I’m coming up for air after a breathtaking Birds in Art opening weekend, my first as a Woodson Art Museum staff member.
Hired in late June, I jumped into the midst of Birds in Art preparation – a whirlwind of year-round work that whips into a frenzy during the two months before the exhibition opens each year on the weekend after Labor Day.
My first introduction to the 118 artists in this 35th anniversary exhibition was through their writing, rather than their art. As marketing and communications manager, I worked on the final editing of the artists’ narratives that accompany images of their work in the 132-page Birds in Art catalogue.
As I shook hands with artists this weekend, what fun to begin linking faces with names, narratives, and artworks. I felt an instant connection with many of the 20 artists who were participating for the first time. New to the whole hospitable experience, they wandered wide-eyed – like I – through the galleries. We all marveled at the humility and good humor of the 62 artists who flocked to Wausau from all over the world for the opening weekend hoopla.
And I began to grasp why so many artists vie – year after year – to be selected.
The prestige of Birds in Art? To be sure.
The red-carpet treatment that makes each artist feel so appreciated and valued? Absolutely. Many artists commented that, after toiling away in isolation much of the year, the experience of being thoroughly honored for a weekend provided sorely-needed encouragement and rejuvenation.
The opportunity for artists to connect on a uniquely-level playing field was what impressed me most. And I suspect that may be a key ingredient in what Museum director Kathy Foley calls the “secret sauce” that has made Birds in Art such a success.
Rock star artists, including Bob Bateman, Larry Barth, and Carl Brenders, all drew admirers who clustered closely to hear them speak or watch them work. But they also ate breakfast and sat on the bus next to first-time artists and other newbies like me. One artist said those few minutes of poolside conversation and buffet-line advice were worth a semester of art school.
Among my many responsibilities was to connect TV and newspaper reporters with the artists that would help local media round out their stories. All of the artists I approached, before and during the weekend, graciously agreed to be interviewed. Whether they were first-time artists – like Zev Labinger, Manisha Padhye, and Grace Kim, from Israel, India, and Maryland, respectively – or Wes and Rachelle Siegrist, who have been here many times, all seemed ready to make genuine connections with other artists, museum members and visitors.
Whew, what a party! Although I feel a bit like a crasher, who swooped in at the tail-end of the prep and then soaked up all of the fun, I have no doubt my share of the work looms large as we foster and deepen those connections through social media and other digital means. And I look forward to bringing even more to the table next year.