4/4/4 Artist Run Spaces

Four visual artists running art spaces in four different locations share their journeys, missions, and obstacles of being working artists and managing gallery spaces.

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Visual artists often push the limits of feasibility, whether in personal projects, scheduling, or execution of grandiose artistic visions. The artists interviewed here are are not only doing this in their own lives, but acting as allies to their communities and offering a voice and perspective outside of commercial options. Providing space for a community means different things in different locations. Here the artists discuss their missions and the ever- impressive hows and whys behind running an art space. The ripple effects and connective tissues of all artist run spaces are changing the landscape and power dynamic in the art world. Tim Doud of Stable in Washington D.C., Alex Ebstein and Seth Adelsberger of Resort, Baltimore, MD. Anthony Cervino and Shannon Egan of Ejecta, Carlisle, PA. and Alexis Granwell of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Philadelphia, PA are a part of this movement on the East Coast.

 

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TIM DOUD of STABLE , Washington DC

HOW DID STABLE COME TO BE? WHAT IS THE MISSION?

Myself, along with Caitlin Teal Price and Linn Meyers developed STABLE.  We started the project four years ago as a response to multiple studio spaces closing and artists leaving the city  — a visible shrinking of artistic presence in DC. We also recognized the need for a discernible hub in DC.

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STABLE’s mission is to strengthen Washington, DC’s contemporary visual arts community by providing affordable and sustainable studio space. We aim to foster an engaged, diverse community of visual artists; for that reason we join with with local, national, and international partners in order to provide programming and exhibition platforms in Washington, DC

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THIS VENTURE?

The most challenging aspects of beginning STABLE — and there are plenty of challenges to share — were securing the lease space and fundraising.  These two were bound together in our case, since the developers — Folger Pratt and Boundary Co. — needed to know that we could raise at least $250,000 before they would even sign a lease.  Once we raised the money we then seriously negotiated a lease, and having to account for a variety of interests, personal as well as commercial needs. In the end, the developers agreed to a ten year lease and to pay for the built-out of the space.for us and we now have a ten-year lease and we remain friends!

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STABLE PLANS TO OPEN LATER THIS YEAR, HOW WILL YOU THINK ABOUT THE FABRIC OF THE SPACE, FROM PROGRAMMING DECISIONS TO THE ARTISTS IN THEIR STUDIOS?

STABLE plans to open in February of 2019 (fingers crossed).

STABLE is committed to excellence in the visual arts.  Collaboration is central to our mission. So when we speak about the texture, the build and the fabric of the space, the key word is collaboration.  An external committee of arts professionals from DC and Baltimore will choose the artists who are invited into the space.  The gallery program will be run in collaboration with other arts organizations and professionals. The founders are committed to engaging communities that reflect the city we live in.  STABLE joins with well-established arts organizations to bring diverse programming into the STABLE studio complex. The artists working out of STABLE are offered a rare opportunity; not only can they expand their professional practice, they can also connect to the unique cultural assets, creative communities and institutions based in Washington, DC.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BENEFITS ARTIST-RUN SPACES? YOU ARE ALSO INVOLVED IN ‘SINDIKIT IN BALTIMORE, WHAT DO YOU LEARN OR TAKE AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?

The STABLE project proves that artists are in fact great advocates for artists.  It took artists to help the developers and the architects working with us to understand artists’ studio needs.  We are super enthusiastic about the project and that enthusiasm translates… it is contagious. Sometimes we (artists) forget that our problem-solving skills are transferable. We all profit to the extent that we use our skills broadly and generously. Other DC cultural groups and developers have tried to formulate what STABLE is now accomplishing.

‘sindikit is a collaborative research-based project with Zoë Charlton. The project space is an extension of the way Zoë and I work together. ‘sindikit has great flexibility and reflects many of Zoë and my individual and collective concerns as artists and colleagues.  There is, however, one major difference; ‘sindikit is self-funded while STABLE is a nonprofit organization with a Board (and which will soon have a Director).  Both projects, despite their differences, build themselves on a base of collaboration with committed colleagues, artists, and fellow workers. I’ve worked and collaborated with Zoë for fifteen years and have benefited from it – particularly when it comes to community building, she has a gift. She is also always up for a road trip.

On the other hand, at STABLE, Linn, Caitlin and I experienced a different learning curve, facing different opportunities as well as different dilemmas:  fundraising, achieving non-profit status (with the aid of our colleague Rebekah Pineda), negotiating a lease and board development are skills that we’ve developed together. This kind of intense work involves time, trust, commitment, respect for, and with, each other. We are a work in progress and we have what Linn likes to call the “special sauce”.  What I consistently learn is I have a lot to learn!

OTHER THAN STABLE OFFICIALLY OPENING, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?

Thanks for this question.  STABLE is slated to open in February of 2019 and we will open with a huge party and benefit.  So… please stay tuned!

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Alex Ebstein and Seth Adelsberger of RESORT  – BALTIMORE, MD

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HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN OPEN? WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?

We have been open since January of 2018, and our mission is to promote collaboration, build new audiences and connections to art in the area, and to push ourselves as curators in the process. We want to support a contemporary arts presence in Baltimore while also bringing in fresh voices from elsewhere to promote interconnectivity and build bridges between different arts scenes.  

Natan Lawson, Home Sweet Home, 2018

WHAT DO YOU FEEL EACH OF YOU BRINGS TO THE SPACE?

We have overlapping skill sets, but I like to work directly with artists (Alex), doing studio visits, selecting work, talking about the curatorial idea and how I see the work fitting the theme etc.  I write a lot of the press releases and do most of the corresponding with artists. We both like to lay out the exhibitions and design the space, and share a lot of the administrative work. I think we each bring a slightly different taste, that again overlaps, and expands the programming of the gallery when we work together.  I also think of myself as a natural collaborator and am excited to bring new voices into the program through additional curators or helping someone else realize a project with our space.

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Installation view of Pooneh Maghazehe: Split Double Zero (street view)

Documentation is a huge part of what we do and especially crucial to emerging artists. Our experience with photographing individual works and disseminating images of the installation helps to broadcast the work to other artists, curators, and galleries and sets a standard for how art should be depicted and archived. These images also help artists apply for grants and residencies. We realize that most of our audience sees the work on Instagram or elsewhere on the internet and that this is the best way to expand the reach of the program.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON PROGRAMMING?
We strive to work with artists that we’ve not previously worked with, or expand the way in which we’re presenting their work – ie a solo installation to someone with whom we’ve only worked with as part of a group show.  Independently, we are both researching through studio visits, open studio events, following specific studio programs and residencies etc, and via social media. We know our space well and aim to create programming that is broad in medium and theme.  It’s always exciting to work with someone on their first solo exhibition or a really experimental project. We have a list of artists and loose thematic ideas that we fill in through research and conversation.

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Installation view of Aurelia, group exhibition

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN ARTIST RUN SPACE?

Some of the benefits of an artist run space are flexibility, collaboration and taking creative risks.  Our input usually aligns more with helping an artist realize an idea, whereas most commercial galleries have other financial pressures and expectations to balance.     

WHAT ARE UNIQUE CHALLENGES OF AN ARTIST RUN SPACE?

Funding, always. And in Baltimore, we have very little press and it is STILL an issue to find a reliable platform for reviews, coverage, interviews etc. There are few grants that support what we do and most outside institutions see us as a commercial/retail entity without realizing our main role and impact is as a cultural institution that is free to the public. We’ve embraced the underdog role, but also see Baltimore beginning to get more recognition as a creative hotspot on the national and international stage.   

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Pure Raw, curated by Alex Ebstein and Abbey Parrish

IS THERE ANYTHING EITHER OF YOU HAVE COMING UP THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?

I am excited about our current exhibitions, Natan Lawson’s and Gaby Collins-Fernandez’s simultaneous, solo shows, Home Sweet Home and Flirt.  I am also looking forward to all our upcoming programming – we are working on an exhibition curated with Ariel Foster that doubles as a market; a solo exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Jack Coyle, and projects with a number of other artists that are loosely on the calendar.  We are also thrilled to host an exhibition curated by Allie Linn in March, derived from her research into the history of the 235 Park Avenue building and surrounding neighborhood.    

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Anthony Cervino and Shannon Egan  of  EJECTA, Carlisle, PA.

 

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HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN OPEN? WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?

S: We’ve been open since March 2018.

A: Our mission focuses on the idea of bringing the home into the workplace, the workplace into the community, and invite that same community into this place, not in an academic sense, but as a break from the struggles of the world outside. We envision the gallery as a warm hearth; this space has a great warmth about it that we wanted to share. We came at this really full force post-Trump’s election, thinking about the impact on the individual in the community.  We thought that after living here for 12 years, it was time to invest ourselves in the community. The only thing that really either one of us can actually do is this

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S: We wanted to change the landscape a certain way, culturally and politically. It just felt like a first small step could start here. In the midst of trucking culture and the highways, strip malls and big box stores, we’re trying to be a very tiny blue dot in a large red area.

A: We’re offering an alternative that is hopefully actively transmitted through a kind of osmosis.  Perhaps people will be affected by this difference just by walking past the gallery.

S: We’re interested in how people might experience art in a way that’s a little bit different from what’s offered in our town. We wanted to complement to current offerings but also to provide another voice–a collaborative voice. It’s been amazing to see young kids, teenagers, even college-aged and adults come in to talk about art and sometimes even show us their work.

A: We’ve been busy since we’ve opened.

S: It’s great to when people come in to show us their work and we’re given the chance to respond affirmatively.  Simply just talking about art with new people feels amazing.

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WHAT DO YOU FEEL EACH OF YOU BRINGS TO THE SPACE?

A: I’m going to go back to the home, because this is a conversation that’s been happening for twenty years at the dinner table.

S: We met in ‘97, and we’ve been married for 18 years.

A: Before kids or with kids, these are the conversations we have about art and where family intersects with our jobs. Raising kids in a way that’s not too distracted is tough. Here, the kids come down and scrub floors, organize things; they have their own storage cubbies here for their own stuff. They meet their friends down here to hang out in the back garden.

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S: We’ve been together for a long time. In terms of how our personal life intersects with our professional goals, it’s all sort of mingled a bit more right now, and it’s pushing our relationship in interesting ways. Of course, we’ve had a lot of overlap over the years.  He’s done aspects of the work that I do as a gallery director, I do aspects of the work he does as a professor. In this space, it’s kind of malleable how we collaborate and see the division of labor. We’re mindful of how we maintain a kind of equity in the home, with our jobs, within the gallery–but it’s all pretty organic.

A: It’s equity that’s fought and hard won because we’re pulled in lots of different directions. Making sure this space remains a priority is something that we constantly struggle with because it is easy to put it in a secondary or tertiary ranking. When I was doing exhibition work, I always loved it. I was addicted to it. There’s such a buzz off of it. So I’m happy that curating is back as part of my creative practice. I think it’s also a creative impulse for Shannon, so it’s more than simply administrative work.

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S: I love designing spaces. I love hanging shows. It’s exciting to have a new space to work in.

A: That first show we did together in 2015 in DC was our first collaboration where we really, for the first time in our relationship, looked at each other’s stuff and worked more actively together. That was huge for us.

S: Of course, I’d been in his studio, and I’d ask what he was working on.  I don’t know if it’s because the timing was always off or we were busy with small babies, but we didn’t often talk too specifically about his practice. But, that show in 2015 (Ejecta at Flashpoint in Washington, DC) was the first time I closely observed and even participated in some of the decision making in his studio. I could see how he (and I) needed to think through all the various routes that could be taken before a work is complete.

A: We also collaborated on the exhibition design and the writing for the accompanying book.

S: Every word was decided on together.  Even if it started with my writing or his writing, it was a truly collaborative process in the end.

A: Processing that show after the fact is what really led to the impulse of wanting to work together again, and this is the outcome of that experience. And, that’s where the title of the gallery comes from, which is the same as that show (Ejecta). It’s a silly title and maybe a strange name for the space (Ejecta Projects), but it made sense in the moment.

S: It kind of implies a sense of making, a sense of …

A: Explosive creativity.

S: Ejecta is the word for the impact that erupts from a volcanic event.  Here, we see it tied to a creative act and the fallout that ensues around it. After the 2015 show, the next step wasn’t to show it in another space because it was designed specifically for the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, DC. And then it couldn’t simply be another body of work, but this space seemed to continue to the spirit of the show and to reflect our roles as parents, partners, spouses …

A: Success and failure. All those things were wrapped up in that show, and just making new objects didn’t really scratch the itch as the next big creative project.

S: So, this really was that next step; it was an attempt to keep questioning how we define success, how we try to balance it all, why we’re parents, and why we decided to get married.

A: And, where we envision the rest of this as either the romantic image we had of our future career when we were younger, or the reality of the hardships of that career, and how we balance that …

S: And the reality of just aging and settling. So, if this is home, how do we make it the home we want? We’ve been able to spend part of our summers over the last several years in Norway for art and research, and are in awe of how spaces are designed, the importance of light, and the emphasis on warmth, and how art and aesthetics are integrated into both cities and natural landscapes.

A: So, we saw this space kind of as a way to bring Norway to us, because we felt that it has a Scandinavian sensibility — wooden floors, great natural light.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON PROGRAMMING?

S: We’d like the programming to be in some way reflective of our mission and even of some of the themes at the heart of the Ejecta exhibition —  martial collaborations, challenging notions of failure, or even simply relationships that are personal to us. At this point, we’ve been responding to that initial impetus. But of course we’re open to new artists, and because this space is not connected to an institution or to the needs of a curriculum, we feel like we have a lot of flexibility.

A: I think we’re still in the process of defining the space for ourselves.  It’s often difficult to explain to other people, because artists are now asking how we can show their work or how  they can apply. We are trying to figure out the best way to accept submissions right now and also maintain our co-curatorial interests. We’re also mindful of where we’re situated geographically. How regional is too regional so that we don’t compete with what’s already here? Or, is it really important to only bring in artists from outside of town?

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S: I am concerned about limiting ourselves too much, because we want to be open. I think one of the things we want to do is use this as an opportunity to meet more artists, travel more, see more, do more.

A: We’d also like to do more writing, that’s the tricky part.

S: There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the writing we want to do.

A: The Hamiltonian (in D.C.) is a great example of a model that’s different and seems to be working well for both the artists and the gallery staff. I also love the idea of working with a “troupe” of artists over a longer period of time–a fellowship or a repertoire.

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WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN ARTIST RUN SPACE?

A: Insiders can challenge the norms, especially right now when it’s super competitive to find any space for the number of artists out there.

S: We’re also eager to develop really positive relationships with the artists — understanding what their demands and challenges are, and meeting them where it’s productive and healthy for them.

A: And we’ve talked about the idea of de-professionalizing the experience of showing work. Or maybe, our approach is still professional in some ways because it is driven by respect. It’s about acknowledging that we’re going to meet an artist half way on shipping, for example, but I still might drive the work back because it is usually interesting to have that cup of coffee with the artist after I drop the work off. Some galleries are so entrenched in the minutiae of procedure and administration that they seem to miss that human connection part.

S: We are transparent in our emails and our communication.

A: It’s trust.

S: It’s about building friendships and relationships.

A: We don’t currently represent any artists, but we might consider an art fair. We would assemble a show for that, but it’d be expensive. My work has been shown in art fairs with other galleries, but I’d like to know about that process from an exhibitor’s standpoint.

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IS THERE ANYTHING EITHER OF YOU HAVE COMING UP THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?

A: We like the idea of our exhibition schedule being organized like a television seasons, so our next show is a “Winter Special” with a slightly expanded curatorial retail area, which we’re still working on. I think it will be around 8- 12 specially curated items that we’ll have for sale.

S: We’ve been thinking about selling special objects that are meaningful to us, that are either related to our mission or just aesthetically compelling.

A: It’s going to end up costing us more money than we’ll ever make back, but that’s okay. We both like the picture of it in our heads. Part of that vision is the sense that we could bring what we love about cities into the small town. We paper over the windows in-between shows with multiples of the same poster so that it looks like …

S: … like the broadsides pasted to walls in NYC.

A: We would love to do more events — more gatherings and more music. One thing we’d really like to pursue on a curatorial level is making small shows that are affordable and of interest to small academic spaces with limited budgets.  We’re thinking about themes and artists that may have cross-curricular intersections.

S: In terms of our other personal and professional projects, I’m co-curating an exhibition right now with a photography historian in Norway of nineteenth-century Norwegian and American landscape photographs. The title is Across the West, and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography. It opens at a museum in Norway in 2020. For Ejecta projects, we’re working on a show with Amy Bates who is an amazing artist and illustrator. Some of the themes we’re talking about are related to motherhood, aging, and the transitions of womanhood. That show will open in March 2019.

A: I see Ejecta as an extension of my studio, so on some level, all of this is an exercise in social sculpture. We’re just going to continue interfacing with the community and keeping this place active.

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ALEXIS GRANWELL OF TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID, PHILADELPHIA, PA

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WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF TIGER STRIKES ASTEROID? HOW DID IT EXPAND INTO MULTIPLE LOCATIONS?

We started Tiger Strikes Asteroid in 2009. Alex Paik initially emailed me to join a year after I finished my MFA at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Design. Being a post-grad, I was feeling generally lost. I was not sure if I wanted to continue living in Philadelphia or move to NYC or LA. Although the rent was cheap in Philadelphia, there were not that many opportunities for young artists at the time and the art scene was insular. However, Philadelphia is a great place to experiment and try things out. I wanted to collaborate with others. I wanted to see shows with artists from all across the US happening locally. Opening an artist-run gallery allowed us to be proactive and create the kind of exhibitions that we wanted to see in our city.

We began with 6 members and weekly meetings in Alex’s apartment. We brainstormed how we would operate the space and daydreamed about the shows that we would curate.

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Legerdemain: Matt Neff & Alisha Wessler This exhibition was organized by TSA Philadelphia member Kayla Romberger. Neff and Wessler explore the found object in their work: the collecting, handling, and transformation of discarded or overlooked things by way of an intuitive, human-centered hand. Photo Credit: Ricky Yanas

Finding a space was relatively easy. The 319 “Vox” building had a few artist-run spaces and live/work studio spaces. Although we have a large space now, our first space was tiny with no windows, basically a little box. It was a good idea to start this way since we had no clue what we were doing. Working on a smaller scale meant that install and de-install were not laborious and we did not need a huge amount of money to run the space.

After Alex moved to NY he started TSA NY in 2012. Initially, the two sites were only loosely connected. Then a year later, some friends from LA decided that they wanted to open a TSA LA. In 2016, TSA Chicago opened. We became a non-profit in 2017 and began to think of ourselves as an institution.

Although we did not plan to create a network, it made sense, since we had always worked organically, inviting friends to experiment with us.

Creating this network allows for this larger exchange of ideas and the ability to be plugged into multiple art scenes. I also love meeting artists from all over. That is my favorite part of Tiger Strikes Asteroid. Currently, we are planning some International exchange shows with an upcoming exhibition in Berlin. Perhaps in the future, we can expand with spaces in multiple countries.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL EACH OF ARTIST MEMBER BRINGS TO THE SPACE?

Each member curates a show or exhibits their own work. When new members join, our gallery shifts. I like this natural progression. Our program is constantly expanding and there is space for the personal and the collective vision.

As an artist-run space, we are creating an alternative to the commercial art scene. Although there is a lot of labor in building and running something ourselves, we also get to curate the exhibitions that we find most thrilling. We are not dependent on sales, therefore allowing the program to be experimental.

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Extension or Communication: Puerto Rico 2018 This was a research project by TSA member Ricky Yanas and artists/organizers Grimaldi Baez and Sheldon Abba exploring the potential of transformative pedagogical spaces in Philadelphia and beyond. Photo Credit: Ricky Yanas

HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON PROGRAMMING AND HOW DO YOU DIVIDE WORKLOAD?

We have about 8 exhibitions a year. Each member receives a slot every 1.5 – 2 years. Members can exhibit their own work, collaborate with another member, curate a show, or invite a guest curator to work with us. Many of us are excited by the idea of working in curatorial groups. I have been a member for almost 10 years, and I find that it is more inspiring to curate with others and bounce ideas back and forth. In this way, we get to see our ideas in a new context. We also do exchanges within our network and abroad. There are many different options for working together. It’s a choose your own adventure!

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Spring Break: Phillip Adams 2009 TSA Philadelphia member, Phillip Adams, created an ambitious site-specific wall drawing for his show. Photo Credit: Alex Paik.

Dividing the workload can be challenging but we each have designated jobs for TSA Philadelphia, and we all serve on committees that the support the TSA network.

Each member wears many hats: artist, director, curator, treasurer, PR, photographer, fundraiser etc. Some members lead or write or document or organize or build things for the gallery. I think all of us feel grateful for the diversity of skills in the group.

Currently, we have 12 members in TSA Philadelphia and 44 members across the entire network. It is helpful to share the work among so many hardworking members.

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Individual Gravities: Alexis Granwell, Elana Herzog, Trish Tillman 2018 This exhibition was curated by Alex Ebstein. Individual Gravities examined materiality, language, and methods of communication. Photo Credit: Ricky Yanas

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN ARTIST RUN SPACE?

FREEDOM-It is powerful to run a space and show the work that inspires you.

COMMUNITY-TSA is my family at this point. I have met so many incredible artists through the local membership, the network, various exhibitions and art fairs, studio visits, etc. It is so important to have community as an artist.

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Repeater: Lee Arnold, Mark Brousseau, Meg Lipke 2016 This exhibitions was organized by TSA member Mark Brousseau. This exhibition created a playful installation between all of the artists’ works while examining the three artists’ novel generative and conceptual engines for employing formal devices. Photo Credit: Ricky Yanas

WHAT ARE UNIQUE CHALLENGES OF AN ARTIST RUN SPACE?

The biggest challenge for me is never having enough time. Our members have full time jobs, adjunct hustles, families, and their own studio practices. Sometimes it feels impossible to juggle everything, particularly when we have a big project or deadline. We are all volunteering our time and therefore it is important to draw boundaries to create a work/ life balance.

Sometimes, we are just flying by the seat of our pants…

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU OR THE GALLERY HAVE COMING UP THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?

Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA) is excited to announce the launch of a new network-wide project called Groundwork. This project is an archive of process drawings by forty-two artists. This series of drawings will be part of the permanent collection at the New York Public Library (NYPL)! Our 2018/2019 Open Call exhibition opens January 2019!

Keep following us as we share news regarding our Tiger Strikes Asteroid/ Berlin exchange curated by Mirjam Wendt in 2019!

In 2020, we are planning an amazing 10-year anniversary exhibition that will be a network-wide event!

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