Dashboard Co-op: An Interview with Courtney Hammond and Beth Malone[uds-billboard name=”dashboard”]
Dashboard Co-op is a non-profit exhibition platform based in Atlanta, GA, co-founded by long-time friends Courtney Hammond and Beth Malone in March 2010. Since its inception Dashboard has become a staple in the Atlanta arts community, known for putting up vibrant and raw exhibitions in neglected or derelict spaces.
Upon my recent move to Atlanta this past summer, I’ve been interested in learning more about their programming and artists, which rotate on a regular basis. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to them about where Dash (to which she is commonly referred) has been, how she’s grown, and where’s she’s headed.
Rachel Reese: What do you see as Dashboard’s role in the Atlanta art community? Or, what role do you want it to serve?
Courtney Hammond: We offer a space for mid-level and emerging artists to exhibit and create highly conceptual works.
Beth Malone: In that same vein, we allow a broad audience — one that doesn’t engage with this type of art on a regular basis, if at all — to see such works.
CH: We’re the platform for artists existing between underground or emerging art galleries and the more commercial, prominent art spaces in town. We’ve realized mid-career artists lack venues to show their work in Atlanta. We want to be a resource for them.
BM: Also, as per our mission to invigorate vacant spaces with radical art, we’re showing civic and cultural leaders what’s possible in our forgotten neighborhoods if we just infuse them with art!
RR: So would you call yourselves more of a curatorial venture than a traditional artists’ co-op?
BM: I think we’re existing as both. Court and I are on this curatorial adventure while we’re trying to facilitate an open space for artists to communicate ideas, support and critique one another, and share their experiences.
RR: You just received a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation SEED grant. Has this enabled you to think more about long-term goals and sustainability?
BM: Yes, the whole concept of sustainability is a tricky beast. We’ve been really good at starting Dash and branding her. Now we have to allow her to evolve, respond to the city’s needs, and sustain herself while remaining elusive, effective and cutting-edge. Tricky beast.
CH: We’ve been working on a nontraditional business plan, something we’re keeping top secret until leases are signed and wallpaper is chosen. But we think this new project, largely supported by Rauschenberg, will certainly create a self-sustaining organization — more so than she already is.
BM: Oh, and we’re working on our strategic plan! Gotta get us one of those.
RR: So are you getting a permanent space? Do you think having a dedicated space will change the nature of your programming?
BM: We are getting a permanent space! We’re working on a new type of business plan that will be our answer, hopefully our solution, to the rapid extinction of the traditional art gallery in Atlanta. We’re keeping mum on details until leases have been signed and curtains purchased.
RR: I know you are interested in Dashboard’s programming activating neighborhood development. Can you talk about that a bit?
BM: Our mission totally evolved during our fourth mass exhibition, Ground FLR, an art walk along Edgewood Ave in ATL’s Old Fourth Ward. Business owners were asked to help breathe life into this district by hosting an art exhibition that would bring foot-traffic and new energy. We finagled the use of 5 buildings from 5 business owners, and asked artists to create site-specific works, completely transforming the dead musty spaces. Following Ground FLR, all 5 spaces were leased and have since become thriving businesses on Edgewood.
We realized we were on to something — open the doors of forgotten spaces, fill them with innovative art by cutting-edge artists and then invite the city to check it all out for FREE. We love the concept of showing those who hold the city’s purse strings how art and culture can impact a neighborhood’s foot traffic, engagement, aesthetic and economic development.
RR: There are similar models in various cities around the US and I presume world-wide. What makes Atlanta’s cultural landscape and real estate market a unique ground for your mission?
BM: The fact that we had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation in 2010 helped us in a cryptic way. The fact that so much development and growth has happened in Atlanta over the past decade and then the bottom fell out of the market helped us in a cryptic way too. Our intention wasn’t to use this fall out to our advantage, we just started responding to the needs of the community, while also trying to navigate the world as a fledgling organization with a tiny budget.
RR: Where did the name Dashboard originate?
CH: We started with this pipe dream of traveling the South, the US, and eventually the world together looking for underground artists doing radical things. We envisioned a dashboard with our feet up, and a structure that would help guide us. It took us a month to come up with a name, but the concept was always there. I remember one afternoon I came home from work, Beth was sitting on the porch with a list of previously discussed names: Undiscovered Artists, Underground Harvest, Man Hole, Blue Kazoo – eventually “Dashboard” was introduced after some conversation about travel, a digital platform, network etc. It just fit with all of these ideas so we snagged up the url immediately. Thank god – Blue Kazoo would have tanked.
RR: (Laughs) I love the name so much more now! The image of feet on a dash is really iconic and speaks to a searching and discovery I feel is paramount to your program.
BM: Yes, we want viewers and artists to get a sense of real possibility – we have to constantly be looking for the next innovative artist, space, and concept. Similarly, we’ll look at a building we all drive past every day, or an artist who shows regularly in Atlanta, and confront perceptions by challenging the space and/or artist to be different, if even for an instant. Without a sense of newness and fun, Court and I would swiftly lose interest and Dash would be no longer.
RR: Where do you find your artists? Do they all have a connection to Atlanta in some way, or is that even important?
CH: Artists find us, they submit to the website. We support artists from Atlanta, New York and New Orleans – it’s important to us to support Atlanta artists, but we are also focused on building a creative network with supporting cities. Artist and organizational relationships across state lines are extremely important to us as well. Dash has an artist liaison in NOLA and NYC to help find the most appropriate people — both of these staff members were Dash artists before moving into these roles. Showing artists from outside ATL keeps our perspective fresh and helps us cultivate and grow these relationships in other places. In fact we are looking to travel our exhibitions this year to our friendly non-Atlanta locations.
BM: We’re also looking to potentially collaborate with organizations in cities highlighted by the Rauschenberg SEED Grant program: Detroit, Providence, Portland. It would be great to work with folks that received this grant as well to support the Foundation’s mission and also cultivate more opportunities for our artists and Dash.
RR: I think the traveling aspect could be really crucial.
BM: We do too; it makes this work seem boundless.
RR: What is the most memorable exhibition or project you produced?
BM: I’ve loved all of them for completely different reasons. M.O. was the hardest to produce due to lack of money, lack of know-how and Snowpocalypse 2010. 100,000 Cubicle Hours, a show we curated at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center got us noticed by a whole new slew of fancies and taught us a lot about curating in pristine white spaces. And Come Inside. Me. by Nathan Sharratt was the show that best encompassed our mission to invigorate neighborhoods with art and to show highly-conceptual work in an alternative space – that show still blows minds. A piece of Nathan’s work was recently acquired by the High Museum of Art – huge for him.
All that said, I have a very sweet spot for our show, Ants and Grasshoppers. It was our first smaller show, where Court and I got to focus on creative curation and when we really decided to have fun with Dash and allow her to become something that would help us grow as artists and curators. We designed a concept around an Aesop fable and minimal installation, largely inspired by Bruce Nauman. We worked with a sound artist and photographer to create the most delicate, poignant show. It was in a magical crumbling warehouse in Castleberry Hill, an arts ‘hood forever in flux. I’ll never forget that show.
RR: How does Dashboard operate alternatively from a commercial gallery space? Does the roster change completely every year?
CH: Dashboard functions without receiving commission from art sales. Proceeds from art that sells via our site or at our shows goes into the pocket of the artist. This financial structure benefits the artist and Dash as well. Without relying on artwork sales as an aspect of our budget – we are free to show any type of ephemeral – experimental – installation work we please. It gives Dashboard less boundaries.
BM: We accept about 12 new artists per year and they remain on our roster for 2 years. Also we don’t represent artists, we support them. If they receive invitations from other organizations or galleries to exhibit work, we support them whole-heartedly.
CH: We often introduce the artists we work with to galleries we think they align with. Its great networking for both parties and it’s a niche we can fill quite nicely.
RR: Do you feel you’ve left the virtual/online gallery model behind and primarily moved towards a physically nomadic exhibition model?
BM: Yeah, I think we feel an online presence is really important for our artists but the physical exhibition model is where our heart lies.
RR: Can you talk about your upcoming exhibition B O O M CITY?
BM: It is the most diverse round of artists we’ve ever worked with, and all producing a body of their best work. The show is in a huge 117,000 sq ft vacant mall in downtown ATL. We hope for 2,000 attendees but recognize people in this city have an aversion to parking downtown. Listen folks, we’ll make a map. It’ll be so easy, you’ll love it.
CH: We’ve selected performance artists, rock stars, sculptors, sound artists, painters, social practitioners, photographers, and installation artists this round. It’s going to be rad and totally unpredictable.
RR: How did you find the space? Does anyone help you negotiate contracts?
BM: We negotiate contracts with our lawyer and we are currently working with The Creation’s Group, who manages the property and they have been phenomenal and so easy to collaborate with. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner for BOOM. We find them by just driving around. Currently, I have my eye on a vacant ivy-covered funeral parlor on Spring Street. Oh, and Memphis. Memphis has amazing buildings.