Avra Leodas is the Director of Santa Fe Clay in New Mexico. She also runs the Santa Fe Clay Gallery which has grown into an essential and influential gallery of contemporary ceramics. Avra and all the staff at Santa Fe Clay are practicing artists, and that brings an unusual point of view and respect to the center.
What was most difficult for you when you finished school?
For me it was going from no sleep and moving at a frantic pace, to reality and no pressure. Another difficulty was adjusting to making and living, to not having the studio environment, and a more solitary existence. School was a defined goal, and through the process of school, I changed what I thought I would do when I left. It became that I was able to be successful with where I was going, but the question was: do I want to continue going this way? I knew I could sell my work, but I decided that I didn’t want the selling of my work to dictate what I made (producing to sell). I wanted a job that could fulfill both the intellectual and practical sides of making work.
To show at all is to show that you are serious about making work, but which shows are important?
All shows are important! Enter local shows first, everything you come across. This is just a way for people to see your work. Start applying for regional shows. Get to know who your jurors are, and find jurors who you want to see your work.
As obvious as this is: go to the opening. Even if you only have one piece in the show, meet the jurors and talk to the people involved with the organization. Years ago I was trying to get into this gallery in Scottsdale. I got one piece in the show, drove to the opening, and I also set up appointments at five other galleries in Scottsdale, saying, “hey, I have a piece at such and such a place, can we talk?” Networking is very important. It is important to stay in touch with the people you meet, send a postcard when you have a show. If you have a website, that is a great way to promote yourself!
What is a curator, and can anyone curate a show?
We at Santa Fe Clay are a commercial gallery; we look at shows as sale-able. We aim to show a range of artists, from established persons, to one’s whose work no one has seen before. We are open to artists joining together with a cohesive plan for a show, as long as the idea is extremely well thought through, and the work is amazing!
Some people choose to go the guest curator route, where you find someone who might have an in, and ask them to curate a show for you. This way their name is attached to the concept of the show.
Sometimes you might have to find alternative spaces for showing, given that most commercial galleries are not open to these kinds of ideas.
Which do you find exerts a stronger influence on your work, success or failure?
What is success; what is failure? It was Jueane Caneko who said, “You gotta make a lot off stuff- there is no failure, for you learn from everything.” When I am teaching I talk to people and I learn from all my experiences. You have to have realistic expectations, be nimble and adaptable to anything unexpected.
What advice do you have for artists coming straight from school?
Build your resume and put everything on it. Applying to regional and national juried shows is a good way to do this. When applying, pay attention to who the jurors are, so that you apply to shows that make sense for your work.
How does one approach getting into galleries?
Do your homework. Anytime you travel, research that city for galleries that might be appropriate for your work. Send a cover letter, CV, slides and SASE to the gallery director stating days you will be in town and ask if s/he has a few minutes to sit and discuss your work. Name drop in the letter; who you know can be quite helpful. Call the gallery one week prior to arrival to schedule an appointment with the director. During the meeting, if that gallery is not interested in carrying your work, ask for information about what other galleries in town might be appropriate for your work.
What advice do you have about pricing work?
Make sure that your retail price remains consistent from venue to venue for comparable work. When providing a price list of your work for your gallery, provide them the retail price, and specify it as such. That way, from gallery to gallery, the only thing that will change with a 50/50 or 60/40 commission basis is how much you may get for one piece or another. It is important for galleries carrying your work to feel that you are not undercutting them elsewhere.
What other bits and pieces of advice do you have for emerging artists?
Document all of your exhibitions. This will be very helpful in the future.
When printing exhibition announcements, many printers will allow you to do another run of the front image, with adjustments to the text on the back. That way you can get simple contact postcards with your image, without paying another large fee for a new printing run.
Be professional when dealing with galleries. Follow through on your commitments and read all correspondence carefully.