We sent questions to the ten Crusade Engagement Grant finalists so you can learn a bit more about them and their program ideas. 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).

This interview is from Matthew Conboy, who wants to make collectors out of newborns! From his initial application: "As is typical in many hospitals, new mothers and babies are sent home with bags containing diapers, formula, and a range of complimentary supplies. However, in Pittsburgh, babies are also sent home with a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel. This is the towel that is waved by fans at home and away games and has been a tradition in Pittsburgh since 1975. While Pittsburgh is known to some as the “City of Champions,” it is also a city rich in art and culture. My proposal for the Crusade Engagement Grant is to include a signed and numbered photographic print from an emerging Pittsburgh-based photographer in this hospital gift bag. "


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

I recall reading a few years ago that there is a hospital in the greater Pittsburgh area that sends every newborn home with a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel.  These towels are waved by Steelers fans at home and away games and is the signature souvenir for the team. At the time, I thought it would be great to introduce newborns to art using this same idea, but it wasn’t until I saw the Crusade for Art grant that I finally decided to find a way to fund this project.

Walking into a gallery, art fair, or auction house may never cross some of these families’ minds so my idea is to include an original photographic print in the bag that hospitals send newborns and their mothers home with. This feels like a novel way for the photographers who will participate to cultivate an entirely new generation of collectors.  Most importantly for me, there is absolutely no cost to either the hospitals or the families involved. 

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

Once every five years, the Mattress Factory art museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conducts an art auction.  Not only is it a great place to network and meet with other collectors and artists, it is also one of the few places where you could walk home with an original work of art from Yayoi Kusama, Carrie Mae Weems, or even James Turrell. While some of these works sell for more than $10,000, the majority of lots start at $100 and it is the absolute best place I have found to begin building a contemporary art collection.

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

Beyond just having their work exhibited and crafting thoughtful and relevant artist statements, the best thing any artist can do to educate their audience is speak about their work in a public forum.  I have never turned down a chance to participate in an artist talk . These types of events offer much more flexibility and give the audience a better opportunity to interact directly with artists than any opening I have attended. 

In addition, there are so many online magazines and journals that photographers and artists should make every attempt to write articles for them.  Crafting writing and ideas is sometimes just as important as honing their own art and their online audience is immeasurably larger than the number of people who can go to a pop-up, gallery, or museum show.   

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)?

For intimidating art, it is the responsibility of the artist to ensure that the public is given the opportunity to understand the work presented to them.  If the artist wants to make their work more opaque, then that is their prerogative.  On the other hand, I have recognized that the public is more than willing to deal with difficult art if given an introduction by the artist.   

In terms of collecting, with the proliferation of art fairs, I feel that many potential art collectors may be discouraged by the high prices paid for art there.  While these venues offer amazing opportunities to see mass quantities of contemporary art in one location, they really cater to what is selling today and not necessarily what is redefining the boundaries of any specific genre or contributing to an artistic and social dialogue. At the opposite end of the economic scale, large editions of works water down the market and could make it more difficult for a new collector to know what to buy.  In the end though , I feel that collectors at different points in their lives will naturally gravitate from editions to unique prints or paintings and there is never a need to buy outside of ones pay scale.