From buses to bomb shelters

By on September 4, 2014

Artists from Jackson Hole and Tel Aviv compare challenges, successes of promoting emerging artists in posh towns.

An art opening at the artist supported Alfred Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Photo courtesy Yael Amit.

An art opening at the artist supported Alfred Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo Adi Levy.

Jackson Hole, Wyo. – Last week the local chapter of the Wyoming Council for International Visitors hosted five artists fromIsrael. Both Arab and Jewish, they were comprised of filmmakers, gallery directors, community arts organizers and visual artists. While the common theme among these visiting artists was, “how do we bring our Arab and Jewish communities together and promote peace through art?” there also were interesting similarities between the life of emerging artists in Tel Aviv (where most of thes artists live) and Jackson Hole, both relatively upscale communities offering mostly overpriced real estate and trendy lifestyle choices.

Here, local artist and Teton Artlab director Travis Walker and Israeli artist and gallery director Yael Amit answer questions about living as artists in their respective towns.

Amit lives in Tel Aviv and works full-time in Ashdod, Israel, as the director of education for the Ashdod Art Museum. In her spare time, she is an artist and co-founder of one of Tel Aviv’s first collaborative art spaces, The Alfred Gallery. Most of you know Walker as a local artist and arts organizer. He is the founder and director of Teton Artlab, which offers emerging artists affordable exhibition, performance and/or studio space among other resources. His paintings are represented by Altimira Gallery in Jackson.

Planet JH Weekly: Give me a brief example of how an emerging artist survives in your town. What’s his/her daily life like?

Yael Amit

Yael Amit

Amit: Tel Aviv is quite an expensive city. Most of the young and emerging artists live in south Tel Aviv because the rent prices are relatively low. Artists’ studios are also located in industrial areas of south Tel Aviv. Most artists share their studio with at least one more artist because of the high cost. A lot of artists try to find a teaching job, in schools or in museums (as guides or teaching different art classes). Otherwise, they would find themselves working in restaurants, bars, kitchens and such. For an artist to really make a living through their art is almost impossible. Despite this, life for artists in Tel Aviv is always exciting since there is a large number of galleries, museums, artistic events, shows and performances. There are also a lot of cool places to go out at night.

Walker: There are opportunities galore for talented, industrious artists. Get your brushes out and start painting wildlife and soon you will be represented by one of the billion galleries in town. What, your work is too sophisticated for these lowbrow mongrels? Maybe your MFA in New Media will score you one of the dozen jobs people quit every six months or so at the Center for the Arts. Get a kids camp job at the Art Association, or front desk gig at the Center for the Arts or Dancers’ Workshop, then work your way up the ranks till you have your own corner office! But while you are counting all of your administrator money, don’t forget about your artwork.

Most important thing here in Jackson is to apply, apply, apply. There are four juried Art Fairs run by the Art Association here in Jackson, suck it up and do one. Apply for a show at the Center or Art Association. Bug the crap out of everybody over there and eventually they will let you install your audio video piece that you will never sell in one of their gorgeous hallways. Apply for support: Cultural Council of JH, Wyoming Arts Council, Center of Wonder, and JH Public Art all have grants and money making opportunities. Only one artist, Aaron Wallis, applied for a CCJH grant this year… he won.

JHW: What can an artist expect to pay for studio space in your town?

Amit: The price of a studio space may vary according to size and location but the average is between 50-80 shekels per meter, which is $15-$20 dollars per square meter.

Travis Walker

Travis Walker

Walker: All of our studios here at Teton Artlab are subsidized 25 percent and still end up at $1.50-$1.85 per square foot per month because we are in downtown Jackson. Our rents range from $225-$1,000 per month for studios from 165-750 square feet. Most places in town are $400 and up, but not many allow art-making activities within the Town of Jackson. Basically if you are using power tools or hazardous materials you go to one of the industrial areas south of town where rent is a little more affordable. I’m not sure exactly what rates are now but we rented 6,300-square-feet on Gregory Lane for $3,500 back in 2012.

JHW: What can artists expect to pay for rent for living quarters in your town?

Amit: Living spaces are also very expensive. A one-bedroom apartment can cost around 3,000 shekels (around $840 dollars). Usually artists would share an apartment and pay together around 4,000-5,000 shekels for a two-bedroom apartment (about $1,100-1,300) per month.

Walker: $400-$800 for rooms and $1,000 and up for one bedroom; $1,200 and up for two bedroom apartments. Sleeping in former town taxis, airport shuttles and school buses is by far the most affordable option. I recommend a gutted 1970s Napoleon Dynamite van for style points, your sick ride might even end up in one of my paintings.

JHW: Does your town (both in government and its general citizens) “get it” when it comes to supporting artists and community arts? If so, what are some examples? If not, how can it be done better.

Amit: As far as citizens of Tel Aviv go, they very much support art. A lot of the citizens themselves are involved in the arts. Although this support is not financial, I think most of the people living and visiting Tel Aviv understand the importance of artistic activity to the vitality and character of the city. Tel Aviv municipality supports arts through their art department where they organize the city’s major art events (White Night, open studios tour, etc.) and give out money to artists for exhibitions through a special foundation. The art department is a rather small one for a city the size of Tel Aviv, and with the amount of artists that reside in it, and it being such an important art center, artists and art spaces still have a very hard time surviving the very high cost of rent and taxation.

The city tries to help with that by giving (this may sound a bit funny) the spaces of public bomb-shelters to artists as studio spaces for very low cost. The artists are required to evacuate the shelters in times of war. Every year artists apply for the opportunity to rent them for about $100 per month. In case of missile attacks on Tel Aviv, like in the past two months, the artists have to clear out all their stuff immediately and only come back when they are told. Also they must keep the shelters clean and not keep anything on the floor. This is a great solution for some artists, but of course the shelters are all underground and are hard to ventilate. So some materials are not allowed.

Walker: Yes. The Center for the Arts is on Town/County land that they donated basically. The local government funds public art and supplies grant funds for all sorts of weird projects through Cultural Council and Lodging Tax grants. If you look at the influx of high-end food establishments in the last few years, you can see that the overall taste level has gotten pretty high. The art galleries are still catching up to the level of the restaurants I think. This town has a freakishly supportive arts community because of all the wealthy beauty lovers that flock here. My mother-in-law told me how offended she was that rich people can waste so much money on art when people are starving in the world. That says it all!


As part of its initiative to bring performing artists to Jackson Hole, Teton Artlab introduced to the valley electronic music icon Dan Deacon in 2013. Photo by Tristan Greszko.

JHW: Tell me about your project/collaborative space you’re involved with?  What are the successes? Challenges?

Amit: Our space started out as a tiny gallery in south Tel Aviv in 2005. Rent prices were lower, and also we didn’t need much. As young artists, just out of art school, we wanted to have our own place where we could show our work. As time went by we realized there is a big impact for this kind of independent action, which allowed us as artists not to depend upon commercial galleries and connections.

Alfred Gallery is one of the first cooperative galleries in Tel Aviv founded in 2005 by 12 artists who had just finished art school. The idea was to create our own gallery space so that we can show our work. Each month each of us put in a small amount of money that was enough to cover rent and bills. The first space we rented was 20 square meters, very small. The gallery is still managed today in the same way as in the beginning – in full cooperation and equality between all artists. That means that each of the members has a role to fill, each of us pay a small membership fee, and get to show our work in the gallery if we wish. All decisions are made unanimously, so we have very long meetings. All our work is done voluntarily, and we registered as a nonprofit organization. My role is requesting government and city funds and grants and also sending a monthly newsletter to all our lists.

In January 2014 we rented a whole building in the south of Tel Aviv. So we’re no longer just a cooperative gallery, but a cooperative art institute and we have 14 artist members. This means that we have a gallery space of about 60 square meters and two multifunctional spaces for lectures and workshops. We also have 14 artist studios in the top floors in which we rent out to other artists. We still run Alfred in a fully cooperative structure. In the gallery we mostly show young and emerging artists that are not signed with any commercial gallery and we do not take any percentage off works that are sold in the gallery. We give the artists professional help during their exhibitions: technical help and lighting, curating, graphic design for invitations, we also help with promotion via email and Facebook and our website.

Our current financial model: Alfred is the only cooperative gallery that is funded by government, as a result we also get funding from Tel Aviv municipality. The rest of our funding comes from renting out the artist studios, percentages we take off workshops and lectures, and occasional artistic events. We also receive a small amount of private donations and we do one sales exhibition each year where we sell quality artworks at fair prices. Private and corporate funds are an area that we would like to develop more in the coming months.

Walker: Teton Artlab supports the work of artists by providing studio space and opportunities to exhibit, perform, and connect with other artists. The most important thing we do right now is create studios, but we also host exhibitions and performances by internationally famous artists.

Many people say it is a co-op or collaborative space run by the artists but that is not correct. Most artists are complete lunatics who would run the lab into the ground. It is currently run by two nice young men with BFAs in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University who answer to a board of directors composed of seven regional artists and arts advocates. We raise about $100,000 a year to run our Artist In Residence program, which is currently composed of a 3,500 square foot studio building with an apartment for visiting artists. Our greatest success has been establishing the first real studio centers in Jackson Hole. We have introduced the public to the concept of artist spaces through our free events that let people tour the studios and meet the artists. We have created five artist spaces so far and helped establish the careers of many of Jackson’s well known artists including Abbie Miller, Aaron Wallis, Mike Tierney, Wendell Field, Ben Carlson, John Frechette, Thomas Macker, Mark Dunstan, and Travis Walker. We have hosted performances by world famous musicians including Andrew Bird, Sharon Van Etten, Dan Deacon, and Built To Spill.

Our challenges remain the same as they were in 2007: finding affordable space to pull this off. Every year, rent creeps higher and there is less and less space. The clock is ticking for us, our landlord can be unpredictable, and we are working hard to find a long-term home.

About Mary Grossman

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