In-Sync with… Tempestt Hazel, co-founder of Sixty Inches From Center (Interview)

Jenny Lam, Sergio Gomez and Tempestt Hazel at Style Bombing exhibition by Mario Gonzalez Jr at 33 Contemporary Gallery

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Sixty Inches From Center co-founder Tempestt Hazel.

This Friday opens a wonderful Chicago exhibition titled RECESS curated by Tempesst Hazel at the South Side Community Art Center. Tempestt was so kind to take time in a busy week of installation to answer my interview questions. I met Tempestt many years ago when she was working for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and I was starting my gallery. She is a humble, attentive and hard working individual.  These are the qualities I see fitting for someone whose career continues to rise. Her enthusiasm and passion for art and artists are evident in everything she does.  I am very excited for this interview and for the awesome things still to come from my friend Tempestt.  Enjoy the interview!!!


SG: Where did you go to school (college/university)?

TH: I went to Columbia College Chicago for Art History and Visual Arts Management

SG: Do you feel school prepared you for the art career you have now?

TH: I think that Columbia offered a good introduction to my current career, but what really prepared me for what I do now was losing sleep by balancing school with a job at a gallery and several internships. Also, just diving in and test driving a lot of different careers in the arts–curatorial, development, collection management. I even partnered up with an artist while I was in school in order to test out what it would be like to act as a kind of artist agent. If I would have just focused on my classes in school, I definitely wouldn’t have been prepared for all of this art madness!

SG: What is one thing you wish you had learned at school?

TH: I would have liked to learn more about self-management. As someone who has a hybrid career in arts administration, programming and independent/freelance curatorial practice, I think having knowledge of how to approach this kind of career would have been helpful.


SG: You have had a wonderful trajectory in Chicago working with the Department of Cultural Affairs, CARS, Chicago Artists Coalition and Sixty Inches From the Center among other art protects and curated exhibitions. How did you get started and how has your appreciation for art in Chicago evolved over the years?

TH: I got started by diving head first into it and not limiting myself based on a lack of experience. I tried my best to develop a wide skill set. I also made a point of meeting and getting to know the people who were doing work that I deeply admire. My appreciation for Chicago art evolves as my relationship with it does. With every new artist, exhibition, project, etc., my appreciation grows.

SG: What inspires you right now?

TH: My friends and family. I am constantly amazed by the people in my life.

SG: You were recently recognized in Chicago magazine’s annual Power List 2013 as an art professional to watch in the future. As you become aware of an increasing audience, how does that influence the work you do?

TH: (First, let me say that I have no idea how I ended up on that list!) I don’t think any increase in audience changes how I approach the work that I do. I’m always pretty conscious and sensitive to the different audiences my work is in front of–whether it’s in archiving, writing, curating or creating programming. I try to take it on a case by case basis. I would drive myself crazy if I try to please everyone all of the time, so with each project I make a point of defining my audiences and then make my work primarily for them.

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SG: What is your biggest challenge as a contemporary curator?

TH: The challenges of a curator are very similar to the challenges of an artist. You want to be constantly excited and challenged by what you create but also have some consistency. One of by biggest challenges is finding venues that will allow me to not just create a new exhibition, but will allow me to create something on an ongoing basis and dive deeply into a single idea. Spend time with an idea and test it out several times. In the coming year, I hope to choose a small number of projects to work on for a long period of time–in the way I do with Sixty Inches From Center.

SG: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it?

TH: Both! I’m actually pretty bad at social media but I recognize how it is a tool for staying connected–although not my preferred method. I’ve been trying to get better with using it.

SG: Can you tell us about your newest curatorial project RECESS opening this Friday at the South Side Community Art Center?

TH: The short version is that when I was approached earlier this year about doing a show at the SSCAC I was floored and so flattered. The history of this place is unbelieveable and it was one of the first art spaces I visited when I first moved to Chicago. So, after weeks of thinking about how to approach this, I remembered that they have over 400 works in their collection spanning over 80 years. And as an independent curator, it is rare to get the chance to do a collection show. I love archives. I love collections. I love history. I work primarily with contemporary artists. I thought this would be a great chance to bring all of these things together. So for months, I went through the collection, piece by piece, waiting for inspiration to hit me from somewhere so that I could use the collection as a starting point then put those pieces into a conversation with artists working now. When that inspiration wasn’t hitting, I started aimlessly pulling pieces that stood out to me which ended up being works that were, for me, unexpected images within the collection. I started to see a pattern. The pieces I was pulling were imaginative and some were even a little unsettling, but all rooted to a youthful spirit. Recess was born out of that process and those pieces.



SG: What excites you about the Chicago art scene?

TH: Conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing new work and also seeing work while it’s in development but what really recharges me when I’m feeling fatigued is good conversation about the state of the field and the things my friends have been thinking about in relation to their practice. From that comes so many new ideas and a refreshing feeling.

SG: In your experience working with artists, what are some of the common mistakes artists make when trying to market their work?

TH: I think the biggest mistake you can make is relying too much on social media or these arms-length ways of promoting your work. My biggest support doesn’t come from people who simply follow me digitally. It comes from people who I know and have real relationships with. I think the biggest mistake that anyone could make when marketing their work is not striking a balance between the two.

SG: How do we (artists & art professionals) engage the larger audience who might be afraid of contemporary art?

TH: Art is nothing to be afraid of! I think education at all levels is absolutely necessary when talking about making people comfortable with how challenging contemporary art can be. The more you know and the more familiar you are with something, the less frightening it becomes.


Book… The Castle by Franz Kafka

Art movie or documentary… Any of the short films on FutureShorts

Art museum… LACMA

Contemporary curator… Franklin Sirmans

Place to be inspired by… The Caribbean Islands

One sentence advice for an art student… Sleep and dream sometimes!

Chicago cafe/restaurant… Mellow Yellow in Hyde Park

YouTube video… Most videos from the Take Away Shows by La Blogothèque


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