[How I Work] Crafting a space for art

arrowmont gallery

At the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, the oldest craft school in Tennessee, artists of all ages and skill levels attend courses by the weekend, week, or fortnight, and Gallery, Exhibitions, and Permanent Collection Manager Kelsey Dillow is on-hand to oversee the spaces that showcase their work, as well as that of instructors, artists-in-residence, and the school’s own collection. A first-generation college graduate, Dillow secured a BFA in Photography and Integrated Media from Ohio University in 2016, began working at galleries and museums as an undergrad, and joined the Arrowmont staff in the fall of 2017.

My role, the short version: I schedule, curate, oversee, maintain, and install five galleries on the Arrowmont campus, as well as exhibitions at outside venues.

My role, the long version: I work with artists daily with the goal of supporting them, ensuring their work gets from point A to point B safely, and making their work at home in our gallery spaces. In addition, I oversee more than 1,000 art objects in our Permanent Collection. I consider myself their foster mother, making sure they are cared for and appreciated.

How I got here: I’ve worked in several galleries in my short career – I’m 26 – all of which have shaped my interests. After working in a few small galleries, I got a job at a museum where I was introduced to collections management. While working, I was captivated by the history of each piece – the lives they lived before coming to the museum – and learned the importance of sharing those histories, and preserving each object for the education of future generations. I feel fortunate to be at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, managing the galleries and caring for a collection that has so much to offer our students and community.

What the job requires: Careful hands, attention to detail, and patience are must-haves in the gallery, but above all, creative problem-solving is the name of the game. Each work of art calls for something different; each gallery space is unique, with its own set of assets and issues. Agility is key, and leaning on the experiences and perspectives of your team is absolutely the best way to get the job done well.

One way my colleagues support me: Arrowmont maintains an Artists-in-Residence program, where five artists are selected to live and work together on campus for 11 months. I am fortunate to have the five residents as my installation team during their time at Arrowmont. They have varying levels of experience in a gallery setting, but I learn something new from every resident. They are invaluable.

My favorite challenge: In a large gallery space, sometimes with over 100 pieces, my biggest and most exciting challenge is creating an intentional, informative, and well-designed layout.

One big surprise from this job: When I came to Arrowmont, I knew that I would be surrounded by artists and art-making on a daily basis. I was excited to be exposed to a wide variety of mediums, and to learn more about them. What I didn’t expect was how big an impact this job would have on my own personal studio practice. Being an artist and an arts administrator is a difficult task, and it often means putting your own work on hold, but since coming to Arrowmont, my studio practice is stronger than ever.

What I’m working on right now: Aside from exhibition planning, I am currently working on a complete overhaul of our Permanent Collection. This means creating a new storage area, revising standards and policies, improving our preservation methods, and designing a new organization system and database. Ultimately, I want our collection to serve our students and community better. I want our students to be able to research artists or techniques, find examples within our collection, and be able to learn from them.

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is a national art and craft education center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offering classes for artists of all skill levels and mediums on a 13-acre campus. Visit their website to learn more, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.

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