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Behold: Ruben Natal-San Miguel

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers and curators.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel might be one of the hardest working people out there. The trained architect turned to photography after the September 11 attacks in New York City. “The world became more of the moment,” Natal-San Miguel said to Slate in a 2013 story. “Photography became a passion to collect as an art media and for me (a medium) to communicate all the activities, the costumes and traditions of everyday life.” Using mostly a bicycle to get around his beloved New York City, Natal-San Miguel’s photographs of the people he encounters are intimate, sometimes alluring, other times provocative, and always overflowing with emotion. He has also curated a number of shots including the current one on view at Station Independent Projects in New York titled “WE:AMEricans” that asks (and answers) the question: what does it mean to be an American? We caught up with Natal-San Miguel before he left for Boston and the Griffin Museum; he has work included in The Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition.

You will find some extra Q&A below and can read the original Slate interview here.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel,  AMEricano (selfie) , 2013, Rockaway, Queens. Image Source:  Slate

Ruben Natal-San Miguel, AMEricano (selfie), 2013, Rockaway, Queens. Image Source: Slate

You work as both a photographer and a curator. Talk a bit about wearing both hats.
 
It can be quite challenging. The amount of time that you spend curating takes away from working on your personal work, which, it is sort of taking off. It is a tough act to balance but, there is a great learning curve that can be applied to your own personal work while curating.

I am fortunate enough that every single curated show I have been the creative director of so, it gives me the freedom to create the concept theme, select the works, and create installations with it .
 
What do you feel are some of the major changes in the art world these days?
 
I think that artists need to be very careful in selecting from the opportunities listed out there. There are a ton of competitions, call for entries etc, etc out there now (which it is a positive thing) but, most of then have turn into fundraising events for institutions which are considered non-profit. Yet, the artists are subjected to spending tons of money just enter and and participate with no guarantees. I only charged $25.00 per five entry photos, kept the exhibition's print size small (so printing and framing will be affordable and more accessible) and even referred a very affordable master printer to keep costs down for artists. To print, frame and ship a print with return label (besides entry andorganization membership fees) can be extremely expensive for most artists. Something needs to be done about it.

The art dealers and galleries are at times more conservative and afraid to take chances on new work, so when I curate exhibitions, I try to bring and combine selected new work with more established big names. In doing this, the dialogue between both has a great learning curve and more impact. It also inspires and motivates newer talent to do their best to have great image quality on the wall. The established artists benefit also because they tend to resonate well with the press, fan following/audience, reviews and any type of show coverage. It is a Win -Win.
 
How would you like to change things in the art world?

It is very important to give a voice to new talent.
                                     Hope Will Never Be Silent.
                                                            -Harvey Milk
 
You are a prolific photographer. How has your work evolved over the years and where do you want to take it?
 
After more than a decade photographing the five Boroughs of NYC non-stop, I am approaching communities in nearby states to see how they mirror each other in terms of gentrification, street life, and sense of community.

The good news is that my work is reaching and getting museum attention. I am currently on display at the Alice Austen Museum on their First Triennial of Photography , The Griffin Museum of Photography, The African American Museum of Philadelphia ( 10/1/16-1/30/17)  and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I also just recently just taught a photo seminar based on the Rashaad Newsome exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem where the work was shot live and displayed.

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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: Cleveland Print Room

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

This project is inspired by Crusade of Art’s visit to Cleveland last summer. I spent the last year trying to figure out ways that the gallery, studio, and community darkroom could engage collectors in a similar fashion to what I experienced when Jennifer Schwartz's Crusade For Art came to town. I was personally struck by the interaction between the artist and the passerby on the street. The conversations that took place enabled the artist to discuss their work with the potential collector. This kind of connection does not occur often and seeing the possibilities set me out to see how this could work in other forms.

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

I have been mulling these ideas over since last year. Taking the art and the artists to the public is paramount. It is the ultimate goal. I love the concept of poetry slams so I just altered the idea to fit art and came up with photo slams, which are in essence the same concept with the same end. Give the photographers a chance to show off their work in any creative way that they choose in front of a more passive audience that just happens to be at the venue for some other reason, in most cases. The public art installation (in places where public art is not generally seen) is a no-brainer regarding promotion of the arts and the artists. They will be able to stand in front of their work one lunch hour and talk to passers-by. This was modeled after Crusade For Arts' visit last year. Take the art to the people. Put the artwork in their face and see who lingers to find out more. That is where you will find your new collectors.

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

I think the greatest obstacle for artists these days is the competition from all other forms of entertainment and communication available to the general public -- there is entertainment and distraction on demand for everybody, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So ultimately exposure is the real struggle for every artist.

On the other hand, real art is something that truly benefits from being experienced first-hand, in person, just the way it was made, and the way it was meant to be seen and experienced. No electronic gadgetry can deliver the same kind of impact as an in-person experience with art.

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

Artists should be more open about the creative process with the public. By being more forthcoming about the "whys" and "hows" of their art, artists could encourage the general public to relate more to art, and to feel like art has some actual relevance to their lives; that it could be a gratifying and rewarding experience that they could also go on to share with others. 

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Grant Finalist Interview: Ken Winnick

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

I first learned about Crusade for Art through the Photographic Center Northwest (PCNW) in Seattle when they promoted Jennifer's VW Bus Pop-up event on their Facebook page in the summer of 2013.  That brought me to the actual Pop Up event, where I was lucky enough to pick up a great "snow portrait" by Seattle photographer Raychel Rogers.  The Pop-up was followed up by Jennifer's talk at PCNW about the need to develop collectors in addition to developing artists, and then another PCNW talk about collecting by John Bennette where he mentioned that he got started as a kid by collecting photos from magazines.  By that point the idea that emerging collectors were just as important as emerging artists was firmly established in my mind!

The specific event, "Speed Dating for Art" for emerging artists and emerging collectors,  really had it's genesis in watching what was happening at local Seattle area Art Walks.  These are held on a regular basis in various neighborhoods around Seattle.  Many viewers would enjoy looking at the art, and also enjoy talking with the artists and learning about their inspiration and challenges...but most people never took the next step..."asking for a date" (i.e., making a purchase).  So, the idea behind Speed Dating for Art is to put people in an environment that encourages and supports making a match, and getting that date!

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

The art business, just like the music business and many other businesses, is in the midst of disruptive and transformative change brought on by the information age.  There's nothing  new about change itself...before the information revolution there was the industrial revolution and before that other revolutions... and these all brought transformative change,  big challenges, and big opportunities to the arts and other fields.  Photography has always been a technology based process, and so perhaps photography experiences both more opportunity and more disruption than other fields.  That's part of what makes it so much fun!

So, I'm very optimistic and I think that there are great opportunities today for photographers to figure out how to harness all the new inventions of our age.... from advances in camera technology that open new creative horizons to the evolving social media landscape that offers new ways to connect with other artists and collectors... and then to harness that technology to new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.  

I think the greatest struggle may be an age-old problem... how to stay true to your art and to learn from the art community while at the same time to not be distracted by the promise of fame or the goal of acceptance, and within that balance to hopefully find an appreciative audience for your work.

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

There are many paths available, from showing work on the internet to submitting to shows, and so on.  However, I think artists need more tools to work with, and more guidance, in getting their work out to the public in a way that can really resonate with the greater community.  So, it's up to each artist to seek out ways to engage with the public and to figure out what works for them.  Hopefully, the CSA engagement grant will generate even more tools and more methods to connect artists and the public. 

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)?

First of all there is the issue of price.  In many cases the price of "fine art" has been driven up to astronomical levels, and so everyday folks think that something with a more reasonable price tag can't possibly be good art.  I think that if people learn to trust their own instincts and listen to their own, personal, emotional response to a photograph (or any other kind of art), then they will be more willing to make a purchase.  We need collectors with self confidence, and who realize that collecting itself is also a type of art.

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Grant Finalist Interview: Zine Machine

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

A local artist who’d purchased some prints of ours at an arts market grabbed our card and began forwarding us a few grant opportunities. Crusade for Art was one of them.

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

The idea for a trip began between the four of us a while back. Pierre has been shooting freight trains for the better part of a decade, accumulating content surrounding the graffiti culture associated with them. The Midwest has a certain notoriety for freight traffic and so that was an obvious destination for his work. Chris had long been planning a trip down to the southern States. Stefan was looking south for a change of scenery, specifically to shoot the unique urban and rural landscape and culture found in these regions. Brendan is most interested in the visible social polarity in the area. In addition, many of our favorite photographers--William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Richard Avedon, among others--created some of their most celebrated work in this region.

We’ve been fortunate over the past couple years to work within a great micropublishing community in Calgary, getting us involved with using vending machines to distribute zines and photos. As our network of collaborators has expanded to photographers, artists, and friends from across Canada we felt the need to do something monumental in terms of distribution. A big part of our mantra is keeping photography and, moreover, all of our art accessible. Selling only within our artistic community, while important, is not sustainable and does not grow our audience. After coming across this grant, we saw it as an opportunity to expand our scope and showcase art not only from Calgary but across the continent. Zines, by nature, are DIY and a cost effective way of distributing creative work. Our project is also extremely relatable; what could be more classic than four friends piling into a van, travelling across two countries, meeting people and sharing stories?

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

Around a year ago we attended a pop-up gallery show in Calgary hosted by some friends at an artist-run centre. It was a photo and zine release show where the gallery itself was turned into a darkroom, to show people the process of film photography. The show featured live music and brought in a pretty diverse crowd. Prints were sold off the walls and the zines sold out (as did the amply stocked bar).

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

Since Kodak, photography has been the people’s art. It’s one of the most accessible forms of contemporary art. Smartphones, even DSLRs, are household items. Establishing yourself as a fine art photographer is increasingly challenging as the pool of photographs we’re exposed to becomes saturated by a growing number of participants, shared through various social networks. Everyone now knows a photographer and it’s this accessibility that seemingly slowly decreases the demand.

On the other hand, this very same accessibility is likely our greatest opportunity. People are regularly following photographers on Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram. We have the possibility of keeping in touch with people across the continent and beyond. Our idea of bringing works from various photographers to new cities is to expose people to the art in a physical form and start that relationship.

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

We’ve collectively had excellent response—whether it’s through explaining our process at an art sale or bringing new photographers out on photo walks—from people who didn’t realize how much effort goes into our work. Artists should make an active effort to engage and welcome viewers, emphasizing the parts of their process that they enjoy the most. The outside public often has a very distant preconception of art and considers the gallery as an unwelcoming and foreign space. By actively telling their story and giving people a relatable and understandable explanation of why they do what they do, artists can help welcome an audience that would otherwise be uncomfortable engaging with their art.

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)?

We believe there are many reasons why people find art, and the art world, intimidating. One of the largest barriers between most people and the collection or even the enjoyment of art is the attached social stigma. Many people feel uncomfortable walking into a gallery. The vernacular, aesthetics, and the general inaccessibility of these places keeps people out. One main contributor to this is simply the price point of most gallery artwork. Sustainability’s always a concern, but without an accessible introduction, new art collectors will be turned off before they start.

We’ve experienced the high brow world firsthand and understand the way commercial galleries work as businesses. From a financial perspective, these galleries have a successful formula and stick to it, there isn’t a need for many new buyers or viewers. The art world beyond the basic concept is not inviting, it is a social circle that happens to be very selective. We want to transform the idea of a gallery for a new generation of art consumers: you don’t need a monocle to come enjoy our shows and you don’t need a 401(k) to buy one of our prints. We create art designed to be consumed by an underemployed generation that has a genuine appreciation for art, just not always the means to own it. Photography needs to be presented in a new format. Instagram nailed it on the head, but we think zines can accomplish a similar thing in a more direct, more accessible physical form that doesn’t require a login and password (or power, for that matter). We strive to replace the idea of photography as a measured and overwhelming long-term investment with a simple, undaunting appreciation of viewing a collection of images.

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Grant Finalist Interview: Photo A Go-Go

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

We are a small group of photographers and creatives that meet at each other’s house for dinner monthly to talk about art, drink wine and share details of photographic projects we are currently working on. We were having tacos and wine at Joseph Gamble’s house when he brought up the grant.  All of us have struggled with the concept of getting our work seen by collectors and everyone was very interested in participating or seeing what comes out of the grant. 

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

We knew we needed to have a great idea and the genesis of “Photo A Go-Go,” our subscription service, came from our discussions that evening. Jamie Jackson had mentioned the old “Record Club” services like Columbia House and BMG where you would get 10 CD’s for a penny and often one each month. At the end of dinner, he pitched the idea of signing up for a piece of photographic art to be delivered to your door monthly. The following morning Jamie shared via email his sketch of the concept and this became our grant application. He had the name of the project and had purchased the URL and we all were in favor of moving forward.

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

We think the greatest struggle is marketing. Gone are the days of photographers making appointments with John Szarkowski at the MOMA and having retrospectives within the year. There are so many talented, creative visionary artists but the gallery/museum structure can be restrictive and daunting. Connecting artists with a supportive market is critical for them to make a living that supports the creation of new work. Technology is equipping artists with the tremendous opportunity to connect directly with their audience via the Internet and social media. The Crusade for Engagement grant speaks directly to this opportunity in the art community.

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

Artists today must do more than just make art. They have to run a business, market themselves and then potentially share their story to educate the potential collectors on the details of their process and/or story behind the image. Technology is critical in this endeavor. Partnering with other photographers and artists to create a presence when reaching out to the public and creating events can be highly beneficial in reaching and sustaining the right audience. A single artist can get overwhelmed with the options but when you build a team and share the responsibilities, it can be an extremely successful relationship for all. 

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)?

Galleries and museums are the main venue (and the most popular) for getting the public interacting with art but lavish events thrown for large benefactors builds the perception of exclusivity. Large catered events put the focus on the venue while smaller artist talks and casual discussion allow people to interact and build a personal story regarding the pieces of art they enjoy and hopefully (eventually) collect.

Historically art and art collecting have been a symbol of status for the wealthy.  Old ideas die hard. We think people are insecure about what is "good art" and "can I afford art?" While the wealthy have always been benefactors and vehicles for art, wealth alone does make art appreciation and collection mutually exclusive. Another reason for intimidation is the perception that one needs a fine art degree, either undergraduate or higher to have an opinion, preference or understanding of art.

To lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art, we believe we need to cultivate an artistic self-confidence in the potential collectors. Maybe a "build it and they will come" attitude. Our mission is to get high quality, curated photographic art into the hands of potential collectors in a fun, easy and Photo A Go-Go way.  Giving our collectors information that explains the importance of the image, why we chose it... and it's potential not just as art but as an investment.

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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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Grant Finalist Interview: Jason Parker

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).

So far, we've posted interviews with Matt Eich and Amy Parrish. This one is from Jason Parker, who wants to put photography on billboards. From his initial application: "This project seeks to introduce fine art photography to Atlanta commuters by bringing the work out of the galleries and inserting it into their daily lives. The gallery world is a closed system, and in order to increase interest in art photography, the scale of exposure must be increased. The grant will be used to purchase monthly cycles of digital billboards in the area."

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

I've been involved in the Atlanta art scene for some time, and had my MFA thesis show at Jennifer's gallery back in 2011. Since then I've been following and admiring her Crusade work.

This project was inspired by my success with a billboard project during my thesis. As essentially a nobody, I figured I could have my gallery show, friends and family would come, and that could be it.

Or I could put my work out in front of a much, much larger audience via a digital billboard and see what happened. I wanted to take the work to people who would not otherwise see it, and disrupt the commute and visual noise that we all experience every day in the signs all around us.

So in among the plumbing and weight loss boards, there was a sign that said, "Thank You", and "Please", and "You are Welcome." My signs interrupted the incessant "BUY BUY BUY" pitches and maybe added a little healthy confusion and let folks exhale just a little bit.

On a train once, passing through England, I was surrounded by high berms on both sides. Suddenly, a dinosaur appeared over the berm! Did I really see that? It was just amazing and a visual relief from the monotony of the dirt mounds we'd been passing through for what seemed
like hours. That brief moment kind of took my breath away, and I want to do that again. My friends traveling with me didn't believe it had happened, but I knew and was happy for the moment (turned out it was some kind of dinosaur park in the village on the other side of the
berm).

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

The project grew out of my thesis work, and is intended as a disruptive element inserted into every day city living, as well as an art awareness campaign. I see far more billboards and roadside ads every day than I do galleries and art. So why not, instead of trying to convince people to go to galleries to see art, take the art to the people and make the world the gallery? Digital boards are economical, easily changed and updated, and reach a LOT of people. While we're all sitting in traffic we might see something beautiful.

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

The Internet and social media have facilitated information bubbles. Online tools create a filter through which people (potential audiences) can eliminate serendipitous discovery. We want what we want, and there's little opportunity for surprise.

I think the world suffers from confirmation bias, and this affects art. If our minds are already made up, and we've eliminated any information that challenges our notions, then where will new things come from? What changes us? We see the same things every day, and that's what we want to see.

At the same time, technology allows us to take rectangles off the wall and put them (or any shape!), wherever we want. We have to find a way to get through the bubbles, over the walls, and into people's lives to show them something new. Artists are disruptive by nature, and finding
ways in is a real strength.

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)?

The best art is disruptive and transcendent. People in general are creatures of habit and find the unfamiliar intimidating. The popular perception of art, at least where I come from, is "weird", or maybe those flower water colors that somebody's mom painted, or a picture I like.

We see "art" every day, but mostly it's the shrink wrapped prints available at the end of the aisle, or somebody's Instagram sunset, or a "can you believe?!" story on Gawker. So it's either pretty and familiar or strange and threatening. And it's nearly always expensive.

In photography's case, with everyone a photographer now, we are over saturated. When everything is "art", nothing is. So exposing a wider audience to what art is is an imperative.

I don't think it's a problem of quality, but of perception. We see SO MANY pictures, and so little art. We need to take the art to the people. To spur collection, we need to make it more affordable and ease the process.

We also need to create or promote the transcendent feeling that art should provide. As people become more inward looking and isolated, art should inspire outwardness, and curiosity, and willingness, and saying yes. Art, like music, is a state of mind. It is a visual trigger that expands consciousness and helps us see through ourselves to something deeper.

My goal with this project, taking art out of its rarefied gallery context and putting it in familiar situations, maybe providing a bit of relief from the same same, will soothe any anxiety people have about art and help them approach it with new eyes.

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Grant Finalist Interview: Amy Parrish

While the ten Crusade Engagement Grant finalists plug away at their detailed applications for review by the selection committee, we are 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 was Matt Eich, who proposed a photobook collective program. This one is from Amy Parrish, who wants to create a reality TV show around collecting. From her initial application: "The overall message in this series will highlight the emotional value of owning an original piece of art (compared to buying a generic image from a big-box retail store). It will also show the process of acquiring art, step-by-step, through a variety of outlets to demystify the process for first-time buyers and lift the barrier of intimidation."

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

You know how you do a search on the Internet, and some way or another an entire hour has passed,  you have landed on a page and you can’t possibly remember how you arrived?  Thankfully, this unknown path led me to Crusade for Art.  I think the website drew me in, initially, because of the VW bus logo, having recently purchased a 1972 hippie bus of my own.  

Needless to say, I read through the site content and became enraptured by the movement.  I’d never before turned the tables to think about how to create more purveyors of art as opposed to selfishly thinking of how I could promote and perfect my own work.  Between the moment I first learned about the grant and the open application date, my mind began turning until the idea for this project struck me.

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

Believe it or not, I actually experienced the very same connection that I’m seeking to document in others.  It must have been buried in my subconscious, having so profoundly affected me just two years prior when I had the opportunity to spend time with photographer Joyce Tenneson and learn about some of her work.  When she shared her story of how one of the images came-to-be, tears immediately began welling up in my eyes.  It touched on such a deeply personal part of my own life that I felt an immediate bond with the work.  Now on display in my home, it’s so much more than aesthetically-pleasing decor, but a reflection of my own life; and a common story shared between the artist and myself.

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

Based on my own experience, I feel that photographers have the challenge of sharing the deeper messages within their work.  This can be tricky since photographic artists work in a visual medium, suggesting that an image should stand on its own without the need for further explanation.  However, in a consumerist society, we’re relentlessly fed an immense number of images (primarily photographic in nature) that make bold statements with just one glance.  In this way of ingesting media, there is no time allowed for savoring the subtleties of a photograph.  

With this in mind, we can work to retrain audiences to truly take the time to see and explore an image along the path of their own inner dialogues, leaving the artist’s insights and secrets embedded within the work; and/or we can extend written and verbal cues to help the viewer access something deeper.   For instance, I know, as the artist, that in a particular photograph inspired by the Japanese folktale of “The Crane Wife”, a long train of fabric represents magic sails from the story, a half-mask speaks to the half-woman-half-bird character and specific colors pay homage to a storybook representation of the same tale.  However, if my audience is not familiar with the narrative, they’ll never recognize these important details.  Sometimes giving context to our work can be the best education we can offer.   

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)?

Ha!  Well, pop culture has certainly reinforced the phenomena of serious collectors pulling out obscure references from a seemingly meaningless piece of work and simultaneously chuckling smugly at the person who walks in from the street and sees only globs of color (lets not get into the fact that a photograph is rarely the piece of art hanging on that gallery wall seen in films or tv).  And, of course, in this fiction that image sells for a million dollars.  While the jabs are often directed towards the pretentious, there is nearly always embarrassment from the other party.  As harmless as this may seem on the surface, I think this broadcasted stereotype has unintentionally informed many perceptions by reinforcing the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to experience art and that unless you have a thick wallet and can keep up in heady conversations, you may as well go home.  

Logically, the way to best combat that is to broadcast opposing mass messages to the general population.  Show “regular” people with art photography adorning their walls.  Feature comfortable gallery environments with friendly staff.  Showcase other outlets such as open air art fairs where photographers may be accessible to the public.  Ask artists to speak about their work.  Encourage curiosity (having more questions than answers) as a good thing.

This still doesn’t touch on the perception of value though.  It’s extremely difficult to place generalized numbers on what art should cost (regardless of the medium) without sticker-shocking some buyers or devaluing the work of other artists.  For example, by assuring future collectors that you can easily obtain original art for $50, you’re training them to think $100 is too high.  But by focusing only on images in the tens of thousands of dollars, you’re beckoning back to that pop culture stereotype of art being outrageously expensive.  There are countless budgets and priority sets to take into consideration.  In whatever form, when messages linger on price, it’s telling the consumer that price is of weighted importance.   

If we can publicly expand the definition of “value” to mean more than monetary value, that alone can lower a perceptual barrier to entry.  There’s a saying that goes something like “when they cry, they buy.”   It suggests that true value lies within an emotional connection between a purchaser and a product, not on an arbitrary number.  Of course then there’s the entire concept of perceived value that is based on numbers, but that’s a whole other story!   


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#CCPNext - The Next Conversation Is a Meeting of the (Photo) Minds

To say that participating in Center for Creative Photography's Next Conversation in Tucson was an honor would be a gross understatement. The event was described this way:

Andy Adam's Instagram photo
Andy Adam's Instagram photo

The Next Conversation brings together colleagues from all facets of the world of photography to talk about issues important to the field and to CCP. There are no keynote speeches or panel presentations. Instead, there are a series of focused discussions in which you bring your expertise and your voice to the conversation.

Participants from all across the photography industry were invited to attend and engage in conversations on topics such as the role of technology, the photobook, photography's place in the museum and academy, the state of photojournalism, the photography market, the definition of an archive, conservation. . . The choices were staggering.  Almost as staggering as the attendees - some of the most recognizable names in the museum, editorial, curatorial, publishing, educational, and gallery worlds.  And working photographers too!

photo by Tanja Hollander
photo by Tanja Hollander

There were many nuggets of wisdom to take away from the event, as well as questions raised that will take me a while to fully absorb and determine my position on.  But I do want to talk about one session that definitely stuck with me.

Julia Dolan (Portland Art Museum) and Mitra Abbaspour (Museum of Modern Art) moderated a discussion titled, "What is the place of photography in museums and the academy?".  This was a particularly engaged group, and it was interesting to hear opinions of both curators and educators.  At one point, someone implied through a comment that he did not feel curators needed to accommodate people who are unfamiliar with photography (I believe "dumb it down" was used) and instead should focus on creating shows for the people who know what they are looking at.  I should say, this felt very out of line with the spirit of the conference, and as you can imagine (if you have ever heard me speak or read anything I have written), my head just about exploded.

In my opinion, there is nothing "dumb" about not having an arts education.  It is increasingly not being taught in schools, which is causing not only a lack of knowledge, but a lack of appreciation for art.  It is not about being smart or dumb, it is about having exposure or not having exposure.  He asked me if I thought museums should be held responsible for picking up this slack, and I feel that everyone needs to pitch in to fill this huge gap in art knowledge and appreciation.  Otherwise, we will be left with an increasingly aging crop of arts lovers, patrons, and collectors without younger generations to replace them.

I believe, and there is research to support this, that in order to engage new audiences with art, we need to create opportunities for them to engage with art in multiple ways (visually, intellectually, emotionally) and in a manner that is not intimidating.

Nate Larson, a photographer and educator based in Baltimore (and all-around great person), shared a fantastic program he helped facilitate at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  The museum was putting on an exhibition called SEEING NOW: Photography Since 1960, and they reached out to Nate to collaborate.  Nate created the QR Code Project, where he invited his students to write personal essays about their reactions to certain photographs in the exhibit.  People who viewed the exhibit could go beyond the wall text and (using their smartphones) read another person's personal reaction to the image they were viewing.  This is a great example of how to engage viewers on multiple levels and break down some barriers to entry to appreciating art.  Go team!

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Art Subscription Programs Deliver Financial Support, New Audiences for Artists

By offering collectors an opportunity to subscribe in advance to receive a certain number of artworks, art subscription programs are helping to fund the work of photographers and connect them with new audiences of collectors.

By Jennifer Schwartz

Finding ways to engage new collectors and give artists the freedom and funding to create new work is no easy task. But art subscription services, which deliver new work to subscribers on a prearranged schedule, are popping up all over the country to do just that. They are a win-win for artists and collectors alike, and photography seems to be a perfect match for this platform, because photographers can easily produce multiples of their work for subscribers.

Finding ways to engage new collectors and give artists the freedom and funding to create new work is no easy task. But art subscription services, which deliver new work to subscribers on a prearranged schedule, are popping up all over the country to do just that. They are a win-win for artists and collectors alike, and photography seems to be a perfect match for this platform because photographers can easily produce multiples of their work for subscribers.

Andy Sturdevant, the director of Minnesota’s Springboard for the Arts and project coordinator for Minnesota’s CSA (Community Supported Art) says their program was inspired by a desire to provide an entry point to art for people who may be interested in collecting but felt intimidated by the process. “It was a way to put local artists directly in contact with people who were interested in getting their feet wet with collecting art,” Sturdevant says. These subscription programs are inspired by agricultural share programs (also called CSAs – Community Supported Agriculture), where shares of a local farm are purchased in exchange for regular deliveries of produce. 

While similarly structured art programs already existed, Minnesota’s program was the first to use the term CSA.  They have since created a replication kit to encourage other organizations to adopt the CSA model, and to date there are approximately 30 in existence around the country, according to Sturdevant.

In a typical Community Supported Art program, fifty shares are available for purchase for around $300 per share (Sturdevant has seen the range go from $75 to $500, and the number of shares available can also vary).  Artists are paid in advance to create work for each shareholder, and shareholders receive original works several times per year. On average, organizations run one or two CSA cycles per year and include nine artists in each.

Depending on the economic setup of the subscription program, artists can be paid well or negligibly for their work. But there are benefits to artists beyond the paycheck. For one, it puts the artist directly in touch with 50 people who are interested in buying art, creating an opportunity for relationship building. Sturdevant feels this format allows artists to try out a new project or smaller idea that may not fit into their regular practice.

Subscription services also give artists incentive and support to work. “I think artists… have to work so hard to make ends meet that it leaves very little time for studio practice,” says Chandi Kelley, co-founder and artist-member of Project Dispatch, an art subscription program based in Washington, D. C. that allows subscribers to select an artist and opt to receive monthly works for either three-, six-, or nine-month periods. Subscriptions are available for $30, $60 or $90 monthly. “If I can do something to encourage the process of art making while helping artists gain exposure and sell work, then I feel my efforts are worthwhile,” Kelley says.

Kristoffer Tripplaar, who is part of the Project Dispatch roster, is a news photographer by day and says the subscriptions encourage him to spend time creating art.  “It is motivating to keep working on your personal work knowing you will be sending an image to someone,” Tripplaar says. “It is validating after a few weeks of working on press conference photos to get an email saying someone subscribed. I can switch gears and be creative and print an image I’m proud of to send to someone who is really interested.”

“Knowing that someone has specifically chosen you as an artist they would like to subscribe to is incredibly empowering and motivating,” says Jerry Skiscim, another Project Dispatch artist.  Skiscim is a Washington, D.C.-based photographer who had been intimidated to try to break into the art world prior to joining Project Dispatch. “Being a part of this group of talented and accomplished artists pushed me way ahead of what I could have done on my own,” Skiscim says.

TBW Books is an independent photography book publishing company that also uses a subscription model.  Each year, TBW Books invites four photographers to create a body of work for book publication in that year’s subscription set.  Artists are encouraged by TBW to experiment and think in a new way.  “These publications are not intended to be full-blown monographs,” says Paul Schiek, founder and publisher.  “They are intended to be experimental capsules to allow the artist to go outside their normal practice and try something new.” According to the TBW website, “The books provide an unparalleled glimpse into the thinking processes of who we consider to be four of today's most exciting image-makers.”  Beyond the creative output, the entry-point pricing is also appealing (previous subscriptions cost $100, the most-recent is priced at $150).

A huge part of the draw for subscribers seems to be the element of surprise. “People like the surprise and the mystery of not knowing what will come in the mail.  Maybe it’s not even about collecting art for some people, but the experience of the surprise and supporting the creative process for the artists who are involved,” Kelley says.  The idea for Project Dispatch came from her long-distance friendship with Rachel England (Project Dispatch’s other co-creator who no longer runs the program but is still a participating artist).  Kelley and England would send each other packages of artwork in the mail, and they loved the excitement of receiving artful surprises in the mail, so they decided to create a model to share this experience on a wider scale.

“Anticipation is a great motivator,” says Schiek. “With TBW Books’ subscription service, you don’t know what you have paid for, but you trust the publisher and the photographer, and you are willing to put your money on the table and see what comes your way. Consuming photography this way is surprisingly unique because we live in such a screen world, and getting tangible books in the mail is exciting.”

Sturdevant agrees that surprise is important. For their CSA pick-up events, they have begun creating staging areas where shareholders can sit and open their box of art goodies.  “Dramatizing that moment has enhanced the enjoyment of the experience,” he says. But he also stresses the importance of getting artists and shareholders in the same room so the artists have an opportunity to talk about the work. “In a lot of ways that’s what people are paying for – not just the art, but the social element of connecting to other people interested in art and having opportunities to meet the artists,” Sturdevant says.

Kelley also notes that the physical shows Project Dispatch produce to give additional exposure to their artists always result in a spike in subscriptions.  She feels the opportunities to see the work firsthand and to engage directly with the artists are powerful motivators in attracting subscribers. The exhibitions are another advantage of participating – artists get the opportunity to have gallery shows and meet collectors first-hand, providing a platform to launch their careers.  Skiscim just had his first solo show in the same space as his work was exhibited in a Project Dispatch exhibition.  “Project Dispatch has allowed me to build an audience for my work, which was the thing I just could not figure out how to do on my own,” Skiscim says.

The reproducibility of photography makes it a natural fit for CSAs. For a CSA where 50 shares are sold, each artist has to create and send 50 unique works to shareholders.  Sturdevant says they do not want the final product to suffer because of the volume, so they tend to select artists whose work can easily be scaled (photographers, print-makers) or artists who are used to working in high volume (ceramic artists).

But many of the photographers participating in art subscription programs go beyond shooting an image and creating an edition of fifty single photographs. Areca Roe created stereographic images and sent a viewmaster and slides to each shareholder.  Stefanie Motta shot a tarot deck with herself as the model, and every shareholder received a full deck of the tarot cards.  Gene Pittman and Rebekah Yaker collaborated to create a photo-based fabric design. Each shareholder received some of the fabric and a sewing pattern.  “When I think about some of the projects I have really loved over the years, many of them have been photo-based”, Sturdevant says.

When Julia Vandenoever, a Boulder-based photographer, found out she had been selected as a participating artist for the 2014 CSArt Colorado, she knew she wanted to go beyond creating a single image for shareholders.  “I wanted to make work that told the story of the change in the boulder landscape, and so I have decided to create a small photobook to be able to better convey the entire story,” Vandenoever says.  “I really want to take the opportunity to explore another way to exhibit and show my photographs.”  Vandenoever is also looking forward to expanding her creative community, getting more exposure for her work, and connecting with 50 new collectors. Artists across the board seem to share these same hopes and successes, making subscription art programs sound like a dream come true.

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FAQ for the Crusade Engagement Grant - Or, Is Marketing a Dirty Word?

We’ve had a few questions over here at Crusade for Art regarding the grant and what exactly it’s for.  We want you guys to feel clear on why we designed this particular grant, so you can let your ideas solidify and get in the game for this cash!

First, let’s address the subject of marketing in general.  Marketing can oftentimes be viewed as a dirty word in the art world.  All too frequently an artist can be so eager to express their creative ideas and put it out for the public to see, they forget that not everyone in the public shares their same enthusiasm for their chosen subject, or even understands it.  This can breed resentment, on both sides of the artist and the public.  This is what we over here at Crusade for Art are trying to combat.  We want the artist to feel valued for the creative work they are producing, but we also want the public to understand and value the work they are seeing.  Marketing comes into play here.  It’s not just about shoving products into consumer’s faces.  Marketing goes deeper into the psychology and motivations behind people and their actions.  It addresses how people connect to products and what entices them to buy.  As an artist, it’s not enough to just put your work out there and hope people flock to it (though we wish it were).  It’s not that the work isn’t deserving, it’s that the public doesn’t understand and isn’t engaged.  This grant isn’t designed to manipulate the public into buying art or turn the artist into a marketing professional.  It is designed to educate and engage the public in a new way that fosters appreciation, knowledge, and yes, hopefully motivation to purchase works of art they treasure and value in a way that feels authentic to the artist.

Second, why should the artist have to spend time working on the marketing when they already struggle to find time to make their work?  The mission behind Crusade for Art boils down to creating demand so the arts can continue to flourish and artists can be supported not just through grants and initiatives, but through public acquisitions as well.  This grant was created so that new ideas can be put forth to attract more demand for art.  We all know the economics behind supply and demand.  If the public isn’t educated or doesn’t have access to art, it doesn’t matter how much art you make, your business won’t be sustainable.  With any business or vocation, there is a balance between the practical and creative elements – both are vital.  This grant aims to bring together groundbreaking ideas and methods to champion the arts, so that artists don’t have to constantly worry about how they are going to sell the next piece.  It’s about getting creative with how to engage with the public, getting creative with how to put your message out there, not just being creative in your particular medium.  No one knows your art better than you, and today’s world appreciates connection and feedback.  The market today is moving toward a desire to support a person, a vision, not just a filler piece they bought at Target. We believe the connections between artist and viewer are invaluable, and we aim to bring together ways to forge stronger connections through this grant.

Third, why can’t I use this money to make a body of work?  This is where we think you can have some fun.  There are plenty of residencies, programs, schools, and projects aimed toward supporting artists to make a specific body of work.  We are encouraging you to approach this grant in the same creative way you would any body of work, except with a restrictive purpose.  How can you connect an audience to your work in a way that hasn’t been employed?  How can you promote the arts in a meaningful way that is aligned with your ideals and provokes the public to invest in your work?  The opportunity to engage with the marketplace, introduce your work, and cultivate relationships with the public is wide open.  We believe art and the message of art is vital to the world.  We also believe art in general is severely underappreciated, and largely due to miscommunication and misinformation.  The aim of this grant is to bridge the gap between misunderstanding and appreciation, perception and reality, and a general underlying belief that true art is inaccessible to the public.

Please comment and let us know your feedback and opinions!  We are always open to hearing new ideas.

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Why a $10,000 Grant for Photographers?

Crusade for Art is about creating demand for art, specifically fine art photography. Last year I drove around the country in a VW bus for the Crusade for Collecting Tour - a crazy idea I had to build new audiences for photography. I gave talks in almost all of the ten cities I visited, and after I would finish, several people would always come up to me and say that no one else was talking about how to connect people to their art.  Now I don't know if this is true, but it was true enough.  And how could this be?  We talk so much about making the art, but what about building collectors and connecting to audiences?  Isn't that a huge reason we make art in the first place? As I was driving around the country (slowly, since driving above 50mph was not recommended for this particularly temperamental vehicle), I thought about how to get a lot of photographers thinking about cultivating demand for art.  It's a tough nut to crack, but I thought if we could get our creative force - our artists - behind this problem, we may have a decent chance at creating real systemic change that would benefit the entire arts ecology.  More art lovers, more art collectors, more thriving artists, more stable galleries, more supported museums. . . a win for everyone.

So how to get a large volume of photographers to brainstorm?  Offer them a lot of money.  It seemed simple enough, and hopefully it will work.  We are looking for projects that focus on creating demand for photography and provide a concrete plan to create one-to-one connections between the photographer, the viewer, and the audience.  So start thinking people!  Ten thousand dollars is a nice chunk of change for being creative and doing something to make the art world a more viable place for everyone.

View the Grant Guidelines

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Minor Matters - Publishing Innovation That Matters

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.02.52 AM
Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.02.52 AM

I first heard rumblings about Minor Matters Books, the new imprint by publishing veteran Michelle Dunn Marsh, earlier this year, but it wasn't until I read this PDN article over the summer that I fully understood the concept.  It's a brilliant win-win(-win) for the artist, publisher, and audience. More and more it seems that photographers are asked to bring a large sum of money to the table in order to get their photobook published.  In essence, the photographer is fronting all of the hard costs of the publishing, and in return they receive a certain number of books that they can sell (without the help of a distributor, like the publisher has) on their own.  If the photographer can sell all of their copies (at galleries, exhibitions, independent bookstores that will buy direct from the artist), they have a chance to recoup most of their investment.

While there are valid reasons for a photographer to want to participate in this scenario, this model definitely economically favors the publisher.  But a publisher with a "pay to play" reputation begs the question - are the books they publish truly the best of contemporary photography today, or just the best of who can afford it?

Minor Matters Books takes a new approach.  They are combining crowdfunding with careful curation in a way that is collaborative, fun, and really smart.  Here's how it works (from the Minor Matters Books website):

In collaboration with each artist, we develop a $50 book, then present it to you, our audience, for a maximum of six months. When at least 500 of you make an advanced purchase, the book goes into design and production, and will be shipped to you upon completion (no more than a year from the book’s initial launch on the site). The first 500 people who purchase are listed within the book, along with the artists, writers, and printers who are part of making the book happen.

This model tests the market for the book before the book is published.  It also engages and helps build the audience for the artist.  I have loved David Hilliard's work for years, and while I probably would have gotten around to buying his photobook once it came out, it was thrilling to be one of the people to actually help make it happen.  And I become a co-publisher!  I feel even more invested in him and his photography, which is something a crowdfunding model can do that ordering a book on Amazon cannot match.

Oh, sweet innovation.

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Connect People to Your Art

Last Spring I drove around the country in a VW bus (Lady Blue!) for the Crusade for Collecting Tour. I was fortunate to meet photographer Adam Smith, who gallantly offered to help me around Seattle, a city I had never been to before.  We spent a day together, and he even got to experience a Lady Blue break-down first hand. Over an amazing dinner of burgers (the key to my heart!), we began discussing his work.  He told me he had an opportunity to exhibit his photography at an apartment gallery called Vignettes, run by Sierra Stinson (apartment galleries are when an arts-minded person transforms their apartment/home/sleeping porch into a gallery for a night).  We talked for a long time about how to price and edition the work (one of my favorite subjects!), and we talked even longer about what he hoped to get out of the exhibition.

Adam had two goals - to engage in meaningful conversations with people about the work and themselves and to not end up with a bunch of photographs to bring home at the end of the night.  While he did not want to give the work away, the price was not the primary concern. So we thought and talked and thought and talked and came up with this idea - what if he bartered the images?  And barter he did.

Each image was available for $30 plus a barter of any type.  We felt the barter component would be the piece that facilitated the conversation and engagement with Adam and the work. What were you able to offer?  Why were you drawn to that photograph enough to want to trade something for it?  The barter would also provide another connecting point with Adam after the event.

After the event, Adam wrote me, "Turnout was great, a steady stream of people over the course of the three hour event. The exhibit consisted of 10 pieces, 11x14, digital C-print, edition of three. I ended up selling out of two images and sold the first print from two other pieces for a total of 8 prints sold. Some of the items bartered:  A tattoo, bottles of wine, tutoring & babysitting for my son, a painting, home cooked meals, farm fresh egg delivery, $150 and so on..."

This is a great example of how powerful it can be to work backwards. If you spend the time to figure out your goals, you will be in a much better position to leverage your opportunities in your favor. Be thoughtful and proactive, and make it happen.

Adam Smith Vignettes
Adam Smith Vignettes

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Collaboration Worked for America's Greatest Inventor, Why Not You?

thomas-edison-lightbulb.jpg

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing innovation expert, Sarah Miller Caldicott, speak about the importance of collaboration for successful business endeavors. A great grandneice of Thomas Edison, she gave a lecture titled "Transforming Innovation Success in the Digital Era: 4 Lessons from Thomas Edison." I seek collaboration in everything I do, and when I first entered the fine art photography community, I was frustrated by the lack of interest in collaborating. It was and continues to be disappointing to learn that instead of subscribing to the "rising tides lift all ships" approach, many people prefer to work alone and consider themselves "competitors" rather than "collaborators". Luckily I have met some bright, shining stars along the way who are likeminded, and according to this lecture, we have chosen the most successful path!

Thomas Edison started over 200 companies (many of which to manufacture his inventions) and pioneered six industries. He was kind of a rockstar. And by "kind of", I mean "totally, completely, mind-blowingly". And in addition to his brilliance, a major component of his success (according to Sarah Miller Caldicott) was his use of collaboration.

Collaboration is not just teamwork - it is leveraging the power of each person to bring about each other's strengths and differences. Here are some take-home lessons on how to have an effective collaborative effort:

  • small teams of 2-8 typically work best
  • create experiences outside of a regular work environment so the group can have shared experiences and become colleagues (not just employees, committee members, etc.)
  • include people with diverse expertise
  • begin with questions (not solutions) so the team can collectively engage in discovery learning and be committed to the same outcomes
  • leaders need collegiality, inspiration, optimism, and expertise
  • reduce hierarchies and engage networks

To dig way deeper, check out Sarah Miller Caldicott's book on the subject, Midnight Lunch.

Now let's all achieve success together - what do you say?

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