Brook Brolen | May 6, 2015
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Maybe it’s because superheros have secured their popularity in present-day pop culture, or maybe it’s just that many of the same qualities (tenacious, purposeful, tireless) apply: Either way, it’s hard not to think of Crusade for Art’s Jennifer Schwartz as a superhero among the Atlanta art scene. A literal champion for the arts through Crusade for Art, Schwartz helps create demand for the creation of art as well as opportunities for people to engage with and collect art.

Here, Schwartz talks to us about her work, her organization, the importance of art, and what’s in the works for both.

CommonCreativ: What brought you to Atlanta?

Jennifer Schwartz: I’m not from here, but my husband is a native. We met in college and decided to move here a few years after.

CC: How did Crusade for Art get started?

JS: I owned a fine art photography gallery (Jennifer Schwartz Gallery) in Atlanta for five years. When I opened the gallery at the beginning of 2009, I hung photographs on the walls, opened the doors, and then said, “Where is everybody?” The people who were coming in weren’t buyers, they were other photographers who wanted to get their work on the walls. So I had to do a lot of thinking about who I needed to target, what connection points I had to them, and what obstacles I had to get around to reach them. I realized there was a large pool of educated, engaged, culturally-minded people who were not buying art, but perhaps would if given the right (exciting, experience-driven, not intimidating) exposure to it. I developed a lot of unique programs and events to build the collector base for the gallery, and they worked.

CC: What came next?

Over the years, I became more and more passionate about audience engagement and how to cultivate new collectors for photography. I began working with individual photographers to go through the same process of identifying their target audience and creating innovative ways to connect with potential collectors. I also wanted to go to other communities and reach out to people who were not even seeking an arts experience, and create an opportunity for them to connect with artists and their work. That impulse turned into the Crusade for Collecting Tour, which was a tipping point for me, in terms of really dedicating myself to bringing new audiences to photography.

I felt I could make a larger impact by developing and supporting programs that would create demand for art and opportunities to collect it (as opposed to operating a commercial gallery that also created audience engagement projects). I decided to transition the tour from a one-off project to a non-profit organization dedicated to creating demand for photography, and I closed the gallery at the end of 2013 to focus on Crusade for Art full-time.

Collage from the Crusade for Collecting tour

Collage from the Crusade for Collecting tour

CC: How do you promote Crusade for Art?

JS: Fortunately I had already built a large audience of photographers and collectors from the gallery and the tour, so between my mailing list, social media and my relationships with curators, publishers and gallerists in the industry, I’ve been able to get the word out about our programs pretty effectively.

CC: Your mission statement endeavors to “engage new audiences with art.” How do you do that?

JS: Art increases our intelligence, heightens our sensitivity and deepens our humanity. But artful communities cannot thrive without audiences to appreciate them. Crusade for Art strives to create and nurture a society that supports and sustains the arts, where individuals crave the inspiration and connection that only art can give.

We aim to create a viable arts ecology where artists can achieve economic sustainability because demand for art is strong. Toward that end, Crusade for Art develops innovative approaches to create new paths to engagement.

Photograph from the second round of Crusade for Art’s CSA program |   Climber on the ascent, Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness Area, near Blythe, California, 2013   (Yellow Dot) by John Brinton Hogan

Photograph from the second round of Crusade for Art’s CSA program | Climber on the ascent, Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness Area, near Blythe, California, 2013 (Yellow Dot) by John Brinton Hogan

Current Initiatives:

  • The Crusade Engagement Grant awards $10,000 annually to the applicant with the most innovative idea to build audiences for photography. The grant puts our greatest resource—the brainpower of our creative force, our artists—toward exploring this systemic problem of a lack of demand for art.
  • In our Crusade Supported Art (CSA) program, we commission six talented, up-and-coming artists to create work for sale in a limited edition of fifty. Buyers receive a collection-worthy piece from each artist at an exceptionally affordable price point.
  • Start with Art builds a culture of collecting by gifting original, signed photographs from local photographers to newborn babies through partnerships with community hospitals. Launched in Pittsburgh by Matthew Conboy, this was the winning entry in our first Crusade Engagement Grant. Plans include multi-city expansion.
  • In our curation program, FOCAL POINT, we select three talented, up-and-coming photographers each quarter to highlight and mentor.

Initiatives in development:

  • An anthology of stories by art collectors about their collecting experiences.
  • An experiential arts survey course to be piloted in Atlanta and replicated in other cities.

Jennifer Schwartz

CC: Are there any projects/artists you’ve encountered that are particularly near and dear to your heart?

JS: The Crusade Engagement Grant is really the centerpiece of our organization and something I feel very proud of. We give $10,000 (all raised through private donations) annually to the person with the most innovative idea to connect new audiences to photography. Our goal is to get our creative force, our artists, to think about how to solve this supply and demand imbalance that exists in art.

Last year’s grant winner was Matthew Conboy, a Pittsburgh photographer and educator who is giving original, signed photographs by local photographers to every baby born in three Pittsburgh hospitals in 2015. The project, called Start With Art, has gotten a lot of media attention and has been very well-received. Matthew plans to continue and expand the program after this year, and Crusade for Art is looking for funding to pilot the program in Atlanta in 2016.

Our initial application period for this year’s grant cycle just closed, and reading the submissions has been truly inspiring—so many fantastically creative ideas.

CC: What inspires you?

JS: Art and a challenge—I guess that’s why I do what I do.

Photograph by Dorothy O’Connor (Atlanta), an artist featured in our FOCAL POINT Quarterly Curated Program

Photograph by Dorothy O’Connor (Atlanta), an artist featured in our FOCAL POINT Quarterly Curated Program

CC: Looking ahead 10 years, what do you hope to have achieved with Crusade for Art? 

JS: My hope is that the programming Crusade for Art is able to develop and support has begun to create the next generation of art lovers, patrons and collectors. We (artists, galleries, institutions, organizations) would all be actively working toward connecting people to art in approachable and engaging ways, and that audiences would be responding.

CC: How can people support Crusade for Art?

JS: With money! We rely on private donations to fund our programming, and every bit counts. Whether you’re an art lover, collector or just think art makes the world a better place, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

CC: What’s next for you and Crusade for Art?

JS: We have some big ideas (we’re never short on ideas!). We would like to focus on in Atlanta, including an anthology of collecting stories from local art collectors and an experiential arts survey course aimed at educating adults about different art mediums through interactive classes and site visits.

Learn more about Crusade for Art on their site.