ARTISTS AS ARTS ADMINISTRATORS
Claire Wood, Communications Intern
You would think art and arts administration would be similar.
At least, that’s what I thought. This morning, after my rather befuddled 8:00 a.m. self had, quite literally, thrown together a hasty batch of Folgers, Coffee Mate, and liquefied hazelnut, my mug and I hastened down to our first-floor bloggers’ meeting. It is here that I first met Jade Abner.
Jade Abner is an artist. Her works boast great variety in character, ranging from intricate sculptures to watercolor paintings. Embodying the contemporary mindset, Jade’s artwork intertwines domestic and delicate components with elements of raw industry. “No material is off limits,” Jade explains. It’s a bold statement, but she lives up to it; be it plywood, house paint, hand-woven fabrics or foam, her pieces have it all. Each masterpiece demands countless hours in the studio – late nights and early mornings, sculpting, painting, creating. This is the life of an artist – vigorous, and hands-on.
But this is not the only life Jade leads. After completing her undergraduate degree in studio art, Jade found herself in the bustling streets of downtown Houston, active – not just as an artist – but as an arts administrator. Jade works for Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) as Civic Art + Design assistant, a position of administration charged with the nitty-gritty coordination of Houston’s public art. It’s no secret – coordination isn’t glamorous. Jade arranges meetings, manages calendars, processes forms and invoices, prepares reports and proposals. Some days she works outside the office, overseeing artistic endeavors throughout Houston. Her most crucial undertaking is the coordination of HAA panels, the teams of artists and project stakeholders that review public art submissions. Jade works extensively behind the scenes to ensure these panels run smoothly: contacting panelists, documenting submissions, arranging elements as mundane as panel lunches. In the office, Jade works, not with a paintbrush, but a computer.
There is a clear distinction between Jade’s two occupations. One side of her paints the canvas; the other calls the painter. One side molds the sculpture; the other directs its shipment.
Jade isn’t alone. Every member of Civic Art + Design has an undergraduate degree in studio art: Project Manager Jimmy Castillo has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography; Director Sara Kellner has her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting; and some, like Project Manager Mat Kubo, have gone on to attain their Master of Fine Arts. Jade and her colleagues all live amidst this strident juxtaposition – the hands-on dynamism of artistic life against the hands-off oversight of complex administration.
Despite the disparity between her two occupations, Jade loves her role in arts administration. “I totally geek out when I see artists doing these awesome public art projects,” Jade remarks. “It’s a daily reminder of what I love.”
And thus, Jade Abner proved me wrong – the creation and realization of public art are far from alike. Jade and her colleagues live amidst the dichotomy of art and arts administration, two fields that sound so beguilingly similar yet stand, in many ways, as polar opposites. They are artisans and administrators – the undercover artists of Houston’s civic art.