Collective Week: Eye Lounge
In the past few years, the term artist collective has become common, especially in larger cities where hubs of creativity form. At first, I did not know the purpose of a collective – they had been mentioned to me often but I had no idea what a collective was or why one would want to be in a collective. In many ways, I saw art as a solitary activity. Through my research and conversations with these collectives, I have come to learn that art can be a solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be. When an artist meets with others for the purpose of creating together, that is when creativity truly flourishes.
Eye Lounge is a collective based in Phoenix that not only fosters creativity for its members’ personal practices but also spreads that creativity throughout their community. This collective admires various forms of art; its members include not only photographers but also painters, ceramists, and sculptors. At Eye Lounge, every medium is appreciated, allowing artists to engage in multidisciplinary practices. The pursuit of creativity knows no bounds here— as a collective, Eye Lounge embraces these pursuits, whether they are personal or community-wide.
Eye Lounge is a collective, artist-run, contemporary art space committed to fostering emerging and established visual artists in downtown Phoenix.
The collective was founded in 2000 and first hosted group exhibitions at various locations in and around Phoenix and moved to its current location at 922 North 5th Street in December, 2001. The collective is a founding member of Roosevelt Row.
Eye Lounge has been featured in local and national press including Sunset Magazine, Art In America, ArtNews, Phoenix New Times, Shade Magazine, Java and others. Along with other neighboring galleries, Eye Lounge has been listed as part of the “Best Underground Art Scene” by The Arizona Republic.
New exhibitions by Arizona artists open every month.
Follow Eye Lounge on Instagram: @eyeloungephx
Kassandra Eller: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! To begin, I would love to know how Eye Lounge began. What sparked the idea of this collective and how did this collective come to be?
Greg Esser: In the late 1990s, there were limited opportunities for artists to exhibit and to work collaboratively in Phoenix. The idea to form the collective was inspired in part by similar spaces in Denver including Pirate which started in the 1980s and still thrives today. A group of Phoenix artists got together at the time through a series of informal salons hosted by Ted Decker in his home. Eye Lounge grew in part out of those conversations and a desire to build community. The founding artists started working together through group exhibitions hosted by Ice House and Mesa Contemporary Arts in 1999. Greg Esser and Cindy Dach acquired a building in 2000 that was vacant at the time from Tom Carmody which still houses the collective today at 5th Street and Roosevelt. The Carmody Company has played a critical role in helping to build artist ownership of real property in Phoenix to cultivate longer-term sustainability of the arts. The Eye Lounge collective has continued to curate exhibits in other venues locally and nationally and still fosters other collaborative projects today.
KE: Looking through your artist’s images I notice a cohesiveness within the artwork. Does your collective work within a theme or was this unity purely coincidental?
Regan Henley: Our members truthfully have no true archetype; we have people who do all mediums, themes and have come to art in all kinds of ways. The space isn’t just for people in one phase of their career either; we have people fresh out of college looking to put their foot in the door, it’s true, but also people who are retired, mid career or are returning to art after long hiatus. We also have folks who have moved here from far away and are looking to find a built-in community; which outside of a work or school setting can be really challenging. I’d say it’s coincidental to see cohesiveness, but when you look at the legacy and structure of Eye Lounge, each new member is chosen by those that came before them, so there is some semblance of heritage with each person, and that never feels like an accident.
KE: Eye Lounge has continually curated group exhibitions, even before opening a gallery of your own. What qualities do you look for in a group exhibition and what does the process of an exhibition look like?
Megan Driving Hawk: Our group exhibitions come together a bit differently than a regular gallery since we are a collective of artists. There is a committee called Gallery Operations within our collective that leads the production of our group shows. First, they propose “themes” and the collective as a whole votes on the theme to move forward for the next group show. From there the Gallery Operations committee sets a timeline on when publicity materials are due. The committee is responsible for creating the publicity materials to be used in the newsletter, social media and any other PR/Marketing outlets we might have at the time. This same committee comes together to curate the install of all the work submitted by the group members.
Recently we did an open call for artists in the Phoenix valley who have never shown at Eye Lounge. For this, we sat down as a collective to jury the show. Again, Gallery Operations was responsible for collecting materials necessary for PR & Marketing purposes and came together to install the show in the gallery space.
KE: In your statement, you discuss how Eye Lounge is a founding member of Roosevelt Row, an organization working on initiatives in the arts to cultivate creative spaces. I would love to hear more about Eye Lounge and the work you are doing with Roosevelt Row! How do you feel Eye Lounge and Roosevelt Row have helped foster creativity in Phoenix?
Greg Esser: First Fridays in Phoenix has grown into the phenomenon it is now because a handful of galleries including Eye Lounge and Modified Arts agreed to have the same common hours. Those common hours ensured that visitors coming to one gallery would be able to see other art spaces at the same time. Often artists showing at the same time in different venues would also collaborate to build synergy between their exhibitions. For example, there might be three or four venues showing artist-made music technology. Roosevelt offers so much more for visitors today, but there are fewer artist venues. Eye Lounge still carries the torch and has the same core hours.
KE: It has been quite some time since Eye Lounge was founded! How has the collective changed since its conception? What are some of the things you have learned?
Greg Esser: One of the distinguishing features of Eye Lounge is that we have had a maximum “term limit” of three years from our founding. That means that we always have new members joining. The term limits ensure that fresh and changing perspectives constantly infuse the group. Artists that matriculate or graduate after three years might also take the collaborative experience and build a new iteration so the experience ideally seeds new artist collectives. 515 Arts in Phoenix grew out of a collaboration of former Eye Lounge members. The downside of the term limits is that some institutional knowledge is lost over time. We may explore a hybrid model that can also take advantage of our amazing base of former members or alumni.
KE: What words of inspiration do you have for artists interested in starting a collective of their own?
Dean Terasaki: It’s important for artists to have a community. Value each person’s voice and communicate often. We meet once a month for business and take time to critique the work of whoever is showing that month. Even though each of us is at a different point in our careers, we support one another. As a retired art professor, I can tell you that those words of support mean so much as we make our way as artists.
KE: What is next for Eye Lounge? Are there any new ideas or goals you want to implement in the next few years?
Regan Henley: Big things! We really value the legacy of Eye Lounge, and we will be hosting another retrospective show in the new year of past members, of which there are over 150! The world has changed a lot in the last two decades, and our alumni have scattered far and wide, but the porch light is always on for you here. Rest assured, we still are up to our regular programming of member shows, including solo exhibitions and group exhibitions as well.
KE: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Regan Henley: As cost of living continues to grow, and cities all over the US are experiencing exponential growth I implore everyone to consider the value local art institutions and communities have on your cities. As areas gentrify, and high rises go up, it’s all too easy for a thriving “art scene” to become a few scattered murals. Invest in and enjoy your communities where they are, and hang on to them tightly.
Dean Terasaki: I am a new member, and I believe Eye Lounge’s longevity may be in the collective’s care in selecting artists. The selection process emphasizes that each current member is heard as new artists are evaluated, and that during the process, expectations for new members are defined. I also believe that the limit to the length of membership is important. Three years can seem like a long time, but it does mean that there is a limited amount of time to demonstrate artistic growth. It is important and precious to have a place to grow as professionals, learn from other artists, and have a community to talk to. But it’s also good to have a clock ticking so that each member makes the most of their time in the collective.
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