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Fred Bidwell

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Crusade Tour Featured on FStoppers

The awesome Joseph Gamble interviewed me for this article on FStoppers. Love the Joseph, love the FStoppers.A Crusade for Collecting: Jennifer Schwartz’s Photo Road Tripby Joseph Gamble, published on FStoppers on September 3, 2013

Ten thousand miles, ten cities on a coast to coast ramble in a 1977 vintage VW bus all for the sake of promoting photographic art. From April to June of this year, gallerist Jennifer Schwartz was behind the wheel of her microbus on a two-fold mission: to promote photographers and create collectors. Working with five photographers in each city on the tour, she orchestrated pop-up events and curbside photo exhibits designed to educate and engage communities regarding photographic art and the value of starting a collection.

An avid photographer and collector, she launched the Jennifer Schwartz gallery in March 2009 in Atlanta with the hope of reaching collectors and providing an immersive art buying experience. One of the cornerstones of her early success was placing photographers in front of an audience of interested collectors. As she explained, her role was not just to sell work but also to foster a community of collectors.

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Lady Blue replica model in Brooklyn, New York when the van was under repair.

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The Map of the trip.

“In my Atlanta gallery, I discovered the most successful programs to get new people interested in art involve meeting the artist and making a personal connection,” said Schwartz. “They lure people who have had only a limited relationship with art to have a unique, fun experience where they engage with photography and the artists in a thoughtful way. They look, and in a lot of cases, they start to believe in art.”

While the gallery experience created a local nexus for artists and enthusiasts to gather and view work, the space felt limiting as she was only reaching people in Atlanta. Thus, she came up with the idea of a mobile arts promotion traveling across the country in a wide loop from Atlanta to Los Angeles and up the West Coast to Seattle before heading east to Chicago and New York and then down the East Coast.

The trip wasn’t an unplanned, off-the-cuff road show. Schwartz staged pre-trip events in 2012, one at the High Museum of Art and the other in December at PhotoNOLA in New Orleans. These initial stops were instrumental in preparing for the three-month journey that began in April, which she named the Crusade for Collecting.

The idea was grassroots and simple — take the gallery experience on the road, interface with local photographers in each of the tour stops and then bring the photographers and their work directly to people on the street. In essence, breaking down the gallery walls and the exclusivity that exists in the art world. Photographers seeking exposure would give away ten of their photographic prints (between 6 x 9” and 8.5 x 11”) signed copies of an image freely in exchange for the exposure and opportunity of sharing their work and being a part of the tour.

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Pop-Up Event in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Los Angeles, California Pop-Up event.

“I felt that if I could give people a fun, disarming art experience in an unexpected way – that if they had an opportunity to meet artists, learn about their work and connect to an original piece that became theirs – it may be transformative and put them on a path to loving, supporting and collecting original art,” said Schwartz. “And what could be more fun than walking by a turquoise 1977 VW bus with photographers standing in front giving away original, signed photographs to someone who wanted to chat about them?”

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San Francisco Pop-Up Event

To fund the purchase and outfitting of her bus, nicknamed Lady Blue, Schwartz, like many project-driven photographers profiled on Fstoppers, launched a Kickstarter campaign. It wasn’t an easy prospect so her efforts were buoyed by additional sources including sponsorships, a local fundraiser, private donations, and the Collectors Building Collectors program that she developed with an Atlanta collector.

“When I launched my Kickstarter campaign, it still seemed fun and new and I had only known a couple of people who had run a Kickstarter campaign but I did have a difficult time explaining to my non-art friends that ‘yes, they were giving me money to buy a bus, and no, there were not any starving children or sick animals that would benefit from it,’” said Schwartz. “Now that the concept is more mainstream and people trust it, I think it is easier to fund a project, because the pool of potential supporters is deeper.  On the flip side, there is a significant amount of Kickstarter fatigue.  If you are going to do it, I think you have to be very strategic about it.  I wrote a blog post offering tips to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign, based on my experiences.”

Lady Blue, like many Volkswagen microbuses from the past, wasn’t the most reliable choice of vehicle considering she would be subjected to a bi-coastal odyssey. Once on the road, Jen quickly learned to speak ‘conversational mechanic’ and now counts several mechanics around the country as good friends. “Fewer breakdowns would’ve been nice…” she said.

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Mechanics and Sean Dana (photographer who traveled with the tour from San Francisco to Portland) diagnosing Lady Blue. Photo by Kurt Simonson.

There were some detractors who felt that the concept of giving away work was devaluing the photographic medium and the work of the artists. Participating photographers were given an opportunity to showcase their work and reach out to new people who might take an interest in their future work. “But the goal was to give people an opportunity to connect with a piece of art, own it, hang it, to recognize value in that experience, and to want to replicate it going forward,” said Schwartz. “The hope was that the engagement would be transformative.”

Overall, the three-month saga was “a blur of awesomeness.” Photographers often came aboard and drove sections of the trip and kept her company. Social media resources including facebooktwitterinstagramand youtube proved to be immeasurable as she documented the entire experience with blog posts and video updates. It was an organic way of keeping up with new contacts from cities past and to forecast and prepare for her arrival in a new city. A few highlights of the trip include: an unplanned stopover in Cleveland with assistance from the Cleveland Print Room, a private tour by Fred Bidwell of the Todd Hido show at Transformer Station and presenting to a sold-out crowd at FotoWeek DC, the final stop on the tour.

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DC pop up with photographers Frank H. Day, Hannele Lahti, E. Brady Robinson, Jennifer Schwartz, Alexandra Silverthorne, James Campbell.

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Lady Blue in front of the White House. 

Although the Crusade tour is over, she is developing Crusade for Art, a non-profit organization with a mission to educate, inspire, and support artists to create unique, approachable programs that engage new audiences with art in meaningful ways. She has a variety of opportunities for photographers that are in the works and will be announced at the end of the year.

“This tour was not about a road trip, it was about starting a conversation about art,” said Schwartz. “It is nice to know the conversation not only started, but also continues.”

You can keep up with Jennifer Schwartz by sign up for the email newsletter and following her online at Crusade for Art or check in on her gallery work at Jennifer Schwartz Gallery.

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Around the Block with Brian Ulrich

A question that fascinates me is this - What is it about a photograph (or any piece of art, really) that makes it stick with you?  For any given artist, collector, or art lover, what qualities take an image to that next level for you? On the tour we started asking people who have a reputation in the photography field this question and recording their answers - sometimes while they were driving Lady Blue around the block.  Fred Bidwell was our guinea pig, and he rocked it (because he's just like that).

When I was in Richmond in June, I had an awesome studio visit with Brian Ulrich.  His brain is just on fire.  He agreed to drive Lady Blue around the block, and was even gracious enough to do it twice when I thought the audio may not have recorded on the first go-round.  

In this series we ask noted photographers, collectors, writers and curators this question: "What are the qualities that make an image really stick with you?" And we ask while they are driving Lady Blue around the block. (Or if the drive is not an option, we have an adorable miniature to be involved in her place.)

This "Around the Block" features photographer Brian Ulrich. Brian Ulrich was born 1971 in Northport, NY. His photographs portraying contemporary consumer culture reside in major museum collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Ulrich earned his MFA in photography at Columbia College Chicago and a BFA in photography at the University of Akron. He is an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Photography and Film department.

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Lovely Cleveland, Now On Video!

Lady Blue cruised into the Lakewood section of Cleveland on Sunday, May 26 and had a delightful time creating collectors with the help of the Cleveland Print Room and The Root Cafe. The video is now live on our YouTube channel!

Lady Blue cruised into the Lakewood section of Cleveland on Sunday, May 26 and had a delightful time creating collectors with the help of the Cleveland Print Room and The Root Cafe.

And since you're in a Cleveland mood, check out this Around the Block with Fred Bidwell video!

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Crusade Thoughts from the Co-Pilot

Sarah Moore has been an amazing co-pilot and cheerleader on the east coast leg of the tour.  Here are some of her thoughts from the first portion of our trip:

I first found out about Jennifer’s Crusade for Collecting over a year ago, when her Kickstarter campaign launched.  The idea to drive around the country in a VW bus and give away photographs was exciting and new for me, as I’m sure it was for many.  I would have never imagined all those months ago that I’d be joining Jennifer on the East Coast leg of her tour.  Not only has this opportunity allowed me the chance to spend time with someone I admire and really like, but I even got to meet the bus (Lady Blue) in person!

This rather unique road trip has been filled with some trials and tribulations, but mostly a lot of joy and learning.  I met up with Jennifer in Chicago, where we immediately had a mild airport miscommunication.  Luckily, we both arrived safely at our lovely hotel, the stylish and hospitable Hotel Indigo Chicago.

We spent our blistery days in Chicago running around seeing photographs, picking up Lady Blue (a two hour turned five hour journey), talking it up with talented Chicagraphers (their own coined term), eating deep-dish pizza, and dodging the never ending rain.  Jennifer wrote a bit about our Chicago pop-up event, so I’ll spare you those details.  My impression of Chicago was that it was a windy, welcoming, photo-filled city looking over a beautiful lake from stunning architecture.  Even if many of the pedestrians of downtown Chicago didn’t want our free art, many amazing connections were still made.  We left Chicago with grateful hearts and a purring and happy Lady Blue.

Cleveland was our next stop, a destination Jennifer, Matthew Crowther (awesome Chicagrapher who joined us for the Cleveland journey), and myself had few expectations for.  Yet, after spending a few soggy and cold days in the Windy City, we were pleasantly surprised to find Cleveland both sunny and awesome!  We bunked up in the Cleveland Hostel, a new and hip hostel for the modern and funky people of Cleveland’s west side.  We enjoyed drinks in a Speakeasy, where we were also graced with the presence of the great photographer and friend, Matthew Conboy.  We even ate some of the best meals of this trip so far!  However, my absolute highlight of the Cleveland leg was seeing Todd Hido’s new show up at the Transformer Station.  Jennifer and I got a private tour of the exhibit by owner and collector Fred Bidwell.  Fred was kind enough to share his insights about collecting, contemporary photography, the Cleveland art scene, and what things draw him to an image.  It’s always nice to talk to someone who cares about photography in the ways that I also care about photography.

Upon leaving Cleveland, we managed to hit a few road blocks in the Lady Blue department.  I’ll save those stories for a later date though.  Suffice it to say, Jennifer and I had a few long days trying to get to New York, but like any true road warrior women, we did in fact make it!

We’re currently stationed at the Hotel Indigo Brooklyn, yet another lovely hotel complete with swanky murals and lovely staff.  New York is hot and muggy (mugginess is not one of my favorite things, as I’m a Santa Fe gal now), but proving to be yet another awesome piece of this Crusade puzzle.  We’ll keep you posted on how this one ends up.

It’s been amazing to be able to meet photographers, collectors, gallery owners, and inspired strangers over the past week and a half.  I feel so lucky to be on this journey, and I know I’ll return back to the desert with a new sense of what it means to collect and appreciate art, new friends, and a new admiration for the woman who decided to make the leap and travel around the country in a VW bus!

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Around the Block with Fred Bidwell

One of the highlights of the Cleveland stop - probably of the entire tour - was the morning spent with Fred Bidwell at Transformer Station.  Fred and his wife Laura (who regrettably I did not meet but hope to in the very near future) are contemporary photography collectors who have taken their love of photography, philanthropy, and their community to a whole new level. In February, Transformer Station - the renovated transformer substation in the Ohio City section of Cleveland, created to house and exhibit the Bidwells collection as well as exhibits by the Cleveland Museum of Art - opened to the public.  The Bidwells created Transformer Station as a public-private venture to work closely with the Museum to "serve as a laboratory, think tank and place for the Museum to uncover new opportunities, take risks and explore new ideas and new media."  Love, love.  LOVE!  The whole facility will be turned over to the museum in time, along with half of the collection (the other half to go to the Akron Museum of Art).

It was an honor to meet Fred in Cleveland and get a tour of the Todd Hido exhibition, Excerpts from Silver Meadows.  The work was completed, in part, thanks to the patronage of the Bidwells, and to be able to see the photographs executed and displayed entirely as the artist envisioned them was a real treat.  They are hung salon style and often erratically - chronological but only in as much as this conceptual body of work has a timeline.  There is a giant, luscious book that accompanies the show (published by Nazreali Press), that is well worth the shelf space.  Another fascinating highlight was seeing the room they had Todd curate from the Bidwells collection.

Fred was lovely enough to let me pepper him with questions - Why did they start collecting? (when they got married, to have things on their walls, and took off from there) What type of work does he collect? (contemporary photography, mostly emerging and mid-career, mostly color) What excites him the most? (helping artists create work, among other things).  He is a lovely person and an inspirational, force of nature.

And a sport.  Because he agreed to be the guinea pig for our new "Around the Block" video series, where we ask noted photographers, collectors, writers and curators this question: "What are the qualities that make an image really stick with you?"  And we ask while they are driving Lady Blue around the block.  Here's Fred, deftly driving and answering at the same time:

In this series we ask noted photographers, collectors, writers and curators this question: "What are the qualities that make an image really stick with you?" And we ask while they are driving Lady Blue around the block. (Or if the drive is not an option, we have an adorable miniature to be involved in her place.)

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If Chicago Was a Hustle, Cleveland Was a Mosey. . .

Chicago was by far the most challenging pop-up, and with good reason (downtown street corner on a cold, windy Friday before a holiday weekend), and when we got to Cleveland, we were still pretty keyed up from it.  When we arrived at the Root Café in Lakewood on Sunday, we were anxious to get things going and start “selling” our free art.  The photographers arrived, and Sarah and I were rushing around the bus to set up, get the photographers prepared for engaging people who may be incredibly uninterested, and get our game faces on.  No need.  Cleveland just a smooth, easy, lovely walk in the park.  At one point someone asked how it compared to the Chicago pop-up, and I said, “Well, if Chicago was a hustle, Cleveland was a mosey”.  Everyone stopped.  Everyone was more than willing to chat a bit and take home a photograph.  Was it too easy?

When we were able to get someone to stop in Chicago, the energy was high.  The participant was surprised and excited and very interested to see all of the work and get to keep an image.  Everyone in Cleveland was so nice and accommodating ("Sure, I'll take a photograph"), it was hard to determine if a real connection was being made.

And then there was Henry.  Henry is 8 years old, and prior to this event, he did not own any original artwork outside of his own drawings.  He fell in love with this Sarah Moore photograph from The Ten, and was beyond excited to learn she was there in Cleveland and could tell him more about her image.  Henry was able to really articulate what drew him to the photograph and what he loved about it.  It was a really special moment and definitely a highlight of the tour for me.

The next day Cleveland Print Room hosted a Memorial Day BBQ and Crusade talk, which was really relaxed and fun.  Several of the people we met at the pop-up the day before came to hear the lecture, and it was great to get to check out this new facility.  Shari Wilkins, the founder of the community darkroom which opened just a few months ago, was instrumental in getting the Crusade to come through Cleveland.  It was not originally on the tour, but she made a compelling case, and was absolutely amazing as my "on the ground" person, coordinating the entire Cleveland stop.  So thankful - there just aren't words.

On our way out of town on Tuesday morning, we had the supreme pleasure of meeting Fred Bidwell at Transformer Station, where he gave us a tour of the absolutely mind-blowing Todd Hido show.  He graciously allowed me to ask him a million questions about his love of photography, how he started collecting, the mission of Transformer Station, and I will be sharing those in a future blog post, don't you worry.

And finally, the photographers!  Shari Wilkins from Cleveland Print Room curated the five photographers for the local photographer showcase, which was unique to this city (I have curated the photographers in all of the other cities into the project) and super fun.  A huge thank you to the five of them: Donald Black, Jr., Stephanie Mercer, Angelo Merendino, Dan Morgan and Julia Van Wagenen.  

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