Interview Courtesy of Big RED and Shiny Online Arts Journal
THE CREATIVE ALLIANCE COLUMN
by KATHLEEN BITETTI
April 2, 2006
An interview with a true Citizen Artist
Sand T is an artist, activist, and founder of artSPACE@16. She has been doing some amazing community building for artists and the arts in Malden, MA. She has founded a key alternative space in Malden and has also helped to galvanize the City of Malden to become more supportive of working artists. Her story is inspirational to say the least. The moral of her story is why wait for some to create opportunities for artists. Artists can be pro-active in helping to make those opportunities occur. She exemplifies a Citizen Artist!
1. Kathleen Bitetti: First thanks for taking the time to be interviewed. Can you give a brief history of how you ended up in the Boston area? You first had a space in Fort Point on Stillings Street correct? How long were you there for and what was that gallery’s focus?
Sand T: I was looking for a live/work studio and ended up in Fort Point after I completed my graduate studies at the Museum School in the Spring of 1997. At first I rented a basement work studio at the old Revolving Museum. After a year there, I moved to 15-17 Stillings Street where I established S.T Gallery, an office, three studios and a home. The focus of my gallery was to present art exhibitions that explored contemporary aesthetics, social, and cultural issues. I also organized events such as acoustic music performances, poetry readings, artist talks and slide presentations, traditional Chinese tea tasting and various demonstrations there. In the fall of 1999, a proposed demolition plan was presented by a redeveloper to replace the Stillings Street buildings with a 9-story parking garage with office space. All Stillings Street tenants moved out by April 1st, 2000. So, I was in Fort point for three years.
2. KB: When did you move to Malden and what made you decide to turn your garage into a gallery?
ST: I moved to 16 Princeton Road, Malden in April 2000. The change in location had changed the physical space of my gallery, but didn’t change my undertakings. This major set back had transformed into a cause, a positive motivation to continue doing what I have a passion and skill for. My desire had grown even stronger for making space to promote art during my recovery from the loss of S.T Gallery. I committed myself to rebuilding. With the kind help from my husband and friends, a detached two-car garage was transformed into a humble art space in the summer of 2000. The name S.T Gallery was changed to SPACE@16, which was later changed to artSPACE@16. artSPACE@16 was fully up and running in Fall 2000 with the premier arts event ArtsRendezvous that featured artwork by 26 artists, acoustic music performances, tea tasting and poetry readings.
3. KB: Who do you work with on a daily basis at artspace@16?
ST: artSPACE@16 is voluntarily operated by me. I do not have any salaried staff members. My husband, Wesley Kalloch, has been providing voluntary help in proof reading and technical support. I normally spend a large amount of time with my computer up keeping artSPACE@16's database and e-mail communications. I’m usually updating artSPACE@16’s web site if I’m not in the gallery installing a new exhibition. People who I communicate with on a daily basis include participating artists/curators/jurors, news media, community stake holders, individuals who are interested in artSPACE@16 and those inquiring about art resources. When artSPACE@16 is open on the normal Saturday exhibition viewing days, I will be gallery sitting, interacting with artists and visitors.
4. KB: Can you give a sense of what type of programming you do at artSPACE@16? How many shows you put on per year, etc..?
ST: artSPACE@16 encourages visual artists to develop and share new work, it also aims to inspire artists, art professionals, and appreciators to take part in building a creative community in Malden. artSPACE@16 presents ongoing contemporary art exhibitions. Receptions and gallery talks are held in conjunction with the 5 –7 exhibitions artSPACE@16 produces per year. The exhibitions are invitational, curated or juried. These exhibitions help to convince the community that the appreciation of contemporary art and its educational experience can take place ANYWHERE, including alternative and non-traditional exhibition venues. I feel that adding these often overlooked venues to our visiting list of the standard commercial galleries and art museums can result in a rewarding experience.
5. KB: Did you work with local community organizations on art collaborative projects soon after your move to Malden?
ST: I started collaborating with local not-for-profit organizations from the inception of artSPACE@16. I co-organized and curated an arts event called ART IS FOOD, FOOD IS ART with the Asian American Resource Workshop for its members in July 2000. I worked with Asian Spectrum, Inc. to produce “Asian Cultural Access”, a community art project funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council/Malden Cultural Council interviewing MCC Award recipients for Asian Spectrum TV Series in Malden the same year.
In 2001, I worked with The Great Wall Center, Asian Spectrum, Inc., Malden Asian Pacific American Coalition on “Asian American Artists Roundtable Series”. This community art project was also funded in part by the Malden Cultural Council/Massachusetts Cultural Council and included the CreAsian Pan Asian Arts Festival at the Cyclorama at the BCA among six other events.
The following year, I worked with Malden Access TV to create exhibition space (the MATV Gallery) in their facility and curated its premier exhibit “AMBIANCE” a group show featuring nine artists. This art collaborative project was funded in part by a grant from Malden Cultural Council/Massachusetts Cultural Council.
6. KB: How and why did you become so involved with the City of Malden? Do you work closely with the elected officials and city officials? If so how did you first start and grow those relationships with the elected and city officials? What has come from that work? (space and opportunities for artists in Malden?)
ST: My continuing voluntary collaborative relationship with the City of Malden goes back to a letter I wrote to Mayor Howard in December 2002 expressing my concern about the established groups of artists forced out of the Fort Point area because their studio spaces were being converted into condos, parking lots, storage spaces and other commercial usage. I asked if the Mayor and the City would consider creating artists work and live/work space to welcome these dislocated artists. Mayor Howard expressed to me the City’s commitment to the arts and in creating artist live/work space. In 2003, Deborah Burke of the Mayor’s Office, Stephen Wishoski of the Malden Redevelopment Authority, the City Council's Downtown Committee, and myself (on behalf of artSPACE@16) collaborated on organizing a meeting called REVITALIZING MALDEN SQUARE THROUGH THE ARTS which was held in February at City Hall. This discussion was designed to reach out to all artists to get their ideas on how they could be part of the revitalization process, creating artists live/work space and art related business opportunities in the Malden Square area.
This meeting was well attended by 45 artists who expressed their enthusiasm in working with the City. They were interested in low cost combined living and work space, in organizing art events that would benefit Malden and in doing so, helping to create awareness of the city's artists’ community.
Many attended said that in turn for affordable spaces, they would be willing to "give back" to the community by offering art classes in their studios and schools in particular. The creation of educational partnerships between artists and the local institutions will definitely enrich the art and cultural life of our community.
Some planned to open art galleries, artist co-ops, windows art projects and annual open studios to bring new traffic to Pleasant Street. The establishment of these art events and businesses will lead to mutually beneficial revenue for local businesses especially in downtown Malden, on top of that, the wide ranging working hours kept by artists will help to keep a safer and hospitable downtown Malden.
In 2003, I again approached The Mayor's Office to urge them to open a “Mayor's Gallery” that would hold ongoing exhibitions featuring local artists. I curated its premier exhibit entitled MALDEN ARTISTS - NEW WORKS featuring 17 Malden artists in the Fall of 2003. In March – May 2004, I voluntarily conducted a survey to consolidate the needs of artist live/work space in Malden. Through a questionnaire I composed, I was able to corroborate and quantified artists’ needs regarding studio type, size, tenancy vs. ownership, financing, amenities, and community characteristics. This report was intended to be shared with the relevant authorities at Malden City Hall to better understand artist’s space needs while they pursued the creation of artist’s studio space in Malden.
The results of this survey manifested the local demand for artists live/work space. 50% of the respondents are Malden residents, and the other 50% of respondents reside outside of Malden residents. This report can be printed from artSPACE@16’s website located at http://www.artspaceat16.com/report.html
In the past two and a half years, the partnership between the City of Malden and the artists’ community has resulted in the creation of two artists studios and retail gallery establishments in downtown Malden. They are: IDEAS 5 Artists’ Studios (Pleasant Street) and SOHO Art Center (Washington Street). The opening of these art studios in Malden Square were made possible through a unique leasing agreement with the Malden Redevelopment Authority (MRA).
7. KB: What are some of the things you are now working on?
ST: I’m serving on a committee of seven that is working with the City, Jason Schupbach Program Director the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Leveraging Investments in Creativity project and a greater Boston architect Richard Graf on the conversion of an old convent to live/work space for greater Malden artists. This convent is located at 30 Irving Street in downtown Malden. It will be used to provide artists with live/work studios, work-only studios, gallery space, classrooms and other shared amenities. I'm currently in the planning stages of artSPACE@16’s 2006 exhibition programming called 6-IN-06 which will consist of four curated shows and two juried shows.
8. KB: Any other ongoing initiatives and/or art collaboratives within the community that you will be working on in 2006?
ST: I will collaborate with Rev. David M. Horst to create an exhibition space in Durgin Hall housed in the First Parish in Malden. I will be curating its premier exhibit called Malden Art Now 2006, which is funded in part by Malden Cultural Council and Massachusetts Cultural Council. The aim of this group show is to provide a new exhibition venue in Malden, and to create an opportunity to view high-quality work by artists who live and/or work in Malden.
My other continuous effort is to put “Malden Art” on the map. The very intention of this initiative is to support and strengthen the arts network within communities.
9. KB: Building community seems be a key goal for you in all that you do?
ST: Building a community is essential. It is the foundation on which to establish and nurture a professional artistic presence to benefit the arts and cultural life of Malden and the larger community. I’m grateful that I was able to get the community involved in the process of building a creative community, and keeping the community involved in it. I want people to start thinking of Malden a place to grow as a creative community. I hope to continue to inspire more Malden residents and beyond to take a part in creating a demand for more arts throughout the city. The continued growth of the Malden artists’ community is an assurance of Malden Arts moving toward a flourishing future.
I strongly encourage anyone interested to logon to http://www.artSPACEat16.com/maldenartistcommunity.htm to keep up with the development and growth of the artists’ community in Malden. For those who would like to be in the loop, please subscribe to the list-serve MaldenArtsNetwork I started in September 2005. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MaldenArtsNet/ MaldenArtsNetwork is dedicated to building connections within the Malden Artists’ Community and beyond. Postings include announcements of the City of Malden's venture in creating artist live/work studio space, as well as events and opportunities concerning arts and culture in Malden and beyond. Members of MaldenArtsNetwork are welcome to post any arts related announcements that will benefit the Malden Artists Community.
10. KB: What has been the most rewarding experience you've had as a result of operating artSPACE@16?
ST: Seeing the artists’ community continue to grow here in Malden, seeing inspired artists taking the lead in starting new art initiatives. I applaud Roanna Forman for starting the Malden Muse, an online arts and cultural magazine for the Malden area; cheers also to Naomi Brave and Kelvy Bird for taking the lead in organizing the very first Windows Art Project for Malden in the Fall of 2006; and last, but not least, a big thanks to Rev. David Horst for his vision of creating an exhibition space in the First Parish Church in the fall of 2006!
11.KB: Any advice/tips on how other artists can follow in your foot steps?
ST: I would like to end with a quote by Lucy R. Lippard, "Community doesn't mean understanding everything about everybody and resolving all the differences; it means knowing how to work within differences as they change and evolve." So, get inspired, get involved, and take action.
"Negotiating the Irrationalities" is on view March 25 - April 22, 2006 at artSPACE@16.
Kathleen Bitetti is an artist and Executive Director of the Artists Foundation.