The DMV is a hotspot for the arts, so when social distancing began, continuing the growth of the scene and maintaining the small businesses within it has become increasingly concerning. We can stream and rent new movies or watch OBCs perform medleys online, but I wondered – what about the visual art galleries? Visual art is experiential, and they’ve tried to maintain a semblance of that experience online. I had a conversation with the gallery manager of U Street’s Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, Lindsey Yancich, and the gallery manager/curator of Baltimore’s Catalyst Contemporary’s Liz Faust about how their galleries are coping with the ongoing pandemic so far, what their plans are for the future, and how budding professional artists can submit work.
BYT: What kind of art does your gallery show?
Liz Faust: Catalyst’s first anniversary [was in May], featuring visual art that tells stories and oftentimes has galleries and performances, but mostly focuses on visual art.
Lindsey Yancich: The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery is part of the Smith Center for Healing Arts; it’s a non-profit gallery that also focuses on visual arts, showing emerging and established artists. We include local, national, and international artists, all exhibitions have to do in some way with healing: personal healing, political, cultural, etc. We try to keep that sense of connection close to the artwork we show and the artists we bring in.
Is it mainly a fine art gallery or commercial?
Lindsey: It’s fine art but the work is usually also for sale. It’s a fine balance of both – we also do lots of public programs – I run the healing arts series, a quarterly community program that ties in an artist’s work from each exhibition, performances, and workshops.
Liz: Catalyst is more on the commercial end but we also represent artists.
What is the current mood at your job — what’s going on in the business end?
Liz: We have to keep the lights on. Catalyst signed up for a COVID relief grant.
Lindsey: One of the things I’ve been working on is working to promote the artist’s work better. It’s important to try to get sales for them.
Especially now, economic stability. If somebody’s having trouble being productive, having a little bit of a cushion of being like, okay, I could sell this piece because somebody saw it online, or during an artist talk or something where their work might be in the background… is that something any of your artists have voiced concerns about?
Liz: That’s why our artists [at Catalyst] sign on for representation — the three artists we represent churn out work. Two of them are D.C.-based artists who exhibit a lot.
Lindsey: One artist of that group, Erick Antonio Benitez, was actually supposed to be in the show that’s up at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery right now.
Liz: And another artist represented by Catalyst, Sobia Ahmad, has been in several shows at the Hisaoka Gallery, too.
Lindsey: Damon Arhos was in Alchemical Vessels fundraising exhibition for 2019, too, so all three artists have actually been in both galleries.
What a small world!
Liz: The DMV area is so overshadowed by New York City – [at Catalyst] we’re answering the questions of how to better our region’s visibility, and legitimize us as a serious contender.
Lindsey: And elevate that – it’s fine art that should be in your collections!
To me it’s also about making it an accessible price point, for people to be like, I have this piece of fine art in my home.
Lindsey: For so long, the internet has not been where you’d go to buy art. You want to go in person, visit studios or exhibitions. Right now it’s even harder to do the things Liz is talking about doing – everyone has to do it online now.
Liz: I think that’s also a strength – if people can see it online then it takes the focus away from New York. We’ve been working with Artsy and they’ve been saying art sales via that site have gone through the roof, because so many fairs were canceled. Art Basel’s probably not going to happen, and all these fairs that wealthy collectors go to aren’t going to happen for a year or two at least. The question is then, where are you going to buy your art next? As a smaller gallery we have had people come in and express interest in buying a piece, and then not buy until it shows up at an art fair for three times the price.
Lindsey: Hopefully the direction we’re moving in now will push collectors to buy online and at local galleries.
Liz: It’s a really big challenge now because of COVID, in Baltimore, three galleries have already closed this year.
Lindsey: We have been applying for every emergency grant they’ve put out, all of the paycheck protection, anything we’ve qualified we’ve applied for. Luckily D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has said we don’t have to match grant money right now. We had a huge grant that we had to match for the show we were about to start.
Liz: And because Catalyst isn’t a non-profit we’ve had to apply for business grants in Maryland. We got payroll protection at our parent business, Full Circle Fine Art Services, and some employees have opted to stay on unemployment, and some are doing shifts, instead of everyone at once. I’ve been able to work from home, thankfully, with our parent company, they mainly do physical printing equipment for photography, including framing work. There are some businesses that are still open and need it. We’ve done grocery store floor one-way sign stickers, as it’s vinyl.
Since you’ve mentioned those stickers on the floor, what measures are your galleries taking in the event that you might be reopening? For social distancing – will people have to stand on little markers in the gallery?
Lindsey: Smith Center for Healing and the Arts primarily serves cancer patients and their families. It has a very at-risk population of artists and patrons and therefore we are taking extreme precautions, including but not limited to two versions of events, virtual and by appointment, the latter of which we already did before all of this. We’re also looking at restructuring the exhibition schedule and limiting the number of people in the gallery at a time. We have artist talks on Instagram every Friday, and the current show is what was in the gallery before the quarantines began. The hope is to get our Latinx show Aceptar Una Exposition Colectiva, curated by Irene Clouthier, up in July, but we’re going to take our time. If the staff goes back that’s one thing, but for the public to come back we’re going to do it really safely. Opening receptions might become a thing of the past. I’m the world’s worst millennial and we couldn’t figure out how to save our Instagram live streams so we’re going back and re-recording our initial interviews, and posting those recordings on the gallery website.
Liz: We canceled all summer exhibitions and moved Authentic Realities (the current show) all the way through the end of the summer. We have good documentation of it, and it’s viewable on our website. It’s so different online than in person: there are giant 8-ft paintings that are so moving in person and the images just can’t capture it. Even when we open in the fall, we’re implementing a ticketing system of 8 people at a time for opening receptions. We’re continuing distanced artist talks on Instagram, and we’re also planning artist talks in the space and shared to YouTube and other social networks. Most of my days have been spent transcribing for accessibility.
Lindsey: I like that ticketing idea.
Liz: It would be ticketed, time-based, so people can schedule their days out. Things will slow down for the rest of the year, in case there’s a second big outbreak.
Lindsey, you’ve said the Latinx show got delayed. Do you have another show up?
Lindsey: Yeah, we’re keeping the current show up in the gallery. I shot a video of it and put it up on the website. We’re looking to get the artwork for that up in July and basically do an extended version of it.
If the reader is a young or “new” artist what can they do to catch the eye of a gallery if they have no or few shows? Should they hop on the gram?
Liz: The best way is for the artist to do their best to research the galleries before submitting work: make sure the art fits the space. Our gallery is story-based and contextual, and not really art for art’s sake. I had someone email me and didn’t even include their name. Instagram isn’t a substitute either because a website can provide insight and context. You can send in a portfolio to us, as well as a resume/CV. Don’t send me your Facebook page! Be professional.
Lindsey: We should do a zoom workshop for artists! Honestly, it’s needed. Get good photographs of your work, a good website. Artists can find my contact information on our website, and I can look at your submission, but everything Liz says is applicable here. You can also send in your art via [email protected] and submit to calls for entry.
Liz: And don’t be afraid to propose a group exhibition.
And lastly, how are you guys? How’s home?
Lindsey: I’m not going nuts! I’m really enjoying my time at home, but I’m struggling to creatively problem solve even though it’s needed the most right now. It feels like my brain is in survival mode.
Liz: I’m a newlywed so this has basically turned into our honeymoon. I think the most difficult was my job adjunct teaching – teaching time increased dramatically because of the volume of emails from students and individual meetings, who are 50% international students and outside this time zone. Yet, this is also the best student work to come out of the class.
Catalyst will have a print fair in November 2020 and the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery will have the 8th annual Alchemical Vessels show in March 2021.
To learn more and see the current exhibitions, you can follow both galleries on Instagram @hisaokaarts and @catalystcontemporary and sign up for their newsletters on their respective websites.