Dashboard Dishes on its Future

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(L-R) Beth Malone, Natalie McLaurin, Ben Fox-McCord, Courtney Hammond

On a coincidentally hazy night, we had the chance to view Dashboard’s show “Relative Humidity” at Marcia Wood Gallery in Castleberry Hill, which features artists from Antenna Collective in New Orleans. We sat down with Dashboard co-founders Courtney Hammond and Beth Malone and had a great chat about New Orleans, pushing the limits of Atlanta art, and taking Dashboard on the road. Hammond and Malone are taking enterprising steps towards making Atlanta an even bigger spot on the art map.

Haylee Anne: So tell us about the show.

Courtney Hammond: We didn’t curate the show. This is an exchange program that Dashboard started doing recently. “Relative Humidity” is 13 artists from New Orleans, who we found through Antenna Gallery in the Bywater [neighborhood]. A couple of months ago, Dashboard went there with four artists we have been working with in Atlanta: Kiki Blood (Kristen Mitchell), The Young Never Sleep (who are in Atlanta and in San Francisco now), Erik Thurmond, and Michael Oliveri. We took them there to do a show called “Dash Initial,” and in turn Antenna Gallery brought their artists to Atlanta to do “Relative Humidity.”

One thing that we’ve noticed since Dashboard has started to move around and work with a lot of artists and curators in different places is that Atlanta definitely has an identity. The art we produce has a flavor. So does the art in other cities, so this show is very New Orleans. If you look at the artwork and see the choice of the title wall color and the color palette of all the artwork, it’s absolutely connected to the “Painted Ladies” and the color of that city. And they talk about environmental issues a lot, which we don’t really touch on that much here.

HA: It’s not as a big an issue for us here.

CH: Right. We have the much heavier influence of civil rights and racial or gender identity-based artwork.

HA: Like with “Elevate: FILA” and Flux Night’s “Dream” theme this year.

CH: Yeah, exactly. It’s great to be able to bring a show here from another city and really try to expose people in Atlanta to that culture, that flavor, and in those issues without them having to go to New Orleans. And hopefully entice people to go see more of it and get more educated about the rest of what New Orleans has to offer. The best way that we’ve found to do that is to be able to offer that in Atlanta and also be able to talk about Atlanta to the rest of the country, which is what this exchange program with various partners is about.

HA: Makes a lot of sense, actually.

Angela Bortone: It reminds of something that Daniel Fuller said in a WonderRoot Podcast about how his role at the Atlanta Contemporary is to bring great art into Atlanta, while spreading Atlanta artists out from the city.

HA: Like seeds.

Ben Fox-McCord work in "Relative Humidity" at the Marcia Wood Gallery.
Work by Ben Fox-McCord in “Relative Humidity” at Marcia Wood Gallery.

CH: Yeah. I think that we got really … not tired … but we didn’t want to feel like we had the obstacle of only talking about Atlanta to Atlanta in Atlanta. Atlanta is on this rollercoaster always: the arts are highly influential, the arts kind of aren’t, they are, they aren’t. It’s always been that way, but we felt like it was time to step out.

Beth Malone: It’s really exciting to take Atlanta artists outside this city because it starts to cultivate more advocates for these artists and, by extension, for Atlanta. That’s the problem that we’ve been seeing when we travel to other cities to produces shows. People are not talking about Atlanta, at all, and especially not the Atlanta arts community.

HA: It gives the artists an identity outside of only their city. It gives them their own identity, in a way.

BM: Absolutely. For us, it’s about how do we create more opportunities and how do we strategically place certain artists in certain cities. Like, can we take Erik Thurmond to Minneapolis or New York, where there are strong dance communities? We start thinking about these things when traveling around. It’s really exciting for us to be able to shine a light back on the South, and Atlanta specifically, while also being able to broaden these artists’ careers.

HA: And now you aren’t constricted by having a space here that you have to come back to.

CH: Dash has definitely been a learning experience. Everything we’ve done has been an experiment to try and problem solve and fill niches where they needed to be filled. We wanted to see what it would be like to have a long-term space. Part of our identity is revitalization through the arts. We were like, a month is great, but let’s see what we can do in a year. We felt like it was middle ground, and it was a ripe opportunity. We spent little over a year there, and left it in the hands of MINT. I think that, at the end of the day, things change and Dash wants to be fluid enough to respond to things here that change fastly changing. We had an option to renew our lease, but we didn’t want to have a brick and mortar space for a little while, and to see what we can do in terms of moving outward.

Momentum Exercises by Kirstin Mitchell at Antenna Gallery. Photo: Brandon Barr
Momentum Exercises by Kirstin Mitchell at Antenna Gallery. (Photo: Brandon Barr)

HA: Can you elaborate further on the challenges of running a physical space, and what ultimately guided you away from it?

BM: It wasn’t necessarily a challenge for us,  except when the basement flooded. It was a choice to reallocate funds to artist commissions rather than spending so much on the overhead that comes with running a space. It’s way more fun to pay Michi Miko than Georgia Power.

We always intended to stay at [the space at] North & Spring for a single year to see how we could turn this nondescript location with natural foot traffic into an arts destination. We’ve made similar properties into destinations before, like with the building that’s now home to Mammal Gallery [check out our project No Vacancy) and five buildings along Edgewood (Ground Floor opened the properties that now house Mother, Joystick, Harold’s Chicken, etc) as well as the 3rd floor of the M Rich building where Creative Loafing and the Center for Civic Innovation call home now (Boom City). We want to stay nimble. We plan to spend equal time in Atlanta and other cities around the country. A permanent space would become an obstacle rather than a support for us and for our artists, many of whom don’t live in Atlanta.

CH: And we have great relationships with local institutions, which do and will support us and the projects we want to bring to our home. It’s a no-brainer.

BM: It’s always an experiment. It’s like, how do we push our own practice, in addition to pushing the practices of the artists we work with? How do we go into new communities, and present ourselves in a way that makes us feel proud and excited? That’s always a challenge.  It’s really, really thrilling to go into new cities and figure out what’s the landscape, what’s the ecology. The show we did in New Orleans was something they hadn’t really seen before. The response we got was polarizing. People either loved it or were really overwhelmed by it. We thought that was awesome.

CH: You don’t want to not feel feelings. We want them to feel feeling.

BM: As we’re traveling, we’re able to identify a little bit more of Atlanta’s cultural identity. We’re really able to home in on what our own curatorial philosophy and identity is. We do these shows that are a little bit polarizing; we always have. We’ve always gotten good feedback and really negative feedback. People are being affected by something, so I think that’s really exciting.

AB: It seems to me that Dashboard prefers to work collaborative manner with different people, business owners, spaces, and now galleries.

CH: Dashboard has historically shied away from collaborations with other art entities because we are a curatorial platform. We give people a lot of rope, but we have to maintain a strong connection with our artists in order to have that trust, because everyone is doing something that hasn’t been done before, so everyone has the potential to be scared.

BM: And it’s a brand.

CH: To preserve the Dash brand, especially as a growing organization, we have to be really conscious and internal.

HA: Atlanta needs to be challenged. That’s a good thing.

Work by Bob Snead in "Relative Humidity" at the Marcia Wood Gallery
Work by Bob Snead in “Relative Humidity” at Marcia Wood Gallery

CH: I think there is something beneficial in working in numbers but for us. We’ve always tried to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

BM: It’s part of the Dash brand to go into places and get to know the neighbors, and get to know the business people around us, and get to know the artists in this area. It’s about building audience, being authentic and creating a show that has depth to it, as opposed to doing something superficial and pop-up. We don’t do pop-up.

CH: We inspire people to go on and carry that kind of sparkle once we leave.

HA: I love that. That goes against gentrification; that’s community outreach.

CH: Like for the show that we did in Detroit last year. We were there for nine months doing research.

BM: And getting to know people and making friends, making a life for ourselves there.

CH: I think we had a total of 16 flights, and Beth moved there for a couple of months.

BM: For a show! One art show. It wasn’t just an art show, it was a lifestyle that we were choosing for a minute.

CH: And we affected a ton of people. We brought several Detroit artists here. They’ve met many Atlanta artists and they are going to collaborate somewhere else together. There are a lot of similarities between Detroit, New Orleans and Atlanta. (See this link for more on this joint project)  

BM: It’s really poignant that they all exist in “relative humidity.” There’s sticky air in all these cities, they are all hard to move through. They are cities that are a little off-kilter. Atlanta less than the other two, but they’ve been hit with big blows. We’re  pretty lucky to have been invited to both of them.

CH:  It’s been amazing to meet with so many people and try to figure out, through other people’s voices, what exactly is going on, because people say different things. So it’s our job to figure out what the common thread is, which has been an incredible learning experience.

HA: Now that the news is out about the transformation of Dashboard, could you give us some specifics on your future plans? What does the organization’s future look like? Who do you hope to work with?

BM: We’ll have a toehold in Atlanta, producing exhibitions here as always, but we’ll continue our national and international growth as a curatorial agency working to disrupt the status quo. We will continue paying artists to make outlandish work that challenge our perceptions of success and failure. We hope to work with risk-taking artist in various cities, and collaborate with boundary-pushing organizations.

Chandelier in Front of Bug Wall. Works by Michael Oliveri at Antenna Gallery. Wallpaper printed by Flavor Paper (NYC). Photo by: Brandon Barr
Chandelier in Front of Bug Wall. Works by Michael Oliveri at Antenna Gallery. (Photo: Brandon Barr)

AB: We’ve seen DashTravlr, the Dashboard Tumblr page. What are your goals for DashTravlr?

CH: DashTravlr came about as we started to map our artist network, which exceeds 100 at this point. As much as we travel, the artists we have our eyes on travel even more. We want to provide transparent access to the organization for the public and for these artists. We also want to push boundaries and ask open-ended questions: What happens when you give 100 artists across the globe access to the same platform and make it absolutely uncensored with the option of anonymity? What issues, topics, and ideas would land on that platform? As with most Dash things, it was and is an experiment. We’re constantly searching for ways to unconventionally communicate artistic practice and process to the masses. Right now, this is our answer.

BM: It’s also been a fun way to play with Internet art and special artist projects. ​Right now, ATL darling Henry Detweiler is working on a project under the moniker “The Canadian Tuxedo,” all the way from his residency in Iceland. We don’t yet know what to make of it, and that’s absolutely the point. Well-played, Detweiler.

Featured image: Monument by Erik Thurmond at Antenna Gallery. (Photo: Brandon Barr)

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Comment(2)

  • Jane Foley
    January 8, 2016 at

    “People are not talking about Atlanta, at all, and especially not about the Atlanta arts community” — really though? As if we’re culturally invisible and these new efforts just might make people say the first word about us? There are some (albeit not many) Atlanta artists doing work on a national and international level, and getting talked about. I love and support Dashboard’s mission and capability to increase this dialogue, but must we completely say that no one anywhere is talking about Atlanta art in order to make these efforts seem more pioneering?

    • Beth Malone
      February 3, 2016 at

      Good eye, Jane! And you’re right, I shouldn’t generalize that NO ONE is talking about Atlanta. Obviously, that’s not possible. But, like I said, in my experience, as I travel and talk about where I’m from & what I do, I’m met with ignorance about our city and our community. It’s a bummer.

      Dash isn’t working in a traditional gallery or Museum model, or even festival/residency model. So, yea, I think what we’re doing is different. Pioneering? Maybe, if one day we actually nail it.

      I do think we’re attempting something that doesn’t have a rigid or preexisting formula.

      We’ve never not acknowledged the work of the people around us. And that’s certainly not the intention here.

      Thanks for the kind words & comment.

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