For people who are unfamiliar with Root Division, can you introduce yourself and explain the mission of Root Division?
My name is Michelle Mansour, and I’m the Executive Director of Root Division. Also co-authoring the interview is Amy Cancelmo, Root Division’s Exhibitions & Events Coordinator. Root Division is a visual arts non profit that empowers artists to give back to the community through four interconnected programs: Studios, Adult Education, Youth Education, and Exhibitions. Each of the artists selected for our Studios Program receives a partial subsidy on their studio in exchange for service to the organization. We see our Studios as a hybrid residency / incubator program, providing the artists with opportunities for professional development and artistic growth through the community service structure. Part of what we’re trying to do is dispel the myth of the artist opporating alone, and create opportunities for artists to give back to and be engaged through their volunteer service, all while gaining valuable professional skills. Our teaching artists are trained and placed in six after school programs in the Mission area to provide free art classes for underserved youth. They also teach Adult Education art classes, ranging from painting and drawing to screen printing and embroidery, and they help install and staff our monthly 2nd Saturday exhibitions.
Tell me about Root Division and the evolution your programming since our last conversation more than two and a half years ago for Issue 3 of SFAQ.
Root Division has definitely had a good couple of years since we last talked. We celebrated our ten year anniversary last fall, and as a part of an archive project, collected data and discovered that since 2002, we have provided the community with 20,425 volunteer hours, hosted 125 Studio Artists (98% of whom are still producing art), exhibited over 1700 artists, and empowered 280 artists to teach. We’ve also sold over $326,000 of local artwork, and a good amount of that is via our Annual Art Auction. We really believe in supporting and empowering artists — through opportunities, experience, and of course cash! We started the Latino Teaching Artist Fellowship in 2010, and the Blau-Gold Studio/ Teaching Fellowship in 2013. These artists receive fully subsidized spaces as well as monetary stipends in exchange for teaching year-long curricula in our Youth Education Program.
Since Root Division is a non profit, outside support is extremely essential for your existence. Can you explain the dynamic of Root Division’s Annual Auction and the importance of this event?
Our Auction is the largest fundraising event we have, in dollars raised as well as the amount of support from local artists and businesses. Root Division is fortunate to have grant support from a variety of private and public sources, including a plethora of individuals as well as The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the San Francisco Arts Commission/ Cultural Equity Grants, and Grants for the Arts/ SF Hotel Tax Fund, among several others. However, often times organizations are required to take a year or two off from funding, so an event like the Annual Art Auction is something we count on each year. This year we have 110 artists participating and gift certificates and goodies donated from over 60 local businesses. This kind of outside support reminds us that people really value what we are doing for the community.
Many people don’t see where the money goes once events like this are over. Can you help de-mystify this for people, and help clarify where the money goes once the Annual Auction is closed?
We give donating artists the opportunity to take as much as 30% of the sale (a percentage that is higher than most charity auctions), so one of the places the money goes is directly into the hands of emerging artists. This year 65% of the artists have elected to donate 100% of the sales to Root Division, which we think is a testament to how strongly the artists involved feel about our mission, and how many have benefitted directly from our programming. After paying artist commissions, the Auction proceeds go towards two areas: 1) covering material and training costs of our Youth Education Program, in which we offer free art classes to over 500 neighborhood youth each year, and 2) keeping our studios subsidized at 50% market cost. This is essential as we are at the center of a neighborhood that is seeing rents increase at extraordinary rates, and by raising funds at the Auction, we’ve managed to keep our rates about the same since 2004.
What are your thoughts on collecting art? Do you collect art? Why is collecting art important to the cultural climate of artistic endeavors in the Bay Area?
I think collecting art by local artists is one of the great benefits of living in such a vibrant and diverse city. Our own homes are full of art, and I think it’s one of the things I love most about it. Over the years I’ve emassed works that I love looking at, that hold meaning for me, and that I love living with. A lot of the people coming to our Auction are purchasing their first original artwork, and it’s always fun to see art admirers turn into art collectors. We have an amazing range of work for sale — something for every taste, and for every budget.
Is there anything else you would like mention about the Annual Auction this year?
We have a great range of artists, from emerging to established, and are honored and humbled by their generous contributions. Art isn’t the only thing we auction at this event though. We have almost a hundred gift certificates and items from local businesses and restaurants in the Silent Auction as well. We have Trumer Pilsner, Rezlaff wine, and cocktails being made onsite by Otis Lounge and Asiento, as well as food from Ike’s Sandwiches, Mission Chinese, Atlas Cafe, Sift Cupcakes, Dandelion Chocolate, and more… It’s a great party, AND a great way to support art, artists, and arts education in the Bay Area for years to come! Hope to see you on October 24! More info and tickets are online: http://rootdivision.org/Auction2013.html