Today we’d like to introduce you to Contracommon and it’s Executive Director, Taylor Bailey.
Hi Taylor, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Contracommon was founded in August 2018 by a multidisciplinary group of artists who believed in the power of collaboration and community, and who wished to create a new type of relationship between studio artists and gallery representation. It’s incredibly difficult to find a way into the Austin arts scene as an emerging artist; sometimes it feels like a game of who-you-know, so for many recent graduates or self-taught artists, it can be very daunting. The mission was simple: to build a space to empower emerging artists like ourselves.
Our facility began as a large hair and nail salon, featuring individual suites for stylists to work from. While there was a lot of cleaning and renovation work to do, there really couldn’t have been a better space for us to transform. Salon suites were converted into larger artist studios, and some were removed entirely to create a large storefront gallery to showcase artwork. We were able to remove all of the hair-washing sinks in the back of our space to create a shared working area that we now use for building large projects, hosting classes and demos, and for community events. The original round of funding for the space came from selling leftover salon furniture (think 25+ barber’s chairs…) along with a generous grant from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, but the bulk of our early costs were covered by the artists – and they also did the majority of the renovation themselves as volunteers.
We were able to welcome the first artist members into studios in February of 2019. We had our very first exhibition opening in March of that year, and we were painting walls in the back of our space up to the very last minute. The following year saw dramatic changes – we completed the renovation of the rest of our 16 studios, we built a shared workshop with community tools, we hosted 8 more exhibitions and 23 community events, and we were able to rotate 21 artists through the studio membership program.
When COVID-19 hit, we were honored to receive a generous donation from an individual donor that kept the rent paid for the first few months – the majority of our artists are gig workers and were displaced due to the pandemic. While the gallery was closed, we remained hard at work in our private studios, and we met virtually to discuss how to move forward as a group. Pre-pandemic, our small team of members had worked themselves so hard that we were rapidly approaching burnout as volunteers for the organization. The mandatory pause on activities gave us an opportunity to regroup and refocus our efforts.
In just the time since lockdown has been lifted, we have been able to rotate 12 new artists into our studios – the majority of which have now been with us for an entire year. This dedicated group has since hosted 11 gallery exhibitions, 22 community events, and served upwards of 120 other local artists through networking, exhibition, and sales opportunities through virtual and in-person events.
I’ve never seen such a dedicated group of people willing to volunteer their time and energy towards making something work like this – literally building a community from the ground up.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Every road has at least one pothole… but overall I think it’s been about as smooth of a road as we could find. Our largest struggles have definitely just been coming up with a set of expectations for ourselves as members – making sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of what programming and exhibitions we want to prioritize, and figuring out our own method to sharing art with the community while maintaining our own practices. Having a group of people that truly understand the goals of the organization and that are all committed to creating something for a wider purpose has been instrumental to our successes.
Outside of that, we’ve also had to do some crazy on-the-job learning about how to run a nonprofit organization, stay in compliance, and just how to run a business – we all knew this is what we wanted, but none of us had seen anything like it before.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Contracommon has 12 studio members right now and we’ve got quite the collection of different styles! The majority of us right now are painters or printmakers – we’ve got a great range of abstract, representational, expressionist works and more coming out of the studios on any given day. One of our favorite compliments we’ve ever received is that “The gallery is completely transformed for every exhibition.” We’ve done our best to always rotate between traditional 2D works, sculpture, and even immersive installation within our space. We don’t want to get pinned as always having a similar aesthetic from exhibition to exhibition – we want to maintain this variety and show the community all of what art can be. Recently we’ve been experimenting with pairing two artists working in different mediums within the same gallery space (a realist painter and an abstract soft-sculpture artist; an abstract painter and an installation artist working with folded paper forms), and we’ve had great success with that.
Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
Wow, we feel like luck has had a huge role – but all that luck would’ve gone to waste if we didn’t put just as much stock in matching with hard work. We are honored to have met the folks at Hill Country Galleria who truly appreciate and understand what we’re hoping to accomplish with our space for emerging artists, and who actively encourage us to push the boundaries of what you might see on display in a setting like ours. It certainly feels like luck that we got to pair up with them to open our facility here at HCG, and without that, we certainly wouldn’t have had such an easy beginning.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: contracommon.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/contracommon
- Facebook: facebook.com/contracommon
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqu-rg8PVr59Z4e8xxUIp6g
Aria Brownell, Kelsey Baker, Javi Gonzalez, Brianna Vance