Kool Kat of the Week: Jennifer Schwartz Gives New Meaning to Being Thankful for Art with her Crusade for Collecting

Posted on: Nov 23rd, 2011 By:

Are art and photography galleries now becoming endangered in the same way as your neighborhood record store, book shop or cinema? That’s the concern of Jennifer Schwartz, owner of the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery on the Westside, and like the campaign to Save Criminal Records, she’s not content to stand by and just let younger generations think of art collecting as a quaint tradition that their parents did. Instead she’s taking her mission on the road as part of an initiative she founded called the Crusade for Collecting. Merging Kickstarter, a high-tech Internet resource for fundraising, with the low-tech tried and true transportation of a used Volkswagen bus, she plans to take to the road.

While her husband and three kids will stay home, Jennifer will drive to 10 US cities, setting up pop-up events conducting meet and greets and selling photographs by exciting contemporary photographers—all to inspire what she sees as the “next generation of collectors.” It being Thanksgiving week, it just seemed right to spotlight someone committed to preserving something we love—artists and their livelihood. So we caught up with Jennifer to find our more about why she decided to undertake her future journey and what she’s doing now to get ready.

What inspired you to launch the Crusade for Collecting?

I feel very strongly that there is a disconnect between the younger generations and buying original art. I created The Ten to encourage people to buy high-quality, exclusive, very-limited, signed photographs at an affordable price point I call it the “gateway drug to larger collecting,” but I wanted to do more. I wanted to get out there and talk about this issue. We are all so over-saturated with information online, that I wanted to do something different to get people’s attention.

Do you feel that collecting photography, or even art in general, has just been stalled by the recession or do you think there’s been an actual change, with young people less interested in it? If yes, why are younger people losing their connection to art?

I think a lot of people in the art world are blaming the economy, and certainly that doesn’t help, but I see it as a cultural issue. People don’t think twice about buying designer jeans or going out for coffee or spending money on a good meal. And I’m right there with them! Generationally, we care about the things in our world. We just haven’t considered adding art to that world.

I think if you stopped someone who was about to buy a mass-produced canvas art piece at Z Gallery or Urban Outfitters and said, “Wouldn’t you rather spend the same money and buy something original? Wouldn’t you rather find something that you connected with and knew the story of? Wouldn’t you like to buy a piece of art that has value, both monetarily and to you personally?”, most people would stop and say that, yes, of course they would. They just hadn’t thought about it like that before.

I want people to think about it. I want people to know that they can afford real art and that being a collector just means buying an original piece and being thoughtful about that choice. There are a hundred million pieces of art that will match your throw pillows buy one that matters to you.

Jennifer Schwartz at the door of her Westside photography gallery. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Schwartz,

Why travel across country in a vintage VW bus? And have you already picked that bus or are you still shopping around?

I want to do something dramatic to get people to stop and listen. I want to bring art to the people, to get them excited about it and want to extend that excitement to start visiting their local galleries and museums.

I have not picked the bus—a vanagon it’s called—yet. I would love to have a car dealership or website sponsor the Crusade by donating the vanagon so that I could spend the money I have raised on outfitting the interior with shelving for artwork and other tweeks, which will be a considerable cost.

What cities will you be visiting and how did you pick them?

We just announced the cities in this video update where I fumble with a map and show the route. It’s pretty amusing. We decided to go to New Orleans, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City. It was difficult to decide, but I wanted to hit major cities where I would have the best chance of reaching the most people. I will also most likely do one or two “trial run” cities closer to home in advance of the big tour; suggestions welcome! And if the tour goes well, and there’s clamoring for it, I’d love to do mini-tours in the future.

What’s the connection between the Crusade and The Ten?

I created The Ten to give people who are new to looking at and buying art an opportunity to buy an original, limited edition, signed photograph. The work is very exclusive, because the photographer is retiring the image from sale, so only 25 of each image are ever available for purchase. Part of collecting is education learning what you like, learning how it all “works” in terms of what it means to edition a photograph and the importance of buying signed, original work.

Beyond the opportunity to purchase, The Ten gives potential collectors a chance to look at a complete collection of work by a single photographer. They can read the photographer’s statement and see how the individual images work together and fit into a larger concept. The Ten allows the viewer to start thinking about photography as more than individual, pretty images. They will start to see the depth and layers that fine art photography has and connect to work more profoundly.

Jennifer Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Schwartz.

The pop-up shows on the Crusade tour will be all work from The Ten again, to get people used to looking at, appreciating, and buying photography at a price point that feels comfortable. In my opinion, collecting photography sells itself. Once you start, once you connect to a photograph and are able to bring it fully into your life by hanging it in your home and personalizing your space, you won’t want to stop.

You’re using Kickstarter to raise $15,000 for purchasing a VW bus? How’s that going and what are some of the perks you’re offering to those who donate to support your trip?

It’s going really well [Ed. note: last time we checked backers had pledged up to $12,116] , and I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of good vibes and support for this project. Backers have a ton of rewards to choose from at all different price points, from t-shirts to joining us on a leg of the tour. We have also had many generous photographers donate a few prints, tin types, books everything, and we have been announcing those as limited reward offers as they come in.

You’ve estimated you need an additional $50,000 to cover gas, food, lodging, photo printing and framing and promotion. How will you raise that?

We will have a silent art auction at the gallery next year and a couple of other fundraising events. I am also hoping to get some corporate sponsors—who wants their logo on the back of the van?!—especially a hotel sponsor.

How did you get interested in photography?

I have always loved photography. Photography is contemporary, and it is accessible— both in price and in technique. We understand photography. We know how it is done, and we appreciate its fresh, modern, and visually stimulating takes on our world. We can look at an image and be amazed that someone was able to use a camera a piece of equipment we all own and use and create something that moves us so powerfully.

"Eve Was Framed." Photo by Lori Vrba

What contemporary photographers inspire you and get you the most excited, and why? My tastes have evolved over the years as I have seen and purchased more photography, and I have a wide range of work I like, from the haunting, feminine, ethereal imagery of Lori Vrba [Ed’s note: Schwartz will present Southern Comfort, an exhibition of Vrba’s work from Dec. 2-Jan. 28 with opening reception 6-9 p.m. on Dec. 2] to the stark landscapes and intense portraits of Ben Huff.

When will you leave on the Crusade for Collecting, and how can we keep up with your adventures?

I will be blogging and posting video and audio podcasts from the road on the Crusade blog on The Ten website. I definitely plan to stay connected!

Finally with Thanskgiving this week, what are you most thankful for when it comes to the impact of art on your life?

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. I am thankful every day for the richness, depth and joy I get from collecting and supporting art and artists. I am thankful my husband and I are sharing that love with our children so they will value art in their lives as well. And I am thankful to be able to do something I love every day.

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