Interview with Sarah Sandman

March 31st 2010

Interview with Sarah Sandman

I became aware of Sarah Sandman’s work through her Gift Cycle project, which had a very similar ethos to Art/Value/Currency. She is also involved with FEAST which reminded me of the Sunday Crit events we hold at The Pigeon Wing.  As well as collaborating on various events and  her involvement with ‘art communities’, she also draws, designs and is generally a very busy lady.  A girl after my own heart, I knew we’d get along.

IS: What brought you to New York and how long have you been living here?

SS: I moved from Seattle to New York City in 2006 for a job as an art director. Soon after moving, I was accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design MFA program in Graphic Design. I finished my thesis in May 2009 and moved back to New York City in July. I have a large network of amazing art/design peers in Brooklyn, which naturally lured me back after my studies.

IS: You are not only a practicing artist but also a graphic designer and involved in several projects such as Gift Cycle and FEAST (Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics). How do you balance all of these areas of your creative practice? Do you think it’s important to have several creative outlets on the go at once?

SS: There was a time where having so many components of my creative practice was quite stressful. However, it wasn’t the time or the work, but feeling the need to settle with one to focus my creative “title.” Artist? Designer? Community Organizer? I’m comfortably settling into the conclusion that I am all three; each outlet relying on the next. I draw to meditate and tap into more primitive compositional studies. Design thinking allows me to be a better event organizer (it helps to organize when you can design your own visual communication materials). And after a stressful amount of event planning I sink back into my alone time with my pen and paper.

IS: Can you tell me a bit about Gift Cycle? How did it come about? What were your intentions for the project and did it fulfill your expectations?

SS: My project partner, Melissa Small and I were introduced to Lewis Hyde’s, “The Gift: The Artist in the Modern World” in a grad school seminar with design writer/critic Rob Giampietro. Hyde’s book examines art in the context of both market and gift economies. One anthropolic example of a gift economy, which he describes, is the Kula Exchange, a tradition of the Massim people of Papua New Guinea. Each year handmade gifts of necklaces and armbands are carried by canoe hundreds of miles. These exchanges function to establish bonds, build trust and strengthen relationships amongst communities. During the summer of 2008, a contemporary variation of the Kula exchange was born, the Gift Cycle. In a similar spirit, the Gift Cycle was a circulatory gift economy connecting artists nationwide. Gifts of art were biked from local artists of one community to local artists of the next community en route. The trip started in Providence, Rhode Island and ended in Seattle, Washington. We biked the entire journey and were joined by 15 others at various points. Art exchange events took place along the way. The events were held in gallery spaces, bars and cafes in Providence RI, New London CT, Brooklyn NY, Lancaster PA, Columbus OH, Cincinnati OH, St Louis MO, Lawrence KS, Guffey CO, Breckenridge CO, Missoula MT, Portland OR and Seattle WA. At these events, artists brought a piece of art and exchanged it for a piece of art. No money involved. Just gifts. The art from Seattle was brought back to Providence and given to the original contributors, completing the cycle. The primary goal was to create and strengthen local artist networks as well as create a nationwide network through gift exchange. I think Melissa, myself and participants deemed the results a successful.

IS: How did you go about getting other artists involved in Gift Cycle?

SS: The search for venues to host the art exchange events was the majority of the work. However, Melissa and I had chosen a route that stopped in locations where we had family and friends. This nuclear network connected us to most of the venues. We then provided design communication materials and the venues did the outreach to artists. Surprisingly it was not as painful as we had anticipated. We are grateful for all of the help we received.

IS: What value do you put on interactions and collaborations between artists?

SS: To me, nothing is more essential to a creative practice than collaboration. In her eulogy for artist and collaborator Michael Piazza, Bertha Husband said, “When two artists work together to create work, it is as if we have given birth to another character—an entirely different artist—who makes something neither of us could have made independently. There are works by Michael Piazza and there are works by Bertha Husband; and the works of the collaboration are created by the Third hand. For this Third hand to emerge, there has to be a willingness from the two collaborators not to individually force things—a willingness to give up personal solutions and a willingness to wait and see what arrives.”5

5. Temporary Services,Group Work: A Compilation of Quotes About Collaboration from a Variety of Sources

and Practices (New York: Printed Matter,2007), 99.

IS: How did you get involved with FEAST and can you explain a bit about how the project works?

SS: I was introduced to FEAST’s (Funding Emerging Arts through Sustainable Tactics) founder, Jeff Hnilicka, last January through a mutual interest in alternative economies. FEAST is a recurring public dinner designed to use community-driven financial support to democratically fund new and emerging art makers.  The basic premise is that artists submit proposals for grant money and then a public dinner is served by local volunteers. Attendees make donations at the door and receive a ballot to vote on their favorite proposal. At the end of the night, votes are tallied and the lucky winner walks off with thousands of dollars in cash to realize their project. The winning artist then presents their finish project at the next FEAST. When I met Jeff, he was in the initial planning process for FEAST. A year later, the project has grown exponentially and has had events nationwide. I believe the project’s rapid success is due to artists’ yearning find new solutions for existing in the current economic climate. It’s a fantastic alternative to the painstaking grant writing process and the bullshit hoops of the nonprofit world.

IS: Do you think it is difficult for emerging artists to find support and opportunities in New York or do you think it is just a question of knowing where to look?

SS: I would safely say that most emerging artists in New York struggle to find support. Sure, it’s knowing where to look but the art of grant writing bears an overwhelming amount of weight. If you don’t possess that skill set; funding feels far out of reach.