The Skowhegan Upgrade (Part Two): An Interview with Kate Haw and Linda Earle

by Art Fag City on June 10, 2008 Events

Screengrab AFC

Amongst the most competitive and prestigious residencies in the country, the Skowhegan School of Art is known internationally for its nine week long program in Maine during the summer. Now in its 62nd session, beginning June 14th the school will once again host 65 participants, six resident artists, and five to six visiting artists. Interested in the growth of the school in light of a greater interdisciplinary practice and increased institutional use of the Internet I spoke with Kate Haw, Executive Director of Development and Administration and Linda Earle, Executive Director of Programs, about how this has effected the school and its participants. This is the second of a two part interview posted yesterday and today.

AFC: Speaking to other new development projects, Skowhegan also has a new website, which Kate oversaw. What went into your decision to relaunch the website?

Kate: Well the original site was built in the year 2000 and people didn't yet know what they wanted websites to be about. So I think it was very typical for its time, but I just thought there would be the opportunity to do so much more with it if we could raise the money to do it all over. One of the main goals was to improve the art registry because it was so cumbersome for people to get their work in it, and then they'd never update it, so it wasn't very current or useful to curators or others who were trying to find information. Now it's totally easy. In the past people would send in slides, we'd have to scan the slides, put them on the site, and there were only thumbnails.

AFC: One of the interesting aspects about building a website is also getting the people using it up to speed — you have 62 years worth of artists”¦some of the older artists just aren't going to get their work into a digital format, how do you get everyone else to use the site?

Kate: You know how people are, we think, “Oh, I'll do it next week,” and we don't do it, and we don't get around to it, but we're now encouraging [website use] in a more active way. Our alumni mailing, in which our alumni let us know what they have been doing in the last year, is going out in the next week, and we're telling them if you don't put your news in your profile online it won't be in the newsletter. With the new site artists can go into their profile, type in their news and we download that. People like to do things the way they are used to”¦getting them used to building their profiles that way is just going to take some time. Currently we have about 220 profiles on the new site, out of 1800 living alumni, and we expect the ratio of profiles to alumni to increase dramatically over the summer.

AFC: Well, at this point too, maybe many of the more older and established artists feel less of need to keep their profile up to date — assuming they still practice. Do you have any sense as to how many Skowhegan participants maintain an active art making practice?

Kate: Almost 90 percent. That doesn't mean they're all making a living as artists, but almost 90 percent maintain an active studio practice. And we know that because of a couple of surveys we've done over the last five years.

AFC: That's pretty impressive, because grad schools don't have that kind success rate”¦I think maybe 40-50% of my 2001 class still make work.

Kate: I think part of that is because taking the step to go to Skowhegan after graduate school takes a certain level of continuing commitment.

AFC: But artists who are in grad school go too right?

Kate: The only limitation for artists is that you are 21 when the session starts”¦so you can be in graduate school, you can have no formal training, you can have a ton of formal training, you could be 60, I mean, emerging is not really a term we associate with age.

AFC: Well, what's the average age of people this year?

Kate: The last few years the average age has been 29. In 2007, the youngest resident was 22 and the oldest was 40, and that was exactly the same in 2006.I In 2005, the average age was 28. We have seen the average age climb a little bit in the last few years.

AFC: Oh yeah? That's interesting because I had assumed based on the people I've known who've attended Skowhegan, and the fact that when I was in graduate school in 2001 the average age of students had been declining, that those ages would be younger.

Kate: Well, it also used to be that before 2000 there was no minimum age limit. So you could be 18 and attend.

Open Studio 7. View into studios on Open Studio Night. Photo by Buster Graybill.

AFC: Do you think this is why the average age is going up?

Linda: I think when the school was first founded, there were just a few graduate programs, and so that moment of being an emerging artist was much younger, except for the GI's coming back who came to Skowhegan on the GI Bill, who were older. The women were quite young, and the men a lot older the first few years. Graduate school now is a pipeline to Skowhegan in a way. And we also reach out to people who haven't been to graduate school, or they've been out for a few years, so that's one thing. I think the level of work of people in their 20s has gone up, so the whole field has been professionalized, to such a degree. We don't take anybody under 21 anymore”¦I think that used to really drive the average age down. There were people there who were as young as 17 even through the 60's and early 70'sPaddy: Well that must have been a while ago.

Kate: So people are waiting to be part way or all the way through graduate school before they come.

AFC: Well, and I wonder, is that an economic decision, or is it simply when you think you would benefit the most out of it? Certainly, the word of mouth I hear from artists is that you get more out of it once you're out of graduate school.

Linda: I personally feel that way too but, you know that’s so subjective. Some people in grad school greatly benefit from a fresh non academic situation, and it’s like any experience in life”¦you sometimes only recognize the full impact of it years down the road. But people are less tired after they are out of school, readier for a studio — they may not have a studio, facilities and a community if they’ve been out for a while. And I think that’s what people really like about Skowhegan.

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