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Women in Art: Focus on Curators
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Johnson, Patricia Covo [moderator]; Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Herbert, Lynn M. (Lynn McLanahan), 1956- [panelist]; Theis, Susanne [panelist]; Todd, Emily [panelist]; Barnes, Michelle [panelist]. Women in Art: Focus on Curators. November 1999. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries . University of Houston Digital Library. Web. April 19, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/35.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Johnson, Patricia Covo [moderator]; Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Herbert, Lynn M. (Lynn McLanahan), 1956- [panelist]; Theis, Susanne [panelist]; Todd, Emily [panelist]; Barnes, Michelle [panelist]. (November 1999). Women in Art: Focus on Curators. University of Houston Women’s Studies Living Archives Recordings. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries . Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/35

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Johnson, Patricia Covo [moderator]; Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Herbert, Lynn M. (Lynn McLanahan), 1956- [panelist]; Theis, Susanne [panelist]; Todd, Emily [panelist]; Barnes, Michelle [panelist], Women in Art: Focus on Curators, November 1999, University of Houston Women’s Studies Living Archives Recordings, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries , accessed April 19, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/35.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Women in Art: Focus on Curators
Creator (LCNAF)
  • Johnson, Patricia Covo [moderator]
  • Gregory, Elizabeth [host]
  • Herbert, Lynn M. (Lynn McLanahan), 1956- [panelist]
  • Theis, Susanne [panelist]
  • Todd, Emily [panelist]
  • Barnes, Michelle [panelist]
Date November 1999
Description This is a panel discussion about women and art, with a focus on curation. The participants begin by discussing their backgrounds and talking about what it means to be a curator. They then talk about using art for community building. Lastly, they discuss the topic of whether or not there is sexism in the arts.
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas
  • Art museum curators
Subject.Name (LCNAF)
  • Johnson, Patricia Covo
  • Gregory, Elizabeth
  • Herbert, Lynn M. (Lynn McLanahan), 1956-
  • Theis, Susanne
  • Todd, Emily
  • Barnes, Michelle
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • panel
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b4555844~S11
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name 2011_17_019.m4v
Access File Run Time 1:36:20
Transcript University of Houston Friends of Women's Studies Presents The Living Archives 1999 -2000 Women in Art: Focus on Curators Panel Discussion Moderator Patricia Johnson Panelists Michelle Barnes Founder/ Director of the Community Artist Collective Lynn Herbert Contemporary Arts Museum Susanne Theis Director of the Orange Show Emily Todd Houston Endowment for the Arts November 1999 Women in Art: Focus on Curators Moderator Patricia Johnson Thank you for being here. This is really quite a special event to be able to talk to people about what we do and how we do it and why we do it. And I thought we'd start by letting each of our panelist say a little about who they are and what they do and how they got there. Emily we'll start with you. Emily I'm a new hire at Houston Endowment. My area is art and culture. One of the questions--how did I get here. Things have just--serendipity--just sort of paved my past. Before that I had three and a half years of Diverse Works--if you don't know it's a visual and performing arts space near downtown near the University of Houston downtown. Diverse Works is committed to doing contemporary work that explores social, artistic, and political work--by artist of all kinds and medium. And it's really a three-ring circus--I encourage you to go--you get to see artist of all ages and maturity testing their work. There's always a something going on in the theatre and the gallery and the other gallery. It's a very lively place--I have a new analogy, which I think Lynn will understand cause she once worked in an alternative space. Like dog years-it was only three and a half years, but it felt like twenty years. There's enormous satisfaction of meeting vast number of people who are working at the edges of creativity--really trying to find new paths--it's not been scholarshiped. Everything is a premiere. It's very-very exciting all the time--it's very hard work. It's incredibly fulfilling. Before that I was at the Andy Whorhal Foundation for the Visual Arts. I was hired as a secretary. I was hired to answer the mail cause it had been mounting up. And a man mane Fred Hughes who had worked at the Whorhal for sometime was sort of in a pickle because they had this foundation-had the auctions- well they netted twenty-six million dollars--that's from his belongings-which not even his art-which was hundreds of millions more dollars. And they needed to do something quickly--so that job came my way when I was looking for another job. And before that, I was at the Contemporary Arts Museum and somewhere in there I went to graduate school at Rice. And my path in education was actually in art and archeology art. We went to college (points) person next to her.) And I did my under graduate work in pre-Columbian Urban Planning. None of this makes any sense as a career path and I could never say to a young woman--take this path and it will lead you to the Houston Endowment. It doesn't make any sense. I think a lot of it--what got me was curiosity and having really broad interest--and always testing ideas. And I think, in Houston we see a lot of that. We've got a lot of arts organizations--sense that's what we're talking about tonight--where a lot of the women in those organizations are extremely collegial--the people working in those organizations tend to be very collegial and supportive--whether you're a big organization or small. And that's very satisfying. So you can see this town as an arts ecology--it's one of the richest in the country, in part because we have so many artist here. We have one of the largest foundations in the country. And partly because housing is cheap and tends to provide a lot of opportunity for young artist and you suddenly go to being a less younger artist and you go "I'm here" and you have a life. And people stay or leave and come back, but Houston is an incredibly wonderful place to have a space of operations. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, I don't know if I'll be here, but it's been a wonderful town. And, did I answer your question? I got here somehow. Moderator Patricia Johnson "Lynn" (looks to Lynn to take her turn.) Lynn Should I start at the end or the beginning? Thing I'll start at the beginning. As Emily said we both went to school together. I majored in Art History. Guess I was always interest in it. And I switched my major at the end. Where we went to school they had a funny rule--that you weren't allowed to check books out of the art library, so if you switched--if you had switched your major late in the game like did, then you practically you lived in the art library. And one of the things that I discovered that could get me out of the art library was looking into the history of photography which then was a pretty, relatively new field--photography, I mean it was only invented in the mid-nineteenth century. So it helped sort of get me out and discover that I had a real a passion for it. So I went on and worked at Sotheby's in New York in the photography department, which was a terrific place to learn about how photography moves around in the art world. Because you're sort of--it's sort of like being in Switzerland you're in this neutral ground and you're privy to all this information about where the works have come from and who owns them and then dealers come and buy them or collectors come and buy them. So you get to live with these works of art, which I thought was pretty wonderful until they're sold. And then I went on to graduate school at the University on New Mexico. At that time you could only study the history of photography in two places either at --- university where we had gone as undergraduates--where I had already been there for four years--I decided I was ready for a change. Or you could go to the University of New Mexico and there was a man there named Beaumont Newhall--who sadly is now dead, but at the time he was sort of like the living history of photography and he was incredibly generous and so I has a fantastic experience there. And there I was with my masters degree and--what am I going to do with it--and had grown up here in Houston and at the time I knew Ann Tucker who is wonderful curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts--who's really been a pioneer in the field. And through her learned about sort rumblings of people who wanted to start an alternative space for photography here. So I moved back to Houston and became the first director of the Houston Center for Photography--which is right around the corner. And as Emily said, those are dog years when we work at an alternative space--and we were inventing the wheel everyday and you learn how to mix drinks and spackling walls and you learn to write grants. So, it's a terrific experience. Then you get totally burned out. And then I went from there to the Art Institute of Chicago. Where there are five million people who are doing all of these things that you spent so much time doing. Which was a terrific experience because they have a wonderful collection, and I was still working with photography. So it's wonderful to have time to just sit back look at the works of art and work on exhibitions. So, I was able to continue curating there. And then moved with my husband to New York--where I worked at Artist Space, which is another alternative space--it's one of the older ones in the history of alternative spaces. And that was very exciting because New York is such a big playing field and it's so difficult for young artist to sort of get that first break. And Artist Space is place that allows that to happen either with exhibitions or with grants to help artist---you know to buy stamps for their announcements or their press releases or whatever. They a number of different programs. So, that was terrific. And then we moved to Houston and I was luck--a position opened up at the Contemporary Arts Museum. So then I started there in 1990. And when Patty had sort of told us about the panel tonight--I was thinking today--I was taking a bath before I came here. Why is it I do what I do, and two things came to my mind. One is a phone call that I got a few weeks ago--we have a violin exhibition--not at the museum--it was open until right after Labor Day. And I got back to my office one day and there was a long voice mail message and it was from a woman that I didn't know but she introduced herself to me and she told me her name. And she sad that she was from Tallahassee, Florida and--god, I'm getting emotional about this--sorry (speakers got teary eyed.) But, it was a meaningful phone call. She said that she was coming to Houston regularly cause she had cancer and she would come to M.D. Anderson and get her treatments. She said that she found that she enjoyed coming over to the museum sort of during her breaks in between treatments. And she had seen the Maya Lin and found it very moving--and went back to Tallahassee and said that when see discovered when she had cancer in the spring she started seeing a therapist to sort of help her deal with this change in her life. And she said--in the most recent visit to the therapist, the therapist said--something is going--how are you feeling and at this point the woman broke in this long message--and she said "I hope you don't think I’m crazy" and there was another pause. And so, I told the therapist that I fell like this piece that was in a Maya Lin exhibition. It was--some of you may have seen it, but it was--Maya Lin made--it was sort of a boulder field, but made out of glass--blown glass. She had taken the shapes of rocks that she had found and had them blown into glass. And she said, I don't know why, but that's the way I felt inside and she said I’m a forensic physiologist. She said I guess I should be able to figure this out, but I couldn't--you send me a picture of this work so I can show it to my therapist. She said there weren't anymore catalogs left in the museum and well--so anyway I was just so moved by this thing, so I called her back. I said, I don't think that you're crazy, this is why I do what I do, because you have these moments where you connect with something--an object, a painting, a video, a whatever it is. And maybe you don't always know why, but it's changed you in some way. So that's why I do what I do. Michelle Barns I'm an educator and my background is as an art teacher in high school and middle school--in public and private schools. I did that for about twenty years. It occurred to me that we might need to find out what was going on--that would connect the students that I was teaching in those classes with a real experience as an artist or as an arts patron, so I started to look toward investigating opportunities to grow myself. And I started a gallery, in a coop kind of situation at the Ensemble Theatre. That was about 1985, and in the process I discovered that women were not showing their work--not giving an opportunity to do so. And that particularly African-American women. the community that I emerged from were under represented. And I thought, after many conversations with my friend Sara Trotty who is the chairperson of the art department at Texas Southern. She and I were friends in college at the uh and she was very supportive of the gallery and she was very supportive of the notion of creating some support mechanism for African American women visual artist. And it was like an inspiration to develop this thing--that we didn't know anything about, really evidently it was in us and it connected us--and it happened. So, by 1987 we had this organization on paper with the help of the Texas Accountants and lawyers, but I wished we had known that there were others kinds of support than those very traditional kinds of ways of getting started. Like foundation, like friends who would like to be supportive if they only knew this cockamamie thing that we were planning. But, it was a very small idea that had the potential of a pretty large impact. And I'm really thrilled to part of the effort to support artist. The mission quickly grew--it was a survival tactic. Although we knew the women were out there, doing their creative little things, like we each were doing and we knew others were doing--it was very hard. And I'm still trying to understand why it was so difficult to get the women to proclaim themselves as artist and develop themselves in a profession. But, now we're thirteen years old and now I've gotten ourselves in a much larger sense--I'm very glad to say--to artist and arts administrators and educators, writer, musicians, dancers--we're just a little part of a network that is Houston. And it's just wonderful to do anything that will support the arts at this really special time in our lives. I'm still growing. All of this is very instructive to me--I'm learning a lot--I have a lot to share. I've learned a lot--a good deal. The differences of doing business as an artist, doing business a non-profit, do business as a "for profit"--I've learned a lot. And hoping that it will continue to be meaningful enough for me to connect with people who may want the insights that I have to share. Connecting with people--you know--it's risky business. It's risky on both sides. I feel like I've taken a lot of risks and I'm really looking forward to young people taking risks to get to know organizations. Feeling that there is support out there--that it's ok to be out there. In little ways and in big ways that there are people who have information that will encourage them to go the next step. Susanne Thesis I've been sitting here listening and really appreciating with colleagues--and also trying to figure out how old I am in dog years. I always thought the Orange Show was the original alternative space. I came from Kenton, Ohio and I went back there for the first time in a few years. And Kenton, Ohio is a wonderful mid American place that has many wonderful things, but not much in the way of museums. I don't think I ever stepped foot in a museum until I was in my twenties. In fact we were watching a parade and my husband leaned over to me and said this is wonderful S, but I can see what Marilyn Manson is rebelling against. And I know for myself, when I got out of high school--I went to the library and I drew a circle around a thousand mile radius of Kenton, Ohio. I applied to schools outside of that area. And it brought me to Houston and I was there--"you know"--went to school--got my degree and I was a very-very junior staff member in the office of the chancellor. When this woman came to see the chancellor--she had a great gift for the University of Houston and it was Marilyn and her gift was the Orange Show. Her idea was this monument--a postman had made in the East End, just a mile away from campus. It would be a great gift for the university to run. She and her friends who put together the foundation would give it to the university. And I'm pleased to say he's the head of the Getty Foundation, so we're going to be reminding him of our early friendship. Dr. Mun well Marilyn, that's--that's thank you that's a wonderful thought, but that's not really a gift we can accept. And somehow though there those of us in the office who thought that it was a wonderful--I couldn't even tell you why I thought it was wonderful. Maybe, maybe it reached back to what yearning for at Kenton, Ohio. Some expression of an individual personality that seemed to be missing in my life. Personal expression is not really honored in my hometown. And so I was there when they were looking for the first director and "you know" the first five years of my life there I really thought of it as a job. I thought I helped build a foundation--you know we did everything from "you know" the mailing list--I remember meeting with you back at HCP and we were both talking about computers--"you know" the strange machines in the early eighties and how they were going to effect museums and art organizations. And that the board had said to me--we want you to make the Orange Show live. We want to make it have a vital presence in the community. So, I worked a lot on programs. At the end of the first five years one of the programs that we did sort of bore fruit--the Houston International Festival asked us to organize a parade--we did--we said we would do that if they'd allow us to make--be about art cars. Cause we wanted to honor the people like Jeff McKessie who transformed his environment into a personal-- it's a personal history museum, really. We wanted to honor those same people who were doing that with their automobiles. And at the end of the first art car parade I gave myself the present of going to a conference in North Carolina--a folk art conference. Because at that time I had never really met anybody--I had colleagues who worked on other organizations, but I never met anybody--I never knew anyone who did what I did for a living. I really wanted to meet other people who were preserving folk art works and bring them into the community. And so I drove to North Carolina--thinking that I would meet colleagues at the end. And what I did was stop a long the way and visit artist--and I saw--met Howard Fenstern and spent the afternoon in his garden and that several other artist a long the way--and I got to NC and I met my colleagues--and thought these people are ok, but those artists. It was like I came back to Houston feeling like I had a vocation. Some people say how can you be there for so long--it's really been several different jobs over the years and it really feels to me like a personal vocation--and I really loved hearing you talk about your emotional connection to what you do--cause I share that--I think we all do. And over the years, what I do for the organization has changed so much. I drove here thinking--you know my last little program that I actually got to do from start to finish--other people are doing now too. And it's great deal like being a mom and watching you’re child go off and live their own life. That's the other thing that's happen to me--is that I sort of lived my job for years and then I got a private life. I met somebody and we got married--and tried to fit a private life into a job that is so consumed--it's hard--and then I got pregnant and at age of 42. I found myself with a child and trying to fit the demands of being a mom and having a job that I love. It takes more time than it should. You know it's all trying to balance everything, but I feel so lucky to have a life that--it really means as much as mine does. Patricia Johnson I guess it's my turn, eighteen years is an enormous amount of time to do a job like mine, but what has kept me interested and going and energized has been people like my panelist here. The first art car parade that I went to which Susanne organized was held at 9:30 in the morning on a Saturday and there was nobody there except me. And there were a number of really brilliant vehicles coming down the street, but there was nobody to see them. I think if any of you have been to an art car parade--you know how far it has come and what a magical event it really is. I knew Emily when she was in the Contemporary Arts Museum as a assistant curator--was it? Emily Peon, really Patricia Johnson But the city has gotten so enormous and layers are so rich and thick now that there's never--it's never the same. Sometimes it's terribly frustrating--sometimes I want to tear my hair out--we all do I'm sure. But there were times at the beginning when I would go to an art opening and I would know everyone there. Now if I know ten percent of the percent of the people--I feel like I've been there--so it has really grown enormously and it's very satisfying to see that. A lot of it has to do with the energy that these women have put into it. The growth of the artist community, the people who actually make the work that we all eventually deal with because Susanne and Michelle and Lynn are all dealing with non-profit things. They are difficult to do, and Emily right now is the great position of being able to actually help with thee funds that are given to her to allocate--I suppose. You may want to talk about that a little more (gestures to Emily.) But, I think you as an audience right now might want to think about what you want to know about what we do. You know--you’re here and you're obviously interested. I--I as well as I know you (points to the panelist) I don't think I know them at all because of so many facets and the depth that's so much deeper than I've ever been able to explore. I would like to ask Lynn where she'd like to be five years from now. Lynn Oh--boy, it's hard to say. One thing that Michelle said--is so important--and I think Susanne touched upon it too, is the learning. One of the things about working in the arts that's so fantastic is the learning curve is just straight up all the time, usually in a pretty good way. There's sort of a selfish thing, but then there's also the wonderful joy that you get with sharing, but working with contemporary artist as we do. They're amazing people, they're incredibly passionate they're dedicated to what they're doing. They're inspirational people to be around. And then you're inspired by their work, and as you work on an exhibition or program or whatever you learn what it is about the work that's inspiring you, so then again the learning curve is straight up. And then to be able to share that sort of privileged information is so wonderful, so I would love to keep doing what I'm doing. I know in the museum field curators go on to become directors or become sort of more administrative in one way shape or form. And in recent years it has become more and more difficult, I think, or the rules have changed a little bit with museums and directors have to focus on fundraising, fundraising, fundraising, fundraising and more fundraising. There's just so many things and some people feel that calling, I don't, I'm so satisfied with just working with artist, working with art--you know learning more about myself--learning more about the world around me and it's like a gift and you get paid to do it. It's terrific--you don't get paid a lot, but--you know it's a wonderful profession to be in. So, I don't have any--I mean the logical step for someone in the curatoral position would be maybe to jump to a director type position but it's not something that interest me--so I'm happy kind of where I am. Patricia It's going from being a teacher to being a superintendent of a school, it's a very different role. Lynn Yeah, it's a different role. Patricia Emily, one thing that I've always being wondering about is like Diverse Works unparticular--it started out as an artist organization and it has become fairly institutionalized and fairly structured. Is that inevitable for- Emily I don't know if it's inevitable--I think--I--going through this stabilization process that they have with the Cultural Arts Council of the Houston Harris County--they have inflected on various arts organizations who apply for this torture--is incredible an artist story--that's what I love. And we all get this charge out of that object and what it means an what it says about its maker and the community around the maker and its my vehicle to understand everything, basically. It's my vehicle to the world and I think that's my training and that's my passion--that's my background and running Diverse Works with a team--I mean nobody runs a place like Diverse Works alone--I don't think and have it survive. So this team of people that ran Diverse Works, the board, the staff, the volunteers went through the stabilization process. And it was all about organizational development--how do you plan for your future--and what is your mission--Diverse Works mission is to support the artist--how do you do that best--and that is to have a structure that functions. So the aren't artist start scrambling around for a thousand dollars--five thousand dollars to get their work out--that is the job of the staff and board and volunteers and if you have a road map it makes it so much easier. Because you're not reacting--you plan out--and suddenly you're free to actually do the work. So institution sounds like a place where there are crazy people--I don't see it as a crazy place--I see it as a place that gives incredible flexibility and elasticity to free you to do your mission and achieve it better than ever. The planning process was a new form of torture for me, but when it was done it changed me. It changed the way I look at all art organizations whether they're art organizations or anything else because you're so paralyzed if the situation moves for you as an organization--and these plans bring all these people to the table--asking them what they need--pooling the ideas--getting it into a plan. It's so (?) and it finally--I think strengths the organization measurably and it also--we have as many opinions as there are people and yet one thing we had consensus on from the beginning was the mission of the organization. We've all seen organizations falter when the board becomes ribbon about is organization position and the case at Diverse Works the board isn't--really both boards--at Diverse Works we have two boards--an arts board and board of directors--they all believed in the mission--and how do you best achieve it. So. I think it confirms the dedication to the arts and the individual artists mission and I've always wanted--when I was there--to have artist on the staff, but what happens many-many times is those artist give up their career. Or they give up some part of their career. And heavens--that's--that's just an ethical--to what Diverse Works insists to do. To give artist opportunities, platforms, microphones--whatever they need to make their work and administration may not be what they need to make their work--I mean some artist are great administrators and I applaud them. I don't know if there's such a think as a natural administrator--I think it's a learned behavior--for me it's a learned behavior. It was really good. Patricia Did-do you go through similar torture? Susanne Well we're going through a little less formal structure because we aren’t part of catch stabilization, but we were doing that same kind long term planing processing involving the board and the staff and the volunteers. And it's really incredible instructive. Especially in an organization like ours that had a small core of founders and is trying to become organized. No one can call the Orange Show organized, but we want it to go on beyond our lives--I mean my life as an administrator--or founders--we want--we're ready to turn it over to the next generation. I mean I'd--I'd like to be putting my skills to use--you building a trust fund for my baby. I really am seeing the light of the rainbow and would like to join the for profit world--you know I found out about making IOP money in the internet stocks too late. You know I'd love to pass it on and that's what we're trying to do--get our entire organization in a good state of health so that we can pass it on. And I'm finding what you're saying (points to Lynn) is to be incredible true--it's hard to face those questions and issues--our way to answering issues was just to avoid the question--in the past--we didn't have fights we just didn't ask those questions. But, we're answering them, we're dealing with them and building for the future. Patricia What's been the biggest stumbling block--when you say--you don’t even ask the questions--what is… Susanne Well, I think that for a long time we unwilling to face the issue of commercializing the Art Car Parade and that's something that lots of people have talked about, but inside the Orange Show it was not easily talked about--it was our program and we loved it. But, we poured money into it for years and it has an audience which means that it has the potential to earn money and we've been facing that--and we have a corporate sponsor--and you know--it's sort of like growing up and dealing with preparing for the future--paying our bills. Patricia You have a very small staff? Susanne No, an incredible staff--Jennifer, Beth Secore--who is probably the only artist--well--we're actually lucky enough to that--Beth is an artist is able to be our artist--she works with children at risk--doing, right now a, thirty by hundred long mural. And Jennifer McKay is the assistant director--who runs the art car parade--we're really, incredibly fortunate with our staff, but it is small and we do have to wear all those hats that you've been talking about. And I really look forward to putting my collection of hats away. And wearing one. My sister and I dream of going into business together. Patricia Oh yeah, an art gallery? Susanne No, I'm not sure what. Patricia Michelle, you are an artist. You run a for profit, you have the Artist Collective which is non profit--how do you juggle Michelle Well, lately I haven't been juggling too well. I've rolled the Barns/ Blackman Gallery up on a shelf for a while. Sad to say that I’m not reconnecting the phone. I've just made this a serious withdraw from a lot of the juggling. I have three children and a granddaughter--hanging on to the institution of marriage. So, I've committed to the Collective. And so, it's not about--I'm trying to find out what is the top priority. The Collective seems to be the best vehicle to provide services in the broadest wav of the artist community. It is the best vehicle to connect the African-American artistic community to the breath of Houston's --beyond Houston--so that's what I'm focused on right now. I'm trying to do what I can do to help institutionalize the organization so that it'll be around to serve future generations. To convince people that they can find something in the Collective that they like--much the same way that I was very successful in convince my students when I taught in kid's schools that there was something in the arts for them. Wither it was in visual--or wither it was in another arts discipline--whether it painting or drawing or clay--fooling with things that people dismissed as artsy-fartsy. You know if they liked it, then that was fine, stick with it and wither they intended to be a professional artist or not. I've never been a professional artist--I' not a professional arts administrator and I've not been a professional gallery person because my personal connotation of professionalism is that you earn a living. I'm looking forward to those things happening and really be a model for people who are interested in some aspect of the arts. I think that artists are the target for a lot of the things I do because not only are they a client--a customer--they are the basis for all of this activity that I'm involved. I want to be connected with artist because we are in the same universe--we're doing the same kind of thing--the creative process--it's our common ground and that's the. But a lot of artist have bought into--what I'm satisfied to call a myth--that if they produce great work, people will beat a path to their door, it doesn't happen. They are focused on production, but they don't know about marketing nor are they connected to people who know about marketing. So, how do to get this communication to bridge. It takes people who are willing to just sit and talk and to introduce one person to the other, and they don't get paid for doing that. It's just a social thing to do--it's just a friendly thing to do--it's a nice thing to do. But, in the meantime, works need to be displayed in a lighted secure place. And they need to be documented well, so that slides can go out and people can know--curators will know that this work exists in this time and space. Catalogs are wonderful, but how do you get them funded, so the Collective is just prompting artist particularly African-American artist and students, children--all ages--who are gifted with creativity and need to be assured that. They need to be confirmed in that. They need to think of arts as a possibility for career professional career in their lives. So, I'm happy to direct them to other artist, but I would like to--I would like for there to be more evidence within the community they emerged from that this is a viable profession. The arts can be a portal to children and shouldn't be something that's outside their reach, outside their conceptualization. It ought to be an option for them. Emily (Directs her question to Michelle and Susanne) I'm quite curious for you--because I'm know you've been looking at some community building and using the Collective as a center and--I'd like you to talk about that--you and Susanne--and about your neighborhood. Because you all are in--I mean the Contemporary Museum is part of the museum district, but just curious--what you all--it'd be interesting in knowing what you're doing. Michelle Well, the Community Artist Collective is in located in what use to be the never-never land between the theatre district and the museum district. And now it's boomtown. We are at the corner--1501 Elgin at La Branch in the Midtown slash third ward area. There was information available to us some time ago that there were fewer than five hundred residents in the area when we moved into the building in 1989. It is projected that there will be five thousand who will be looking for things to do--some activities--and may have the wherewithal to pay for those services and those opportunities to be engaged artistically, so we're in a wonderful location. And trying to business differently than we've done before which hopefully will support some of the things that we've not been as successful in getting support for. Our budget--we're a small organization, we've been hovering under a hundred thousand dollars for thirteen years. Thanks to a grant from the Houston Endowment, we've been able to acquire the building where we are. Though we had made a commitment to do that--when we move in. It just took ten years to convince enough people and a personal loan--that it was a good thing to do--that there was a real commitment to do it. The vision was that these African-American artists had something to share with everybody. And there are artist who are not African-American who have joined this effort--and I'm hoping that it'll just continue to evolve and be in a better position to serve the Houston community and maintain its sensitivity to under served populations. There are a lot of poor people that we represent. There are a lot of poor people that we would like to reach with these opportunities--and we need help. Susanne The Orange Show is located in an area that might be Houston's only non-boom place. We're just a mile--we're just one block off the Gulf Freeway at Telephone Road. And we live in an area that--our office is located right across in a little house the street. Our office in our facility--the Orange Show is in an area that has seen so much of the gang warfare over the years. The little boys that use to come and play with me--my first year at the Orange Show--I worked on the weekends. And the little boys that use to come and play with me now have guns and are involved in all kinds of things--an have kids even. And we found ourselves--I want to say that the first thing that our foundation did when we started was that we went to every neighbor in a mile radius and had them sign a petition saying they wanted the Orange Show to be preserved. It was really important to our board that we had the neighbors on our side. And over the years--as the neighborhood has changed, we found ourselves trying to adapt and reach out to these kids, who are in so much trouble. We did--we found ourselves having vandalism for the first time about five years on a regular basis--and sometimes it was horrific vandalism. Sometimes it was just tagging and marking of our front walls, which were white and very attractive to gang members. And so we did a project with some of our lower rider friends who are in the Art Car Parade. We got the Houston police department to give us some of those bicycles that are stolen that sit in their warehouse. And we did--we did for six months bicycle safety lessons and repair lessons and we helped children make their bicycles into low rider bicycles. We helped make them stylized. And if a child came to a number of these they got to keep their bike--it was a great project. Then we started doing murals because of course--what happens in areas with gang tagging and marking--the gangs are just like little dogs--their claiming their territory. And businesses will get fined by the city if they leave those markings there. So we have--with a number of businesses--now created seven murals--almost all of them are in the east end--one of them is not far from here at the Moveable Feast because that's where out paint company that donates all the pain is. But we worked with kids that are in gangs--that just pioneered this project. Where kids that did actually deface the walls are now there the painting walls. The project is now almost four years old and not one of those murals has been defaced since--not one of those walls that formerly was covered has been defaced. So, we are doing--we try to make a real overt presents in the neighborhood and are neighbors are--it's very funny--they calls us when they have a car to sell. When they have a problem with the police--they think that we must know how to fix these things. We have a really close and wonderful relationship. My baby stays with a family just four doors down and it's brought all of us closer together in the neighborhood. So, it's really a vital part of who we are. I can't tell the number of times that people have said to us "gee if you could just move the Orange Show over here. But, we're happy where it is--even though the Beer Can House without out ever being open--has more visitors than we do. Patricia Oh? Susanne I think so, yeah. It's just one block off Memorial. I want to say--I wanted to thank you actually, cause you did something that was really true. Patty is the reason that we a lot of what we do is out there in the public eye. You have written stories about the great and the small--and the traditional and the out there on the edge--and that first parade--you were right--you were one of the few people to see it. We changed that the very next year. Patricia Anyway, how are we doing for time? Any questions? I have a question here. Emily, have you found that being a woman helped or hindered your career plans? Emily You know--I really didn't have a choice in it. I actually think it's great to be female because you have so many doors that are open. I also believe there's a glass ceiling and I don't if it's a language barrier, but I do think there are obstacles that women face. I just don't know why. I don't care to spend a lot of time figuring it out. I've run into it a few times. The size of organization I've usually worked in are small organizations which tend to be run by women. I've worked for--my first two bosses were Linda Capecart and Marty Mayo and I'm forever indebted to them. They were incredible teachers and mentors. They shaped me in way that all those years of education failed to do. Helped or hindered--females are so fluid and you can wear all those hats, so I think it works for or against you. Patricia I have some related questions about being a woman and black representation This one says there's a large hole in this strong panel of players, curious from the real big players like from the MFA and, there's a lack of women curators and these institutions raise some major issues of promotions, salary, hiring, sexism in the arts… Lynn There are women in all of those places. I think some of them just couldn’t be here tonight. You know when I was listening to Emily--I was thinking back, because I've worked for women and men--and I've been really lucky--cause they've all been generous and egos in check--and let you grow. I also found when I was at the Art Institution of Chicago--this enormous institution with lots and lots of people working there and tons of bureaucracy I found that it helped to be a woman. I found that I was able to get things done--I don't know why--but I was just aware that my male colleges couldn't get--you know--a quick response from the shipping department. I don't know what it was--but I've never felt like I've hit that glass ceiling. And I don't know if it's in the non-profit world--I think that when you sort of maybe the head of a big museum they're still biased and want someone wearing pants all the time. I don't know--there are a lot of women in the arts. There are a lot of women directors, curators, and founders. I think the arts might be one of those fields where the glass ceiling--if it is there--and it probably is there the whole time. Patricia Well we were talking about something very interesting--the bigger institutions--the really massive institutions are directed by men, but it seems like the majority of the smaller groups are women who are at the heads of it or are who created it or direct it. Lynn Well, I'll use the Art Institution as an example again, the person who was the director when I was there--still is the director--a lovely man. I quickly discovered after working there that the person who really ran the place is a woman, but everybody knew that. He was sort of the figurehead--the ambassador, but she's the one who ran the museum. (Audience laughter) But. It was very clear--she ran the museum. Random question from an audience member But was she getting the money? Lynn She wasn't getting as much money as he was. But he was sort of more the ambassador but, she--in terms of--if you needed anything she was the one you went to. Michelle I think women have the special ability to be able to see the picture and detail as well--and the patients to manage. Patricia Well, that kind of answers the next question. Which was do women have a curatorial style. I mean, (points to Lynn) you work with Dan--does he tend to work any different than you do? Lynn We're different people. To me it doesn't matter if he's a man--everybody's an individual. I also work with a woman--everybody's an individual and interested in different things for different reasons. Michelle The curatorial responsibility is a bigger than the individual curator--I think. Unless, and this may happen in the larger institutions--unless there's some directed--this is the kind of show--this is the parameters we're looking for--and then the curator has to assume a lot of what is expected but in smaller organizations I think it's a matter of dealing with the artist-- the objective of making the best presentation to the public. Lynn Plus everybody has a different eye and I find that with certain curators working here there where ever I'm always interested in what they're doing because I find this certain affinity with the kind of things they're looking for. Emily (Asks to Susanne) How about what ever you call what you're operating--is it mostly men or women. Susanne It's really mixed. The bigger museum in New York has a director that is a man and has been for the past three directors. Baltimore was founded by a woman and she runs it. Patricia Comments she runs it (and the audience laughs.) Susanne I was just thinking a little bit about the question curatorial because it is really about looking and selecting and maybe style might be--I know my own experience curating a show in Baltimore--maybe this is sort of a generalization--maybe men can't see small jewels as easily as women can. I'm not sure. We have this joke about men like big, big, big (uses hands to show big and bigger measures and the audience laughs.) I know I have a convinced installation people that--yes this is a wonderful work of art even though it's tiny and it can go right here on this wall and it is a magnificent work of art and people will give it the attention that it deserves--even though it's small. I mean that's sort of what I found over and over again. But that--that's such a generalization. Emily I'm wondering if the visual arts people and the other arts--I'm thinking about the performing arts in town--I'm thinking about there are a whole lot of new dance companies tend to be run by women. There's the Paint Women's Project, Dancers, the Fight against Cancer. There are a whole lot of smaller groups that are again are run by women but when I look at the larger groups of women and I don't know if it is true throughout the field. I wonder if the visual arts are somewhat different--for some of the reasons Michelle pointed out--and I also do think it has to do with money. I think that the big jobs--not inevitable, because there are the exceptions that we can mention, but so many of the larger institutions like the performing and visual arts are run by men and the boards are run by men. And the until women take the money and take control and become active members of audiences and support these organizations with their presence their board leadership and their dollars--I don't think that's going to change. Unfortunately we've worked in the arts all too often from a corporate model rather than some other model where we can evolve. There's a older artist in town named Robert Alfred Brown--I think a few people know him--he moved here from New York because he loved the climate. He felt New York was way too dry. He came to the Art Car Parade one year and moved here very soon after, but he said the next millennium will be for women. And I just think that we've got ourselves in an environmental artistic cultural political pickle that I'm just hoping that women can retain some of the humanity and lead us out of this. Being on the sixty-forth floor I can see the quality of our air everyday and I'm reminded that we're not going to live long at all. You just look at all these endocrine disrupters--we're just breathing we're producing in this area--people aren't going to be fertile--there's not even going to be a future unless we do something. (Someone in the audience laughs) Lynn continues her comments--No it's true the prediction is that in a hundred to a hundred fifty years only about thirty percent of women won't be able to conceive. We've got to take it serious--I mean the arts are my world, but there's a whole world around us that we're preserving this--for what? Michelle I heard this morning that in most third world countries breathing the air is like smoking forty cigarettes a day (other panelist agree that they heard the same message.) Patricia We have two questions that are kind of related, Michelle--I'm going to throw it at you first. It says, can you say more about why it is hard for African women to both claim their or their identities as artist and what conditions are necessary for them changing. Michelle Well, still working this out, but I think that in art--for African American people particularly--to be proclaimed their identity--their profession--the difficulty in doing that is because they place themselves at such a low priority--we--I learned how not to do that also. We place ourselves for what we want below what we want for our children--our community, our parents everything is a higher priority. And there isn't much bound which is place on our own creativity. The people around us are not saying--this is important--this is important to me that you do this--it's important to our community that this be done by you--so that's my theory about what's happen to the artist. The potential is there--if it can just be encouraged there'll be so much of it. There has to be an environment to receive the work--treasure it--document it--circulate it. So that's what's important to people in the arts community my Emily Well there the same metaphor--we meet--we actually try to see each other regularly because we do have our own culture if you don't have the sort of network you loose that community building. You talked about the arts not being a geographic community, but a cultural community--it's really important for me to see my colleagues-however we can do to--we all need to do it Michelle If we're not able to point to the success stories--and use them as models--there's not a sufficient frame of reference. So even is we point to some woman whether she African American not--we can say--well she can do that cause she can do that cause she's got this kind of support--this kind of contribution--and there's a difference so we have to be able to build on some similarity. If there are African American women who are successful as artist--large numbers of successful women artist--then it's easier to relate to whoever is in that room. Susanne I study people who don't think of themselves as artist but make art--so often there is a trigger that happens to help them unleash that creativity in themselves. For many people it's retirement and women don't ever really retire (all the panelists agree.) (Turns to Michelle) It does go along with exactly what you're saying about placing ourselves low, but I think that it is also that our fingers are always busy. I mean there are women who never really retire. Michelle I've learned recently, well Diverse Works had a show on Naomi Cole years ago and I was reacquainted with this woman's work--she lived in Ft Worth all her life she raised three children. She not only produced visually as a self-taught artist, but she wrote beautiful poetry--so descriptive. And her children are so proud of her and have maintained this body--this collection of work, but her community her children--her immediate community--her geographic community where she emerged from didn't value what she did but fortunately she did. And how many women produce, but we don't know about--so there are those too. They valued it. Patricia Well, why don't we know about it? They don't show or don't connect with-- Michelle They don't show it and the people they show it to say "oh, ok" and that's as far as it goes because maybe they don't know anyone who's connected with the arts who can do something with it or in the schools. Emily Or in schools--I hate to think they're going to denigrate the role of teaching. We have so little arts in the schools--I hate to think what those kids a missing cause teachers are so great--I mean can affect so many generations of kids--hopefully, when they're good. Patricia There's a question here--two parts. It says statistically women art is so under represented, what do you feel women need to do to gain more equity? The other part is--why does the Chronicle have a policy of preferring not to review shows containing women's art only? (Patricia answers the question) I have to say it's not a policy at all. My personal response to that is art is art. And whether a woman makes or a Black woman makes it or a handicapped woman makes it is totally irrelevant. It is not a policy--our reviews show as many as I can. And when you say "this art is made by a woman" it creates--in my mind--a certain amount of expectation. I have to deal with her as a woman before I can deal with the art as art and I find that very distracting and ultimately I find it very counter productive. And we can talk about it for a long time and I don't think we want to get into that too much. But, I think what you said is very important--you have women who make art who don't know how to show it or don’t realize that it's important that they are creating these things and they need to be encouraged and supported and exhibited and written about whenever possible. From where I'm sitting--there's an enormous amount things that have to be covered and the fact that it's a woman artist doesn't give it any more credibility or any more urgency than any body else. Emily Let me just say something else, we put a lot at stake in the press whether a show gets covered or doesn't get covered. And really the most effective way is by word of mouth and if you know three people who want to do a show just tell them to move the furniture out of the living room and do a show. Get a munch of people over--buzz builds and whether Patricia ever sees it or not--you know--you can't rely on the one art reviewer--there's just no way she can do it all. Even if she was a superwoman, it's just not possible, but you create a buzz among a community and that buzz grows because there's a lot of people with their ear to the ground who are curious to know what artist are doing. And as you go--for instance through the Cultural Arts Council that has a panel process--any of you all can be on that panel--you just nominate yourself. And you find out about arts organizations in town and that builds. Part of it is just getting your head up--finally getting up far enough for people to see it. Because there's a lot of curiosity--for example there's a whole artist community coming up in Spring Branch--warehouses--artists who are getting studios and warehouses close to their homes. So I think there's a lot going on that may never hit the Houston Chronicle or Houston Press. But the art exist and there's a market and there's so many alternative ways to of look at it. And yes, the press can be disappointing--I mean I know that at Diverse Works there were a number of shows that should have been covered, but she can only do so much, so what can we do for ourselves. People put things on racks, distribute flyers (turns to an audience member from the Art Caucus and asks her to say something about the Caucus) Audience Art Caucus member speaks I don't think we've been covered in years and it's not that we need to be covered--(address Patricia) need your review to caucus a show necessarily. But my question was really referring to the article about the African American women artist that you had written. There was something in that article and I was curious about--I mean--when you talking a minute ago about that you didn't particularly want to know if it's a woman's art, but art. But in the article there was something about that there wasn't significance that it was a group of women--African American women's art. It was sort of a disclaimer and then you went on to your individual review, but it was like there was no merit in that it was a group show of African American women. And that's what I wanted to get to and understand more about the representation. Patricia I really personally and like I said this really isn't policy. I personally really want to look art "period" and try to understand what the artist is doing and whether we have a group of women showing--I think that's wonderful and valid and interesting, but to me it's what these individual women are doing. The fact that there's five of them or fifty of them in this one thing and it's true there is a moment where there's critical mass where you have to pay attention to-two--you might have to pay attention to fifty and that's just human nature. But, I guess I keep hoping that we're past that and so dealing with the work that a woman does herself is what really interest me--not whether she belongs to a group of artist or not. And so yes, I do tend to write a disclaimer, you're right I do and then I go ahead and write about the group's show and what it looks like as a group. But it's a little unfair and in any group show there's really good stuff and not so good stuff so that's the other issue to look at. Susanne I think there's a real issue about biography and the artist. It's just a much larger issue--when I did this exhibition in Baltimore I was horrified to find that after I choose 113 artist I was going to have to write 113 biographies. And I took some criticism because the museum decided to put them up on the wall. And I got a very thoughtful letter from a woman, who owns a gallery in Berkeley--she said, "I was really assaulted by all this information on the biography." I was assaulted by all this personal information--all the tragedies they had. I was assaulted by their biography when I want to look at their art. I thought given all the art criticisms and recent emphasis on the biographies--the artist whether we're talking about straight men or gay studies it's a really interesting discussion that I've had for hours with friends. You can come down on one side or the other and I think there are valid points on both sides. Patricia This is for everybody I believe. How important have women been in your findings in doing the work you love? Emily Totally, my whole family history is strong women and strong men and I grew up with were very important to me. And in the classroom at Rice there were very few women professors in college and at Diverse Work the women there made it so rich and so fabulous then the women artist--it's a woman's world--really. I mean I can't imagine a world without them. I've been fortunate in many, many ways and one of them is having a lot of great strong women around me. Lynn I grew up here and like Emily we grew up in a place where women could do whatever they wanted--and then I've been very lucky. All of the women that I've worked for have been very generous and they let you grow--they nurtured you along--Polly is here--she's my editor--my gosh she's been nurturing me for years. Yeah, I've been really lucky. They've been very supportive and helpful. Michelle There are a lot of strong women in my background and I'm hoping to be a strong woman for the women who I encounter. Susanne Yeah, I totally have so many important women in my life. My mother pushed me out when I was getting cold feet right before I decided to be the only person in my family who ever move out of state. Too Maryland Meken and Barbara Henton and all of the women that I've worked with at the Art Show working there and now all the young women that I work with. Patricia There's been two women for me professionally speaking and one was when I was in college my first year--an art history class 101 basic course--we had a woman teacher who was terrible and she was really awful so most of the time she'd let her TA take over. He was this little guy who was very nice and sweet. But, the textbook was Barbara Gros and if there was ever a strong woman in the arts it was Barbara Gros would certainly qualify. And the other woman was--when I was hired to do this job. I was hired by the Chronicle Fine Arts critic, her name was Ann Holmes--who essentially invented art criticism in this city. And her story apocraphyl or not--she showed up at Jesse Jones door one day and said I want to work in the paper and he said well, ok you can go and make the coffee and pour me one. No, I want to write and he says ok, little girl what do you want to write? She said well, I want to write about art--and she did and we're talking ancient history--in the twenties and thirties--Miss Ima Hog was having the Symphony play at her house at Bayou Bends and so Ann Holmes was the one who gave me my job. It was a job I was not looking for. And so those two women one direct--one indirect mentored me. Ok, let's see. You've all been reading the New York Times, what do you feel about sensation the very controversial show in New York? Susanne I have to be honest and say that I have not been reading the New York Times and I really don't know… Lynn Well I read in the paper this morning there was kind of an interview with one of the artist causing the stir. I thought he handled it so well. The interviewee asked what does this work of art mean to you and he said I think I'll pass on telling you what it means to me that's not really relevant to this particular discussion. This work of art means particular things to particular people and that's what's driving this. Emily You know the arts only comes up in the popular press when someone's trying to get votes or trying to get attention. They're trying to get interest in something they don't want and so the press goes after them. The press really just loves this stuff. It's not really about the art--it's not about the institutions--it's about somebody wants votes. They want to distract you from something else much more important like the state of our schools or pollution. Lynn Sometimes we need contemporary art by nature that deals with contemporary issues and some of then are really tuff. I was looking at the invitation to Sensation and it essentially got a NC seventeen rating--you've got to be seventeen or older to get in. Patricia It's deliberately provocative. It's legit. Emily It's totally legit, we can't accept that in society--we are really lost. Patricia There's that--I can't remember which writer brought up the issue about the theatre that did a presentation in New York that had Jesus Christ as the homosexual--the mayor didn't stand up and demanded that theater to close its doors. He must have been running for the senate. It's very clear that happens. Michelle I'm thinking about people at the grassroots level who may not understand all of the ramification--politically and economically. They may understand public funding though, but it saddens me to think that they have some missing pieces of information about art, so how do they engage in this conversation about how those public funds are or are not going to be used if they don't understand about art. That's my concern. Patricia Are any of you familiar with Dr. Lenorad Schlain's book Art and Physics? (None of the panelist knew about it) Can whoever asked the question tell us about it? An Audience Members Speaks I asked the question. She mentioned about being accepting about the things that they see. His latest book is about the five thousand-year cycle back about into women being more of the nurturers--removing from the warrior to the nurturer image society. And that women are suddenly occupying more--about women taking the nurturing image in society and that women are suddenly occupying prominent places--in the political world, in the sports world, and in the arts world. And I just thought that perhaps you had read him. Patricia The next question is--what do curators do? Michelle What I do as curator is--get to know artist--their work, their biographies-- and encourage them. Help them to prepare their work for exhibition and that's because I work in a small organization, I've never worked in a large organization. Lynn For me, it's looking all the time. Going to around art studios--going to galleries--travel to see things when I can. And hoping that if something grabs me in a powerful enough way that I can figure out a way to bring it to the museum. But, and someone who comes to the museum and sees the exhibition will share in whatever I have done. It's a looking role. Sometime it is frustrating because you can have experiences--I can think of one--I had the privilege to visit an artist who had an amazing garden and driving home I was thinking that I couldn't share that experience in the garden. I could take pictures but that still couldn't share the whole experience. Emily (Speaks to Susanne) You're the only real curator in the traditional sense. Susanne Well, I don't know if that's true. I think of it as being a bridge between the public and the artist. And I think I'm luck enough to be in an institution without walls and only three times in my life have ever had the chance to put something that I care about in a museum. I've organized bus trips and parades. And what I'm really committed to is that arts is not a commodity it's a process. And it exists outside of the places where you go to look for it as well as inside these places. Patricia Ok, thank you The End 4 2
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