What responsibility do you enjoy most as an executive director of Robert Rauschenberg Foundation?
The most inspiring aspects of my job relate to defining and supporting the legacy of one of history’s greatest artists- Robert Rauschenberg. It is about the process of creating history. You identify people who can advise you and tell stories – connect you to the essence of the individual. You read public profiles and interviews and dive into private papers and archives. You consider the ways in which the values which defined Bob can be carried out in projects and you develop a strategy to support that vision. Legacy is created through what we leave behind as well as how those who we empower or who were moved by us create a framework for generations to carry on work in our honor.
Robert Rauschenberg was an activist whilst he was alive how do you embrace that into the foundation’s ethos?
Bob was a noted artist activist for his whole life. He worked on artist’s rights as well as access to health care. He used his art to create prints for issues he wanted broader awareness on and fundraising for – such as the first Earth Day or AIDS awareness or even freeing Tibet. He believed that art could foster new methods of cross border communication to bring diverse international cultures together as addressed in his ROCI tour. We have captured this spirit specifically in our Artist as Activist program which identifies an artist and produces work on an issue central to that artists interests. Our first year we chose Shepard Fairey – a well known artist activist – who produced a work for the coalition for the homeless. We promoted the awareness on the issues of homelessness as well as raised a reasonable fund for them. This year we will be working with Shirin Neshat on this project.
What was your first job after graduation from university?
After graduating from my masters program I went to work for the development arm of the Walt Disney company. My job was to lead the strategy for a new town we were building called Celebration. Now I feel quite old because I hear people study this town in their urban design classes…and of course I was the fifth team member (roughly) and left once we broke ground. I would never have chosen to live there as a planned community is not really my style but it was the MOST exhilarating project to be a part of – who wouldn’t want to have the resources and access to leading thinkers to build a town which integrated homes, health care, schools and technology. Within my career the single defining factor has been that no job i have ever had existed before – its not typical but it helps to look at the arc of your experience and identify your own strengths to further your own trajectory. It was inspiring….and I think my nickname at this job said it all: they used to call me “the fog sculptor”. This makes me laugh…
Wise words to art students wanting to pursue a career within the philanthropic landscape?
Well I might look at the philanthropic landscape very broadly. I look at it as a choice to make an impact. You might choose to go to a foundation to be a funder, you might choose to go to an artist foundation where managing artistic legacy may be important, you might choose to work in art and education in the US or abroad. There are so many ways to invest your time and to make an impact. I would say that understanding your own interests, your skills then pursuing opportunities which can leverage those together is your best target. Be willing to start with a project and become invaluable. Look for growth opportunities (newly starting organization or expanding) and always know that the world is small so every person you meet or interact with may someday have a new opportunity for you. Being positive and proactive – resourceful and direct will always prove well….Jump in, be self directed but always ask for help when needed.
How do you prioritize?
I prioritize everyday. Every moment. Prioritizing is a part of your own life as well as your ability to manage and lead. I will say though that I have a voracious approach and as a “connector” I believe that the scope of capability is only limited to how many people you connect to and work through. So success and let’s say “power” (in the most positive sense) is about giving away and resourcing the strengths of all those around you versus only prioritizing your own projects and investments. Life is a network not an isolated incident.
So in my life I really meld it together – my home life and work life. I believe in women who have great drive but also want to be entirely present for their children. On the nights I have my son I leave early, have dinner and read with him, tuck him in then work for several more hours. The nights I don’t have him I basically am dedicated to whatever needs to be covered. I’m a hard worker….I prioritize quickly and move on so everyone can feel comfortable I’m looking forward at all times!
Why should anyone believe art can change the world by Rauschenberg?
This statement “art can change the world” is a direct quote from Bob. It is lofty but it is also very simple. Art in its actual execution or creation for him was an experiment. Mistakes turned into opportunities, he thrived on constantly looking for new sources of inspiration, materials or ideas. The most simple application of these principles in life can be transformative….but he even was often quoted saying that he made art to fund those things he wanted to change. He loved seeing how art could change the way some people learned. For over 20 years he funded a program to bring teachers together from around the world to use art to teach children with learning disabilities. He loved knowing that art could allow him to be as philanthropically generous as he was – one time he tried to single handedly eradicate leprosy because he thought he could….. He had a childlike wonder and a vigor to his approach to life and he made art and investments which materially changed people and their views of the world
Thank you to Robert Rauschenberg Foundation for images