Friday, December 7, 2007

ReServe at Sotheby's

Reception for “Above Ground,” a Report on NYC Aging Artists by The Research Center for Arts and Culture, Teachers College Columbia University
Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Steven Brezzo, Director of Sotheby’s Institute of Art, seemed to joke about the study’s title in his opening remarks. “I thought it was ironic—every New York artist I know of is aging!” But his intent was earnest, as he was quick to clarify: “This topic is of particular importance to all of us who live and make art in New York City.”

Attendee Carolyn Smith was surprised that the event was taking place at Sotheby’s. She didn’t know the story of what is arguably New York’s most famous art auction house.

“Sotheby’s! I thought this was a place to eat!” she laughed. “But they got something here for everyone.”

The title, it turned out, came from an interviewer asking a 97-year-old New York artist, “How are you today?”
To which the artist replied, “Well, I’m above ground.”

The title could be reflective of one of the study’s findings: that some of New York’s older artists can feel overlooked, like a community “underground.” In this light, its publication could be seen as an unearthing.

For the study, a broad sampling of NY artists was interviewed in Spanish, Chinese, or English. The results were published in all three languages as well.

Artist Resource Tables were set up in the reception area for artists in attendance. ReServe was among them.

Theodore S. Berger (Project Director of the Urban Arts Initiative, and Executive Director of New York Creates - and pictured, 2nd from top) said in his remarks, “I am proudly 67, and I’ve been working in the Arts Community for 35 years. I’ve been dreaming of a project like this since I was a much younger man. I retired in 2005 from over 30 years as Executive Director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and I am pleased to say I am still going strong—working, as my wife reminds me, more than full time now in my ‘Golden Years’.”

Joan Jeffri (Director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture, Teachers College Columbia University) explained that the survey found that “Artists are very egalitarian.

“Being an artist is a master identity that transcends race” and many other of forms of typical social stratification, including income, for all but the most wealthy artists.

NY artists Norman Messiah and Goldie Yorke (pictured, above) were among the attendees. Said Mr. Messiah, “I didn’t know what to expect.”

NY artist China Marks (pictured, below) was eager to discuss what set the arts community apart. After hearing Joan’s comments, she wrote on the comment board: The difference between aging artists and other aging populations of free-lancers, retirees, etc. is that artists must make art—that’s why we do it—it gives meaning + structure to our lives—other people don’t necessarily have that.

“Art makes us a different animal,” she explained afterwards. “I’m somebody who’s been a freak all my life. I could’ve been anything but I had to do this!”

Not all of the artists represented at the reception considered themselves professionals. Some were hobbyists, and happy to keep it that way. Painter Beverly Taylor said, “I just paint a little. People, landscaping, whatever. But I want to keep my paintings to myself. They’re like my children.”

In her comments, Joan Jeffri indicated that the research team was eager to extrapolate their findings onto the larger society, to see what trends might be gleaned. Their team recommended that “work” and “retirement” be redefined.
One of their most significant findings, according to Ms. Jeffri, was that “Artists don’t retire. No one ever talked about giving up. When they encounter problems, they change media, but they keep working.”

ReServe understands this about artists. We offer them paid, public, socially engaged opportunities to expand their work in new and unexpected ways.

NY artist Jeff Berman talks with Adeena Besdin, Director of Training and Education, Elders Share the Arts

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