Last month, two groups of seven Art Producers selected two artists to receive a $10,000 commission. In this series, we’ll get to know the individuals responsible for selecting and supporting our four Artist Commissioning Program Awardees. This week, Bayside native and emerging curator Margot Yale shares her experience with the program, discussing her arts background, love of Queens, and what it was like to help decide who received the commission (Margot’s group selected Judith Sloan and Chuan Xie’s projects).
Kelly: Tell us about yourself! What is your art background & relationship to Queens?
Margot: I grew up in Bayside, Queens, and I moved back to Queens about six months ago after graduating from college. Growing up here, I was immersed in the cultural landscape of the borough. I spent a lot of time as a child visiting the Queens Museum and, in several ways, I believe my passion for art derives from the central role the Museum played in my upbringing and my worldview reflects my experience of the cultural landscape of Queens. In high school, I participated and led community-engaged art projects and events at the Clocktower in Long Island City with No Longer Empty and at the Noguchi Museum. This was my introduction to civic-minded art practice and community-responsive exhibition making. In college, I studied art history and American Studies and began exploring curatorial work at the Princeton University Art Museum, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the Whitney, and now work on the Collection and Exhibition Technologies team at MoMA. I come to the Artist Commissioning Program with a background in visual art and curatorial work and a passion for working with artists and community-engaged art.
Kelly: Why did you want to become an art producer?
Margot: One of the main catalysts for me in choosing to major in art history and pursue a career in curatorial work was those early experiences I had working on community-based art projects in Queens. Those projects taught me that the arts can be a conduit for telling stories and that without the arts, these narratives are often times otherwise left unsaid. When I saw an email to apply to the Artist Commissioning Program as an Art Producer, I recognized that this was my opportunity to jump back into this work. Having been away from Queens for four years, I also saw this program as an opportunity to reengage with the artistic community here. As an art historian, I’ve always admired artists of all disciplines and I knew that to be able to afford two artists the opportunity to create new works through these grants was really special. Moreover, in applying to this program it was important to me that we would be prioritizing untold and underrepresented stories. This is a fantastic learning experience for me to discover more about other artistic disciplines, affording me a stronger understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of modern and contemporary art, and to get to work closely with artists over an extended period of time. Over the next year, I hope to learn how to work alongside an artist in a creative and commissioning process and how to foster a stronger relationship with artists.
Kelly: What was it like being a part of a group responsible for selecting the commissioned artists?
Margot: It was definitely exciting! One of the aspects I most enjoyed was learning from panelists with expertise in a particular discipline about what they identified as craft and innovation across the proposals. Working in a group to make these decisions, it was crucial to listen to the other voices in the room and I found that as our conversations unfolded, I started to look at certain proposals from an angle or viewpoint that I might not have reached on my own. I was pleasantly surprised by the frequency with which our group came to a consensus—for the most part, we all agreed on which proposals stood out. Through the panel process, I also learned how to make a judgment call on two vastly different works and how to determine whether a proposal could likely be executed in the given timeframe the artists have for this project.
Kelly: When reading artists’ submissions, what made an application stand out to you? What advice would you give to an artist applying for a grant?
Margot: My initial excitement about a written proposal had to be matched with highly professional work samples for a submission to stand out to me. In reviewing the proposal, I needed to feel that the artist not only had this great idea, but that he or she had executed equally great ideas in the past. My piece of advice to an artist applying for a grant is that he or she not skimp on work samples, make sure they are accessible (i.e. not password protected, in an inaccessible format, etc.), and make sure that the media quality is high. Another factor was whether I learned something from the proposal. Given that one of our criteria was that the proposed work would elucidate something not currently visible in American culture, I felt most strongly when a proposal did indeed illuminate a story that was unknown to me. This also meant that the applications that most stood out to me were the ones where the artist had done substantial research or begun workshopping.
Kelly: How did you decide what works were not visible in American culture? What language did you find helpful in discussing these works?
Margot: If a proposal illuminated a story that was unknown to me, I found the work particularly compelling. If an artist’s application proposed a revision of a hegemonic or often uncontested aspect of American culture, I was inclined to feel strongly about the proposal. Judith Sloan’s project It Can Happen Here turns American Exceptionalism on its head and makes audible the voices of many Queens residents who can attest to the contrary. This was important too—that the proposal have a local specificity, speaking both to that which is invisible in Queens and that which is invisible in the United States. Another consideration was whether the proposed project advanced the American canon of its discipline. Chuan Xie’s project SHED pushes the boundaries of choreography, incorporating sculpture, costumes, and light, while speaking to a migrant experience often silenced in this country and in this borough.