A Conversation with Shannon Currie Holmes
By Genie Davis
Shannon Currie Holmes is the exhibition supervisor at the Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale. She calls her job a “magical unicorn of a job – a sustainable job in the arts.” She started at the Brand in November 2015, and loves what she does.
“I owned an art gallery for six years. Like a lot of gallerists, you end up with a gallery and wonder how you got there. Before that I was a sommelier,” she relates. “I’m Canadian, and attended the University of Calgary, where I took arts classes. I was always interested in art, but it was not something that I had planned on as a career.”
Nonetheless, she started her own gallery because of her interest in the arts an
d connections that she had with emerging artists.
“That’s what I focused on, working with people who had little show experience. I was in the North Hollywood arts district, and I felt it was on the cusp of enormous growth in the arts. I wanted to be somewhere where there was the possibility of growth, rather than an established art scene,” she laughs. “I was ready for the challenge.”
Currie Holmes says she believes that the Brand selected her for the exhibition supervisor position because of her varied background. “I had a lot of practical experience from running my own gallery, and I have a lot of experience working as marketing director for the North Hollywood arts district. So had a side of my life that was already used to getting arts programs through city entities for years, working with council members, and basically being a jack of all trades.”
The diversity in her background has served her well as the only full-time gallery staff member at the Brand. “Before me, library staff, rather than a trained curator, ran the gallery program. They’re brilliant people who specialize in art or music, but there was no full-time staff devoted to the gallery. Now I am it,” she notes. “I do everything from changing light bulbs and painting the walls to curating. We’re tied to the library system, and there isn’t a lot of funding there.”
Nevertheless, the Brand Library & Art Center manages to put on spectacular shows, for which Currie Holmes hopes to increase the viewing audience.
“We were closed for two years while a beautiful space was renovated for our exhibitions. But the gap in programming created a challenge in terms of connecting with the public, particularly the larger, growing Los Angeles art market. My goals have been set out for me: we provide services for the City of Glendale and its residents in a public space, and we’re striving to reach a larger audience beyond that.”
Currie Holmes explains that the exhibitions that the art center creates need to be both solid art showcases and accessible. “Along with the many art lovers we have coming through the door, we also have random ball players and picnickers coming in who are using the park, and enjoying everything we have to offer. We are also an art library, and an incredible resource in that area,
with one of the largest collections of art books in Los Angeles, aside from private collections like the Getty. So, we need to have broad appeal.”
This unique blend of offerings makes the Brand Art Center a special, and somewhat unusual place.
“I’m looking for ways to collaborate,” Currie Holmes states. “I’m trying to balance curating my own shows with nurturing outside curators and encouraging relationships where outside groups can come here and present their own shows.”
Additionally, the process of securing artists for exhibitions at the Brand is a different process altogether from creating a show as a commercial curator.
“Our artists come through a very general submission process. I cannot come up with a concept and source out artists, instead it is an open call. We want to be a resource and an access point for artists early in their career, but we also want to attract more established artists,” she explains. “We put out a general call for artists, and then we put together a show based on the art works we like and pieces that fit cohesively together.”
Currie Holmes has five to six exhibitions scheduled each year, with three curated personally and the additional shows filled out by other curators. Out of approximately four hundred submissions, Currie Holmes will select approximately sixteen artists to fit together in shows. “It’s like a massive puzzle. Sometimes you doubt yourself as you’re looking to make art work fit together into a concept. Coming up with that concept itself can also be very difficult,” she asserts.
She looks for flexibility in her artists as well as for work that excites her, and work that can fit with other artists’ work. In short, the selection process is a juggling act.
“Our last show, Gravitas, both the artists and I marveled over because of how well the art work fit together. Hearing the artists give curated tours, we found they were talking the same talk. It was really amazing,” she says. “Our current show, Naked Underneath, was more of a challenge. The concept was strong, but each artist had a different take on how ideas of identity affect them, and how they wanted to present that.”
In the end, the exhibition works well because of that difference, which creates an impact in terms of approach and visualization for viewers.
“If we start with a base of really good art, then it’s going to be all right,” she says. “That’s what matters, that’s what works.”
The Brand Library & Art Center is located at 1601 West Mountain St. in Glendale. For the closing on September 17th, Currie Holmes will be conducting a curator walk-through of Naked Underneath at 1 p.m.