Nevada County Arts Council: Interview with Director Cheryl Haines

The Nevada County Arts Council held an exclusive interview with Director Cheryl Haines. The article is listed below:


Recently we caught up with Cheryl Haines when her film Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly was playing at Nevada City Film Festival Cheryl is the owner of the Haines Gallery in San Francisco, founding Executive Director of FOR-SITE Foundation, curator and filmmaker.

Cheryl divides her time between San Francisco and Nevada County, where she also oversees an artist in residency and education programs on her 50-acre site in the South Yuba River canyon.

We have come to know you in so many ways, Cheryl - which part of our introduction do you most identify with?

It is difficult to say but I appreciate you recognizing my many years as a gallerist in parallel to my work as a public art curator and founding Executive Director of the FOR-SITE Foundation. It is rather unusual for someone to be so active in both the "for" and "non-for" profit sectors of the art world but I have found that in this case one pursuit definitely fuels the other.

Tell us more about your medium - your art form - and perhaps about your documentation of the creative process.

I actually don't consider myself an artist. Perhaps "a creative" is a term I accept more readily. I like to refer to the building of artist's careers associated with my gallery work and the projects I curate and fund as "conceptual matchmaking". Filmmaking has been a byproduct of that work and, as you suggest, an important part of the overall result. I think it is important to document the projects that I have spearheaded in order to add to the artists' legacy and to further illuminate the cultural landscape at this moment in time.

At what age did you discover your love for curation, and from this, was it a natural segue into filmmaking?

I began "curating" many years ago without actually recognizing it as such. Whether designing a built environment, an exhibition or an experience or event for others, I find it highly satisfying to research and create projects that are very much a part of a growing dialogue concerning art about place.

Tell us more about your creative process?

I find my creative process at times so organic that it's difficult to describe. However, there is a common denominator, whether it's learning to play the keyboard by ear or coming up with an idea that illuminates a complex social and physical environment through the resonant voices of contemporary artists. I'm often asked what comes first? The site, the idea, or the artist? Truthfully, they occur simultaneously. Often there's a lengthy period of percolation but once the idea is formulated, the act occurs quickly.

Share with us an (other) initiative you are most proud of.

I wouldn't say I'm necessarily proud of the initiatives that I have realized but I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to work in such a rich environment. If I had to identify one particular pursuit it probably would be realization of the four Andy Goldsworthy works that the FOR-SITE Foundation has made possible here in San Francisco at the Presidio -the first of their kind in our country's national park system.

What draws you back to Nevada County, and is your appreciation for it connected with your own creative process, as well the work of FOR-SITE, and that family is here?

My interest in Nevada County is a highly personal one. Having been raised in a rural environment and having spent most of my adult life in an urban one, I was seeking a place that had both access to the wonderful natural and cultural abundance here in California but also was a place that had a deep cultural history and one that would engage me over a period of many years of discovery.

Your film, Ai WeiWei: Yours Truly, screened at Nevada City Film Festival this year. Would you share with us, perhaps, one or two of your favorite moments, and a little of what you hope its legacy will be?

Regarding the film, Ai Weiwei: Yours Truy, I would say one of the most satisfying aspects of making this film was the ability to continue the impact that we felt of @LARGE: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Though almost a million people saw it, both people involved in the art-world but more importantly a more general audience, including tourists from around the world, we engaged people on the site in such a satisfying way, in particular by asking them to write postcards to the many featured prisoners of conscience that were in the exhibition.

To learn their stories and to reach out on a human level to tell them, thank you for your struggle, thank you for standing up for what is right and you have not been forgotten - that was a deeply moving aspect of the project and it's been so fulfilling to follow some of the stories of the prisoners of conscience, a few of which have been released, some of which have been featured in the Yours Truly publication by Chronicle Books and included in this documentary film.

We've become friends. We've learned so much about the social injustices around the world. I think if there's one takeaway from all of this work I would say it's that one really doesn't have to be a politician, a major philanthropist or necessarily a world famous artist to make a difference. One simple act of kindness, reaching out one's hand to another individual, even the smallest thing can really make a difference in someone's life and that is what makes this work worth doing.

What's next for you, as a gallery owner, curator, foundation director, filmmaker?

Looking forward, there are many projects on the horizon, both with the gallery and the foundation. I think one of the things that has changed over time is that my focus has solidified in bringing artists' work to the forefront that address some very prescient contemporary social issues. My resolve is strong to continue to work with artists who have long been on the vanguard of social change and to continue to bring forth issues of international human rights and social justice. Our aim is not to provide answers necessarily, but merely to pose questions.

PressKat ColeCheryl Haines