Kerri Rosenstein and RMSP’s Course, Exhibition Mentorship: A Guided Dialogue

Rocky Mountain School of Photography continues to strive for innovative ways to provide valuable and unique instruction for those looking to make photography a career. The fine art photographer is always challenged to have their work seen by as many eyes as possible in an environment conducive to selling to collectors and/or admirers. How do I approach a gallery to propose an exhibition?  What goes into producing a gallery show? Where do I start? These are just some of the questions we have been asked by students over the years.

Through our constantly evolving process of offering valuable experiences to photographers of all stripes, the idea of offering a comprehensive course geared toward those interested in showing their work in a gallery came into being.  To that end, we have created a special course for 2011 titled, Exhibition Mentorship: A Guided Dialogue which will be led by former Gallery Saintonge/Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery Director Kerri Rosenstein.  I met with Kerri to discuss this course, get some insight into her personal background, and get the inside scoop on what to expect out of this unique offering.

 

Please give us a brief description of your background for those who may not know you. Education? Job experience? Your familiarity with the fine art world?

I grew up near Baltimore, Maryland. Making things, drawing, writing, exploring, feeling and sensing my way. It is the things we do when we’re not thinking about what to do that are of our true nature, what we are passionate about and what our work in the world is.

I went to college in Pennsylvania where I studied Psychology and Art. During the first week of college, I asked my drawing professor, James Agard, if he knew of any job openings in the art department. From then until I graduated, I was his personal assistant – helping with studio work, as well as professional promotion and exhibition. He remains one of many outstanding teachers and mentors in my life. [Joan Gaither being another from preliminary years.]

At this time, I also interned with an art therapist for an adjudicated youth program. And went abroad to Sydney, Australia, where I delved into studies of Psychopathology and Aboriginal Art.

After college, I backpacked across the country making my way to an outdoor residential experiential learning center in Washington State, where I was trained as a certified facilitator. I lived in a trailer near Mt. Rainier for six months, facilitating diverse groups (youth and adult) in areas pertaining to team building, group-processing, problem-solving, empowerment and self-confidence.

I went to graduate school in Missoula, Montana, where my emphasis was on Painting and Drawing. Through graduate school, I taught Drawing/Painting and Design courses, and began exhibiting my artwork.

I organized a program for local artist exhibitions at a town hotspot, Bernice’s.

Upon graduation, I was invited to be a personal assistant for artist Wes Mills for several years, and this evolved to include a position as gallery director of a new (and now defunct) art space in downtown Missoula – farm ARTSPACE. With yet another amazing teacher, I experienced first-hand running a space and the intricacies of all that goes along with that – on local, regional, national and international levels – as well as the demands of a full-time working artist.

I attended (and continue to attend) international art fairs around the world.

After a gallery hiatus to dedicate myself to my artwork and to practice organic farming, I returned to curating and directing the art space for Rocky Mountain School of Photography, then Gallery Saintonge, for approximately 5 years. From this experience, and others including being a Reviewer for Photolucida, I created the Portfolio-in-Progress Reviews course/event for RMSP’s Career Training Program (3 years) – a professional portfolio development/mentorship course and organized the review event with creative professionals to provide feedback for students.

I participated in several other extensive facilitator trainings and development programs and have worked with youth and adults through city/county programs and schools, as well as other alternative venues and businesses, along with wilderness guiding.

I have worked with Caldera, a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts and mentorship program for underserved youth in Oregon for 4 years. As: Challenge Course Facilitator, Drawing/Painting Instructor, Design/Installation Instructor, Wilderness Guide, Leadership Facilitator, and Artist-in-Residence.

Additionally, I do some freelance curating for various arts organizations, currently in Arizona, Montana and Pennsylvania.

I continue to do work that engages the arts, facilitation and outdoors – with both youth and adults in ways that contribute to wellbeing, positive growth and expression.

All the while, focusing on and exhibiting my artwork.

What has been your personal experience with creating exhibitions and working with galleries?

I value the opportunity to work one-on-one with artists and the conversation that goes on around all of it. For me, it is primarily a matter of cultivating relationship and having meaningful dialogue around some of the most vulnerable, intimate and profound matters that come up in these interactions. From the vantage of working on either end of the relationship, it is strongly my vision to support a person, as opposed to a thing. It is an honor to work with and promote others doing work I believe in and find significant, and to always keep that priority. In many ways, I feel it is a responsibility of artists to support each other – as in any community or field – to propel the development and growth of meaningful and relevant work. Knowing someone outside of yourself believes in you and is behind you is one of the most powerful ways to enable one to grow within oneself. I thrive on the opportunity to be that in whatever way I can for folks with whom I feel that connection, and further, to share that with a greater community.

How did the concept of the Exhibition Mentorship come about?  Was the impetus for this idea because of something you had noticed a need for?  Had you been considering this for some period of time?

I decided to discontinue the PIP Reviews after the Fall of 2009. While the course/event was an enriching part of the Career Training program, it also felt time to evolve and create new opportunities and ways to utilize experiential learning for professional development. The RMSP Gallery had also gone through a series of changes and the idea brewed to combine the use of the gallery space, a beautiful downtown street-front space, with the work and experience I had in running the gallery, reviewing artists’ work, and teaching. The original idea was proposed to me and then collectively sculpted.

Ideas of this nature were not entirely new, nor born out of lack.

My intention for the course is to facilitate a positive, empowering, constructive process of intense focus and development of one’s personal work and to provide assistance and guidance with practical and logistical aspects of putting together a public exhibition. From my experience with RMSP, they are continually exploring new directions to grow their programs and provide effective tools and resources for their students.

The fact that the “guided dialogue” process takes place over a period of six to nine months, how does this produce unique challenges when conferring with a student who may be in a distant location? What type of activities do you foresee being presented to the students and for what purpose?

The course is designed to be taught remotely, with the bulk of the dialogue taking place on the phone and via Skype, as well as over email and mail. While developing a relationship and personal conversation, I will provide assignments, direction and dialogue to assist in the development of one’s personal work to encourage thinking critically and constructively in the process. While there will be limitations in viewing actual work, the emphasis is around empowering one with steps to progress in their work and with support for logistically putting together a public exhibition. I have worked remotely with artists in the past and while there are some obvious drawbacks, it is exciting to see the empowerment and clarity that comes from seeing others rise to new challenges, and with confidence knowing someone has their back, providing structure and guidance along the way.

A likely assignment will include attending public exhibitions in their hometown (and/or elsewhere) – documenting and writing reviews on various aspects of the exhibit.  There will also be projects designed to challenge one from their traditional/comfortable modes of working to stimulate growth in their current work, as well as brand new work.

What do you hope that students gain as a result of this unique experience? Will you personally be present at their individual openings (no need to answer if you don’t know)?

My hope is that students gain self-confidence and ownership of their work, as well as a willingness to challenge themselves to grow and evolve through critical and constructive thought. And to commit themselves to doing the work they feel positively compelled to do towards what is meaningful and enriching to them.

Additionally, I hope students gain practical skills and experience from a professional perspective in terms of creative, organizational and business aspects of exhibiting. Whether the student is more interested in working solely as an artist, or from a more curatorial position, or purely in creative development; this course provides opportunity to have first-hand experience to enhance any of those directions.

At this point, it is not my intention to be present at the opening. I plan to work with students in designing the exhibition and laying out the installation, and to be present via Skype. I find this eliminates a default function and encourages one to “run their own show,” and to feel that way about it when it opens.

[That said, there will be RMSP support on the ground with the student in the gallery throughout the installation and opening.]

It is important to note that this course is of an organic nature and will be in many ways individual-specific. The basis and foundation will be consistent from person to person, while like any relationship, the specifics of each session will be uniquely geared to suit that relationship and the situations it presents.

Are you open to speaking with prospective students and interested candidates for this course?

Yes. I am willing to talk with anyone interested in potentially taking the course, and anyone who just wants to learn more about it. The first step for taking the course (even if only at the point of considering it) is a phone conversation to discuss expectations and intentions to create a fit that best serves the student.

For those interested in learning more about Exhibition Mentorship, they are encouraged to contact RMSP’s School Director, Jeanne Chaput de Saintonge, at jeannec@rmsp.com or call (800) 394-7677 for further information.