DF: Do you use social media or other forms of technology to reach out to your audiences? If not, why not? Also, do you produce publications? What’s your approach to documenting your programs?
SS: We finally finished the redesign of our website about a year ago, and it’s working great for us. It’s very simple. One of the main points is to create a more public archive of the projects we’ve done, with the brochure essays, which we also print, published online. We added a blog to the site and are still experimenting with different ways to use that. As for social networking, I do this in a very unofficial way. Like a lot of curators, I think, my Facebook page is half personal, and half professional. As for an official Grand Arts page, we don’t have one right now. But I’m easy to find, and we like to connect with artists and other art people in a more personal way.
DF: I had mentioned to you before that back in 2005, the show What’s The Matter With Kansas? at Rare Gallery in New York piqued my interest in what is happening on in the mid-West. Seth Johnson’s work blew me away. You had mentioned that there was another similar exhibition at one of the art fairs in Miami. These shows are terrific, but can’t compare to the exposure of the Heartland exhibition co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago (where it opens October first) and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Heartland explores the challenges of working within the interior of the United States, and Kansas City plays a major role with three artists/collectives participating: Carnal Torpor, Cody Critcheloe, and Whoop Dee Doo. What does/could this mean for the morale of a city to be out of the national limelight, yet internationally recognized as being innovative?
SS: Good question. First, I think all of the artists you mentioned are especially brilliant at navigating the split between living and working in a smaller city, and participating in a larger national and international art and music scene. They are incredibly savvy and unbelievably supportive of one another. I think in many places you’d see cut-throat competition among a group of artists who are so talented, capable and ambitious. But here, each of them owes their individuals successes in large part to the others, and there really is a spirit of shared accomplishment. So you have people like Peggy Noland and Ari Fish, who are amazing local fashion designers, doing the costumes for Critchloe’s band SSION. Meanwhile, images of Critcheloe and Seth Johnson modeling Ari’s own designs are popping up on Project Runway, while Ari is also a member-at-large of Johnson’s collective, Carnal Torpor. Johnson and Jaimie Warren, who is the ringmaster of Whoop Dee Doo, used to run a gallery together. And Whoop Dee Doo often features performances by SSION.
An exhibition like Heartland is fantastic for bringing additional attention—perhaps especially from a more conservative segment of the museum world—to all of these artists. But the artists are gaining international exposure and managing their careers on their own, in a very DIY fashion. They are doing things like blogging for VICE magazine, opening pop-up shops in Berlin, and producing music videos for other bands… so I’d say their morale is excellent, regardless of whether Artforum reviews their work, which is beginning to happen, too.
There are many other excellent artists working in Kansas City, of course, and their sense of the City’s place on the larger stage will really depend on whom you ask. On the one hand, there’s incredible vibrancy and energy around art and artists here. It’s cheap to live, easy to navigate, and there’s a growing infrastructure for funding, free studios and other forms of support, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Urban Culture Project and Charlotte Street Foundation. At the same time, artists are frustrated by the relative lack of a gallery system that might help export their work to the Coasts and beyond, and the attendant failure to nurture collectors who will ‘buy local.’ I believe these things are coming, though. There are new people on the scene, such as Cara Lewis of Cara and Cabezas, who seem ready to try to take things to the next level of professionalism.
DF: Your time here in Philadelphia consulting for Vox Populi is approaching and I am wondering if you might have any early thoughts about Philadelphia? Any initial aspirations or accomplishments you hope to help Vox achieve?
SS: I am very excited to be working with Vox Populi, and to get to know more about what’s happening in Philadelphia. I’m not sure, but it does seem like there might be some strong parallels between the art scenes in Philadelphia and Kansas City. I want to use this opportunity to open some lines of communication between artists and curators in both cities, and explore the possibilities for exchange.
I think it’s far too early to put forward any kind of agenda in terms of how Vox’s approach to curatorial issues might evolve or develop. Vox is a collective, and I’m an outsider. That said, I do hope to work with the group to identify a variety of different models and approaches that they might incorporate, as it suits them. Stay tuned!