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Rising Star Genevieve Martin: “Let’s make space for a more inclusive account of creativity and art history that doesn’t reinforce a white male gaze and cultural erasure”

You can reshape the canon: Curating, exhibition making and communications can all be forms of activism. Make space for a more inclusive account of creativity and art history that doesn’t reinforce a white male gaze and instead calls out cultural erasure. This of course extends beyond the arts to multiple fields.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Genevieve Martin, Director of External Affairs at The Art Students League of New York. She’s a born-and-bred New Yorker, trained artist, and experienced arts administrator. She was a founding member of the Center for Italian Modern Art, an alternative research and exhibition center created by world-renowned collector Laura Mattioli, before joining The Art Students League. She has supported include The Morgan Library & Museum, Christie’s, The Moving Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Martin has a proven track-record spearheading individual and foundation prospects, building strong partnerships, and working with contemporary artists. Her focus has always been mid-sized art nonprofits, which she believes are responsible for engaging in the most experimental work and serve as social facilitators for larger institutions. Martin, 32 years old, grew up in SoHo and the Upper East Side and earned her BFA from Cooper Union and MA in Arts Administration from Baruch. She lives in Park Slope with her boyfriend.

Thank you so much for joining us Genevieve! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My mother is a textile artist and so I grew up with more pantone books than storybooks. Color was an early language for me. This exposure was supplemented with studio classes at The League and I eventually gained entry to The Cooper Union while they still offered scholarships to everyone. Both of these veteran art academies championed arts access and so instilled in me a sense of duty to pay it forward; by supporting artists and activating the creative potential of those around me who were not so privileged to have the opportunities I did.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

When you work for private collectors you encounter a number of strange special requests — I recall transporting a painting so valuable that the owner didn’t want anyone to know of its movement. So, when the image needed some restoration I was tasked with hand-transporting it in a pizza box on the subway. No one looked twice!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was a conservation intern at a large encyclopedic museum there was a special project to create temporary facsimiles for an ornate ceremonial house in one of its wings. We were up against a big deadline and many of us stayed late to produce these fake painted panels. Brilliantly, I decided I’d finish my project at home and bring it into work the next day. I tucked the work in my bag and swiftly exited the grand hall only to be stopped by 4 security guards accusing me of an art heist a few moments later. At least I knew my copies were convincing! Lesson learned: don’t take your work home with you.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m so excited to share that The League will be the first institution to begin to chronicle the history of Cinque Gallery, one of the United States’ most innovative and enduring non-profit artists’ spaces. This ground-breaking exhibition opening will celebrate a diverse selection of late twentieth-century and contemporary artists who participated from 1969–2004 in this pioneering artist collective.

Founded by three master League artists, Romare Bearden, Ernest Crichlow, and Norman Lewis, who were determined to “provide a place where the works of the unknown, and neglected artists of talent…. primarily minority artists would “not only be shown but nurtured and developed.” Cinque Gallery successfully fostered a mutually supportive community of artists, young and mature, for nearly four decades — and yet, it is virtually undetectable in modern scholarship and criticism. We’ve invited arts administrator and curator Susan Stedman and artist Nanette Carter to direct this ambitious curatorial and scholarly endeavor. This exhibition of black excellence includes paintings, works on paper, sculptures and archival documents are part of Stedman’s oral history project, and they illuminate the achievements of several generations of artists such as Emma Amos, Ed Clarke, Tom Feelings, Cynthia Hawkins, Norma Morgan, Howard McCalebb, Stanley Whitney, and Ben Wigfall.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

The most fascinating interactions always happen in an artist’s studio. I remember meeting Louise Bourgeois in her work-live space in Chelsea when I was a little girl. I recall bringing her a bar of chocolate, an offering which visitors were encouraged to make. The space felt sacred and as if every object, book, article of clothing was imbued with magic and intentionality.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The first day of the stay at home order in New York City I planted seeds on our fire escape and told my boyfriend that I was doing this so we could bear witness to positive growth over time. Today these greens are thriving and bees flock to it. We don’t all have space to do this but try to engage in a creative enterprise that’s about direct connection — whether that be cooking or even teaching someone else something you know, these are all transferable skills for your work but more importantly, they can also nourish and heal. Especially in these pandemic days when home and office are one and the same, it is so important to have time without screens.

Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I’m an ardent believer in the healing power of food and spices. I cook nearly all of my meals and always have a lot of ginger, cardamom, and lemongrass on hand. Tonight we’ll be making Kadhi — an Indian soup turmeric yogurt soup which has very soothing and warming effects on the body. If you’re lucky enough to cook for someone else then of course this is also a wonderful exercise for the heart.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You can reshape the canon: curating, exhibition making and communications can all be forms of activism. Make space for a more inclusive account of creativity and art history that doesn’t reinforce a white male gaze and instead calls out cultural erasure. This of course extends beyond the arts to multiple fields.
  2. Mentorship occurs at every level. Regardless of your rank, you can always use your experience and insights to elevate another.
  3. Praise Process over Results. Too often we give praise results rather than appreciate the process that leads to something good.
  4. You should be paid for your work: from interns to career artists your work should never be for free. Unpaid programs reinforce class divisions and create barriers.
  5. Nulla Dies Sine Linea (Never a day without a line) is a proverb and also the motto of The League — a call to action for everyone to practice their craft every day, even if it means drawing a single line.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve never been one to be moved by motivational quotes but last year I came across a document while organizing an exhibition on the artist Mavis Pusey (1928–2019) which truly restored me.

A loose-leaf paper entitled “I DESIRE” outlined in her own handwriting Mavis Pusey’s ever-changing wishlist. Heavily crossed out and corrected with new wishes added, this deeply personal object reminds me that I have permission to change and grow always.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Gonzalo Casals, the newly announced Cultural Affairs Commissioner for New York City was previously a graduate school professor of mine. Gonzalo is an ardent advocate for cultural democracy — he made his students feel as though our efforts were not marginalized. He encouraged us to use our power to push conversations about immigration, queerness, blackness and community into mainstream cultural dialogues. Now many of us run departments at important cultural organizations, if not run them. Gonzalo made negative systemic institutional practices palpable and gave us precisely the right tools to destabilize these oppressive systems. Most museum experiences are highly curated by a team of invisible people and these people are responsible for constructing the narrative of a museum and our cultural memory. Through Gonzalo’s mentorship, I discovered that the best way to manage a cultural institution is to CO-create programs and exhibitions and foster participation. That’s how real sustainability happens.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Education should be as free as air and water. I’d love to see egalitarian educational programs expand online and in brick and mortar spaces.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Sal Khan, the founder of khan academy has created a solution that begins to level the playing field in the educational world. I would love to use this type of model to bring creativity into places with arts scarcity.

How can our readers follow you online?

@ohbabelah

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