Future of Austin Art

Meet the man cultivating Austin's art scene — plus his advice for artists and patrons

Meet the man cultivating Austin's art scene plus advice for artists

Asa Hursh headshot Art Alliance Austin
Asa Hursh joins Art Alliance Austin as the new executive director. Courtesy photo

Where would we be without Art Alliance Austin? It’s been opening doors for local artists and building community resources since the Eisenhower administration, and is behind many of the interactive installation projects in public spaces around town over the last several years.

In August, Art Alliance Austin announced a new executive director, the organization's former business manager and deputy director, Asa Hursh. We got a hold of Hursh to ask him a few questions about Austin’s art community, creating opportunity for local artists and the direction the organization plans to take under his leadership.

CultureMap: First of all, congratulations. Can you describe your new position at Art Alliance Austin?
Asa Hursh: As executive director, I work closely with the board to determine strategic direction and execute that plan in conjunction with our staff, interns and many wonderful volunteers. I also spent the majority of the summer meeting with many partners — artists, curators, museum staff, gallerists, nonprofit directors — to learn about the city’s current art landscape ... and match the Alliance’s core strengths and mission with the current needs of this community.

CM: What excites you about the art scene that’s developing in Austin? 
AH: Austin is an exciting place to be right now. There’s a solid base of talent both artistically and curatorially. It seems that attracting and developing young talent has never been a problem for this city, [but] retaining it is a bigger issue. As those artists’ careers develop, we’ve seen them move to bigger marketplaces.  That is one of my core goals with the organization — to build opportunities for Austin artists so they may stay here and thrive here.

I think the most endearing thing about Austin is its sense of collaboration in the arts space. Artists are genuinely excited about others’ success. We don’t have the petty jealousy that pervades many other art markets. I’ve heard this is true in the film and music industry as well. I think that’s a part of our shared culture — it’s really quite amazing.

CM: You’re a transplant, like many of us. What drew you to Austin?
AH: The university, rapid growth and a burgeoning art scene.

CM: Can you talk about the changes in the local economy and art community that call for an updated vision of Art Alliance Austin?
AH: We’re fortunate to have a rapidly growing regional economy that creates many new opportunities every day. And our local art community has gone through a number of significant changes in the past two years, with the merging of major institutions, the unfortunate dissolution of a few key east side arts spaces ... Art Alliance [needed] to reassess our role within this ecosystem and make some careful decisions to ensure a sustainable future for the organization and maximize our impact in the community.

CM: Who do you hope to reach? What are some methods you hope to use to bring artists and curators together with collectors and audiences?
AH: Art Alliance has a long history of attracting a broad audience through a series of social and fun events, and that won’t change. What we’re looking to add is a little more engagement and education, as a part of a unique experience. For example, at Art Night EAST, the preview to the East Austin Studio Tour on November 14, will highlight four spaces and in each we will offer a very brief introduction by the director, curator or artist.

CM: We love the public art projects that Art Alliance Austin has made possible the last several years (Red Swing Project, Play Me I’m Yours, 20 Ft Wide, etc.). How will the new organizational direction affect your approach to public art?
AH: Public art is a crowded arena in Austin. AIPP (Art in Public Places) is expanding and doing good work. We highlighted a Melissa Borrell project commissioned by them earlier this year. We’ve been in talks for a year or so to bring a specific international public project to Austin and it looks like that will happen in the coming months through AIPP.

Also, I am pleased that we were able to commission the local artist collective Ink Tank to build their vending sound machine this year. It’s a great piece and is currently on view in front of the O. Henry Museum on East Fifth Street. We’re excited to support emerging artists’ making of adventurous work. And we’ll have some new projects this spring.

CM: Are there any particular exhibition spaces that have got the Art Alliance board buzzing? Any fresh event ideas or new partnerships that you can talk about?
AH: We launched a weekly art calendar, Austin Art Weekly, in the beginning of September to highlight what’s happening in Austin. It’s a compilation of what we’re talking about. It’s free and we send an email each Wednesday. We have the goal of adding editorial content someday as well. It’s all part of the goal of creating more education and engagement in an effort to build the community as a whole.

CM: How do you find emerging artists? 
AH: We have a continuously evolving network of artists and curators that helps us find new players in the community.

CM: What advice would you give them, as people just starting out in the art world?
AH: Focus, make good work and network. Ask lots of people for advice. No one has the single answer that works for everyone.

CM: Do you still paint? Will you show your work again?
AH: I don’t paint regularly anymore. The work that I did was academic, I was blending art historical narratives with science, pop, and tech ideas. I was looking at Matthew Ritchie a lot and I was working for Paul Laffoley in Boston at the time. And combining those influences with an attempt at a sophisticated irony like Mike Kelley. I hope that my serious thinking about art will continue to affect my current efforts. Anyway, I’m very content to contribute to the arts in a different way now.

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Upcoming Art Alliance events include PechaKucha at the Long Center on Oct. 23, Art Night EAST on Nov. 14 and the Downtown Holiday Stroll on Dec. 6.