The Business of Public (Art)Work
The discourse of what public art can be is ever expanding. With the accessibility of new creative tools and platforms to present new forms of public art, artists and presenters are pushing existing boundaries and creating new ones for what public art can be and how it is presented.
It’s an exciting time for Masary Studios, a team of artists creating one-of-a-kind visual and sound experiences. Each of our projects is built from the ground up, featuring original music, performance, and video projection mapping. By unlocking the hidden possibilities of an urban landscape or space, Masary’s works are at once a performance, a dissection of architecture, and an immersive visual spectacle.
Masary has been operating as a private business since the Fall of 2015 when our studio, MAria Finkelmeier, SAm Okerstrom-Lang, & RYan Edwards, officially formed after our marquee project “Waking the Monster,” part of the light art festival Illuminus-Boston at Boston’s Green Monster at Fenway Park. Our collective belief in each other’s work and where we wanted to take it inspired us to join efforts in pushing large scale public art similar to “Waking the Monster.” We believed the City of Boston was in need of more public art activations, which gave us the optimism and enthusiasm to start a business to push this artistic motivation together.
For Masary, we see public art as an ideal platform to present our work to an audience. It is an opportunity to bring a new life to an exterior public place, offering moments of curiosity, wonder, joy, civic engagement, and more for the audience and artists. There are no walls to get through, no tickets to purchase, or private invitation needed. It is an opportunity to tap into the lives of an audience that come from the full spectrum of a community.
In the public realm, scale means something completely different—buildings become our canvases and public streets become our concert hall, allowing the site to become a collaborator in the process. These tools of craft and accessibility greatly influence and guide the conceptual approach to the work because of the impact of scale and ability to reach so many different people. That is special for us.
Oftentimes in this realm of art, the line between “public art” and “fine art” and “art-for-entertainment” is blurred. Presenters and producers (and brands) can often be a primary driver for doing business. We have been so grateful for the partners we’ve had as the dialogue around who we are and what we do is centralized around the art and our role as artists. If the artwork is bullied or the dialogue drifts from the original intention and artistic vision for the project, then there is too much of an opportunity for the art to become entertainment—selling something the artist may not want to be a part of.
As creators, it is important to hold on to our integrity, knowing that the lens through which we approach new projects is looked through as artists first. Our conceptual approach has a lot to do with this role, asking ourselves questions about a site or building like “What if it could speak, what would it say? What if it could move, how would it dance?” Questions like these help us hold onto the notions that our art has meaning and beauty through a means of creating a piece that is aesthetically pleasing and has an intellectual purpose.
While we are artists, we are also business owners. Each piece takes on a different artistic approach, but our business model for project management, technical direction, budgets, and attention is consistent and critical in how we see a vision through to retain a healthy balanced working life. Our studio practice bridges fine art and performance, and creative solutions for art and events. Our in-house abilities to interface directly with presenters and event organizers from a comprehensive technical standpoint is a huge asset, both artistically and from a business standpoint. For example—a presenter wants a wild, exciting flash to the opening of a conference on youth with disabilities. We have the experience and technical understanding to interface directly with their AV team, the event staff, rental companies, etc., to realize something really amazing, without having to involve (expensive) intermediaries.
An additional area where we combine and consolidate services is in authoring. We write all the music we perform, and animate all the video that is projected in our pieces. This allows us to be nimble, project specific, and create something that is one-of-kind and directed at the needs, interests, and characteristics of the venue or site. If there is any advice to others looking to form a collaborative business and art relationship with others, it would be to identify what each individual excels at and to identify how the group excels when their talents are merged. Be brutally honest with what is capable in-house, and know your limitations as to what is possible so that in each project nothing is taken on that cannot be; and if it can’t, know how to work with part-time collaborators that can offer the skillset you need to fulfill the vision.
This model of integrity and consideration through practice and craft is where Masary comes from. We self-identify as artists and as a creative studio, creating public art and offering creative solutions with an artistic lens. In motion, these principles and ideas prove to be an organic recipe for artistic and business success in the world of public art through sound, light, and performance.