Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Minutes with Duluth Art Institute Interim Director Dana Mattice

When Duluth Art Institute director Annie Dugan took a leave of absence to become a mom this year, it didn't take long for Dana Mattice to take the reigns as interim director and fill Annie's big shoes. Dana stepped forward and showed once again what depth of talent and experience we have in this community.

Dana Mattice
EN: What was your background before becoming part of the DAI staff?

Dana Mattice: I’m from central Wisconsin originally, and then lived in Houston, TX, for seven years before moving to Duluth. I worked as a publicist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and was able to work on promoting a lot of great projects, including the renovation of our Arts of Asia galleries and the building of the Arts of the Islamic World collection; the launch of a Latin American art database; various exhibitions; and the museum’s film program and Glassell School of Art. It was exciting to work with talented people on such a broad range of happenings.

I continued doing some PR work for the MFAH as a contractor when I first moved to Duluth, working specifically on the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY show, and then I did a bit of freelance arts reporting in Duluth and Houston. One assignment had me traveling up the rugged Gunflint Trail and then hiking across a frozen lake to interview painters participating in the Grand Marais Art Colony’s winter arts festival. They were out there in freezing temperatures, painting landscapes! That was a great introduction to art in this area. I also joined the board of the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, where I participate in business meetings and review grant applications, and I started volunteering with the DAI, assisting them on their special events and fundraisers, before being hired.

EN: When did you first take an interest in art?

DM: I have always been interested in art since I was a child. My dad worked at a paper mill, so there was always abundant paper to draw on, and my mom is a wildlife painter and crafter who encouraged my brother and me to be creative. In high school, I was lucky to take a Humanities course my freshmen year that introduced us to a little art history and provided field trips to the art museum in Chicago, which was a revelation. And then I went on to study art in college, and was exposed to even more.

EN: Are you yourself an artist and what media do you work in?

DM: I always struggle with this question. If you define an artist as someone who makes art, then yes, I am an artist. I paint, and I dabble in creative writing as well. But I would not call myself a professional/working artist, as my output is not steady, my practice has been fairly private, and I have not been actively showing or selling work.

EN: Who are your favorite artists?

Karen Nease will be featured in a show this spring.
DM: I am always looking at art, so my “favorites” continually change. In Duluth, I’ve been enjoying the weekly pictures that Tim White curates online in the Selective Focus series on Perfect Duluth Day. I made it out to Adam Swanson’s mural unveiling at the Spirit Mountain Chalet, and it was fun to see his work so massively sized (and I’m thankful for the public arts commissioners who make stuff like that possible). There have also been some recent openings that I have not been able to get to yet, but hope to catch: Patricia Canelake at the Red Herring Lounge; Bob Pokorney at Lake Avenue; and the UMD faculty exhibition, What We Do: Art & Design Faculty Biennial, at the Tweed.

It’s been fun to discover art further afield in this region, too. I was in Kohler, Wisconsin, in the summer and was blown away by the Kohler Arts Center’s Arts/Industry show. I worked in a factory to help pay for school, and the idea of having artists embedded into a factory environment and given those tools of production to make art was really exciting to me. The exhibition was just stunning, and I’m keeping an eye on what they do over there. And I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts earlier this winter and was happy to see a solo installation by Andy Messerchmidt, an Ely-based artist who was awarded Best in Show in the DAI’s 2012 Arrowhead Regional Biennial, as well as The Nature of Nature. Alec Soth, Kiki Smith, John James Audubon, and ancient Chinese ink drawings are just some of what is on view together, connected by theme, and it makes sense. That show really had me energized!

On my wish list is a trip to the South Dakota plains the next time Duluth-based artist Catherine Meier has one of her site-specific installations up. I’m amazed that she animates these large-scale graphite drawings and then places them right in the landscape, and I’d love to sit with one and experience it. There are many more fascinating and skilled artists who I won’t get to mention. There is so much happening in the arts that excites me.

EN: What kind of formal training have you had?

Dana takes a moment to experience the lake.
DM: I studied Art and English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had a life drawing professor who was really influential for me, David Becker, and I took every class with him that I could. I was also able to take classes on contemporary art with Michelle Grabner, who introduced us to current practices and really shook things up at the time. But otherwise I was sort of all over the place as an undergrad art student, experimenting with everything—and it was a blast! And I kept learning more and more art history on the job, and I continue to take classes here and there as an adult. That is something else that I appreciate about the DAI—the opportunity it gives to people to be life-long learners. We can all acquire new skills and expand on what we know and do, or take a chance and try something totally new.

EN: What does a DAI director do all day?

DM: I’m really thankful to have joined the Duluth Art Institute team, and acting as interim director during Annie’s leave has had me wearing many hats! I meet with the DAI board of directors once a month, as well as with the subcommittees that further support specific efforts. And I connect with artists showing with us; individuals collaborating on projects; our members and visitors; media contacts; corporate, foundational and individual supporters; and more. I work on grant applications and reports, news releases, magazine text, social media posts, e-newsletters, appeals, proposals, membership letters… the list goes on! A big accomplishment was planning and executing the annual fundraiser at the Kitchi Gammi Club this fall. I’ve also tackled public speaking, giving a presentation at the rotary club and making remarks at DAI events, hopefully drawing attention to the artists and other participants who are at the heart of what we do.

We are looking forward to Annie’s return in the New Year, and I’m sure she would have even more to add to the list of what a DAI director does. She is a terrific leader with a real vision for the organization, and boundless energy to see it through. Tyler and Shannon are great assets as well: incredibly hard-working, passionate about the arts, and skilled in their fields. I’ve been really fortunate to work with them. And Amy Varsek has done a great job installing art for us, and we’re excited to have her come on board as Education Director in 2015.

EN: What are you working on now that has you jazzed?

60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial
DM: I’m looking forward to the annual membership exhibition and “Emerging Photographers” in January, as well as our roster of spring shows. We’ll have some really dynamic work on view, and I can’t wait for the new installations!

I’ve also been working on “Plein Air Duluth: Paint du Nord,” a festival and exhibition slated for summer 2015, which was envisioned and planned by Annie and a team of local artists and is supported by the Depot Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. Lake Superior, the boreal forest, and the many historic buildings abundant in Duluth are a source of inspiration for local plein air painters. They travel to Grand Marais, MN, and Port Wing, WI, for festivals, but Duluth has not had a dedicated event of that scale. I think that this will be something really exciting for the city as a whole. There will be group painting events at the rose garden, Glensheen Manor, and Lester Park, and artists striking out on their own anywhere within a 30-mile radius of Duluth. It will be really cool to see sites around our town enlivened by artists out and about, shining new light on familiar people and places. And then the work will be on view and for sale in an exhibition in DAI galleries, and Andy Evansen will select prize winners with a $1,000 first place prize to be awarded. We are accepting submissions for participants through January 30.

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Photo Captions
Karen Nease is shown with a painting in the Biennial. She builds almost sculptural layers of paint in her depictions of the Lake Superior horizon. Found Horizons: Karen Owsley Nease will be on view at the DAI April 30-June 4, 2015.

60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial at the DAI, on view through February 15, 2015

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

1 comment:

Tim White said...

The feature Dana graciously referred to on PDD is archived here: http://www.perfectduluthday.com/author/timwhitempls/