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ArtsChat Ohio

ArtsChat Ohio: OAC Staff Talks Artmaking "After Hours" (Part 3)

ArtsChat Ohio is an audio blog bringing you the latest news and updates from Ohio Arts Council staff members. These conversations are recorded to be enjoyed using the audio player below. A transcript and show notes are also included.


Transcript
Audio transcript edited for clarity

CAT: Hello, everyone. I'm Cat Sheridan, director of the Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery. And today, I'm joined by Jim Szekacs, one of the OAC’s organizational programs coordinators, and Aimee Wissman, the marketing and exhibitions fellow here at the Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery.

JIM: Hello!

AIMEE: Hi, Cat!

CAT: We're here to talk about the Riffe Gallery’s current exhibition, After Hours: Artwork from State of Ohio Employees 2021. After Hours showcases the artwork and creative talent of state workers from across Ohio.

Thanks for joining us for the third and final installment of our special series of mini ArtsChat Ohio episodes. For the past two weeks, we've been highlighting OAC employees’ artmaking processes and discussing how they create all kinds of art outside the office. [Listen to Part One here] [Listen to Part Two here]

Since this year’s After Hours exhibition has artwork by quite a few OAC staff members, including the two of you, we thought it'd be neat to hear a little bit more about your work in the visual arts, Aimee, and the music you write, Jim, so I'm going to let you guys take it away.

AIMEE: Thanks, Cat. Hey, Jim!

JIM: Hey, how are you doing, Wissman? One thing I’d like to know is what it’s like for a real artist, such as yourself, to be working in the gallery?

AIMEE: Well Jim, it’s been an invaluable experience to learn the behind-the-scenes process of everything from the initial jurying and curation to the installation and opening of exhibitions. I have to say I’ve learned a lot from listening to our artist talks, but my favorite part of every exhibition is the Friends and Family workshop. It’s so cool to see artists break down a piece of their vision and process and lead the group in project.

And I’m pretty sure your work in the show is a result of an artist-led-workshop. Could you talk a little more about that?

JIM: How’d you know about that?! Sure thing. One of the perks for being an OAC employee is you get to learn from the state’s wonderful and talented artists. To that point, we were lucky enough to have a workshop with such an artist who led us through a plein air workshop at the Riffe Center.

Now, understand, back when I was young and handsome—I know that’s hard to believe—and in high school, I took visual arts classes and performing arts classes, that was my thing. I mean, I was into sports and all the other things, but that’s what we did at this school.

So, I already understood the basics of oil painting, design, and the value of texture. This was just a great way for me to reacquaint myself with an old friend that I call “oil painting.” It was super fun. Shout out to my high school art teacher, Julie Leffleman! And my late, great choir teacher, Mrs. Dorma Lindstrum. They were very instrumental in my life, and they helped me have the confidence in myself that I have today. And they helped me to learn how to trust my own instincts.

You know, Aimee, I think we both love to learn from artists that we've been exposed to. Can you remember the first impactful art experience that you had?

AIMEE: I have a few early arts memories, but the first time I fell in love with an artist was probably around 1992. I was 6, and my mom took me to a Henri Matisse exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art. And I remember just being really enamored with his shapes and colors, and kind of standing in front of a painting for the first time, absorbed. And I also remember really wanting a very expensive poster from the gift shop that I didn’t get.

And around that same time, we actually used to go to the Tallstacks Festival every year. Once, I got to see one of my early heroes, Buddy Guy. I was screaming for him to play “Feels Like Rain,” and he finally, I guess, couldn’t resist my enthusiasm, and he pulled me onstage. And I got to play his polka-dot guitar with him. And I think that was pretty impactful in terms of how I started processing the arts.

And what about you, Jim, can you remember your first experience?

JIM: Well, when you grow up in a small farm town of about 400 people—and that's on a good day—in the middle of Illinois, near Peoria, by the way, you learn to entertain yourself. Be it with crayons, markers, a pen, a stick and a wheel … or by singing along with music on AM radio—WLS, shout out!

But my first impactful experience with the arts was when I saw a band that consisted of some friends of mine from high school. Now, I didn't know if they were really good or not, but that wasn't the point. It was nonetheless cool.

One of the guitar players had a blonde Telecaster. For all of you guitar people, you know the importance of a blonde Telecaster; it is the quintessential guitar. And it is the same guitar that was used by Robin Zander of the band Cheap Trick, which was an Illinois band—basically, Northwest Illinois. So, you were kind of obligated to like all things Cheap Trick at the time. So, that's when it hit. I soon bought a second-hand guitar myself, and with the help of some friends, I learned how to play guitar, and eventually, taught guitar.

Dorma, who was my choral teacher in high school and junior high, as I mentioned earlier, also encouraged me to pursue music by giving me lead roles in choral pieces, as well as some behind-the-scenes managerial responsibilities. It was a great learning experience.

So, in addition to that, she and Julie Leffleman took us to Chicago to visit the Chicago Art Institute, which was my first visit to a real museum. It was a world-class museum. I absolutely loved it. Great art. It was excellent overall experience for a kid, you know, from the middle of farm country.

And, you know, Aimee, I think those experiences instill a passion for the arts, for me, anyway. I wonder if you could talk about why you became an arts administrator?

AIMEE: Well, Jim, I knew that as a working artist and single mom, I needed some stability. And I also know that I have a hard time committing to things that I’m not passionate about. So, the opportunity to work in the arts, support arts organizations and individual artists, to network, grow, and learn from practicing artists and administrators was a career that would support my goals and my artistic practice. I feel really lucky to be here, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

And what about you, Jim? How did you become an arts administrator, and what’s the most rewarding part of your work at the OAC?

JIM: Well, Aimee, I got lucky. After retiring from the world of performing arts, I went back to school—the Ohio State University, by the way—and finished my undergrad. And I eventually earned a master's in public administration from Ohio State to go with my undergrad in English and political science.

Now, I had always had an interest in public service—and the arts, obviously. And given that the arts in all its forms had always been a big part of my life, I knew that I wanted to be part of something bigger than fulfilling someone’s bottom line. So, presto … public service and the arts became that option. Lucky for me, my former boss, Kevin Cary, took a chance on this guy right here and hired me to be a member of the OAC’s grants team.

So, I say this with all sincerity, though. Next to being a performing artist, this job is without a doubt the coolest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Ohio’s arts sector—its artists and arts administrators are second to none. Trust me, they are. Look, we have world-class orchestras, world-class museums, and we have the most wonderful artists throughout the state, including some who are on staff, like Katie Davis, and a celebrated poet/playwright like Chiquita Mullins Lee.

And, like I mentioned, you're a pretty awesome artist in your own right. Which leads me to the following:

Tell me a little bit more about your work in the exhibition. You call it “The Middleman, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothes.” It seems intriguing.  Could you tell me something about it?

AIMEE: Well, I have a love for language and poetry, as well as visual symbols and archetypes, so when I began working on the wolf, I was creating a series of “street gods/archetypes” based on animal idioms.

The “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothes” is vaguely reminiscent of a used-car salesman, and some other shady characters. And the piece became an expression of backlash against gatekeeping. I think we all have barriers to overcome, and we also have power and opportunities to share with others. So, the wolf is a reminder to remove the barriers in my own perception and to monitor the ways in which my community is being treated. It’s something like a call to action.

And you know, Jim, I think we’ve covered a lot of bases, but I just have one more question. I follow your music, and I’m dying to know: Who is Lemmy the Elf?

JIM: Ah … old Lemmy. He’s been with me for a while now. He started out as a secret-Santa, alter ego that I employed a few years back. But since then, I’ve engaged him for other projects. The role he has right now, as you seem to recognize, is that of my music publisher—well, the publisher of the few songs I’ve published under Denny James on YouTube, anyway. It’s a long story, but it’s meant to be confusing, so I think it’s hit its mark.

Nonetheless, Lemmy is a very capable elf.  You never know where he’ll show up next. By the way, he thinks you’re the goods—these are his words. He told me he’d like to buy artwork from you. I’m just sayin’—Lemmy is now in the art-buying business.

AIMEE: Well, you tell Lemmy that we can chat “after hours.” And I have to confess, this has been a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to seeing your work and all the other amazing pieces shared by fellow State of Ohio employees in After Hours.

And so, Cat, do you want to close this out by telling listeners how they can view this exhibition?

CAT: Absolutely. Just a reminder that the Riffe Gallery’s After Hours exhibition is currently on view for free online at riffegallery.org.

We have so many amazing events and programs lined up, from artist talks to at-home workshops. Folks can follow us on Facebook to view archived programs from past exhibitions and you can register for our upcoming events at riffegallery.eventbrite.com.

Thanks for listening! We hope you’ll tune in to the next edition of ArtsChat Ohio. Have a great day.


Show Notes

Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery: http://riffegallery.org
Katie Davis' Artist Website: https://www.katiekdavis.com
Chiquita Mullins Lee's Artist Website: https://www.chiquitamullinslee.com
"The Middleman, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothes" by Aimee Wissman: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ohioartscouncil/50953893947/in/album-72157718306836602/
Riffe Gallery website: http://riffegallery.org
Riffe Gallery Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/riffegallery
YouTube Channel of Songs by D. James/Jim Szekacs: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUXfoU-_ComQYAzfaGGbP-Q/featured
Aimee Wissman's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aimeeinks

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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