Lacey Haslam is the founder and executor of Archive of Creative Culture. As a cultural resource, Archive of Creative Culture results in a collection of books sourced from revered visual, performing and literary artists, musicians, curators, and cultural figures. We had the opportunity to sit with her and discuss her process in accumulation, how to maintain and store both the Argosy and all of the books; as well as her hope and goal of making this information as open to the public and to chance discovery, as possible.
Each book in the collection is identified as being THE go-to reference, source of inspiration or represents a pivotal moment in the contributor’s life. Nominations provided by Archive contributors are used in visualizing the creative network.Since 2014, the Archive of Creative Culture Collection has been growing through a series of nationwide pop-up exhibitions. Traveling in a reimagined 1973 Argosy Airstream, the project invites each location to identify key contributors to the local arts scene as survey creative culture in towns and cities across the US. The books collected at each location remain on-site and available to view. The Argosy Airstream employs the framework of a museum offering exhibition space, programming, events and a shop.
Five-Dots: When was the project established?
Lacy Haslam: Technically 2014, we moved to nonprofit status within Ohio when we moved here and we’ll be filing for a 501(c)(3) next year. It was an art project until 2017.
F-D: How long have you been with the space and/or in your role as curator and designer?
LH: This has been my brain child, and I began working on it, like I said, in 2014, and then 2017 with this officially out and running.
F-D: Do you have anyone else you’re working with or on your team?
LH: I had some volunteers in the initial phase of the project. I had three people that were volunteering with me and when I went to San Francisco, they all came out and got to see this part of it. Mainly it’s me. I also work pretty consistently with artists, so it functions collaboratively. We just got back from Graham, North Carolina where we launched a project called My Stories, My Flag that was created by an artist named Christina Victor. I brought the Airstream down for that.
F-D: When you began, did you have an idea for how you wanted to run the project or did it develop organically amongst yourself and your collaborators?
LH: It’s always a collaboration, but I do have a very specific aesthetic and vision for where I feel like the books need to be in order to be best accessed. Our audience rides that funny little line between art people and non-art people, so I’m always trying to find that happy medium.
F-D: Has the the project evolved or changed?
LH: I never would have thought this project would be feasible, especially living in San Francisco, where there is no space to do anything. I’m always looking up to artists who have been able to have studio space that’s separate from their home. I never would have been able to do that. Over time I've had a couple of opportunities to start and open a physical location for a gallery and I just never got myself to that point of saying “yes” because there was always this pending overhead every month. I just didn't want to apply that kind of stress to this project. When we moved to Georgia, it was like, “okay, we have a driveway and a yard now.” We had the freedom of space.
F-D: What is your main goal or function?
LH: To create a resource for people who are seeking input or are maybe facing some roadblocks or challenges. I think that’s a main function of books, they get you out of your own head and you interpret them how you need to at any given point in time. I think these books did that for these people. It turned something on for them and I want to be able to bring that to everybody. It’s these sub connections that are fascinating about this project.
F-D: I'd assume that with all of the artists that you're reaching out to, that you'd get repeat books, are you going to attempt to accommodate all of the repeated books?
LH: Yes, because there’s something individualized about every one of them. I would actually love to do an exhibition down the line that contains the repeat books with all of the different people showing the crossover or connection within the book. We actually curated an exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Design and I actually reached out to author, Lewis Hyde, and asked if he minded providing a text that motivated him. I told him that I would love for him to be part of the collection because he’s had such an impact on the creative community and the exhibition would show this lineage that I think is important. At that time he said yes and said I could feel free to use the collection. He said he wasn’t sure which book he’d give, which brings light to the fact that there’s a number of challenges that this project presents to people. It’s either, “I’m still using my book, I can’t give it up" or “I don’t know which one I’d give, so I have to think about it.” There are some psychological challenges that arise in giving that object away. I’m just really interested in seeing how the project evolves in and outside of my role.
F-D: Do you have offsite storage for the books, is this all of them?
LH: Yes, we have offsite storage, and we also have parking for this when it’s not out and about. We’re in front of The Wheel because we’re going to do movie and pizza night and we'll just let people come in here and hang out. We’re going to show 'The Karate Kid', which is a great story of mentorship. . . and is also just a great movie.
F-D: Has the location of the space influenced your work selection or selection process in any way?
LH: Always. It will always and forever influence the work.
F-D: Do you think there’s anything about being primarily based out of the Midwest, as opposed to San Fransisco, that’s influencing your decisions?
LH: I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately because I moved around a lot throughout my entire childhood. I’ve never really felt “at home.” I spent the most time in North Carolina and my sister lives there, so that feels like home, but I can easily say San Francisco because I lived there for nine years. Now I say “I am in the Midwest,” and I’m always kind of thinking about people’s perceptions. The thing about this is that I could go anywhere and I can say we’re Cincinnati based, but until we open a physical space, we’re not really based anywhere. Location is always a big thing.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself?
LH: On a typical day, I get up super early, check emails, make coffee, feed the cat. A lot of emails are that spectrum of design projects, working with general contractors. . . paid and unpaid work; this hodgepodge of stuff. Then it turns into running around, picking up tables, or folding origami bananas for fundraisers. I generally stay on the planner, but most of the time I can’t get to the overall planning because of the day-to-day task list.
F-D: Since your working with a lot of museums and I'm assuming, other non profits, what does that funding program look like for you?
LH: When we get in during the planning process, they’re paying us a regular stipend. I basically put together a budget and say, ”this is what it would cost for me to pop up here,” and it includes everything a regular travel stipend would include. It’s just a different number associated with each thing. If I am going and I feel like it’ll be an overnight trip, I can easily stay in here because I love it. But sometimes, when it’s too hot or too cold, I don’t want to stay in here. Our programming usually slows down in the winter because I can’t have this thing on the road in the snow, so everything happens seasonally; but luckily I’ve got most of the year to do that, it’s just those really bad months--November through February-- that I can’t.
F-D: What kind of style or aesthetic do you think is applicable to this space?
LH: I don’t like a lot of things, so I’m very minimal. Anytime I have the books out, I really think about how can I have them out in an organized, yet inviting way. Minimalism is definitely my jam. There’s also a weight limitation associated with this, so I can’t carry too much around. I don’t want to blow out my transmission.
F-D: Do you think that this gallery has a general literary thematic preference or does it change from exhibition to exhibition?
LH: As far as the collection is concerned, I like it to be as open as possible. I don’t necessarily try and group books, but it definitely just depends.
F-D: What other programs, non profits, or locations do you have strong ties to?
LH: Wavepool, and we also have ties to Camp Washington. Right now it's just about becoming more visible, getting more connections around Cincinnati, and meeting more artists that are heavily involved in all types of work with an emphasis in social practice arts, community engagement, and things like that.
F-D: Can you tell us about your collection selection or your design process?
LH: I leave the selection open-ended, but I’m always thinking about the design process. One of the goals of this is to bring people in to have conversations like this and to allow artists to come in and host a small and intimate conversation. I think we’ve, at most, fit fifteen people in here at one time and despite being fairly claustrophobic, I felt totally fine. The angles within the Airstream are designed after a nautically themed flag created by Christina Victor. It’s nautical because 'Argosy' is actually a merchant vessel ship, so she went with this design on the flag. Before I had built this out, I was really trying to figure out how to be able to fit a good amount of people in here and still feel open and comfortable. So when she designed that, I knew that was it. The design mirrors itself.
F-D: Does the history of the community or social issues affect the material selection or who you approach?
LH: No, it really is open in that aspect of not controlling who’s coming into the collection. I think if there’s any ethical issues, I’d probably need to figure that out as it comes. Honestly, I’m waiting for the moment when someone submits a Hustler or something out of left field. At what point do you censor or set limitations as a curator? I don’t know how I’d deal with that.
F-D: What influences outside of the literary arts inspire and impact your approach to designing the program?
LH: We also included cultural figures in the project, so even though they might not necessarily be artists, they’re still people moving through life with the same intention that an artist would have.
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 and productive space for everyone?
LH: That is a perfect question in that, the project was originally just a pop up going to galleries, museums, etc. Not having full control over what the space looked like was always kind of a challenge. The hardest thing about going into a museum space was actually getting people to pick up the book, so I knew I needed a space that was less intimidating.
F-D: Do you see the space as relating to any current movement or direction of visual art or culture and which other projects might your work be in conversation with?
LH: We’re seeing more and more galleries move out of the brick and mortar institutions. There’s a number of artists or art collectives or curators that are working out of mobile vessels or just being mobile.
F-D: Do you have a motto or a creed that you live by as a curator?
LH: I don’t, but I think the thing that I gravitate toward is finding intentional space between art and non-art and adding a little humor to try to break down some of those barriers.
F-D: When asked, what do you tell people you do for a living?
LH: I ask them what they do for a living. Ultimately, I do feel like that’s a question that people want to be able to compare themselves to and it’s really an avenue for people to talk about themselves. It depends on who I’m talking to, but a lot of the time, I just say I work in the arts. A lot of what I like to do, even things I get paid for, is very much this fluid thing. Anything that allows me to use my creative mind: that’s what I do.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work or for your work?
LH: Driving this thing, putting this on the road, that’s been a huge risk. If this thing is on the road, I just have to be super conscientious of everything -- it’s a daily risk. The other risks are making sure the books are safe because that’s a big responsibility that people have trusted me with. I don’t take that lightly, so it’s a matter of finding a way to transport these books safely so they don’t get damaged.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
LH: I got nothin’, man. I defer to the books.
F-D: Is there something you’re currently working on or excited about starting that you can tell us about?
LH: There are always projects that I’m excited about. I am probably going to start reaching out very soon to get more books in the collection because I feel like I’ve got to find a happy medium between the growth of it and the ability to transport it, since books obviously weight a lot. I’m also continuing to move forward with opening a location that serves as not only a place to function out of, but one that also considers everything that will keep the books safe, like climate control and actual archiving. Since shipping and receiving is also a big part of this, just the idea of having that physical space is exciting. We’re also doing it in a way that invests in a neighborhood: buying property, being able to control the aesthetics and usability of the space, rather than just moving into white walls. That’s my long term vision. I’ve got other events happening later this summer and hopefully I’ll be putting together some tours next year, but they just require a lot of energy and time and I have to make sure that I can take that on.