This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Chicago artist Lauren Levato. Do not miss her personal recommendations at the end of the interview.
Recently, Lauren Levato ran what I would consider to be a very successful crowd funding campaign. Throughout the process, I followed her Facebook posts and updates very closely. I participated in her campaign because I believe it was important to support a hard working Chicago artist pushing herself and raising to a new challenge in her career. I joined her enthusiasm as she posted on her Facebook wall on November 24th “WE DID IT!!!” as she reached and surpassed her $12,000 goal. I have asked Lauren a few questions about her funding campaign, art, career, etc. I think her answers will help many artists considering funding alternatives for their art projects. Enjoy!
ABOUT LAUREN LEVATO
Sergio: Where did you go to school and what degree you received?
Lauren: I attended Purdue University and Georgetown University, earning a B.A. in Professional Writing, an A.A. in Women’s Studies, and then a political journalism certificate, respectively. I think I’m about three credits from four other degrees as well, I wanted to learn it all. Years later I attended the School of Representational Art, an atelier here in Chicago, and studied privately with other master artists such as Steven Assael.
Sergio: Do you feel art school prepared you for the art career you have now?
Lauren: I learned high skill there, and I established a really great studio working schedule and habits while there. I also learned when to move on from a piece and am not afraid to throw work away and start over, even after putting in 100 hours on it. So in that way yes. But I’ve been at the business of art since 1997 when I started working as a volunteer at Woman Made Gallery, so in that respect, no. There’s not an art school that could teach what I’ve learned by doing in the field among very good people, by asking questions, getting into good and bad situations, and failing as much as I succeeded. Maybe more.
Sergio: What is your website?
ABOUT YOUR WORK & FUNDING CAMPAIGN
Sergio: What is your current project Wunderkammer, A year of curiosities?
Lauren: Wunderkammer is two things. First it is the title of my solo exhibition that opens Jan. 11 at Packer Schopf Gallery, which is the big kick off celebration for what I’ve dubbed the “year of curiosities” even though it’s a whole lifetime of curiosities really. There’s so much fantastical life and death in the world it’s more than several lifetimes worth of work to explore. So the second part is just that – Wunderkammer: A Year of Curiosities. It is the series of work I’m already in, exploring the idea of the body as a cabinet of wonder. I dubbed the crowd sourcing campaign by that name so I could designate and fund 2013 as the year I push the scale and scope of my current work, which has been in development in one way or another since 2010 if not earlier.
I will firstly be hand building and sculpting my own frames, primarily from porcelain but it’s ultimately a mixed media endeavor. I believe the narrative can be expanded beyond the picture plane and I needed the time and resources to fully explore this idea, hence the fundraiser. Think of Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece meets Black Forest woodworking in a fairy tale forest made of porcelain. I am also starting a collaboration with artist Beth Cavener Stichter and planning a two-person exhibition with artist Susan Jamison, as well as creating at least one catalog of my own work.
Sergio: Why did you decided to use an online funding platform and why did you go with USA Projects?
Lauren: I debated it for months. I wasn’t comfortable with Kickstarter for several reasons, including I didn’t think my work was a good fit for that platform. So when a friend of mine funded with USA Projects I checked it out and found I qualified to host a project with them. USA Projects is a vetted organization and because I had won a fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center years prior that allowed me to fund with USAP. Some of the world’s top artists have funded via USAP, including three of the year’s MacArthur grantees, so I felt I’d be in great company. I also really liked their mission, they award a good amount of money to artists as well (such as Theaster Gates, of Chicago, he was just awarded a Fellowship). I also really felt comfortable and happy that USAP worked so closely with me to develop my materials.
Sergio: You ran a successful social media funding campaign. Where there days you had doubts if this was going to work?
Lauren: Absolutely, especially because I raised $7k of the total amount in the first 10 days – USAP was stunned, they said it was extraordinary. I guess it is – I hit the ground running! They prepared me for the down time that happens in the middle of any campaign but believe me, I had my moments of delirium. The election, the hurricane, and other things all happened in the two weeks of the campaign that was virtually donation free. That was stressful. Thinking about the perceived public failure of not funding was also anxiety producing but nothing was so much as thinking it might not fund and then how would I achieve these massive goals I set for myself? The idea that I might not be able to do what I’ve been working toward for years pushed me through any fear, doubt, and panic.
Thankfully in the end Rory was able to say “I told you so” and I was happy to admit he was right, it funded and now I am thrilled at all the work I have to do and how far this will push me ahead. I’m really grateful and humbled at the overwhelming show of support in every possible way. Other artists who I know are seriously struggling found ways to support – financially and otherwise – and of course it gives a gal the warm and fuzzies but it’s made me want to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. I don’t want to let anyone down. I’ve never felt so proud, well, until I get all this done that is! Talk to me in January 2014 when the first year of this is on paper, out of the kiln, and in the world.
Sergio: How close to the deadline did you reach the goal and how did you find out?
Lauren: The day before the deadline I was in touch with a collector who had already contributed, she was so impressed with how hard I worked that she offered to “top off” the campaign around noon or so the following day (the day of the deadline). So I knew more than 24 hours before the deadline that Wunderkammer would fund, but I didn’t celebrate until we hit that mark and got the official email from USAP. In fact I don’t yet have the funding and I’m not truly celebrating until that moment. I say “we” because I certainly didn’t do it alone – me and Rory, that’s always the first we, but there’s the collective we who helped and contributed all along the way.
Sergio: Now that the goal has been reached and the campaign is behind you, what is next?
Lauren: It’s taken me a bit to realize it actually funded, it took about 10 days to sink in. I was prepared for several scenarios and had plan A, B, and C ready to go. Right now I’m writing thank you cards and letters. I’m finishing my exhibition this month. I’m making a list of what order the project should unfold. Right after my show ends I’ll be jumping into sculpting while I push these current “Self Portrait as…” series in a few new directions. There is an exhibition in July that will display the Wunderkammer frames and objects – stay tuned for that.
Sergio: What do you recommend other artists to think about before going for online funding platforms?
Lauren: Make your case, prepare yourself to make the argument for your work – and not just your art, but the financially viability and accountability of it as well. Nobody is going to do it for you, USAP helped me develop my materials and they hosted the project, but they didn’t do it for me. They found some matching funds as was their promise, but the rest of it was all me and my crew of helpful friends and moral supporters. You will need that crew. You will need to be comfortable talking about money, asking for money, and your plans for what, when, and why. It’s really empowering actually.
Sergio: How much does the art market influence your art production/output?
Lauren: If I was concerned about the art market I wouldn’t have gone back to a classical atelier school to learn skill and craft before tossing around concepts. In terms of output, I sold out all my work last year and it put me in a bind this year so I have to have more drawings done, faster! Faster!
ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART
Sergio: What excites you and what do you dislike about the Chicago art scene?
Lauren: I’m excited by the ever evolving community, and by being connected to so many different artists and administrators and collectors in the city. I’m excited by the students who ask me questions and by having lunch with the people calling the shots in the city. They are all people on the spectrum, they are all part of the rise or fall. I really believe we all have to grasp hands along the way or we all go down together.
I very much dislike the big crybabies who complain about everything that happens, there’s a handful who just won’t stop complaining about how much this city pisses them off. Then again they are the same people who hate on other artists all the time. I wish they would leave. We all know who they are, and many of us have stopped listening because it’s not actually helpful to morale or momentum if someone gets and stays in the spotlight because that person is shouting louder than everybody else.
Sergio: What is your take on the current emphasis on contemporary art fairs?
Lauren: This too shall pass.
Sergio: Do you believe gallery representation is as important as it has been in the past?
Lauren: Not at all. Mostly because the Emperor’s New Clothes about it all has been called out but also because there’s ownership happening among the artists. And dealers have done this to themselves – the art world is very small and everyone finds out who the rats are. I think it’s very funny indeed that I finally earned representation by one of the only galleries I’ve ever wanted it with (Packer Schopf) after many of my own successes. I was excited, of course, but I also thought about how much I will actually lose now in terms of revenue. So I shifted my perspective about it because Aron is one of the few really good ones and there is much to be gained by partnering up with a good gallery – connections to museums and magazines, more collectors, a wider audience, and prestige of being represented. These things all matter. It would cost you as much in fees as you share in the price split with a gallery if you were to rent out a really great space for a month and do it on your own. Like any relationship there’s pros and cons, on both sides, dealing with artists is no picnic for a gallerist either! So you have to make sure it’s a relationship you want to be in and that it works for your personality, your life, and your art. I’m happy about that balance with Aron, he’s a good guy and whenever I say his name that’s what I hear from people. That makes me happy.
Sergio: How do you envision the art world would be different ten years from now?
Lauren: Art students get their own unicorns when they graduate? Really who can tell, it’s a ridiculous place. But what fun! I *hope* that there is a dramatic return to skill and storytelling, but it doesn’t matter if that’s what the art world does or not. That’s what I’ll still be doing.
Book… I’m currently reading three books that I highly recommend – Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them by Mary Cappello; Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver; Russian Fairy Tales illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. I also have to mention An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles by Arthur V. Evans and Charles Bellamy because it’s fantastic.
Art movie or documentary…Through the Weeping Glass by The Brothers Quay, who are just the cat’s pajamas. The film is both art movie and documentary about the Mutter Museum’s collection, including the Swallowed Objects Collection that is my first book suggestion above.
Chicago art venue… International Museum of Surgical Science
Contemporary artist (other than yourself)… Rory Coyne, Chris Antemann, Beth Cavener Stichter, Susan Jamison, John Byrd, Pamela Wilson, Dirk Staschke – oh lord, I could go on forever how to choose just one?!
Place to be inspired by… Field Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, A New Leaf (florist)
One sentence advice for an art student… Stop reading art magazines, start reading books outside your field/genre, and learn to write.
Chicago cafe/restaurant… Quality Meats
You Tube video… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIPpxIpE_uo&sns=em