Robin Held has been a leading force in Seattle’s arts communities for over twenty years. She has served as curator, collection strategist, and head of department for the Frye Art Museum and the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, and has initiated and curated more than 100 exhibitions and performances in the Seattle area.
In addition to her impressive curatorial work, Robin has also made a name for herself helping artists and arts organizations grow. She was part of the leadership team responsible for what the Stranger has called the “most inexplicable museum transformation” at the Frye, and went on to serve as the Executive Director for Reel Grrls. Her most recent endeavor, Held Consulting, offers fundraising, strategic planning, and curatorial services to clients at the intersection of the arts and tech sectors.
On Saturday, October 21, Robin will be leading a workshop on cultivating professional relationships with artists at the Mount Baker Lofts. I recently caught up with her to learn more about her work, what inspired the workshop, and her hopes for the future of Seattle’s arts communities.
What inspired you to teach arts entrepreneurship?
Effective communication, strong professional relationships, and fundraising are among the necessary tools to have in an artist’s entrepreneurial toolkit. I teach these skills in personal training sessions but I prefer sharing these skills in groups. I love seeing participants learn from each other, as well as me, helping to develop each other’s strengths, and building tensile strength across our communities.
Which of your professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Helping artists envision, finance and execute their biggest dream projects.
Direct work with artists is the joyful through line of my career, from ED of artist-run organization to museum chief curator to director of a start-up training the next generation of artists to director of one of the largest artist awards program in Washington State to arts consulting.
The transformation of the Frye Art Museum
I am proud of having shaped the award-winning curatorial direction that the Frye Art Museum has taken and run with. I treasure The Stranger Genius Award for “most inexplicable museum transformation,” 2005, as a vote of confidence from our communities that the Museum had pivoted in the right direction. More recent awards include the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, 2013; Seattle Weekly, “Best Museum,” 2014.
Who are some of your role models?
I am grateful and lucky to have several peer mentors. Sharon Arnold, Bridge Productions; Betsey Brock, OTB; Alla Efimova, KunstWorks; Felicia Gonzalez, UW; Susie Lee, SIREN; Tonya Lockyer, Velocity Dance Center; Christopher Ross, The Riveter; Kunstworks; Barbara Earl Thomas, NAAM, are among peers who continue to offer me aspirational models of leadership and inspire me to take risks for the right reasons.
What needs do you think are unmet in the Seattle arts community?
I want to see our arts and cultural communities reap benefits of our region’s expansive growth and great wealth, to be able to live, work, raise families, and creatively thrive in our city. The most urgent pressure on artist communities is affordability. Many creators are leaving our city for cheaper housing and studios elsewhere, and these are the artists who helped make the city what it is.
In a period great wealth and philanthropy, funding is lagging for arts and culture. I want to insure that artists can afford to build lives and careers in our city, and to be deeply valued, especially artists of color and other underrepresented groups of artists. We will be much poorer as a city if we don’t think creatively about affordability and equity.
Want to learn more about growing your professional arts network?
Join Robin on Saturday, October 21 for “Cultivating Professional Relationships for Artists” at the Mt Baker Lofts. More information and tickets here.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She’s obsessed with libraries, art and radio, and aspires toward a future career in nonprofit communications and/or arts administration.