bridget ann clark
creative director // mellwood art center
Bridget Ann Clark moved to Louisville, Kentucky two years ago after living in New York for eleven. She attended school, and then began carving out her life. She got a job working for fashion designer, Maria Cornejo and showed her ceramics in Cornejo's shop. Getting them written up in magazines such as Vogue and others. When Clark got overwhelmed by what success looked like in reality, she decided she needed a fresh start.
After being urged by family in the area to look into this position, Clark, with little to no management experience but a lot of guts, energy, and enthusiasm, decided to move here and take the position. Technically, her goal as Director is to cultivate more unity within Mellwood Art Center but to add, Clark wants to build it into, creatively, what it could be. From here we have a refreshingly honest look into the process of managing a facility that "has been renovated into a 360,000 square foot home to over 200 artist studios, 4 event rooms, specialty stores, galleries, teaching studios, office spaces, rehearsal spaces, dance studios, gyms, and more".
Five-Dots: When was Mellwood established?
Bridget Clark: I believe it began in 2002.
F-D: How long have you been in your role as director?
BC: Just about two years.
F-D: Who else is on your team?
BC: Joalid does all of the event coordination and Allie designs most of the marketing and social media.
F-D: When you began, did you have an idea for how you wanted to run the program or did it develop organically?
BC: I had a bit of an idea but, of course, having the idea and actually moving forth are two different things.
F-D: So, what was your idea?
BC: I was hoping to have more of a community here and motivate everyone to work more with each other. I thought that would have been the best and most practical way to go about building this as a unified space and place. I realized that that is a lot to ask in some ways. What I then decided, after coming to that conclusion, is to perhaps make it possible for everyone to influence each other in non-direct ways. Having a synchronicity to the people and businesses that are here without having an impact on them personally. Instead, I'm trying to be able to supply what people may need or want while they are here and letting that form the community, perhaps?
I feel that if people have more of a reason to be here than through natural selection they will gravitate towards being here or towards being with each other: which can lead to whatever they want it to lead to. I think providing the means is a large part of what makes people feel like they can be at home and creative here and they aren’t here just to work and then leave. I think that that’s a huge factor that wasn’t here prior.
F-D: What is your main goal or function? To add, considering that you do a lot of event planning (I’m assuming to finance everything else), do you think that your main goal or function is to still provide spaces to artists? Or do you think you're trying to create something for people within the remainder of the city?
BC: I don’t think that being self contained is possible because it will forever prohibit your growth. I think the most logical and optimal scenario is to create a community that can thrive on its own, but with that brings more light on the facility. Once you gain a certain amount of synchronicity with everyone that is here, through osmosis it’ll bring more of the same in, in a positive way.
Regardless of what you want to achieve, people are going to do what they want to do. Regulation on a facility like this is a double-edged sword. There’s exceptions to everything, but for the most part placing a bunch of rules on a place like this is just going to prohibit things from growing. I think that this place began as something that was meant to be open ended and not confined, so to enforce any new rules would be limiting its mission.
F-D: Has the location of the gallery influenced your work selection or selection process in any way?
BC: I think so. Geographically speaking, the location of the facility is very odd. It kind of brings a lot of hinderance to the space. Whether it’s being in a flood plane or simply being in a geographically difficult place to access. I imagine that when this building operated as a meatpacking warehouse it was operating at full capacity and they kept building on and on and on to it. It makes it next to impossible to close the building for any length of time. I feel like the facility has been dictated by the architecture itself. It’s a living organism for sure. It’s super bizarre.
F-D: How is it bizarre?
BC: Probably because the building was just added on to over and over again. Different areas of the building vary drastically in age. This part of the building was constructed in the 1950’s. It was essentially pieced together out of necessity and they added as they grew. That’s what this is. There’s parts of this building that haven’t been touched since it was Fischer’s Meat Packing. It’s slowly degrading and growing at the same time. I think it’s a bit odd that the contemporary purpose of culture of this building mimics the architecture.
I think the city’s socio-culture impacts this center greatly. It’s kind of like high school. There are areas of the city that are designated the "cool spots", where the cool kids hang out. It’s odd that a couple of people have bought out most of the property in the city and then deemed it "cool" or "interesting". It seems as though that happens here a lot. Things aren’t evolving on their own: they seem to be told or informed how to be. I don’t think there is a rhyme or reason to the way things grow here. You can call it gentrification, but that’s bullshit because gentrification happens somewhat systematically and that isn’t what happens here. One wealthy person made the decision to purchase property. Gentrification is when a group of people come in because of cheap property, doing the something that makes it “interesting”, and then investors see opportunity and enter, invest, and buy. Here, it's always the decision of one person— it’s really concerning.
I guess one of the things that is nice about Mellwood is, because there is no stigma to this place, there are no expectations. That offers a lot of freedom because something isn’t expected from it. When one individual uses their buying power to influence an entire neighborhood, there is an expectation there. We don’t have that.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself?
BC: There is usually a lot of running around and talking to a lot of people.
F-D: Is there any routine within that?
BC: I feel like typically, the lack of routine is the routine. There are a couple of things that I have to do everyday, but not very much.
F-D: Do you feel like you're putting out a lot of fires or is there just an overwhelming amount of communication?
F-D: By fires, are you speaking to programming? Or are there a lot of issues between tenants? Or. . .
BC: There’s some. There’s putting out fires with the facility, the city, general operational problems. . .
F-D: What sort of city issues are you coming across?
BC: Oh, anything. Preparing to get anything done that includes the city is always a feat. Any kind of permit. . . it’s very convoluted, backwards, and repetitive. But it’s ok, it’s all a learning experience. Due to the facility’s size, the city regards it as a mall. Any kind of permitting or construction has to fall under the categorization or design of a mall.
F-D: Is that because they are considering it a large scale retail space?
BC: Yes, and because of it’s architecture— it’s very maze-like. There’s a lot of weird nuances like that. A portion of the building is in the flood plane, but another is not. Building A and Building B are actually at two different addresses; but it also depends on who in city government is looking at your shit on what day.
F-D: What kind of style or aesthetic do you think is most applicable to this space?
BC: Literally everything. I think that there should be more interactive and visually aesthetic things that happen here; whether that be murals or installations, I don’t know. There should be something, though. Something that incorporates the building, facility, and tenants.
F-D: Do you feel like it’s a bit stale, maybe?
BC: I feel like the building hasn’t been used to its full extent. I think it needs to be a bit honed in. It can definitely happen, it just needs time, money, and people with an interest.
F-D: We haven’t been speaking too much to the gallery; but do you think that Pigment Gallery has a general thematic preference? Or does it change from exhibition to exhibition? How can we answer this question in a way that’s appropriate?
BC: Pigment's purpose is to showcase artists that work within Mellwood and provide them the opportunity to have a jumping off point. To, perhaps, not feel so intimidated and get excited about showing work. Some people get really wary of applying for shows or feel intimidated about the process. A lot of the artists that are here feel that it’s intimidating. The gallery can be used as a jumping off point. There are artists at various points in their career all around this building, and that’s a great thing.
F-D: What other programs, non profits, or locations do you have strong ties to?
BC: Unfortunately not enough. We are trying to start our own non-profit. I’m excited about it, but it’s in the early stages. It’s goal or function will be through creative outreach programming.
F-D: Can you tell us about your exhibition selection or design process?
BC: I’m usually the go to person for individuals who are interested or I’m reaching out to new people. I’m pretty lenient in terms of design, most artists have a specific vision for how they want the exhibition to be executed; and if they don’t then I can hang it.
F-D: Does the history of the community within Mellwood have any history of social engagement, that your aware of?
BC: Not that I can think of.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to running the program or navigate the buildings’ culture?
BC: The way that I look at it, it’s not out of my head that this is a massive facility. There’s no way that I could wrangle this by myself without creating a dictatorship. There’s just too much. . . and I would never want that in the first place. Places like this function better when everyone realizes that they are all trying to achieve the same thing. People are different and they have different viewpoints, but more importantly, they want the same thing. A lot of the time I feel like it’s my job to remind everyone that everyone in here simply wants to be, exist, create, and think what they want. Whether it’s in your work or not, your ego isn’t going to help you here. This place has to work like a team or its not going to succeed, and I’m only a team member. I often times feel like I’m the facilitator on a lot of things around here, but I’m just as important as everybody else.
F-D: What are your goals for making this space a useful and productive space for everyone?
BC: [chuckles] In terms of lay out or its use? I guess my goal is to have. . . [pauses]
F-D: To me, I see that you're wanting to open a non-profit, create a space for artists to make requests and demands, and you're wanting to build a greater sense of community within the group, so you clearly have an intent of making this space into a holistic and functioning community for the people that are a part of it. I guess, what does being able to do that mean to you?
BC: Being able to do that would mean a success as a thriving art community. I guess I’ve been basing the success of the tenets off how I interpret success for myself. For me, I’m hindered when I have limitations or difficulties, and so I want to eliminate those things for others. I’m not sure if everyone feels that way, but I feel that as an artist, you should never have to feel as if you are burdening people or overstepping your boundaries. To be properly creative, you need flexibility. You need to be able to sit in the grass for five hours, if that's what you want to do.
If you give people the space and place where they can feel as if they belong, than they are obviously going to take more pride in the space and, hopefully, in themselves.
F-D: Do you see your space as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other galleries might your work be in conversation with?
BC: I hate the term “makers”. I think it’s really stupid. It’s a broad generalization of something that no longer exists. Everybody makes things. Doing it well is something completely different. I think that this place isn’t about art, when discussing a movement that it’s a part of.
F-D: What do you think it’s a part of?
BC: I think this space is going to be much more centric to a community of acceptance. I think that this space will evolve into and coincide with what is already going on in society. I think art is the common theme. I think the way that society evolves will indicate how this space evolves. People are waking up to things that seem to have been very dormant within the front lobe of their mind.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as a curator you live by?
BC: Don't take life so seriously.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
BC: A lot.
F-D: And what is the general reaction to that?
BC: It’s usually a “Oh. . . ok.” I despise that question because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the same as the habitual, “Hi, how are you?” It’s just another way of saying, "hi". You don’t want to know how I’m feeling. So I just tell them that I do a lot. It says that I’m very busy, but I’m not going to waste their time telling you about it.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
BC: Taking the job in general. I think that’s the biggest risk I’ve taken. Moving from New York was hard. I had never owned a car before. Directions are difficult, roads and streets are difficult to remember because I had never navigated the world that way. The hardest thing is probably dealing with things such as your question of “What do you tell people you do for a living”. In New York, it felt like no one gave a shit because everyone did a lot and they did what they want. Here that isn’t so much the same. It wasn’t the first thing that people asked you. It wasn’t how they started a conversation. It seems to be one of the reasons that people talk to you here. It's a bit of a bummer.
F-D: Words of wisdom?... a motto, favorite quote?
BC: Once again, don’t take life too seriously.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?