How to Succeed as an Artist While Living outside of Art-World Capitals (excerpt) — Tess Thackara

Artsy, 09.19.2018

You want to be an artist but can’t face the relentless pace, astronomical rents, and distractions of the art world’s capitals. Can you still hope for success?

There was a time when the art market—and all the opportunities that go with it—was concentrated entirely in a few cultural centers. Nowadays, the international art world is more porous: There are dozens of art fairs and biennials on every continent, galleries are increasingly itinerant, and curators travel the globe in search of talent. The internet has made it exponentially easier for artists to broadcast their work globally, and it’s consequently more plausible than ever before to develop a career beyond art world hubs (and financial capitals) like New York, London, and Berlin.

Deana Haggag, president and CEO of United States Artists—an American nonprofit that issues grants to artists from all over the country—regularly meets young artists, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, who are graduating with MFAs and grappling with the question of where to settle and establish a studio practice. “Of course you can go to New York, London, or Paris, try to play that game and immediately try to work your way into that system,” she said. “Or you can move to a city with a tight-knit artist community and find opportunities sooner.” Moving to a smaller city or town often means affordable studio space and assistance, a supportive network, and easier access to local arts professionals and venues.

However fruitful a smaller ecosystem might be, however, living away from the art world’s financial infrastructure comes with undeniable challenges. One such obstacle is the fact that local collectors don’t always collect work by local artists. “A lot of small American cities are struggling to figure out how to amplify their collector base, how to encourage new collecting,” Haggag said. “That seems to be a topic of conversation that’s happening everywhere—Houston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis.” It can also take a fair amount of extra legwork to remain visible in the art world hubs.

What follows are some points of advice on how to navigate a pathway to career stability while living away from the whirlwind of the art world’s capitals—culled from conversations with artists who have done just that.

Perhaps you’re an artist who thrives under pressure and in cramped conditions. (The seeds of Andrea Zittel’s “Experimental Living Cabins” in the California desert were planted when she lived in New York, where the imperatives of close living quarters require a certain creative flair.) Or, maybe you’re an artist who needs mental (and physical) space—away from the pressures of the market and the conventions of the establishment—in order to discover new artistic avenues for your practice.

For Scott Reeder, who lived in Los Angeles for two years before spending nearly a decade in Milwaukee, living in the Midwestern city provided him with the space, freedom, and offbeat cultural environment he needed to grow his practice. “I like being a bit away from the coasts, to get some perspective. And for something weirder to develop,” he said. Milwaukee afforded him “a little time to gestate and slow down.”

Among the artworks Reeder developed there was a feature film, Moon Dust(2014)—an absurdist sci-fi comedy about a resort on the moon—which took him 11 years to complete. “It was this crazy passion project, and it’s the kind of thing you could only do in Milwaukee,” he said. The film required constructing elaborate sets, which he made in a 6,000-square-foot space that cost him just $400 per month. He bankrolled the whole project himself. “You wouldn’t self-fund a feature film in New York, London, or L.A. You would be insane to do that,” Reeder said. (He now lives between Detroit and Chicago, where he is an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

Moon Dust led to a couple of career milestones for Reeder: When he finally finished his cinematic odyssey, former L.A. art venue 356 Mission presented an exhibition about the completion of the film. The feature screened at the Whitney Museum of American Art last December, and it will be included in an upcoming exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Continue Reading