their project, while educating their audience and engaging a range of photographic support systems. 

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