The team at Plug Projects is “relentless about meeting.”
Artists Cory Imig, Amy Kligman, Misha Kligman, Nicole Mauser and Caleb Tayor, get together every Monday night to plan for upcoming shows, discuss potential collaborations with outside spaces and artists, and strategize not only about their future as an artist-run space but the needs and aspirations of the entire Kansas City art community.
I find this fascinating.
It was actually the idea that drew me to their space on the eve of their last Critique Night in late January. So when I finally had a chance to sit down with them, a few days after they spoke with Art Practical’s Patricia Maloney for the Bad at Sports podcast released this week, I asked them why, in an age of Google Docs and online meet-ups they felt it was just so important to maintain the ritual of meeting in person each week.
Amy: I think it is completely necessary for us because we are so different. And we do somethings online—
Cory: Yeah, we do the Google Docs.
Misha: And we tried doing it more but it just doesn’t work. It gets out of control.
Nicole: Things get lost in the cracks and this is so immediate. We just blow through our agendas every Monday.
During the renovations of their space that occurred last summer in preparation for their September opening, Nicole received a teaching fellowship in Chicago. A “defining moment,” Cory said, of whether or not Plug would come to life. “We were so committed that we were skyping Nicole in. So we would have our meetings and we would sit around a table like this with a computer on the end and Nicole skyping in as a person. But it was so disjointed. It was definitely a moment when technology failed.”
Challenges of technology were, in fact, one of the reasons that I hesitated to post my initial audio recording of our group interview, one that was later deemed unnecessary by the lengthy piece done by Art Practical. It is also the root of my only complaint about their podcast. (Though it is still worth a listen in its entirety.)
There is chemistry between these five distinct personalities, a quality to their repartee, that is difficult to capture online and which says as much about what makes Plug Projects a success as any answer in either interview.
Take for example, when I asked them if they had all aspired to be curatorial or if it was born out of necessity in running a space. Their nuanced answers, with overlapping rumblings and self-reflection on the very definition of curation was challenging for an on-air interview but telling of their individual uniqueness.
Cory: I think we all aspired to curate in one way or another and that is why we are sitting here together.
Caleb: Do you think it was that we aspired to curate or that we aspired to interact? I think those are different things.
Caleb: One’s a position and one is a—
Amy: I think it might be different from person to person.
Between the five members of the group, they cumulatively posses a diverse skill set, allowing them to run a space that each believe would be impossible to manage alone, at least at their current scale. Further still, they showcase a respect and appreciation for each others’ contributions that stops self-deprecation cold.
Me: What are the skill sets that you see that you bring to this process?
Misha: I take Plugs pictures and doodle on the website.
Caleb, Cory, Amy and Nicole in chorused rebuttal: Doodle!?
Cory: Doodle? You take our photos and you built our website.
Humility be damned.
Misha: Ahh, well I do appreciate good writing and I think that makes me a good sensor. My main interest in Plug is that it allows me to practice making responsible judgements in art.
Amy: Yeah, I think you are also our resident philosopher, you like to dig down deep and talk about these things.
Amy, the self-titled, “resident nerd,” takes a lead in keeping the group organized.
Nicole: One of the biggest things Amy did for us was the graphic design, which included not just the logo and postcard image but this formated [document] that we insert artists we were interested in and I feel like that really jump started out conversations in the beginning.
Nicole sees critical dialogue as central to her contribution. In addition to writing the company’s press releases and prospectuses, she along-side Cory, takes an active role in organizing their expanded programming outside of the gallery.
Caleb, who also acts as Plug’s preparator, describes himself as the “naysayer of the group, the devil’s advocate” challenging his collaborators to really ask “why” they want to show a particular artist, while Cory sees her role, in addition to managing the company’s social media presence, as pushing the group to show “more interdisciplinary and not so easily shown works, and challenging us to grow that way.”
The team was able to launch their programming with the help of a Rocket Grant and a Kickstarter campaign but maintain the gallery by channeling the funds they would otherwise spend on individual studios, towards their rent and utilities in the burgeoning, affordable and newly rebranded Stockyards District. “To be fair,” Amy say, “we have really low overhead.”
And though their unit houses studios for each artist in the back of the building, they see the spaces as two distinct entities.
Caleb: It is important to note that what happens in our studios has nothing to do with what happens in the gallery. Our practices are completely different from Plug. They are two separate things. We don’t promote our own work in the gallery. That being said, you do become influenced because you meet people through this or you see what work is being shown out there and you extend your vocabulary as an artist.
Amy: And we do a lot of research. We look at a lot of artists that are making a lot of kinds of work and because there are five of us and we all have different points of view it is not necessarily the kind of work we would be looking at. But it becomes part of that soup in your head—the stuff that you refer to.
Nicole: That has been my favorite part of all of this. Being introduced to all of these artists that I would never have otherwise looked at.
Both in our interview and the Bad at Sports podcast the team repeatedly refers to Plug as a conduit. “We were really interested in the idea of connecting people.”
“Tell her what [the name] was before,” Misha jokingly prods the group. They all laugh. It was Match—like the dating site. Though in this case, they are focusing their match-making on artists and communities.
Both concepts were tied to an idea of “infusing energy into things,” Amy explains. “We want to be a catalyst for things. We want to be additional to the scene not redundant to the scene.”
“We focus on bringing artists from outside of Kansas City into the city or showcasing artists from Kansas City that might not have had as active of a voice.” Cory tells me.
This self-determined advocacy for other artist comes as much from a place of artistic conviction as a reaction to their own experiences in gallery culture.
Misha: You know the reason we are so nice to people is that we are all showing artists. And we have encountered so much bullshit. We thought lets just do the opposite of what we know to be true. That is all people want. We are straight forward we keep our appointments, we are organized, we pay them well if we can and we are generous.
Cory: We try to find out what the artists need and at what point they are in their career and say how can we help you. What can be the most productive move for you at the moment. Do you need reviews? Can we help you meet writers? Do you need really great photo documentation of your work? What do you need?
Nicole: Yeah and based on our correspondence and the way we invite people to show with us, I have been more apt to email artists I respect and say, “Hey come on over. I’d love to meet you. Let’s do a studio visit.” So instead of waiting for things to fall into place, I feel like we are making them happen.
The groups’ vision for the future expands beyond their space or even their individual practice. They are looking to find a critical growth throughout Kanas City.
Nicole: Kansas City needs editors. And not only editors but editors that are willing to lead. We need a diversity of editors. We need a diversity of artist spaces… We started having these meetings just to get the ball rolling about critical writing in Kansas City and organizing events. There are writers but there is not a lot of feedback. They aren’t getting in touch with an audience, they aren’t getting in touch with each other as peers. There is output but no [critical] input on making things better each time.
Caleb: And this conversation is really fresh so to say what our vision is is really early.
Cory: And I don’t know that is necessarily our vision. I think what we want is for it to be a community vision.
Caleb: We are planting a seed that is using Plug as a venue—
Cory: Or Plug as the organizational element that helps people to create a community to jump off from.
As they reach their first year the group is looking forward with realistic expectations.
Amy: We said in the beginning that we knew that we wanted to go through this year and then reassess but as long as it was beneficial to us as artists and to the community we want to try to keep going.
Cory: We are really transparent about how we do things and if someone else does this we would be more than happy. Please do it, and do it better. Because really it is not just about us. It is all about a constant community growing, taking each others’ ideas and moving forward as a whole.
They are learning, from each other and from the growing network that they are bringing into and out of Kansas City.
Nicole: We were told if there is something that you are not sustaining and you need help, put it out there, over and over again and people will help you.
Amy: I wish more artists would do this, reach out to one another… because this experience, working together, has built a ton of community, not to mention everything I have learned!
Misha: I think this process is making us better people. I think. I hope.
Filed under: Interviews