Elliot Lessing, the new executive director of the Galveston Arts Center, comes to the island by way of the San Francisco Art Institute. “Palace Revolution,” a show Lessing is curating, opened Saturday at the Arts Center at 2501 Market St. He talked with correspondent Marsha Canright about art, the arts center and what he hopes to achieve.
Q: Why Galveston?
A: I’ve always been interested in islands. My research for my experiments in video, installation and performance work at the San Francisco Art Institute centered around islands. It was always in my psyche. On an island, living things flock to what’s created. Some die or migrate off the island. The ones that stay form a happy ecology. Equilibrium is formed. Artists do that too. They tweak the ecology of the room — and hopefully, our consciousness.
I’ve monitored the Texas art scene for years mainly through Glasstire, one of Texas’ premiere art websites atwww.glasstire.com. From all appearances, the scene here is edgy, gritty, with the right dose of complexity, color and possibilities. In the arts field, we are in the business of possibilities. And hope, yes, always hope. My plan is to empower the GAC to deliver those goods to the Island, Greater Texas and beyond — and with a healthy dose of high-octane panache, potent curiosity and rebellious style. I’m bringing the swashbuckling energy back to the island! Are you hungry for it? Are you ready for it?
Q: What is your most recent profound art experience?
A: My wife, Susan, and I were walking in a park in California. We found a baby hummingbird. It was not able to fly. We wanted to save it, so we took it home and found out how to care for it online. As soon as we could, we took it to a bird sanctuary. I have photographs of the bird in my hand. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before. It was a different kind of connection. We were happy it survived, and that we helped it survive. This exactly mirrors my experience and expectations of art. My hope is that we all allow for those experiences and insist that the arts deliver them — in the most fun and unexpected ways.
Q: Personally, what interests you in art at the moment?
A: I am looking to moved and touched by fresh art. I am looking for artists working at the edges of the art world; the ones I do not know. These are the ones that are pushing at those boundaries and annihilating those borders. I’m excited to meet the artists who, by nature or intention, demand that I re-evaluate what art looks like, how it behaves beyond the gallery walls, and how it can enhance life here on earth. At its best, art is a social enterprise and yet it is deeply personal and profoundly intimate.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: I was visiting in Brooklyn and looking for the underground artist scene. I was walking around and noticed chalk letters written on the sidewalk: “art opening” with an arrow pointing me the way. I followed it, and I met some people, who invited me to an impromptu birthday party. And there, I met Susan. It was serendipity. We fell in love. She sings, writes, and produces/engineers original music. Together, we make a beautiful music. We are truly lucky.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
A: I have three:
“Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.” — Salvador Dali
“Science and art belong to the whole world, and before them vanish the barriers of nationality.” — Goethe
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Q: What is your vision of art?
A: To renew a sense of meaningful connectivity to the world around us. I do this by combining visual art and cultural information with community resources. The results are fun and participatory and it creates an art experience that is both accessible and challenging to a wide audience.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: “Artists lead. The rest follow.”