Cultivating Wildness: Supporting the Creativity of Artists
Studio managers are a bit like orchestra conductors—bringing together musicians to create a sublime performance that stirs a wild range of emotions, from awe and fear to wonder.
The artist is the star soloist of the performance, and any arts worker who works in an artist studio—whatever position they hold—must understand that the crux of their job is to give the artist an environment at center stage to be free and creative. There is a certain intangible origin of the imagination from which ideas emerge and crystallize into artistic production. Such a birthing process requires the artist to harness the possibility for expression, free of constraint or limitation, and, in doing so, perhaps tap into a pure, unadulterated version of themselves. While those of us in occupations spent near artists actually must abide by many rules and guidelines, we are critical in helping to create, structure, and sustain a safe space for the artist to play, experiment, and focus—to tear down the limitations that may restrain artistic expression.
Take, for example, my incredible team at the studio that supports the work of contemporary artist Nancy Rubins. Throughout her career, Rubins has used industrial and found objects as the raw materials for her sculptures and drawings. In her most recent “Fluid Space” series, she uses fragments of ready-made cast metal animals, breaking apart the animal forms and composing the fragments into new forms that sprout from tables and stools. While bound together by cables, the final sculptures appear fantastical and otherworldly, yet also seemingly organic. It is as if Rubins has abstracted a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna, using material that has withstood the test of time.
The energetic abstraction reflected in Rubins’s sculptures result from a combination of her unique creativity, and the careful planning and support from the studio team. At the studio, we have a core team of six members, an additional three members on our traveling installation team, and other project-based support. Each of us has a specific role that helps to create and maintain the studio environment. We have office team members who help to run the financial and legal structures of the studio. A studio director sets the studio’s internal operations and supports team members as we move through each phase of a project—from artwork creation, preparations for exhibitions, creation of metal frames for the shipping of sculptures, and project-managing complex installs and de-installs. In creating artworks, our incredible crew—including a tech lead with intimate knowledge of Rubins’s process—undertakes a variety of tasks, whether prepping raw materials, assisting Rubins during her creative process, documenting the multiple steps involved in install and de-install, polishing finished sculptures, inventorying and archiving artwork and other materials, and leading the install and de-install of Rubins’s works. Other team members provide production and archival support on a project basis.
As the executive director, I lead efforts to share Rubins’s creativity with the world, undertaking legal work and carrying out strategy, creating and publishing documentation about Rubins’s work, providing rights permissions for the use of artwork images, communicating with curators and other arts scholars who are interested in Rubins’s practice, pitching interviews and other press opportunities, presenting Rubins’s work at public events, working with Rubins’s galleries to promote her artwork, and keeping the art world and broader audience engaged.
Each of us on the team performs multiple roles, but each of us also knows how our roles fit together. While I get to spend a lot of time talking with Rubins about the direction of her journey and the studio, the show must always go on, and I succeed in my role if Rubins has the time and mind space to work, unbridled and free, in her studio. In guiding this performance, I am doing my small part to help cultivate wildness in its purest and most explosive form.