At the age of twenty-two John finds himself managing, land lording, and curating OPEN Community Arts Center within the South End of Louisville. This small space, sitting literally across the street from University of Louisville's football stadium, is an active live-in gallery and is home to eight different artists and musicians and exhibits on a monthly rotation-- one exhibition a month, sometimes more, with concerts, open mic nights, and drawing sessions nearly every day of the week.
I found John after a stent at the Art Academy of Cincinnati where he studied for two years and then dropped out. In that two years he "was involved everywhere". He opened Exposure/13, the student-run gallery associated with the AAC with Danni Tellez and Blake Evans, then happened to come down to Louisville to visit over Spring Break and Mark James (one of the founders of OPEN) was actively working on the gallery. John fell into helping, and then (long story short) after moving home after his period of time living in Cincinnati, moved into the role of Curator at OPEN.
Originally simply called OPEN; the reigning philosophy was “authenticity as an absolute”. Mark James wanted the space to be available to anybody regardless of stature, education, or training as an artist. For John, OPEN means access. Through working to simultaneously keep everything free admission, or donation based, OPEN has worked to maintain transparency about it's need for cash flow, and hopes to encourage and garner respect within a wide variety of patrons, especially patrons not typical to the white-cube gallery. They work to eliminate the power structure here, and eliminate the bureaucratic junk. Open, in all senses of the word.
Five-Dots: When was this gallery established?
John Faughender: March of 2013. It was founded by Mike Nusser and Mark James. I believe there were only three or four people living here originally.
F-D: How many live here currently?
F-D: How is that going?
JF: It’s great, now. We had our challenges, for sure. When I first moved in we had a few individuals that were creating some difficulties, but they have since moved out and new people have moved in. This new group of people has worked out well. Over forty artists have lived here in five years. To be honest, PJ and I had an intention of transferring all of the living spaces within the property to studio properties, so that we could cut down on the cost of running a living quarter. That being said, people want to live here. People think that it's cool to live in a gallery. We have a a lot of musicians live here, about half of our renters are musicians right now.
F-D: How long have you been with this space or in your role as curator?
JF: Twenty months. I’ve curated twenty shows here, not counting pop-ups. We occasionally have a pop-up exhibition in which I completely de-install the current show, put up another one for a night or two, and then re-install.
F-D: I have to ask why. I mean, that’s very generous, but the labor that gets poured into that has to be a lot of burden to place on yourself.
JF: Well, for example, we had a show a while ago that wasn’t bringing in a lot of people. We held a pop-up in the middle of the month and we had one to two hundred people roll through and we were able to keep some of the work of the lesser known artist up. It’s a good way to get foot traffic when we are currently showing work that may be less known around the city. If the artist that is being represented during the pop-up doesn’t mind doing some of that labor of the install, then I don’t really see any issue with it.
F-D: Who else is on your team?
JF: P.J. He’s based out of Jeffersonville, Indiana. He doesn’t have any formal training but he is a phenomenal portrait painter. We have GRLwood (Rej Forrester and Karen Ledford). Raej is probably my biggest help around here. If she’s available, she’s down to clown. She's just really reliable. We have a lot of younger people right now, all around early to mid twenties; excluding P.J. We also have our next door neighbor, Gabriel Walker, who splits utilities with us and has a separate space on the other side of the wall. He doesn’t live here, but he has had a huge roll in assisting in the evolution to where we are now.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to run exhibitions or did it develop organically amongst the team?
JF: I definitely had an idea for how I wanted to space to look. It was a lot more cluttered than it is now. There used to be a good amount of furniture and clunky. . . stuff. . . that was in the way. If it was going be a gallery, I wanted all of the junk gone. I’ve probably gone through four or five dumpsters, simply getting rid of the objects that people have left behind. If it was going to be called “Open” it had to be open. We had to do a lot of managing, cleaning up, painting, and getting it all up to code. From there, it was simply selecting artists with whom to show work. We’ve been fortunate and have had a lot of interest from artists in showing and it’s really unfortunate that we can’t work with everyone.
F-D: So then, as far as the management portion of the gallery: the marketing, communications, planning. . . is there anyone assisting in that? Or do the other hands take care of the physical labor?
JF: I think, technically speaking, I have about nineteen or twenty jobs around here. Anything from housekeeping, security, sound guy, booking, social media, marketing design, land lording. . . simple things like turning the lights on or off. If I find myself needing help than I’ll reach out to everyone and see who has extra time or hands to donate. I love it, but it’s too much for one person, honestly.
F-D: So then, what does your work load look like? If the space is physically open from noon until midnight, when are you working for the space versus working events; because there is only so much you can do during open hours.
JF: I’ll spend about two to four hours cleaning up after the night before, before we open for the day. There is a lot of time spent setting things up. There is a lot of time communicating with artists and people that are participating in stuff. It’s just a lot of correspondence.
F-D: What is this gallery’s main goal or function?
JF: A lot of the answer to that question sits with who comes here and why. My goal is to give as many people their first opportunity to display or share their art. Almost every Friday, someone will come to the Open Mic Night and will let me know that it is their first time performing in front of others. If I hear someone say that, or if I hear someone say that this is the first time they’ve ever been to an art gallery I feel like I’ve done my job. I feel like this is the first step within Louisville’s art community. People who don’t go to galleries, and don’t participate in that community, and want to be a part of it. . . this is where they can come first.
F-D: Why do you think that is?
JF: A lot of people here in the South End will make their way here because of someone they know that’s performing. So, other than interconnectedness, I don't really have a good answer. I just know it happens all of the time. It’s more and more that it seems to be the first place that people tend to come if they don’t know where else to go. A lot of outsider artists end up coming here as well; people who tend to keep to themselves. I think that perhaps our sense of in-betweenness around the traditional white-cube gallery and the fact that this is a house is comforting for some.
I guess the short answer would be: my goal is to give people their first platform because it was my first real platform. The more people approach me and mention that this is their first time doing whatever it is that they are doing here, the more I seek that out. I really, genuinely, want to offer assistance to anyone who is interested and doesn’t have the capability or means to attend an academic program or get any training.
F-D: Has the location of the gallery influenced your work selection or selection process in any way?
JF: There is no LLC or 501(c)(3) status. I don’t really want to complicate it any more. We like having a lack of regulations and we prefer to keep it open, for lack of a better word. Because we are so close to University of Louisville, we do get a good amount of student activity; but not as much as I would like. I think a big part of that is that we don’t have a large and clear sign on our exterior. The outside is not the focus of the building.
F-D: Is that intentional: to remain subversive or underground? Or is it just a lack of opportunity?
JF: I’d like to have a large sign. We have received permission from our landlord to install a mural. Hopefully once it warms up, we’ll be able to get working on that. We want it to be obvious that this is a gallery, but I also want it to reflect the neighborhood. As far as designing shows, the location doesn’t have too much of an impact. We just finished a show with a couple of Hite Master of Fine Art students. That was really the first time that we did any sort of collaborative or thoughtful show including University of Louisville, which is a shame considering our proximity.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself?
JF: Everyday is different. I expect to hit the ground running. I start with my cleaning, then computer work and correspondence, then prepping for events or meetings. We have openings, open mics, and other stuff nearly every day.
F-D: What kind of style or aesthetic do you think is most applicable to this space?
JF: It tends to be a lot of political work. Aesthetics that pull from graffiti is another thing that I tend to be drawn to. There is a lot of ironic imagery. The artist that we have in here, Nature Was Here, is very political. Most of the images that we have up are from Standing Rock. He travelled there and was protesting whilst shooting most of it.
F-D: What other programs, non profits, or locations do you have strong ties to?
JF: We have strong ties to the community of musicians here in town, so venues that cater to them such as Cure Lounge, Kaiju, Mag Bar, 1619 Flux, and Tim Faulkner Gallery.
F-D: Can you tell us about your exhibition selection or design process?
JF: Most of the time, I haven’t seen all of the work until it arrives here. I’ll see a fair amount of it, but there will always be little surprises. If I see a good ten to twenty images then I’ll have everything planned out before they arrive. I, honestly, install based off of color. Color is what I feel strongest to in terms of design— especially when having group shows. Sometimes that is all that will tie specific images together while remaining conceptually neutral.
F-D: Does the history of the community or social issues affect exhibition selection?
F-D: Louisville’s history doesn’t affect exhibitions? Considering your attraction to political art?
JF: We’ve had plenty of political work, but nothing that was specific to Louisville’s history. Not a lot of people are making work that is responsive to the situations that are occurring locally. Everything seems to be pointed towards national issues. When I was reviewing your questions I saw this one and it occurred to me that maybe no one really gives a shit.
F-D: That’s a problem; it’s where we live.
JF: I’ve met very few people that are aware of local issues.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to designing exhibitions or programs?
JF: Music has been such a hefty influence. We attract a wide variety of musicians and those interactions definitely influence me, though I’m not quite sure how as of yet. Politics too, obviously, just looking at the way the world is right now, there is a lot to think about.
F-D: What does having a physical space to show work within your community mean to you and how do you make it a useful, productive space for everyone?
JF: I think that everything I wanted as a sixteen year old kid, I have. I wanted to be a gallery owner and have a hand in a community. If I’d have known that this was what I would be doing at twenty two. . . I don't know, it’s humbling. This is all I know at the end of the day. It sparks interesting conversations and it amazes me that the coincidence of this working out for me, may have changed a couple of people’s lives, simply through having a conversation or being able to provide them with an opportunity. It blows my mind.
Making OPEN a productive space means sometimes policing it. I’ve had to kick people out, ask someone to leave. We don’t have a liquor license and we have a lot of kids that are under twenty one come in here, and I don’t want someone coming in with a bottle of Jack Daniels and ruining it for them. I have to put my foot down. I’ve had to kick out residents. In order for the space to be productive, I have to first and foremost make sure it’s legal and safe for every one. Besides that, as long as the residents are level headed and we bring over people who have it together, the space is safe and nurturing.
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?
JF: Definitely the DIY and Anarchist communities. Most people that have lived here associate with those two philosophies. We run parallel to a lot of house venues and DIY practices of utilizing spaces that you already have available. We are absolutely in conversation with Tim Faulkner Gallery. We’ve simply shown a lot of the same artists. There is a like-mindedness between the two spaces and artists are drawn to both of them.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as a curator you live by?
JF: I don't think that I do. Historically, within the context of OPEN, it was “every fear is perception, every perception is false”. It was the last line of Mark’s artist statement. It was the only text on the walls. That was always a big part of the space.
F-D: Do you think it’s still valid?
JF: Yes, in an unspoken way. There has been a lot of talk about all of these different types of people and variety of viewpoints and how sometimes you’ll hear points of conversation and ways that you see the world isn’t always truth. Our understanding of the world is not, necessarily, what the world is.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
JF: I tell them I run a gallery. Sometimes I feel as if people don’t take me seriously because of my appearance. It usually leads into a conversation about how it’s also a living space for a group of artists. People usually seem pretty interested to hear about it.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
JF: There’s a lot. I’m a big risk taker.
F-D: Ok, let’s start with financial or social risks.
JF: Well, I just got threatened on twitter by Anti-Antifa activists. They listed this address and my parents’ address and promised violence on my family. I’ve taken a risk in working here because it’s a live / work space. There are people who have lived here and participated in this that have fought and had some big, troubling things develop from them. It was a financial risk because I’m a freelancer. It’s sometimes a struggle, but we haven’t missed any bills here. So we’re doing alright.
F-D: Words of wisdom?... a motto, favorite quote?
JF: I have this quote tattooed on my arm, “Chances to move mountains are few and far between, but only seen by those who choose to see them”. So, kind of like “carpe diem” but. . . more specific, I guess. Make every chance count. Go for it. I see so many people that are talented but are just complacent. You have to be everywhere.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
JF: I am probably going to be putting together a Meme Museum in the next few months. It will probably be the first time that I have to charge an application fee so that we can cover the cost of printing all of the images. We want everyone to be able to apply, but I will maintain the printing so that we can keep up the standard of craft.