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Matthew Conboy

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$10,000 Photography Grant - It's for Creativity, Not Magnitude

Last year's $10,000 Crusade Engagement Grant went to Matthew Conboy in Pittsburgh for a big idea. BIG idea. But don't think it was the magnitude of the program that earned him the bucks - it was the creativity.

Any person who has an innovative idea to connect people to photography is eligible to apply. A photographer who has thought of a creative way to get exposure for her work and draw in new potential collectors is as likely a winner as someone with a city-wide program idea involving multiple photographers. 

So are you out in the world, trying to figure out how to build your audience and sell some work? Then put your thinking cap on, because $10,000 would probably go a long way to putting you on that path. Am I right?

Apply now!

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Why the Engagement Grant is Important for Photography

Yesterday we announced the winner of the $10,000 Crusade Engagement Grant, and while Matthew Conboy's idea is downright badass, I have said from the beginning, this grant is about a lot more than the winning idea.

Most photographers (and artists in general) don't think about what to do with their work after they've made it. Art school programs focus heavily on the art-making but leave out the practical applications like how to sell it and how to get it in front of people. And not just anyone, but the people most likely to appreciate it and want to buy it. We are churning out art and artists but not addressing the elephant in the room:  demand is not keeping up with supply. Not even close.

Crusade for Art as an organization was created to pick up where art schools and artists' minds left off - our mission is to educate, inspire and empower photographers to connect new audiences to art.

The idea for the Crusade Engagement Grant came before the idea for the non-profit organization, and Crusade for Art was built around it. This was the question I was trying to figure out: How can we get photographers to think about how to connect people to their work? It seemed like if I could crack that nut, then our most creative people would be working en masse to solve the supply and demand imbalance in art. Bam! Let's do it, right?

So here was the answer I came up with: offer a lot of money. Simple. All that was left to do was raise $10,000, create a non-profit organization (get a board of directors, a website, fill out the IRS paperwork), figure out how a grant gets announced and administered, publicize it with no budget, and pull the trigger. Well, it seemed pretty straight-forward after driving a temperamental VW bus around the country.

The goal is to get a lot of photographers to think about how to connect people to their work, whether or not they even apply. And by publicizing the finalist ideas and tracking the progress of the winner, hopefully even more photographers will be inspired to take action and work to build a collector base for their photography.

We will give this grant again next year. And the year after, and the year after. So you keep thinking, and we'll keep funding, and together we can create the kind of change the art world desperately needs.

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Matthew Conboy Wins $10,000 Crusade Engagement Grant

That's right folks! Matthew Conboy will receive $10,000 cash money to implement his program to create newborn collectors in Pittsburgh.

Here's a description of his project, straight from the application:

This project was born from the fact that a local hospital sends every baby home with a Terrible Towel, the towel that is waved at Pittsburgh Steelers football games. While I am a proud Steelers fan, I believe that babies could be sent home with something else that could change their lives and the lives of those around them—art. My project will ensure that each baby born at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania goes home with an original signed photograph from a local emerging photographer. The 3000+ babies born here represent a cross-section of the city and county and include everyone from the most isolated of neighborhoods to the most exclusive addresses in Pittsburgh. These photographs will include biographical information on the photographer and any pertinent information regarding the print. They will then be inserted into the bags that are sent home with new mothers and include other basic staples like diapers or formula. 

Out of hundreds of initial applications for the grant, a group of ten finalists were selected.  These finalists all proposed promising and innovative projects.  The entire list of finalists can be seen here. These finalists’ proposals were reviewed by an esteemed jury of photographic professionals, including Whitney Johnson (Director of Photography at The New Yorker), Karen Irvine (Curator and Associate Director at Museum of Contemporary Photography), and Rupert Jenkins (Executive Director at Colorado Photographic Arts Center). Conboy’s project was selected for its off-the-charts creativity.

Juror Karen Irvine says, "Matthew Conboy’s proposal for new audience engagement displayed dazzling creativity. We are excited to award this grant to someone whose idea feels completely original and unique. We also like the way his project will engage an extremely diverse audience, one that is for the most-part probably not already circulating in the fine art realm."

The Crusade Engagement Grant was created to foster the exploration of innovative programs to connect new audiences to photography. The grant will underwrite the full execution of Conboy’s idea. Conboy says, “The thing that excites me the most about this project is that I am sharing my love of art with an entire generation of kids in Pittsburgh. From the moment they're born, they will be collectors of art and photography and that is something that no one can take away from them.”

In addressing application questions about target audience, Conboy gave this compelling response:

The target audience includes underrepresented minorities within the city of Pittsburgh who might not otherwise be exposed to the world-class cultural and artistic institutions that their city has to offer as well as those children who will grow up within a culturally rich family. If these families (regardless of socio- economic status) can see from the moment that a baby is born that the arts provide a meaningful and important component of their lives, they will gain an appreciation for the power of art. 

This project will engage my target audience simply by not requiring them to “opt-in.” There is no need to cross the threshold of a gallery, no requirement to sign up for a mailing list, or purchase shares for a CSA (Community Supported Art). In fact, the only way to acquire one of these photographs is to have a baby within the city of Pittsburgh. 

We are thrilled to be launching this grant with such an innovative and democratic way to connect new audiences to art. We will be following Matthew closely over the next 12 months and giving you regular reports on the progress of this exciting project!

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Grant Finalist Interview: Matthew Conboy

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. 

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Crusade Summit Creates First Local Chapters

This past weekend marked the first annual Crusade Summit, where directors from Crusade for Art local chapters met to collaborate, plan, and get inspired to bring new ideas back to their member artists. As this was the first Summit, the goal was to set up guidelines and organizational structures for the local chapters and create both short and long-term strategies for success at the local level. While Crusade for Art provides resources and inspiration, the goal is to empower photographers to activate and begin implementing ideas and programs at a local level to create demand for their work.

Independent, volunteer Crusade for Art chapters around the country are the ground force of the movement.  The chapters are provided with the program guidelines, best practices, support, logo, and brand of Crusade for Art, as well as use local resources and creative talent to develop new programs.

Local chapters create and implement programs and events that both create exposure opportunities for their artist members and cultivate new collectors within their communities.

We are launching two local chapters - Crusade for Art Chicago (with Matthew Crowther as director) and Crusade for Art Pittsburgh (with Matthew Conboy as director). So the Matthews came to Atlanta, and we got to work. Each chapter will have a maximum of ten member artists, and artists will rotate out of active membership in the group after two years. Local chapters will have their own websites and will plan and execute a minimum of four programs or events per year.

The challenge (for all of us, yes?) is to create programs that not only give member artists exposure and exhibition opportunities, but also actively cultivate new collectors in the community. That's what Crusade for Art is all about, after all.

And I must say, these two guys. . . incredible. Not only are they absolutely wonderful artists and people, they have the heart, passion, and commitment to really make a difference in their cities and beyond. I am thankful for them, and Chicago and Pittsburgh will be thankful for them to.

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Astoria Retreat (Season 4!): #flashersforlife

When David Bram and I started planning our first invite-only retreat for photographers over a year ago, we never could have imagined how powerful these experiences would be - for everyone.  David and I leave each and every one completely blown away by the talent, energy and drive of these artists.  And then there's the bonding. . . something about living all together in a house for five days, talking non-stop about your art and life. . . it easily makes the retreats one of the most special and rewarding things I do. I have often said that living in the house together is like The Real World without the hot tub, and when I started my tour, so many of the photographers who have participated on the retreats either came along on a leg of the trip or participated in a pop-up or just showed up in a city for an in-person high-five. It started to feel like The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, with photographers from one retreat meeting photographers from another and sharing stories from what they all knew was a completely unique experience.  "What retreat were you on?" sounded very much like "What Season were you on?".  

Sean Dana and Kurt Simonson (Season 1 - aka Astoria 7/12, aka #Astoria6) drove with me from San Francisco to Portland, where we met up with Bill Vaccaro, who was also Season 1 and participated in the New Orleans pop-up (so did Kurt!) and met up with the Crusade in Cleveland.  In Portland I saw Julia Vandenoever (Season 2, aka The Cat Cave) and Elizabeth Clark Libert (Season 3, aka The Bone Collectors) and Brandon Thibideaux (who was soon to be Season 4, aka Flashers).  Sarah Moore (Season 2) was my co-pilot from Chicago (where we met up with Matt Crowther - Season 4) to Cleveland (enter Bill Vaccaro and Matthew Conboy - on Sarah's season) to New York (where she reunited with Muema from Season 2 and met Sara Macel from Season 4 and Charlotte Strode, who will be Season 5 in July).  And to bring it all home, Heather Evans Smith (Season 3) met me in Richmond to celebrate the final Crusading days.  Whew.  Confused?

In all of the traveling excitement, I have not written up the last retreat (Season 4 - held in Astoria, Oregon in April).  This group bonded straight out of the gate.  It was almost alarming.  We always try to put together people from different places, photographic experiences, types of work, etc. so that the participants learn from each other as much as they learn from us.  And although this group had the usual amount of diversity, they were besties nearly instantaneously.

We had the usual agenda of intensive work on portfolios, sequencing, artist statements (my favorite!), and hours and hours of more, followed by after-hours bowls of Butterfinger ice cream and more photo talk.  We also explored Canon Beach (Goonies rock!), made friends with some locals, rocked the DQ,  and became flashers for life.

This crew. . . damn special.  They all are, honestly.  David and I say it constantly - we are so lucky to do what we do.

Make sure you check out the work from this talented group: Matt Crowther, Elizabeth Fleming, Sara Macel, Brandon Thibodeaux and Annick Sjobakken.

Are you a photographer interested in getting a project ready to launch? Check out Flash Powder Projects here.

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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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#Astoria 5: Photographic Retreat for the Record Books

As I write this, I am on my flight home from another amazing retreat in Astoria, Oregon (also known as:  my most favorite place on earth). For those of you who don’t know, the retreats are invite-only photographic retreats developed and facilitated by David Bram and me.  In these four-day, five-night retreats, small groups of photographers have the opportunity to strengthen and package a portfolio of work and develop a plan to strategically launch a project. David and I and the participating photographers (5 maximum) share a house for an experience that feels like a cross between a reality tv show and a big group hug.  The shared living quarters allow the learning, feedback and dialog to continue past the structured hours of instruction and creates a casual, comfortable environment to explore and share work and experiences – and lots of jokes.  Cat Cave, anyone?

We hosted our first retreat in Astoria in July with six photographers (you may know them as the #Astoria6), and the success of that trip encouraged us to schedule several more (January in Astoria, February in New Mexico, and April in Astoria).  The first was so great – both personally and professionally rewarding and fun – that David and I were both apprehensive about going into our second retreat.  But as soon as Muema pulled up in the minivan of champions with all five photographers and the first package of doughnuts was busted out, we knew we were home-free.  This was truly a phenomenally talented, spirited, and generous group.  David and I cannot stop talking about how fortunate we are to be doing what we love, surrounded by gifted, wonderful photographers.  It is a dream.

The #Astoria5:  Matthew Conboy (Cool Ranch), Kelly K. Jones (KK), Sarah Moore (Dream-Crusher), Muema (DJ SUV) and Julia Vandenoever (Pelligrino)

First full day in Astoria: Matthew Conboy, Julia Vandenoever, Kelly K. Jones, Sarah Moore, Muema
First full day in Astoria: Matthew Conboy, Julia Vandenoever, Kelly K. Jones, Sarah Moore, Muema
Photo geek-out day trip to Portland
Photo geek-out day trip to Portland
Beer makes writing artist statements less painful
Beer makes writing artist statements less painful

Are you a photographer interested in getting a project ready to launch? Check out Flash Powder Projects here.

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