Artists are always seeking venues in which to show and promote their work. For fledging and emerging artists this phrase is especially important but it can be extremely difficult to find locations and/or galleries that are open to new work. It can prove to be extra difficult to showcase work in cities like New York which are already teeming with established artists. Luckily, organizations exist that foster new artists and A.I.R. is one such establishment.
A.I.R. is an organization that is dedicated to promoting the work of female artists, especially emerging talents. Although based in NYC, A.I.R. offers services to artists across the nation. There are various forms of membership as well as several calls for submissions to shows each year—most of which are juried.
A.I.R. (also called A.I.R. Gallery) started in 1972 and has been continuously helping female artists ever since. A.I.R exhibits work in a range of mediums and even offers residency programs. At present, A.I.R.’s Director of Exhibitions is JoAnne McFarland, a Brooklyn-based painter and poet who has work on permanent display at the Library of Congress, the Columbus Museum of Art, and the Department of State and is the author of nine poetry collections. Recently, this Examiner had the opportunity to interview JoAnne McFarland about her experiences working with the organization:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How and when did you decide to start A.I.R and why was that name chosen?
JoAnne McFarland (J.M.): A.I.R. Gallery, also known as Artists in Residence, Inc., was started in 1972 by Susan Williams and Barbara Zucker. Along with eighteen other artists, they envisioned a professional and permanent exhibition space for women artists during a time when the work shown at commercial galleries in New York City was almost exclusively by male artists. A.I.R. was the first not-for-profit, artist-run gallery specifically for women in the United States. At the original meeting, in the spring of 1972, Howardena Pindell, one of the Founding Artists, suggested the name Eyre Gallery (after Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre). The members decided on A.I.R.—Artists In Residence, an allusion to signs posted throughout New York City’s Soho neighborhood at that time, alerting the fire department to artists living in factory buildings.
M.M.: What styles of art does A.I.R. favor?
J.M.: At A.I.R. we’re not focused on a particular style of art. The gallery is open to all visions, and seeks to provide a number of ways for women artists producing quality artwork to find community, build a collector base, secure reviews, and develop their talents.
M.M.: Presently, how many members are in A.I.R.?
J. M.: There are four tiers of membership at A.I.R.: the NY Artists form the Board of Directors and meet once a month to manage the gallery’s business; Adjunct Artists are former NY Artists who are less involved in running the gallery; National Artists come from all over the country and have a group exhibition in all three gallery spaces once per season; and Alumnae Artists are former members of all kinds who now have a presence on the gallery’s website. All together we have about 78 members.
M.M.: How does someone become an A.I.R. member? Are there any fees involved?
J. M.: NY and National Artists are chosen through a rigorous selection process. Their work is reviewed along with supporting materials: resume, professional references, and an artist statement. For NY Artists, the initial review is followed by a studio visit, or artists are asked to bring work samples into the gallery and talk with members about their goals and what they feel they can contribute to the gallery. All membership tiers involve fees. In this way the gallery is able to run its programming, employ staff, and maintain high quality exhibition space in New York City.
Every attempt is made to keep fees affordable. In addition, the gallery holds several rotating open calls with application fees: The Biennial, Currents, Generations, and the Studio Visit Lottery. These encourage artists who may not be able to participate on the membership level to show at the gallery and gain exposure.
The annual Postcard Show—Wish You Were Here, is a fundraiser. Male and female artists are invited to donate postcard–sized works with their contact information written on the back. It’s a great way for artists to build their collector base, and for collectors to purchase original art at extremely affordable prices. We receive hundreds of postcards each year.
Since 1993, A.I.R. has had a Fellowship Program For Emerging and Underrepresented Women Artists that provides an exhibition opportunity, mentoring, and professional development for six emerging women artists per cycle. This is a prime program in the gallery, and it is free to apply.
M.M.: Where do you showcase work by A.I.R. artists?
J.M.: The gallery moved to its current location 155 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn just this past May. The relocation was facilitated by Two Trees Management, and the Cultural Director of DUMBO, Lisa Kim. A.I.R.’s new, ground floor space has three excellent exhibition areas where we are able to showcase the work of more than one hundred women artists in a single season.
In addition, A.I.R.’s NY and National Artists recently put together a Traveling Show that went to galleries in Nashville, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; Princeton, New Jersey; and St. Louis, Missouri. The show, entitled A.I.R. Refreshed , is currently on view at Governors Island. There, for most of September 2015, the NY Artists will follow with the second annual exhibition, If These Walls…
Some of our Fellowship Artists are also currently exhibiting on Governors Island in their show, Enduring Ephemera. A.I.R. has been involved in several international exchanges. The next one will take place with artists from Sweden, and is scheduled for spring 2016.
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving working with A.I.R.?
J.M.: When I came on staff in June 2013 the gallery was in the midst of a major transition. Our Associate Director, Jacqueline Ferrante was also new to the staff. Two of our NY Artists—Jane Swavely and Maxine Henryson were fairly new to the Board of Directors. Working together, and with the help of a team of committees, we were able to bring significant change to the organization: an updated website; a calendar with longer exhibitions; a streamlined, more dynamic Fellowship Program; additional staff in the form of Jenn Dierdorf as Fellowship and Development Director to better implement programming and meet objectives; and more off–site opportunities like the Traveling Show. The membership is more energized and motivated, with renewed engagement around the gallery’s mission.
M.M.: Where do you hope A. I. R. will be ten years from now?
J.M.: I hope that the gallery will have secured a long term lease in New York City so that the organization is protected from the volatile NY real estate market. I hope that the gallery will have a broader audience. Marginalized groups in 2015 differ from those in 1972. I believe it’s possible for A.I.R. to continue focusing on the challenges of women artists while, at the same time, fostering the growth of artists of color, older artists, and others who may still have difficulty finding validation for their creative efforts. I also see less need for rigidity between artistic disciplines, and can envision a space that supports deeper collaborations between musicians, writers, dancers, and visual artists.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?
J.M: I believe that creativity is extraordinarily undervalued in our society. Living as an artist involves not only accepting, but in some measure being in love with uncertainty and change. If you feel so strongly that making things is what gives your life meaning, you will find a way to invent.
M.M.: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
J.M.: Please visit A.I.R. at Governors Island! Currently on view—A.I.R. Refreshed, and Enduring Ephemera. Beginning August 28, If These Walls… at House 5B in Nolan Park. At our DUMBO location, opening September 10, 2015, with a reception 6–8 pm— in Gallery 1, Echoes, by artists Melissa Murray and Julia Westerbeke; and in Galleries 2 and 3, Who’s Afraid of Feminism?, a group show by some of the artists of the Women’s Caucus For Art.
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To learn more about A.I.R., visit the official website and Facebook.