We spoke with visual artist and 2017 Fellowship recipient Anna Mlasowsky as part of our 2021 Spring Fundraising campaign. Anna spoke with us about how best to support artists during this time and in the future (giving us great insight and advice!), not giving in to hopelessness, and what gave her energy and joy in the past year. You can support our work and Washington state artists like Anna by donating to our spring campaign by June 30! Donate here – thank you for your support!
On the resilience of artists and what has inspired her:
The word resilience means flexibility and elasticity. As an artist, I always had to be elastic, in good and bad ways. This profession prepares you for being elastic and this is what the past year has demanded. I noticed that in the last year as institutions closed many individuals picked up the slack to create the opportunities that went missing with the arts administrations being on leave and artists starting to administrate themselves. As we are used to work without the guarantee to get paid, we created opportunities out of our own eagerness for expression. I opened a COVID-safe gallery space to continue having exhibitions in Seattle and to bring moments of joy to my neighborhood while I struggled as much as everyone else with intense anxiety and depression. I also started a digital-only art project and created opportunities for my peers while I had lost all my work. It felt important not to give into hopelessness but to use the moment for what it was good for. I leaned into the pandemic and worked with it instead of against it. Early on when everyone was still trying to move projects month by month ahead, I decided against that speculation and took everything at face value instead, to remove one element of uncertainty in a time where everything was uncertain and stressful. Resilience is the ability to recover or to move forward into a different direction if recovery is not possible. The pandemic gave us time to be there for each other and to be vulnerable and also weak, because we were all of it together.
Mostly family and friends brought me hope. I would be lying if I said that my creative process has helped me through the pandemic because I was so paralyzed and fearful that I couldn’t focus on making anything. But talking to others about how they felt the same way made it easier to accept that it was okay to take a break. In the end, instead of producing something, I created spaces for others to be creative in. That new trajectory gave me a lot of energy and joy. I think the last year was exceptional on so many levels and I have found much hope in seeing the courage, willpower, and endurance that the last year has brought out in so many people. Surprisingly the last year has been the least lonely year for me in a long time, despite having to socially distance, I have felt emotionally closer to those who truly care about me and I was able to spend more time with them. Given that a lot of my friends and all of my family live abroad, I am used to having most of my interactions virtually, so the pandemic didn’t really change much for me, I rather felt like the rest of the world was meeting me in my reality.
How she’s different from a year ago:
I am very different in so many ways, that it is hard to summarize. I am less willing to be overextended, financially and emotionally by my work. I think twice now if I want to participate in something or not, but at the same time, I am still a beggar and can’t be too picky. Yet I have had more courage in the last year to not just be on the receiving end but giving end, by starting two curatorial projects. I have also started to speak up more when I encounter conditions for my work that are not acceptable for me, especially in the glass community. Personally, I have been able to get a stable rhythm and so I started excercising with my mom in Germany via Skype every day. I have also been able to take care of my mental health and see doctors constantly for my chronic physical problems and make some progress in taking care of myself. The biggest thing that has changed about me, is that I have become willing to be vulnerable.
What support artists and artist communities need:
There is a very long answer to that question. Artists have in the past not felt very served by the organizations that are supposed to work for us and with us. In the future, I hope that organizations can become more flexible and listen to artist’s needs to create programs that are as elastic as we all had to become during the pandemic. Most residency programs right now best serve artists without families, health issues, or regular bills. Funding expects artists to write lengthy proposals, some asking so many questions that the answers combined can take up 3-5 pages of text, it takes a long time to write these. If funding decisions would happen in two phases, with an initial phase of an idea pitch, with a simple link to a portfolio/website as visual material that allows the jury then to create a shortlist of artists that are asked to submit a proposal, artists could use their admin. time more effectively. I think we still need the same things we needed before, a structure that pays us fairly, advocates for us and supports us in what we are good at, and doesn’t overextend us with requirements. What has become even more clear now, after the pandemic, is that secure housing and studio space is the most effective way to support artists long-term and one that ensures us remaining in a city like Seattle. I would like to see a program that helps artists secure long-term space for their families and creativity, ideally by helping artists become homeowners via nontraditional loan models. I have many ideas about how to restructure funding applications, grant models, residencies to work for artists. But that is all complicated. I think at the forefront of giving and sponsoring should be “selfless giving”, a gift that does not expect a specific return. I would like to see that mentality employed more, where fundraising isn’t based on the promises of a tote bag, mug, postcard or gala dinner, studio visit, or workshop in return, which I see as money wasted that could have funded more artists work, but a gift that will slowly give back over time, in forms that no-one can predict beforehand. If you give artists financial support unconditionally, they will create something with it, but when we can dictate what we use the gift for, the outcome is tailored to our needs and truly serves us in a way that the long-term effects will be the gift we return to donors.