From the beginning of this series, we've intended to interview all sorts of artists and elements of the artistic work force. For various reasons, we've mostly focused on visual artists so we're pretty excited to break out of that mold today and introduce you to curator Tara Fay. Tara invited us to her bright and inspiring home office where we got to meet her youngest daughter, talk about art and aspirations, and see a sampling of her own creative collection. Tara is a force in Pittsburgh and we're thrilled to shine a light on her work.
Where can we find you online?
I currently do not have a website. Sean (Tara’s partner) is actually really great at documenting and putting things like that together so he has a lot of images of some of my earlier shows. So, I do have stuff that needs to be comprised and I can hopefully put it all together at some point.
Hopefully in the near future, but I don't know. I feel like I'm really not good at self-promotion. I feel like in some capacity that's what a website is. It makes me nervous, especially because I don’t have my own space and the website would exist for a space. It would be like me and my work. So, I don't know. I have mixed feelings about it.
Where are you from?
What neighborhood do you live in now?
I live in Bloomfield currently.
What experiences led you to become a curator?
I was going to school for fashion retail management. I had a friend who was managing the Social Status East Liberty location. It had just opened and I had been tentatively working with her with PR and marketing stuff, because that's what my background had been up to that point. We were doing some projects together and she was like, "I want to bring you in to work for the store." I was like, "Okay. I mean, this is what I'm in school for anyway," so that probably makes sense to have this caliber of experience, because previously I worked at Macy's. I think that was my first clothing retail job. So, I started working there and I moved up really quickly and started managing.
At one point, we had done monthly art shows to showcase local work. We called them Artistic Integrity. It was the first art show I had attended or even helped facilitate. I liked the vibe. There was music and there was food. Everything was really relaxed. It was like a celebration of the artist, which I thought was so cool because I hadn't really seen much of that. So, we were doing those and then she left and I kind of wound up taking over her position, which is where I'm at now. It was important to me to continue doing the art events. Through that, I connected with so many people, but it was kind of risky to try to do it monthly, because traffic downtown just is never consistent enough. You don't want to showcase someone's work and then have only 10 people show up. Parking is terrible. There's a multitude of reasons why we stopped doing it.
We picked it back up again probably two years ago and I changed things so that the art shows would coincide with the gallery crawls. With that we have guaranteed traffic. So, I realized that I kind of had a knack for organizing and facilitating and it was fairly easy to connect with artists. I really enjoyed the process. I learned a lot about the local arts community and then gradually I just became more ingrained in things and started doing things outside of the store more independently. It was totally unexpected. I definitely had not aimed to become a curator. It was never something I considered. I loved art, but I didn't think of art in terms of it being local. I had bigger artists that have always been my favorites. This gave me a better understanding how a local arts community works and operates. It makes me really value my relationships with the artists.
What’s your favorite part of being a curator in Pittsburgh?
Definitely getting to connect with the artists. My process, whenever I can help it, it's very hands on, so I like to be there. I like them to have a hand in establishing concepts down to install. Studio video visits I just started doing recently. It's one thing when you see a finished piece, but to be present for the process is amazing, and to see an artist in that environment, and to see how an artist gets so excited about their work and so excited about material and to hear stories about where they came up with ideas for things. It's such an amazing thing to just be a part of. My job would not exist if it wasn't for the work that I was showing. I understand now a lot better why most artists don't do their own shows, because on top of creating, to organize and facilitate a show, it's a big undertaking. So, I like to make that process easier for them.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for independent curators in Pittsburgh?
Definitely not having resources. A lot of us working independently don't have ties to major institutions. Even most of the major institutions, it's not like they have this cashflow that they can just delegate to everyone. There's so many different channels that you have to go through to get funding for big projects. Connecting with artists out of state is another thing. There's so many artists I've reached out to like, "Hey, I would like to bring you to Pittsburgh." I don't know how I'm going to do that. Most of them are represented by galleries or have management. So, it's so difficult to convince them it's worthwhile to come to Pittsburgh, because if the gallery's telling them like, "No, it's not worth it," they might think that it is, but it's not necessarily their decision I guess. So, that's been a challenge recently, and spaces, because I don't ever have consistent places to show out of. If I have a concept in mind already then a space that's available may not necessarily work for that concept, but with that having been an issue, I kind of learned how to navigate around that because showing art at a boutique isn't really easy. I mean, we had decent wall space, but certain things have to, I guess, go together, like it has to fit the aesthetic of the store. Everything still has to balance and flow. The lack of space has been a hindrance, but it's also helped me a little bit because I learned how to just use what I have and make it work.
Is there a certain genre or type of work that you are known for working with in your exhibitions?
My biggest show was at Bunker Projects. It was about feminism in the internet age. Since I am very outspoken about feminism in general, women's rights, things along those lines, I think people associate me with a feminist who likes feminist art. I have friends who always tag me in feminist art. I don't want to limit myself and I don't want to limit the artists I work with. So, I guess unintentionally I may be known for that, but it's definitely not where I plan to keep myself.
What do you do with your time when you aren’t curating?
I'm with my kids a lot. I'm not as social as I would like to be, but that's just because I have a lot of social anxiety so it's not always easy for me to get up and go. Kids will really keep you in the house if you let them. My kids are really young and they're really cute so I might have plans and then be like, "I'd rather stay with you guys." I do like going to social events. We’re at every art show we can go to. I try to stay really active in the community because I know I'm not as established as a lot of other curators so I'm still trying to put myself out there more. I think it's important to continue to be in that community and continue to meet with artists and connect with people. So, outside of that, I just hang out at home. I read a lot. I've gotten into anime on Netflix. I just finished Death Note and it was phenomenal, like life-changing.
Do you have a dream exhibition that you’d love to curate one day?
Yeah, I think so. If it was a dream exhibition, probably Kerry James Marshall. I hate to say it, but Jeff Koons. I'd love to curate a contemporary show with his work, but I hate that I love it so much. I was just talking about this last night because I did my first sculpture show, and I had a piece that was like a giant acorn, and the artists told me, "It doesn't mean anything. It's literally just a giant acorn." I was like, "But I love work like that." I hate that I do because I feel like people judge people like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst who are making this meaningless but expansive work and having these teams to put all this together. It kind of takes away from the work in an artistic sense. It's almost like fabricated nonsense that costs millions of dollars, but sometimes I just like giant balloon animals, and I like giant piles of Play-Doh. I know he has a narrative that he made these things because he wasn't able to spend time with his son, and he wanted to make work that he knew that his son would like. He's much older and his son is much older, so I don't think it applies today. I am a big Kerry James Marshall fan. Black artists in general that I've just started getting into within the past few years ... Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley ... Just even to have that accessibility to those artists. Then I know there are so many emerging artists as well. I'm trying to make dreams come true within the next year or so.
I really want to work with John C. Edmonds. He's really phenomenal. I’d say he's still on the level of emerging. I want to bring him here so bad. That's another thing that's hard about working independently. Just to go back to that, it's hard to convince people that Pittsburgh is a good market for these things. We're definitely not a selling market, but even as far exhibiting, Sean and I have been fortunate to be able to travel to see a lot of exhibitions. I've been to the Broad. He's been to the MOCA and seen the Kerry James Marshall retrospective in person, which was phenomenal. I didn't see it, but just hearing about it I know it was definitely something worth traveling for. There's no reason why this work shouldn't be coming to Pittsburgh.
I guess the way the Carnegie is, it doesn't always host revolving exhibitions the way other spaces do. I know the Cleveland Museum does, they have a lot of really amazing works that are going to be there. I think at one point they're going to have the Kusama Infinity Mirrors. That's really, really exciting. They're getting access to these amazing works and it's like, "Why can't we have any in Pittsburgh?" We have the August Wilson Center. We have all of these independent galleries that could very well accommodate these exhibitions, because a lot of emerging artists, like they're not looking to be shown in museums. I know that's the dream, but most of them are quite happy to be in smaller spaces. Convincing them that, it's impossible if you don't have money.
What would you tell people interested in curating exhibitions who are just starting out?
Definitely be organized. That's the most important thing, because even now I struggle with being well organized. It's really important to establish relationships with the artist, where there is trust on both sides. Learn things about lighting and how to make the space work in your favor. I had show in a very, very raw space - that was the sculptural show as well. I was really apprehensive about how everything worked and looked in the daylight and how it was going to look going into the evening. Ryan Lammie from Associated Artists came in and did all the lighting and it made such a huge difference. He was showing me how to put lights on certain things. It was helpful. I know I'll be able to use that knowledge going forward. So, I think it's worthwhile for any curator to know stuff about that and learn gallery spacing and things along those lines, because a lot of independent spaces are DIY. So, you have to know these things. You don't want to seem clueless, because I learned firsthand that it makes people trust you a lot less. If they're asking you questions that you don't have the answers to, they're going to be less sure about working with you.
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