all images from crusadeforart.com
By James Pepper Kelly
Jennifer Schwartz personifies the multi-faceted arts innovator. In addition to directing her eponymous gallery in Atlanta and founding the new photo residency Flash Powder Projects with Fraction Magazine founder David Bram, Schwartz tours the country on her ongoing Crusade for Art. This September she’ll be in Chicago reviewing portfolios for the 2013 Filter Photo Festival, but we’re lucky enough to have her in town for a few days right now as the Crusade crosses from coast to coast.
Jennifer Schwartz and Lady Blue, the Crusade’s 1977 VW Bus
The Crusade is a celebration of art, democracy, and collecting. In each of the cities she visits, Schwartz recruits a small number of respected local photographers to join her in a public place, handing out their prints to local passersby and engaging them in conversation. The Chicago installment will feature some names to put on your HOT list if they’re not there already: Matthew Avignone, Jess Dugan, Nathan Matthews, Maggie Meiners, and Damon Shell. At 1:00 pm on Friday, May 24th, Schwartz and the artists will stand outside the bus on the corner of Dearborn and Monroe, intent on handing out 50 prints. That night at 7:00, Schwartz will give a talk at the Chicago Photography Center about creative means of audience-building for artists. Below are some segments from an original interview with Schwartz. Follow the Crusade’s progress on it’s website, or search it out on YouTube for the full experience!
The Tour: Where It’s Been, Where It’s Going
I did two events at the end of last year, just as a test, in Atlanta at the High Museum and the next weekend during PhotoNOLA in New Orleans. And then the official consecutive tour launched in April and I went up the West Coast doing LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. And then I was just home for two weeks and now I’m here doing Chicago, Cleveland, New York, D.C., Richmond, and back to Atlanta.
Lady Blue sometimes co-pilot, the Santa Fe based photographer Sarah Moore
City to City
It seems like the pop-up in each city takes on the stereotypical personality of that city…. Based on Atlanta and New Orleans I tweaked a couple things, like “okay, this’ll work a little bit better if we do it this way.” Then I go to LA and it was amazing! It was a beautiful sunny day, and everyone who walked by was like, “Oh my gosh! What’s going on?” We couldn’t talk to as many people as wanted to talk to us. Everyone was going out of there way to tell us this was the coolest thing ever and I was like, “I have just figured it out!” And it turns out that was just LA, people were just super sunshine-happy. I mean, all of them have gone well, but they’ve all been different.
San Francisco was a lot of people walking by with their heads down like “Don’t ask me for money.” It was a lot of coaxing people out. Portland, the whole thing was like a Portlandia episode. It was completely bizarre, and every minute was weird and funny. And then Seattle—I’d never been to Seattle before, so I was asking people “What’s the personality of Seattle?” and everyone was like, “Passive-aggressive.” I was like, “What does that even mean?” And then, it totally was.
San Francisco Crusaders
On Spreading Collecting
There are a couple different levels of goals. On the very basic, micro-level, the goal is that these local photographers in each city will be able to interact with the people that are in the community, and exchange information. These people will walk away as collectors, and hopefully that’s a relationship that they’ll follow up on. I follow up with the photographers and encourage them to reach out. From the participants’ perspective, on a local level, I want the experience to be transformative in some way. I don’t feel like they’re going to interact with the pop-up and then walk down the blog, pop in a gallery, and then drop $5000 on a piece of art. What I do hope is that it will spark something, or at least get them thinking about art in a different way: that art is something that can be accessible, and it is interesting to me, and it is something that I can relate to. By giving someone an arts experience when they weren’t seeking it out, something that’s engaging and fun, maybe they’ll hang this photograph in their home and when they look at it they’ll connect to the story from the photographer that they met told them about. Then the next time they need something to go over their couch, they’ll hopefully think twice about just going to Ikea. They’ll say, “This is for me. I can do this. This is an option for me, having original art and hanging things on my wall that have significance.
On more of a macro level, I’m very passionate about this idea that having an engaging and interesting experience around art is really important for people to start moving in [collecting’s] direction. And then if we don’t do that, if we just sit in the space with four white walls and wait for people to come to us, we aren’t meeting people where they are right not generationally. And if we don’t, we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot going forward. If we don’t cultivate a demand for the arts then the whole balance is going to topple over. I’m not anti-gallery at all—I have a gallery. There’s absolutely a huge place for galleries in the overall arts psychology, but the gallery doesn’t fit every artist, and it doesn’t fit every collector. I feel like if you are a more established artist, and certainly if you’re a more established collector, then a gallery is a great fit for you. But I also think there are a lot of artists whose work is never going to hit a gallery wall, but there’s still an audience for them, there’s still people who are going to appreciate that.
Crusaders Crossing Oregon
People don’t go from zero to 60. You need something to get them in the door. I think that once you get people on that path, the art sells itself. You know, collecting is awesome. Once you start, I don’t know many people who buy one or two and then go back to Ikea. Once you’re on that path, you’re there. It’s getting people on that path that I think is missing. And honestly, I feel like my gallery is a similar thing: I want to give emerging artists an opportunity to get more exposure, and start building collectors, and start getting exhibition opportunities so that then the big galleries of the world will look at them.
On a bigger level, it’s also about having conversations like this, and about being able to be on NPR so that I can talk about this in a way that even more people than physically walk by the event can think about it.
How to Promote Your Work It absolutely depends on the artist. It depends on what the work is, who the audience is, and what your goals are. I work with people all the time one-on-one to say, “What are we looking at? What do you want to have happen with this?” and it’s completely different with each person. The path is different.
The reason this whole thing started for me with the Crusade is because I thought, “This is what my path is.” I’m really interested in finding this group of people that aren’t looking at work yet, but would if certain perceptual barriers to entry were lowered. So, who is this person? You know, what does this person look like? What connections do I already have to this person? What are my obstacles to reaching them? How can I get around that? In Atlanta I’ve done a lot of different types of programs to attract this type of person, and it totally is working, and it’s wonderful.
But those programs, I write about them, I want everyone to do them if it fits their goals, but every artist has different work. What one person produces and another person produces, it’s just going to have a different trajectory. One person might be making rainbows and unicorns, and another person might be making mass graves, you know? That’s a different audience. The person who buys a rainbow with a unicorn jumping over it is probably not going to be the one going for the massacre scene, and so who are your people? How do you reach this person? And how good are you?
For some people, a sale is going to be the most validating factor in their artistic life. And if that’s what your goal is, that’s totally fine. But the way that you go about achieving that goal is going to be very different from someone who says, “I want my art to get exposure, and I want it to be out there.” The person who wants exposure and to get out there, they might be seeking a lot of opportunities to show their work online. That’s not sales, that’s eyeballs. The person that wants sales might say, “I’m not giving it away, I’m not showing it all over the world so people can just click on it.”
Giving Lady Blue some love
Lady Blue, from Ebay The bus could barely make it out the driveway—good story. She’s a temperamental lady, she’s hanging out with her new, Chicago mechanic boyfriend right now. I got her in pretty bad shape, my Atlanta mechanics didn’t really do much to right her. But I think, you know—in California we found her some good men. And now I have so many mechanics I can call and say, “So, Lady Blue is in Chicago and she sounds like this.” But her heart really belongs to the boys in San Francisco. … The mechanics I’ve bonded with on the way, it’s really been incredible. I have learned how to hot-wire the bus.
Friday, May 24th, 1:00-3:00 pm (approximate): Crusade for Art pops-up at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe. Location potentially moveable, follow @crusade4art on Twitter for updates.
Friday, May 24th, 7:00 pm: Crusade presentation at the Chicago Photography Center, 3301 N. Lincoln Avenue