(Featured photo provided by Midtown Alliance)
By Matt Terrell
Art is not created in a vacuum. There is perhaps no more malicious myth than that of the lone wolf artistic genius, squirreled away is some studio far away from civilization, sending their wares into the world. It’s true that some of the great artists of the 20th century, like Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko, enjoyed their privacy, but even their work was not created in a vacuum. There are gallerists, collectors, curators, and many more people who (in one way or another) influence what work we see from artists, and how we see it. In our 21st century artistic landscape, creative production requires more people than ever before to bring work to fruition. Funders, fabricators, and fixers can all influence the final form of a piece of contemporary art.
I’d like to show you how I recently made a piece of art, and in doing so demystify the ways art is produced. I’m currently running a public art series called “We All Live With HIV” where I install reflective letters in store-front windows with this message. The idea is that viewers literally see themselves in this message and reflect on their role in stopping HIV. This was a simple idea, but one that required a lot of help from other people: Funder, fabricator, and fixer. Let me show you how they helped me bring this work to life.
Funders: The person or organization funding the art is by far the most influential person when it comes to a work’s final form. Any artist, or arts organization, has to satisfy the requirements and goals set forth by their funder. After all, it’s their money, and without it the artist can’t make the work, so it’s vital that the artist makes sure the funder is happy.
I’m very fortunate to have AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) out of Los Angeles as my funder. As the world’s largest HIV care and advocacy organization, they are very active in engaging the community through art. AHF is a very flexible funder, and they wanted me to pursue my own vision. Their specific requests were: Find a way for individuals to interact/engage with the work, place it in high-impact locations, and generate community interest.
Fabricators: Did you know that many artists don’t actually make their work? Kara Walker was not sculpting her great sugar sphinx herself—she hired people. Jeff Koons, inspired by Andy Warhol, had a factory of artisans making the work that bears his name. Kehinde Wiley, who painted the great portrait of Barack Obama, outsources his work to China. Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel? He had a great many anonymous assistants helping him in the background. Great art is not always the work of one person.
For my part, I used a fabricator named George Faughnan who made the reflective decals that I mounted to store front windows. I do not personally own a laser-cutter, and there’s no reason for me to purchase one (and learn how to use it) for this single project, so it was necessary that I find someone who could do my laser cutting for me. The fabricator is a vital person to bringing an artwork to life. If they something isn’t possible, then it’s not going to happen. The timeline on an artwork’s production depends entirely on the fabricator.
Fixers: This person is anybody in the background who sets up a work of art to actually happen. They go by many names: Gallerist, curator, community advocate. Sometimes an artist has a great idea for an artwork, but lacks the connections or capacity to find the place for it to go. This is where the fixer comes in. For the sculpture Autoeater in Midtown, Marcia Wood acted as the “fixer” who scored the artists prime location for it.
My fixer was Alena Green at Central Atlanta Progress. For my installation, I needed empty storefront locations in downtown to place my work. I lacked the connections or capacity to track down property owners and negotiate installations. Alena, as a project manager in economic development for Central Atlanta Progress, saw the possibility for my work to enliven areas of downtown. She contacted property owners downtown and helped convince them to take on my work. As an artist, I don’t speak the language of real estate and business development. I needed a fixer who did, and could bring my work to life.
Maybe you are interested in advancing the arts in Atlanta, but you aren’t an artist yourself. Could you be a funder, fabricator, or fixer? Maybe you want to fund more work in your community—find an artist whose work you enjoy and shell out some cash to make it happen! Perhaps you have the tools that could help artists make work. That could be a printing business, a skywriting company, or you manufacture neon signs. Think about how your business could help artists. Finally, maybe you are well connected in your community, and could help artists find the locations, resources, and people they need to make their work. That would make you an awesome fixer.
I hope this column will inspire you to reconsider how you—even if you aren’t an artist—can contribute to building a more creative community here in Atlanta.