Q&A With a Teen Curator: Barely Old Enough to Vote, But Making Moves in the Art World
Audrey Banks is barely 18 years old, but she’s already making moves in the art world. She’s the founder of Teen Art Gallery (T.A.G.), a project that curates and displays works by artists between the ages of 12 and 19. Although T.A.G. lacks a full-time brick-and-mortar location, in July of 2011 Banks and her friends curated 37 artworks from over 700 submissions for their debut show at the Open Center in Manhattan.
Banks, who attends the Bard High School Early College program, said she has little formal art training but works with oil to paint portraits. She turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for her next show in March at the Rogue Gallery in Chelsea.
MetroFocus recently caught up with the very articulate young gallerist to get the behind-the-scenes info on her project.
Q: You turned 18 in December. How old were you when you came up with the idea for Teen Art Gallery?
A: I was 14, but I had no idea how to approach it until I was 16.
Q: What kind of background do you have in the arts?
A: My mother is a writer and my dad is somewhat of a connoisseur of mosaics and construction. My grandparents were artists. In terms of my own training, I’ve had a few laid-back art classes, some for teens, some for adults, and took lessons with an art tutor. As for curating and art history, I have little to no experience, truth be told. I do, however, try to keep myself updated on contemporary artists by visiting the galleries in Chelsea on Thursdays.
Q: In your Kickstarter video, you say that T.A.G. is “run by teens for teens.” Why do you think that’s important?
A: I think teens relate to the fact that the work is being judged and assembled by teens. It’s less patronizing. My friends have expressed the concern that some of these adult-run institutions for youth accept things based on how well the works embody the stereotypical teenager.
Q: Some people might question what teenagers have to contribute to the art world…
A: There are many teenaged artists who are still developing their aesthetic and are lacking technical skill — but I would also say that there are a few of us who are ready to present our art now and may not be ready at any other time of our lives. There are a few teenaged artists I know who have a style, a vision and a voice behind their work now, in their youth. With years ahead of us, that voice may change, lose it’s novelty and excitement, or be obliterated altogether. I expect my artwork to change when I receive training in college, and I’m not afraid of that, but I do want to take advantage of how my art is now and probably never will be again.
Audrey Banks and other members of the T.A.G. team explain how the project plans to use funds raised from Kickstarter.
Q: How did you find the artwork for your last show?
A: Tracking down the artwork was a lot of work. I had to contact as many high schools in New York City as I could and I had to convince them to trust me. I wrote emails to the art teachers of each high school in the hopes that they would respond and pass on the word about T.A.G.’s submission process. Most of them didn’t. I found teen art programs like those at the Brooklyn Museum, High 5, MoMa and the Torch Program to be much more responsive. When the high school staff wouldn’t contact me I began to contact individual students on my Facebook page who I knew went to high schools I hadn’t been able to get in touch with yet. They passed on the word and hung up fliers. For our first show we received about 700 submissions and picked 37 for the show.
Q: What is your curation process?
A: The artworks we receive go through several rounds of selection. For the first round I go through the artworks and decide what’s remotely possible to show based solely on technical skill. The works that make it through the first round are then uploaded onto a private photo album where members of T.A.G. each vote on the ones they like. The works that receive five votes or more are then redirected to the next round, another photo album, in which the same thing happens except the T.A.G. members are asked to select their top 50. Once again, the works with five votes or more are redirected to the next round. The final round is a discussion panel in which all the members of T.A.G. discuss which of the remaining works should be in the show.
Q: Why did you turn to Kickstarter for fundraising help?
A: A friend of mine, Louis Shannon, who is in a youth art collective called Luck You, used Kickstarter to raise funds for his show. They reached their funding goal of $16,000. On top of that, I was already familiar with the site and it seemed kind of fun. I’ve never known how to approach donations. Kickstarter makes donation fun, and is also a great platform to build more awareness about T.A.G.
Q: Kickstarter campaigns often give rewards to contributors. What do you think is the best reward that you’re offering?
A: I think the best reward is the art we’re offering. If you donate a certain amount, we will send you prints of either Sam Williams’ or Sierra Pittman’s photography, two featured artists in T.A.G., or I will paint a portrait of you. On the Kickstarter page it says you have to donate $5,000 for me to paint a portrait of you, but I’m thinking of changing that. A woman donated $1000 and I was so happy that I wanted to email her right away and offer to paint a portrait of her.
Q: Are your pieces included in the T.A.G. shows?
A: Last year one of my pieces was in the show, but it went through the same selection process as the other work. No one knew it was mine. Names aren’t given until all works have been selected.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? What are your career goals?
A: In five years I see myself completing my college degree, perhaps even my master’ depending on the programs I enter. In 10 years I either see myself working at a gallery and painting, owning a gallery and painting, working in animation or living in the woods. My dream is to own a gallery that exhibits artists from around the world. I want to travel around the world searching for artists who are not yet known, but have immense talent and devotion. But I also want to paint and live in Westbeth Artists’ Housing in the West Village. We’ll see, I still have a lot of time.
This interview was conducted via email and has been edited and condensed.