When was The Meridian Gallery founded, and why?
Meridian Gallery grew out of the Society for Art Publications of the Americas (SAPA), which was founded in 1985 after we, Anne Trueblood Brodzky and Anthony Williams, relocated to San Francisco from Toronto, Canada. Our first big show was Exhibition of the Art of the Americas, part of a three-day symposium we organized, which took place at the Herbst Theater and the San Francisco Art Institute. Henry Hopkins, the then-director of SFMOMA, was the keynote speaker. We exhibited ten artists from all over North, Central, and South America. It was outrageous — we jumped into organizing and it happened. Today, something like this would be taken over by some larger institution, but back then we just did it.
In 1989, Meridian Gallery secured its own location. Our first exhibit was a show curated by Rolando Castellón called Drawings from the Fourth World. Rolando’s idea of “the fourth world” is a “space that exists between geographical, political, and aesthetic borders.” It was a show of work by seven San Francisco Bay Area artists from seven cultures and ethnicities and set a pattern for our dedication to crossdisciplinary, diverse art.
Renny Pritikin’s “Prescription for a Healthy Arts Scene” lists 23 requirements for a robust cultural scene in any city. How do you think the Bay Area is doing, and how does your organization fit in?
Meridian has met several of these requirements as part of our mission, such as teaching opportunities in our Meridian Interns Program, operating as an alternative art space to show new art, and as art dealers taking on exciting new artists and selling their work. While the Bay Area has changed drastically since we founded Meridian Gallery thirty years ago, alternative art spaces supporting emerging artists have always been crucial — we are all part of the larger fabric of the arts scene in San Francisco. As an alternative art space we can put together dynamic exhibits with diverse, emerging artists and sometimes collaborate with larger entities. In 1994, The Exchange Show paired local artists with Brazilian artists, and was exhibited at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts when Renny Pritikin was its director. The show also traveled to Rio de Janeiro. We have a history of working with large and small organizations with the purpose of showing exciting new art.
Of course, exhibiting art, dance, and music is only part of our mission. The Meridian Interns Program, which was founded in 1996, is a paid-internship program for low-income youth artists. The youth artists are paid to spend time in the studio, learning craft and interacting with artists. Any art scene needs nurturing threads to run through it. We believe MIP, which teaches youth and employs artists as teachers, is one of the threads. As of 2016, MIP has been operating out of the San Francisco Art Institute, giving Meridian Interns more great exposure to working artists. To create a sense of community for the Interns, we do fun things, like visit the Headlands Center for the Arts annually to bake bread!
Who is your audience, who are you trying to serve, and who do you hope to reach?
We try to bring in an audience from the shared cultural groups of the artists. We hope to create a space in which an audience can have an open consideration of the art and its implications. Issei to Shin Issei: 50 Years of Japanese-American Women Artists (1990) inspired really heated debates within the Japanese-American community about representation and its shared, controversial history. Our exhibit Circular Motion (2012) included seven video installations by Cuban women. You were greeted by an enormous image of a young woman with hair so long it was fastened to the ground in a circle around her, immobilizing her. She stood in the center of a Havana park where people walked by, not noticing. Visitors to the gallery would often stop at the sight of this piece and continue on in silence. We believe that art contributes to social justice and that it should be seen by those people it represents. A successful exhibit should build community, be educational, and be inspirational.
Tell us how Meridian Gallery is structured. How many people work there? Staff or volunteers or both?
Meridian Gallery is part of the non-profit organization SAPA. Anne Trueblood Brodzky is SAPA’s President and the Director of Meridian Gallery. The Vice-President is Anthony Williams. Our Assistant Director and Artist Instructor for the Meridian Interns Program is Hailey Scheffler. Bryan Day is our curator for Meridian Music, and Danny Benitez (a former Meridian Intern!) is our Gallery Installer. Apart from this staff, we rely on volunteers — not always an easy thing to coordinate. Luckily, we have many friends that are generous with their time and skills.
One unique aspect of Meridian Gallery is that it offers not only visual arts programming via Meridian Studio Visits online and pop-up exhibitions, but dance and music programming as well. Can you speak to the philosophy and/or thinking behind this cross-disciplinary approach? And moreover: how does/has this approach play/ed out in physical space vs. online?
Meridian Studio Visits is one of our newest and most exciting programs. Theres Rohan had the wonderful idea of recording conversations between a curator and an artist in the artist’s own studio. The result has surpassed our expectations. Meridian Studio Visits are an opportunity to see the space where the artist creates, to go through many pieces (more than we might be able to show in an exhibit) and to discuss process candidly. Rohan curated our first Meridian Studio Visits: SYLVIA SUSSMAN: FROM CHABOT PARK.
Presenting art from multiple disciplines has been central to Meridian from its conception. We have put on dance and music programming to accompany visual art exhibitions and in stand-alone performances. Meridian Music, founded in 1998, presents new idioms of music — sound art, invented instruments, computer music, and improvisation. The intimate presentation of Meridian Music encourages the audience and musicians to test, and be tested by, new forms and modes of composition. Our most recent performance was at Canessa Park Gallery. Torben Ulrich (vocalist) — accompanied by found instruments, two violins, two cellos, and amplified Building Measuring tapes — performed Meridiana, which was composed by Ulrich and Soren Kjaergaard as a tribute to Soren’s residency at Meridian Gallery in 2014.
What is the greatest challenge facing your organization currently?
Our current challenge is possibly our biggest since we founded Meridian! We lost our permanent gallery space in 2014 and have since relocated our offices to the Presidio.
Right now, we are concentrating on securing permanent gallery space at the Old Bakery in the Presidio to house exhibitions, performances, and offer studio space for the Meridian Interns Program. The most important thing for Meridian’s longevity at this point is to get all our programing under one roof. The Presidio is undergoing an incredible rejuvenation as a cultural destination. Between Meridian Gallery, Meridian Music, the Meridian Interns Program, and our dance and literary programing, we will be creating a destination center for the arts, renamed “Meridian Gallery: The Americas.”
To celebrate the pairing of Meridian Gallery and the beauty of the Presidio, the concept of our first exhibition is “Water.” The central piece will be “Lakes and Stones” by Canadian artist Susan Jarmain. Comprised of eight panels of handwoven silk, the panels overlap to convey the subtle colors and rhythms of Jarmain’s home near Lake Erie. This piece will be accompanied by water sounds of the Riparian Reach, which is being created to convey water from the watershed in the Presidio to the San Francisco Bay tidal wetlands at Crissy Field. This natural sound will be augmented by Bay Area composers and musicians using “Water” as the theme in their compositions. Our first exhibition will be a celebration of Meridian’s new home and the limitless inspiration to be found in nature.
We’re of the opinion that more is merrier, and there’s always room for another rose in the garden: Any words of advice for others interested in starting an organization like Meridian Gallery?
Our success came from meeting people we liked and working with them. Alternative art spaces are crucial to social justice in the art world as they can exhibit emerging and diverse artists. Our advice is, get out there and do it. And let us know! We’ll come to your next exhibit.
Meridian Gallery would like to thank Emily Wolahan for her assistance with these answers.