Jan Williamson (left) Courtesy of Erica Rodriguez of 18th Street Arts Center
Tell me about yourself, how did you find your way to 18th Street Arts Center?
Barbara T. Smith. She is one of my first art mentors and she is a very close friend with the co-founder of 18SAC, artist Susanna Bixby Dakin. Barbara introduced me to Sue. Finding 18SAC felt like a dream that I had while living in Mexico – to create a shared artist space with other like-minded artists. I was so young then, that I didn’t know very many people in LA – so I wanted more engagement with other artists. Now that I’ve been with 18SAC for 20 years – I meet artists all the time who have a similar dream to be amongst their peers in a creative, supportive environment. And really – this is what inspired co-founders Sue Dakin and Linda Burnham – and the many other artists who helped them, to start 18SAC. They all had a desire to belong in creative community.
You are celebrating 25 yrs, congratulations! What have been some of the highlights in the organization’s history?
18SAC’s history really starts with the artist run publication founded by Linda Burnham, High Performance Magazine (HP) in 1977. HP brought together an international community of artists, who were creating their own platforms and contexts for their work. In 1988 Dakin and Burnham bought the 18SAC property in Santa Monica – to give artists a place where the air was clean to work. It’s always a celebration to see one of the artists 18SAC supported earn a well-deserved award from Rockefeller, Pollack-Krasner, Guggenheim, Flintridge, or California Community Foundation. Every year there are several. This year was no exception – David McDonald won a Guggenheim, and Sandra de la Loza, Eamon Ore-Giron, Shizu Saldamando and Gala Porras-Kim all won awards from the California Community Foundation. But a historic highlight was when Guillermo Gomez-Pena, a founding artist-in-residence living at 18SAC won a MacArthur Fellowship at the age of 36 in 1991. And when the Getty Foundation acquired the High Performance Magazine archives in 2006, it was a big win for art history.
More recently, in 2009, Otis College of Art and Design launched the first MFA program in Social Public Practice here at 18SAC under the leadership of Suzanne Lacy, in Judy Chicago’s old studio where the Dinner Party was made no less. (Perhaps 18SAC is here on this site because of the feminist art conjuring that took place in Judy’s studio 40 years ago!) In any case, the Otis partnership remains an exciting academic collaboration that all our artists benefit from. And this year, we launched a 4-year collaboration with LACMA on a joint exhibition for the new Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.
Courtesy of Erica Rodriguez of 18th Street Arts Center.
Since working in the art world, how have you seen the Los Angeles art scene change?
When I started my training as an artist at Chaffey Community College in 1980, and later at UC Santa Cruz – MOCA and the Dinner Party were barely a year old (which my hip feminist art professor Jan Raithel turned us onto). The changes have been huge – where to begin? On an outer level you can point to the many MFA programs, the dozens of pop-up shops and alternative spaces and the multiple gallery scenes. On an inner level the discourse among those inside the art scene has really advanced towards a more socially engaged viewpoint. And as for how the art world relates to the general public – the shifts have been huge as well (given where things were when I started paying attention). But really – there is so much more room for growth. And I think that the exhibition we’ll be partnering with LACMA on is evidence of where the field is going in terms of working directly with contemporary artists to commission works that don’t necessarily live on as objects, but rather as shared, transforming experiences that resist commodification.
18th Street Arts Center focuses on residencies and public art programs, how have you seen those evolve?
In 1988 when 18SAC was founded there were less than two-dozen artist residency programs in the US. Today there are around 500, and it is growing as a field. Clearly there is something about our society today that is fostering a desire among many people to know the creative process more intimately. Perhaps it’s born out of a generation of individuals whose public schools cut all the arts programs when they were young! Seriously – as art becomes more and more accessible through the digital revolution – this is a natural outcome.
Courtesy of 18th Street Arts Center
How do these programs work together—the artist’s labs and public exhibitions?
The artist labs are the artist residency experience, made public. Basically – we want our audiences to see the creative process unfold and we decided the best way to do this was to commission artists whose practices lend themselves to being in a public setting. So our gallery becomes the artist’s studio for 3 months. They are awarded $5,000 24/7 access to the gallery, and our Artistic Director, assists the artist with the development of the work over time. And the public is welcome to visit and observe or engage throughout the process. Typically, the artist structures ways to engage the public in their process, as the work is in development. For the artist, this is a very different way of working than they would typically with a gallery or museum. Although – we are pleased to see the artist go on to present the work more formally in these kinds of settings.
How does the selection and application process work for your programming?
We have a porous system where people may apply directly to us for residencies, as well as an international network of notable curators and artists who help us identify artists for our programs.
Courtesy of 18th Street Arts Center
What would you like to accomplish in the future with 18th Street Arts Center?
I’m very involved right now in developing our campus to face the new Expo line metro station that will be right behind our property. By 2016 we’ll see thousands of people riding the train everyday past our site, and I hope we’ll have a very welcoming presence for them all when they hop off the train to come visits us! This will be especially great for the LACMA -18SAC joint show, which opens in 2017.
Favorite place to eat and drink in Los Angeles?
Tacos Por Favor! -Their watermelon drink and mushroom soft tacos are especially good when watching soccer games!
Courtesy of Tsai Shih-Hung, Coronation No. 2
Courtesy of Aimee de Jongh, still from film Aurora, 2012 Digital