September 06, 2016

Featured Contributor: Eleanor Hanson Wise

A few times a season, we like to reach out to a current or former Open Space contributor and find out what they’ve been up to. Eleanor Hanson Wise, co-founder of The Present Group, is a columnist in residence and guest editor, and last published work here in 2012.

So, Eleanor, what have you been up to?

Building Compensation Foundation’s Bay Area Artists Report!: A place for visual artists to anonymously share compensation experiences. It will only be as good as the data we collect, so artists, please contribute!  


Reimagining and rebuilding Who Pays Writers? with Manjula Martin. It’s a place to anonymously share and investigate compensation rates for writers.  

I organized and contributed to a series of essays in Threewalls’ PHONEBOOK (in the “Resources” section) that explored strategies for art world utopia, ranging from small-scale, practical steps to bigger ideas about changing the system.

Last fall, while voting was wrapping up for The Present Prize (a web-hosting funded, democratically awarded prize targeting under-supported areas of the creative landscape) I went into labor with our third child.  Appropriately, the prize was being awarded to an artist parent (winner Selina Trepp).  

Has anything (artist, artwork, event) in the Bay Area been particularly inspiring to you lately?


When my kids remind me that you can build your world however you want.

I’ve been trying to envision a different life for us. While watching Fritz Haag rebuild Salmon Creek Farm from afar and reading the catalogue for Hippie Modernism (opening in Feb at BAMPFA), we’ve been scheming and dreaming. We love where we live and feel very lucky to have found the rental we did at the time we did for the amount of space we have, but we still have a baby in the closet. I think about Christine Wong Yap’s embrace of interdependence and positivity (Kala, Appro-propagation, until October 15) as I consider how to build a life where everyone in our family has the space to grow and be challenged. I think about Surabhi Saraf’s exploration of intensity in/and/of stillness (Mills College Art Museum, (A+P+I) exhibition) while trying to decide in what kind of environment I want to be immersed. And I’ve been thinking about Stephanie Syjuco’s grappling with “neutrality”, race, colonialism, and sexism (Catherine Clark, Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime)) while two of my daughters enter the beautifully diverse Oakland public schools during this election season.

Your 2012 series “Show Me the Money,” which explored issues surrounding funding in the arts, featured conversations with publications and institutions like Daily Serving and Works Progress. Given the rapid economic, technological, and social shifts we’ve seen in the four years since, have you observed any new strategies artists and/or organizations have taken on to stay afloat? Any unforeseen challenges?

Sometimes I think crazy/old/beneficent landlords are the only thing keeping this city weird. It’s sad, but it seems like the most common strategy for individuals has been to leave the area for places with a lower cost of living. Even our daycare was evicted.

That being said, it is fun to watch organizations recasting themselves and trying new things. W.A.G.E. is slowly recruiting organizations for certification, but the fundraising, reorganization, and shift in priorities that certification requires is proving a challenge for many. The Lab is pending certification and doing without staff, instead providing sizable stipends to few artists. These “residencies” and their compensation structures are collaboratively built; each artist determines the best way to engage the public, what they need assistance with, and how to accept and/or disperse the income (long or short period, independent contractor or employee, payment of additional people, etc). Similarly, this summer Royal Nonesuch Gallery transformed itself into Royal Production Company, where four artists/collaboratives created new video works using the gallery as a site of production during their respective three-week residencies, during which they hosted public gallery hours and a special event.

I’ve also been watching the growth of corporate artist-in-residency programs and the development of Minnesota Street Project, and wonder about the balance of philanthropy and self-interest, and whether or not that balance really matters in this area and during this time of unstable ground.

What’s next for you?

Our infant just started daycare (again)! Our twins just started kindergarten. This fall is going to be a whole new ballgame for all of us. I’m excited to have time to work, to focus, and to have the space to flounder again.

Last fall, we received an Alternative Exposure Grant for the Bay Area Artists Report! to help us streamline the survey and complete the visualizations which will make the data we’ve been collecting accessible to everyone. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to work on that, so that will be fun.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ve been thinking about the analogy of a spider — a daddy longlegs I think — as a way to describe how life and work and creative practice and making enough money and side projects and down time and parenting all function together. A lot of people talk about balance as the challenge, the analogy — but to me that implies poles and extremes, like if you make one misstep everything comes crashing down. Really, we have lots of legs doing different things, and they don’t all move at one time. Sometimes one leg is still while others are moving. But the spider is still going somewhere. It’s a long game, and it’s okay to let one leg rest while another one or two are moving.


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