Ashley Peel Pinkham
Assistant Director of The Print Center
Working in a nonprofit gallery can be challenging. We have to come up with creative, revenue- producing ideas in order to keep afloat. One of the less savory means we use is renting out our space. Yes, people get married at The Print Center. They celebrate monumental birthdays, joyous baby showers, and college graduation parties with us.
Don’t get me wrong, the space is beautiful, but being the person in charge of showing the space to newly engaged couples or business execs for corporate functions isn’t exactly what I thought I would be doing at a gallery. I expected people to look at artwork critically instead of criticizing our lack of outdoor space or cramped kitchen.
One of my favorite discussions was about whether or not our one bathroom could accommodate 100 guests for a four-hour event. That is a legitimate question when you are planning the most important day of your life, as are ”Will Grandma be able to get up the stairs?” and, ”Can we take down all of the artwork and put up pictures of us as kids?”
“Why don’t you allow dancing?” is also a favorite, because I always reply with an official, “We don’t allow dancing in the building due to the historic nature of the building.” This is true, but a more truthful response would be, “I would prefer that your drunken friends and family not flail their arms and drinks at the artwork while attempting the Running Man.”
Of course, artwork getting damaged is a constant threat when renting your space to someone who isn’t there to see the art. Ask the Art Alliance. When I have to work an event there (e.g. as a bouncer), I spend most of my time asking people to kindly step away from the artwork, explaining to them what printmaking is, or talking to the loneliest guy in the room for hours. I swear they hunt me out like a heat-seeking missile.
One time I worked a young lawyers’ event at The Print Center. How bad could that be, right? I listened to a bunch of suits talking about how much more money they make than me or how their new BMWs really handle the curves.
While I was sitting in the Gallery Store trying to get some work done, a very dapper older gentleman wearing an off-white summer suit with pink pinstripes, a pink handkerchief in his jacket pocket, light brown leather wingtip shoes, and round glasses approached me.
He said, “Who is this Julie?” in a thick Indian accent.
It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about, but he was referring to the wall text of an exhibition on view of recent prints by Julie Mehretu. He was looking around for her in the store even though he passed through her entire exhibition to come ask me. I informed him that Julie’s work was in the gallery right behind him.
He said, “I don’t know who she is. Does anyone know who she is? I mean, why don’t you have a picture of her in the gallery? That way people will know who she is.”
Before I could answer he asked, “Do you know who Karen Carpenter is? Or Neil Diamond?
I told him, “Yes, I am familiar with both.”
“You should take a picture of this Julie with Karen Carpenter and Neil Diamond. That way, people might not know who Julie is, but they will recognize Karen and Neil. Then they will know she is important. People like celebrities.”
I then tried to make some excuse of how we couldn’t really do that (without explaining to him that the Karen picture would be particularly difficult), how it wouldn’t be appropriate in the gallery, etc. He was very persistent and told me that he could tell I had authority and I could just make that decision on my own.
Luckily, he felt he had made his point and walked off to torture some other soul before he made his exit. I’m not sure who this person was or why he was attending a young lawyers’ event, but I could barely wait to tell the staff about it. After hearing the story, my co-worker Eli made a photo collage of me with Karen and Neil. Now, I can be sure everyone will know who I am.