Steven Rand is the executive director of apexart, a non-profit arts organization in Manhattan, New York City.
When did you first realize your passion for the arts?
I remember feeling like an artist early on. Always doing self-initiated creative stuff and even as a toddler, I “fought the power” by not listening or following directions. In retrospect I was embarrassingly self – involved so it was clear I was artist material.
Directing a non-profit arts organization requires a lot of time and dedication. Were there any specific events that led to your decision to support artists by opening apexart?
I wish it was that altruistic. As a mid-career artist I started to feel that the luxury consumption model of contrived antagonism between artists, galleries and collectors put artists at a disadvantage, and wasn’t so interesting. It wasn’t about the things I found interesting. So I stopped making “gallery art” and working with galleries and found I enjoyed developing the alternative programs that constitute apexart and mentoring the people and process. I had the physical space available and wanted to see some interesting shows. This was in 1994 before all the independent curator programs opened except the Whiney. We’re really an educational organization and only incidentally a promotional one. Enough people seem to appreciate the values we emphasize that our reputation has grown in a good way.
Your exhibits seem to have a political focus. How do you wish to influence the art world with such works and what has the public response been so far?
We don’t select our exhibitions or influence their content. A large international jury of more than 400 people from more than 70 countries do this. It’s more fun and educational for everyone involved to displace the selection process to connect it to real life. Galleries and collectors aren’t exactly real life. It’s what many people want their art to be. Outside of the commercial gallery structure, we’re pretty confused about the role of art as well as it’s efficacy. Artists and curators are trying to be relevant, interesting and viable.
How do you find the time to oversee all of this?
I love what I do and the people I work with at apexart. The atmosphere is always collegial and about trying to do what we do better.
Do you ever personally get to curate these exhibits or are works only decided through guest jurors?
I curated our second exhibition in 1994 and included all my friends so I could get that over with. The way apexart is structured, making friends with staff to get opportunities doesn’t work, so while we get a lot of respect from the international community we’re lonely, but happy.
What are some of the challenges that you face running this organization?
Mainly doing things for the right reasons. For example, often a small org will enlist 5 people to be the jury for a prize or an exhibition. An artist or two, a curator, museum staff person, maybe a foundation person that supports the org. Everyone has the best of intentions but in the end, selections are often based on people they know, that they feel work hard and whose work they like. So, all the people from “other” places that don’t “know people” are at a disadvantage. Consider a curator or artist from Uganda that submits. The NYC jury, even if it appears to be diverse probably won’t relate to African work the way people familiar with it would and the artist/curator is at a double disadvantage. Our jury is composed of people from more than 70 countries, with the diversity that that brings. Some well-known, and others not at all. Each season with the two open calls, we have about 1000 people submitting and almost the same amount jurying. So that means nearly 2000 people involved in writing or evaluating ideas. As an educationally oriented organization that is being effective. Then the exhibitions are located all over the world, on every continent, in villages as well as large cities, that the jurors can follow.
What are some specific qualities of artists that deem them pleasurable to work with?
We prefer well adjusted, smart, educated, self-funded attractive artists and curators with no attitude, but we’ll work with everyone. People who have worked with us would do so again.
How do you feel about social media and its impact on the way people experience art and life at large?
The ability to target users with specific information creates isolation within society. We are all siloed with a lack of common communication. Social media has created a sense of displaced reality. If we’re not getting the same information we can’t even have a discussion. If I live with you why is my Facebook so different? Do I even know you anymore?
What a weird substitution of an appearance of happiness and success for the real thing. IG locations set up for pictures to show what a good time you’re having in an effort to convince yourself and others what a good time is and that you are having one. Its projected vision and isn’t about the old being here now ethic. My happiness is based on creating an idealized visual image that you find attractive. External validation is the slippery slope of never feeling resolved. Lowering the happiness level in society by removing social mobility, hope and individualism while monetizing everything by subscription and relinquishing initiative. The new subscription model is even removing a sense of ownership in a subtle way. Turns out it’s not so hard to manipulate people and redirect their values. And that’s what social media does so well.
We don’t really look at artist’s work since we don’t do one person shows or artist projects. To submit to an Open Call you need a three artist minimum and the exhibition idea of no more than 500 words which you need to submit on time or close to it.
Do you have future plans for apexart beyond what it is today?
We’ve initiated some new student programs that include university and high school student jurying for our Open Calls accompanied by class syllabus guides, especially timely during COVID. Our current NYC Open Call includes some 22 university classes from around the world. Another new program sends educators into high schools for short sessions to speak with students about the real art world, realistic projections and expectations and unexplored related opportunities in the arts.