Meditations on Artist Advocacy, Semantic Shifts & DIY with Leto Projects
Danielle Cunningham Tierney: I feel like Odessa’s curatorial residency, and the idea of a curatorial residency, in general, is the perfect pair for Trevor’s fluid work, and for Leto Projects’ re-envisioning of artist/curator/gallery relationships. What are your thoughts on these partnerships, and how does Leto Projects aim to support such collaborations in the future?
Stephanie Edwards: Each of the organizations involved in producing Semantic Shifts is offering crucial resources to realize this exhibition and reducing the impact of managing resources individually. Coincidentally, Collective SML | k, Odessa, and Leto Projects are all artist-run spaces. Artists are engaging as cultural producers through meaningful extensions of their studio process in increasing numbers. Today there are so many unique models of arts organizations starting, it seems nearly one a month recently in Denver.
Artists as cultural producers is a trend that Leto Projects can fully support because it is a way for artists to get involved in creating the types of opportunities for other artists that they want to see. This collaboration is an ideal fit for Leto Projects, which seeks to create meaningful partnerships with the aim of increasing the sustainability of the arts ecosystem and artist self-sufficiency in the Denver area. The first several years of Leto Projects' business plan includes operating without a brick and mortar location, so nearly all of the activities that Leto Projects will engage in will rely on creating meaningful partnerships with other organizations.
From what I understand, Leto Projects aims to bridge the gap between sometimes intimidating art institutions and artists whose entrance to showing in these institutions is often barred. What is your view on this idea, and how can Leto Projects help to increase artists’ visibility?
One of the core aspects of Leto Projects is advocating for artists at all points in their career and in this instance we were able to act as a critical intermediary so Trevor could work with Odessa to produce his first solo exhibition. In a meeting with Odessa’s Corianne Wells, I mentioned Trevor’s artwork and she was interested in the concept. While Trevor’s career was not yet established enough to be incorporated into Odessa’s curatorial vision for 2018, Odessa was excited to work with Leto Projects to produce a pop-up exhibition.
Since Leto Projects offers art coaching, were you able to advise Trevor? If you were, what did this look like? How did it inform Trevor’s work, or possibly inform yours?
Yes, during the production process Leto Projects is working with Trevor in a mentorship role by providing curatorial support and coaching and will follow up after the exhibition with a reflection meeting. Trevor has been involved with all aspects of the production of Semantic Shifts, which is a great learning opportunity. Odessa has been an incredible support as well, offering
guidance to Trevor in the areas of art installation and marketing.
Working with Trevor early in his career is an exciting process for me because I see how quickly he is learning and picking up details in the process. The mentorship process has included extensive emailing and in-person, meetings to discuss various aspects of producing this exhibition; Including reviewing submission information to Odessa, facilitating the introduction, discussing artwork pricing, selection, and installation, and being available to assist with questions.
At this point, any type of involvement with artists is helping shape the model that Leto Projects will take on, so working with Trevor has been a great learning experience for me in terms of structuring Leto Projects' business model.
I am always interested in artists whose work is driven by audience participation. Since Trevor uses randomly generated words to connect to cultural conventions surrounding their usage, do you think his work appeals to a non-traditional art audience? Maybe an audience that is less familiar with conceptual art, but can still interact and extend their version of reality?
There is a level of accessibility in the series Semantic Shifts I agree would be attractive to audiences without extensive visual vocabulary. Trevor has exploited the viewer/artwork relationship to create content for Semantic Shifts, which gives power to the viewer to generate their own interpretations. One of the aspects that I have enjoyed about engaging with this body of work is that it is so media blind; it incorporates drawings, ceramics, photographs, projections, found objects, video art, sculpture, and the list could keep growing as Trevor continues to build this series. In this way, the Semantic Shifts series is accessible to a wide audience as well because while one person may connect to the drawings another may connect best to the projection.
On a more personal note, what does it mean for you to be involved with a project in the Santa Fe Arts District? I know you come from a DIY background, and with Denver’s DIY community often overshadowed by mainstreamed arts organizations, what do you think is the impact of your intervention? How important is it right now for these worlds to coexist or maybe even co-evolve?
While Collective SML | k is on Santa Fe Drive, it is an artist-run space, and Odessa is an arts incubator. Both of these organizations already inhabit areas of the arts ecosystem outside of what may be considered a ‘mainstream’ art organization so my approach to this exhibition hasn’t been confrontational or intervention-based despite being located within an established arts district.
All types of arts organizations would benefit from learning to coexist. Hopefully, arts organizations even co-evolve to create symbiotic relationships. Not every partnership or co-evolution is positive and DIY arts organizations are particularly vulnerable to corporations who see the value in the cultural capital DIY arts organizations have and try to exploit it for their own means. There are a number of instances where this dynamic has clearly taken place in Denver. DIY arts organizations need to think objectively about how engaging with corporate entities will affect them and what the impact would be on the greater arts ecosystem. At Leto Projects, we are interested in helping the DIY arts community evaluate these types of opportunities.
Denver has changed quite a bit and continues to change. Moving forward, the question I have is, how can the arts ecosystem adapt to what exists now and brace for future changes in a way that provides opportunities to artists so they can afford to stay in Denver? Another important question in this process is, how do we acknowledge and make meaningful contributions to reduce the negative impacts of gentrification in our inner-city communities?
Do you have any future collaborations? Where can people experience more of Leto Projects?
Leto Projects is in contact with a number of artist-run spaces and other arts organizations. None of these projects are at a point where they can be publicly announced. See more of Leto Projects on our website letoprojects.org (currently being designed), on Instagram at @leto_projects, and Facebook page Leto Projects @letoprojects, and sign up for our monthly newsletter that amplifies arts events to promote meaningful discovery for art audiences.
Finally, how do you have time for all of this!!?? You’re a mom, supportive partner, graduate student, artist, curator, gallery manager, and you throw stuff my way too so I know you’re also focused on inclusivity...it blows my mind! I’ve noticed so many creatives are like this, multi-tasking in every aspect of the community, while also maintaining its existence by encouraging fellow creatives.
Managing everything that is going on in my life right now is a total balancing act. Being busy is my default, I get more done and am happier when I have a lot going on. At the end of the day, I am involved in creative projects because they are things that I am passionate about that bring deeper meaning to my life.
With Semantic Shifts, in particular, I evaluated the fact that I felt too busy to take on one more thing but ultimately decided to move forward. I am glad that decided to move forward with this project because Trevor, Corianne, and Kristopher have all been amazing to work with. Thank you, Danielle, it has been a pleasure to speak with you and I appreciate your time and insight.
Curated by Stephanie McDaniel of Leto Projects, Semantic Shifts is a pop-up solo exhibition of artworks by Trevor Seymour; examining the relationship between our thoughts, associations, and connotations with words and images to create unique meaning. Seymour works in a variety of media, like drawing, sculpture, video, and found objects that juxtapose randomly generated adjectives and images.
Danielle Cunningham Tierney is an independent curator, artist, and founding editor of Now Future, a Denver-centric DIY publication focused on exploring humanity’s cosmic thread via art critical topics. She will be attending graduate school at the University of Denver beginning September 2018.
Instagram @thenowfuture @nowfuture.thezine