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Women and Their Work

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by | Sep 25, 2018

I thought I would talk a little about the fantastic nonprofit organisation that I have been spending the majority of my time at in Austin. Prior to moving, I began the very basic ‘google search’ of volunteering opportunities in Austin. Selfishly, I wanted to volunteer somewhere completely new and completely different to the field I am trained in: which many of you will know is nursing. “Women and Their Work” popped up as a nonprofit visual and performing arts organisation within Austin: completely new and completely different. I had a delve into some reviews and discovered that- not just a gallery- Women and Their Work acts as a platform to emphasise and value art created by women living and working in Texas, and strives to educate all ages about contemporary art.  Pretty cool? The volunteer application process was also very straightforward, which was incredible as I was beginning to feel that nothing about moving to America was going to be.

Women and Their Work is in their fortieth year as a gallery. They have supported the careers of over 1900 artists, and engage enthusiastically with the Austin community. Community engagement so far has involved the development of an education program for underserved schools in Austin, including (but not limited to) artist-talks, classroom projects, and hands-on workshops.  The aim is to encourage young minds to have an interest in contemporary art and to support them to have the confidence to create. The gallery carries out seven exhibitions per year, each show lasting six weeks and admission is completely free! The building itself is small, however unusual in that, beyond the structural walls (those are necessary), there are some movable walls which allow each exhibiting artist to manipulate the space however they wish. Therefore allowing a completely different space each time, as well as a completely different exhibition.

I began volunteering bang in the middle of the “Red Dot Art Spree” which is an exhibition held yearly by the gallery. I think it was the 25th year running? Don’t hold me to that (though I should know!). The exhibition showcased over 150 artists from Texas, as well as running a silent auction. I spent the time prior to the event assisting with de-installing the previous exhibition and reinstalling the event art (with a lot of help). The work that goes into running such an exhibition is incredible. Time was spent peeling paragraphs off of the main walls, repainting and resurrecting some of the movable walls/stools/shelves, collecting the showcased artwork and ensuring that each was labeled and the packaging kept for movement after the event and finally installing the artwork on the freshly painted walls. Far more hard work went on behind the scenes, I have no doubt.

Side note to my family: I was entrusted with a paintbrush and did not cover myself, or the gallery, with the white paint.

The evening of the event I had to master the technology of check-in. The system was incredibly easy to use (fabulous) and fantastically intuitive. As I am a technology illiterate, it was very appealing. Each guest had an account in their name, of course, that was then linked to a silent auction number and their credit card details. This way all art buying/auction bidding could be completed on iPads and there was no need to chase small slips of paper around all evening or worry who has what list/card machine. It also meant that guests had a “tab” which could be closed at the end of the night, rather than having to swipe their card for every purchase throughout the evening. I felt this made the buying process feel less impersonal. The time/focus was on collaborating and discussing the art, rather than the credit card machine. The evening was therefore very well streamlined, which I was very impressed by! What struck me was the camaraderie and enthusiasm. The artists and members, visitors and family, everyone wanted to support the gallery and its hard work. This was immediately evident when I timidly asked if the buyer wished to pay the credit card transaction fee, and was met with the exclamation “but of course! It’s Women and Their Work!”. It truly was a celebration of creatives and the fantastic impact this gallery has had on the local community, assisted by a continuous flow of champagne.

This is just a scratch on the surface of the work these incredible women do. I am sure I will have far more to discuss as I continue to volunteer each week. Mostly, I am excited to educate myself in a field that I have no experience in: through the incredible exhibitions that are hosted. This week we are installing an exhibition by Candace Hicks, whose work I find fascinating as the emphasis is not only on the art itself but the audience participation in her art. Check out her website for a little more detail  www.candacehicks.com. If you are ever in Austin, make sure and pop by! The gallery also has a small shop: which supports the work of women and small businesses.

I hope you are all enjoying your weeks!