Thursday, April 22, 2021

Jessica Libor of Era Contemporary

Jessica Libor is the director of Era Contemporary Gallery, showcasing imaginative, contemporary realism.

When did you first recognize your passion for the arts?
I first realized my passion for the arts when I was around five years old. I was holding a pencil in my hand and I was drawing while sitting on the blue carpet of my family's home. I just remember the delight in creating images on a piece of paper and knowing that I was going to be an artist. I have never wavered in my decision! Curating art through Era Contemporary Gallery is just another outlet of creativity. It allows me to celebrate the arts and help other artists see success, as well as bring community to the idea of being an artist, which can sometimes be lonely.

Were there any specific events that led you to your role as curator?
I began my role as curator while I was still in college. I created a "night of the arts" that ended up being me as the visual artist, a friend as a poet, and another friend who played the harp. We created this interesting blend of artistic expression at a local restaurant! It was super fun and I sold one of my first big paintings there. I continued to seek opportunities to curate while in college, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts while getting my graduate degree, I was in charge of Gallery Eight, a student work gallery that put on rotating exhibitions curated from the student's artwork. I did that for a couple of semesters; it was really fun. Once I was out of school, I worked as a makeup artist for a while at a department store. I asked the manager if I would be able to display some art of my own and some friends at a table during the holidays. They loved the idea, and that was the first show for Era Contemporary! We've had over a dozen shows since then and things have steadily gotten more professional as I've invited more and more artists to participate and more and more people have heard about it. It's been an amazing journey thus far and I can't wait to see where it goes.

Era Contemporary has moved from brick and mortar exhibits to being a strictly
online platform. How do you feel about this transition and do you plan to keep it
this way?

I was disappointed when we had to move to strictly online because of the coronavirus. However, I believe that it actually ended up benefiting both the artists and collectors. Artists no longer had to ship the work, and collectors from all over the United States can attend our exhibitions virtually! Although we did lose some of the social aspect by not gathering in person, I really try to make up for that by scheduling live zoom receptions where people can come and talk to the artists and still feel like they have a connection to them. I feel like that's really important especially when you are thinking about investing in a piece; to understand the artist's vision and also get a sense of who they are. I'm not sure what the future holds, but for now we're going to continue doing online exhibitions with the possibility of physical shows again as the world opens up.

What do you feel is the ultimate purpose of art within our society?
The ultimate purpose of art within our society, to me, is to delight and uplift. However, Art can also be used to communicate a very specific message, even if that message is not a very pleasant one. Art is a reflection of the human experience and the human spirit. It reflects consciousness and humanity in a way that the chaos of nature does not, even though it is also beautiful. Art is different than nature's beauty in that it reflects a very specific viewpoint and vision of the world. I think that Art brings us together because through looking at art, we realize that we are all in this human experience together. Even though we may see things differently, we have the same fundamental experiences and that is something that is uniting.

Era contemporary leans towards imaginative and contemporary realism aesthetics. Are there specific kinds of qualities you look for in artists in deciding who you will showcase?
The specific qualities that I look for in artists when I exhibit them is a beautiful vision of the world, excellent craftsmanship, a "life" to the work that is hard to define, and also professionalism in communication and presentation. As a curator I do tend to lean towards work that is mysterious, fascinating, or magical, and I love marveling at the craftsmanship of an artist's work. That being said, I have certainly been moved to exhibit some works that do not fall within these criteria, so it all really depends on the vision of the artist!

What do you find most rewarding about the curation process?
The most rewarding thing about the curation process is seeing the show installed. It's an amazing experience to see everything working together, not unlike finishing a piece!

What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging thing about creating an exhibition is all the little logistics. Sending emails, making sure all the details are right, following up with the artist. It's a lot of administrative work! But, seeing it all comes together makes it all worth it.

Are there any areas of improvement artists should be aware of in terms of the
submission and exhibition process?

I think artists who are thinking about submitting should submit their best work, and also be friendly and professional. If your work isn't the right fit for a show, don't take it as a personal rejection, because your work might be right for the next show! Just continue refining your art and being friendly and positive. Also, having a clear artist statement and up-to-date professional website helps a lot so I can understand the context of your work.

Do you have future plans for Era Contemporary, beyond what it is today?
My future plans for Era Contemporary include growing the platform to include more artists, expanding the Era Contemporary Artist Prize, and possibly getting a physical location. I can't wait to see what the future holds! And for any artists interested, the Era Contemporary Artist Prize is open now and has a deadline of June 10. You can find all the info at!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Svitlana Martynjuk of ALL SHE MAKES

Svitlana Martynjuk is the founder and CEO of ALL SHE MAKES, a curated directory for women artists worldwide.

Tell us a little about yourself: What got you started on the path of artist, curator, and founder of an arts directory (among other things)?
I have always been interested in the arts. I remember being absolutely fascinated with the fact that a writing instrument makes marks. When I was a kid, I wanted to learn to play piano, to take dancing or singing classes, to attend art school. My parents were not keen on encouraging extracurricular activities, but somehow, they did allow me to attend art school as soon as I was eligible, starting in 5th grade. The art school was based on academic teachings, therefore my 10-year-old brain felt super bored learning to mix the values of green. I didn’t understand why we were doing all these things, so I quit and later regretted my decision of course.

I continued doodling and drawing throughout my school years. When I moved to the USA I ended up taking drawing and design classes at a junior college, but they were not academic art teachings. I didn’t take my art seriously until around 2016. After a few years of painting for fun, I wanted to see what would happen if I made art without thinking or considering anything. I took one of my older therapist’s suggestions to paint whatever, just splattered paint on canvas, smeared it, used hands and odd brushes. I created two pieces, one of which I knew had something special. I felt like I’d reached a break-through. From that point on, I kept painting for 30 minutes before work every morning. Most of my work during that period was abstract, heavily influenced by abstract expressionism.

Curatorial projects kind of fell in my lap to be honest. Once you start getting involved in the art scene from a change maker perspective or simply by showing up and presenting a good work ethic, people start inviting you to help out with projects, and curatorial opportunities begin presenting themselves. Once you have one project to show for, more similar opportunities start rolling in.

How All SHE Makes came to be is such an unexpected turn of events. During 2019 I was at a peak of learning about gender inequality in the art world. With that came the need to contribute somehow, but I still didn’t have any idea of what that meant. I wanted to create something that inspired action and opportunities. I think that so many ideas I had finally came together to where it all made sense. The knowledge and experience from being in the art world in addition to my education in business strategy really helped to bring together those ideas and create something unique.

I wanted a place where amazing women artists could be easily found. At the time I didn’t even know what something like that would be called. I researched if anything like that existed, found many artist directories but also found some things that I didn’t think worked well for the artists.

I saw that there was a lot of room for improvement and created our own curated directory, which allowed us to hire curators to do jurying, offer a lovely interface, low one-time submission fee and no recurring fees for the artists. All SHE Makes directory has received tremendous support from the art world, and we were able to scale quickly with opening our own scholarship fund, offering collaboration opportunities, art career advice from art world professionals, and now we have a magazine that highlights women artists across the globe with opportunities for anyone to submit their work.

Do you find it hard to juggle the time for all of these endeavors?
It is definitely a learning process. What is hard is the managing of my mental health part. I have to closely monitor my body and its needs. While I would love to say that I know what works for me, I also know that what works for me changes all the time depending on my workload, what I eat (or forget to), and how I am feeling emotionally. Learning to have grace for myself has been the hardest part.

I set aside studio days, but also try to check in with myself to see if I’m actually capable to have a studio day in case I had an extra difficult week. I also stepped away from marketing portion of my art business, because I noticed that it sucked all the inspiration out of me. Right now, I have the option to paint when inspiration hits and not for the production’s sake, and I am okay with that.

I limit my work schedule because my mental health requires that. Without taking time to take care of myself depression and old trauma start making visible presence in my life, which can put me out of commission entirely.

You champion women in the arts. Is All She Makes creating the sort of impact on the art world that you had initially hoped it would?
In all honesty, the path All SHE Makes took surpassed all my expectations. I originally thought we were going to be a small directory. In our first 3 months of operating, the art community showed us just how much more work needs to be done. Most people I speak to are completely unaware of the size of the gender gap that exists in the art world.

We are connecting artists with more opportunities, creating our own opportunities, offering art career advice by art world professionals, donating to other organizations and artists, spreading awareness, and inspiring change beyond what is immediately visible to us. That is so much more than I could have ever asked for.

What qualities do you look for in women artists, in determining whether you will include them in your directory and other curatorial projects?
For All SHE Makes we hire a different curator for each call for art to create as many varieties of art as possible in our directory. We are well aware that all curators have different visions, come from different backgrounds, and lived different experiences that contribute to the way they see the world. Something that we request of every curator is to be mindful of inclusion and diversity, and they must review each and every entry.

When I curate shows I look for intention. I want to know what makes you want to create. What is in your process? What does your work represent and how did you arrive at that conclusion?

How much importance do you place on social media, and is this a determining factor when considering an artist’s reputation?
I cannot emphasize this enough – social media following, or its size, absolutely does not matter when it comes to judging artist’s work. There are amazing artists that are not even on social media. Some amazing artists have around 2k following but sell out every release. Our decisions NEVER have anything to do with social media presence.

We do ask that if artists submit social media page in lieu of portfolio (we are aware that not everyone can afford a website), that the page is tidy and presentable as a portfolio would be. No blurry images, no majority of personal posts. We have an article on our blog about polishing up your online presence to help with that.

What do you find most rewarding about the curation process?
If I’m curating a show or exhibit, seeing it all come together at the end is a feeling I cannot describe. During the whole process it’s just art, ideas, photos of art, and in the end, you get to see and experience the art in the way it was intended. The physical presence of art and the impact it creates is surreal and beyond my imagination.

What do you find most challenging?
This one is easy. When curating an exhibit there are usually limits on how many people we can show. For example, if my limit is 30, I will find 50 artists that MUST be in the show. What does one even do? It is unbelievably difficult, and that part of the selection may take days to settle. It is never about whether the art is good, contrary to most artists’ beliefs.

Are there any areas of improvement artists should be aware of in terms of the submission and exhibition process?
Can’t emphasize enough the importance of following the submission instructions or guidelines.

People will email us with questions that are answered in the instructions or will not follow the guidelines. I think that most people don’t realize that there are internal processes that we have in place to create a good workflow, and often times it’s all reflected in the instructions. Once I began being a part of the curatorial projects, I gained a whole new understanding and appreciation for following instructions as an artist as well. Now, I re-read the instructions multiple times, haha.

I will give an example to hopefully help artists understand this better. If the instructions say “title your file this way: name_lastname_title” it is not for no reason. It could be that the submission software processes images separately from the submission text and curators have to manually find your art in a separate folder after looking through your submission. If the file is not named properly there could be a few issues: curator is not able to locate your work and they don’t have time to reach out to each artist individually. Some places receive hundreds of submissions per call for art. Imagine the workload alone from having to contact each artist who did not follow the instructions. The curation would take a month to complete, and the curator would need to do it as a full-time work, when most of the time it’s a gig job for them and they have other things going on. I hope this helps to clear up the confusion about the submission guidelines, and this goes for anywhere you submit your work.

Do you have future plans for All She Makes, and other projects, beyond what you are doing today?
Yes, there is one big project we are working on that involves creating further impact to battle the gender gap, but I cannot talk about that yet.

We just launched our All SHE Makes art & culture magazine to create further publishing opportunities for women artists from around the globe. It’s a quarterly print & digital magazine with submission opportunities.

We are also getting ready to offer critique and networking events for All SHE Makes artists, which I am super excited about, because we are hiring All SHE Makes artists who have incredible amounts of knowledge and experience to bring to the table.