An Evening with Kate Hackman & Raechell Smith

By Melaney Mitchell

On Saturday February 18th, the second of The Hot Tub Dialogue Lectures featured Kate Hackman and Raechelle Smith. Hackman is the Co-Director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, former Editor-in-Chief of Review magazine, ran the public art program Art in the Loop, wrote art reviews for the Kansas City Star and is the former assistant director of Exit Art in New York City. Smith is a Kansas City Native, and the Founding Director and Chief Curator of the H& R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute. She is also the former Curatorial Assistant of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nelson Atkins Museum. Behind a candlelit and luxuriously draped fourth wall, Smith and Hackman conversed in a style similar to the days when they were room mates. Attempting to channel old breakfast table jokes about “two a.m. last night”, they dove into a discussion that was peppered with questions submitted by the audience on simple notecards.

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Following the lectures opening musical performance by Metatone, These powerful women in the Kansas City art community thoughtfully considered key topics in our arts ecology in the Subterranean hot tub. KCAI’s recent Current Perspectives Lecture featuring San Francisco’s Art Practical had created a momentum in assessing Kansas City’s current arts environment. With a “kick splash” code jokingly established to avoid certain topics, discussion began with Renny Pritikin’s Ingredients For A Healthy Art Scene. Posted more than two years ago in Proximity Magazine, Pritikin1 prescribed specific reasons for why conversations like the Hot Tub Dialogues are so important. In Kansas City, we have many of those ingredients, however three things on Pritikin’s list stuck out to the ladies that specifically relate it to our overall arts health and to what is happening at Subterranean. One, “Social space where new ideas are being generated about art, about society, about the role of art” two, “hangouts/ parties/ salons/ lecture series/ restaurants/ bars where a sense of community is manifested” and three, “events that bring people together.” This series was seen by them to be a contributing factor to the art community’s growth.

Hackman and Smith transitioned into discussing their careers, how most of their work is just an unsexy reality of trying to make a balanced life work. Even though that balance is a constant struggle, their priorities inform others of what needs to happen in the community. It is at those points of managing dualities where the creativity happens. Smith mentioned the regenerative energy that she gets working with emerging artists, to which Hackman compared to her experiences at Exit Art2 in New York City.

As they were revisiting their histories, it led to a dialogue regarding the heightened importance of conversations as a way of authentically and genuinely connecting with people. The value of the slower Midwestern pacing that Kansas City offers and unpredictable kinds of interactions allows the possibility to make anything happen. There is a more “homegrown nature” to Kansas City’s art scene and it is up to both Hackman and Smith to have a sophisticated awareness of the community’s growth and progression.

In the midst of the lecture, audience members enjoyed hors d’ourves by Joe Lawlor & Lottie Barker, and drinks by Sam Fifield. Hackman and Smith requested baklava and sweets be passed to the audience members and in turn received questions on notecards. The conversation continued in a casual manner but answers were curated into the dialogue. They informed the audience of their hopes to see more international artists, how writing is their way of making sense of their busy lives, the importance of establishing a history of the Kansas City arts community, and their belief that mentorship is crucial to an artist’s practice.

After the lecture, I had the luck of sitting with Hackman and Smith and picking their brains about some of the lecture’s key points. Relaxed, and cozy in the Subterranean living room, the conversation continued. I spoke with Smith first, she commented that there are “more kinds of art than we know how to like”, and “that the gift of slowness is profound.” As a curator, Smith is constantly overwhelmed with images, but her experience of a crescent moon in Istanbul this past summer was that perfect gift of slower pace.

Hackman expressed, her distinct interest in alternative spaces (specifically those in Three Walls’ Phonebook) and how they are influencing changes in the way artists operate in Kansas City. She continued by discussing the way in which artist driven initiatives have become less about the prowess of commercial spaces and more about how individual spaces function within the community. She pointed out that these spaces are the way in which we put Kansas City into context with the national and international arts communities.

Overall the lecture felt like a testimonial for Subterranean Gallery. Contributing to the art ecology of Kansas City in a multitude of ways. It became like a passing of the torch from Hackman and Smith to the lecture series co-curators. With Hackman bringing flowers, a gesture that was done at Exit Art openings, the discussion hovered around Smith and Hackman’s mission; the importance of hard work and contributions to the community.

1 Pesco, Joseph del. “Proximity Magazine » Blog Archive » Renny Pritikin.” Proximity Magazine . http://proximitymagazine.com/2009/05/renny-pritikin/ (accessed March 13, 2012).

2 Exit Art works with emerging artists in experimental forms of expression. “EXIT ART – About | Mission & History.” EXIT ART – The First World. http://www.exitart.org/about/mission.html (accessed March 13, 2012).

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