This essay was kindly written by Jocelyn Almy-Testa for my monograph in support of my major solo show that was to be held at the Museum & Gallery Tuanku Fauziah of the University Sciences Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia in 2009. The show has been canceled due to the lack of grant funding. The Museum and I tried our very best to secure funds and support for this major solo exhibition, but unfortunately we were not successful. Jocelyn and I have decided to premier this essay here on MAKING THE ART SEEN instead. - Sand T Kalloch
SAND T'S ART AND ACTIVISM: The Correlation Between Sand T's Personal And Activist Work
By Jocelyn Almy-Testa
When Sand T first asked me to write this essay for her monograph, I was honored, as would be any member of the Greater Boston art community. The name “Sand T” has been widely known for over two decades, has become synonymous with professionalism and dedication to the arts within the Massachusetts arts community and beyond. Sand T has developed an artistic process and practice that is remarkable in its ingenuity, execution and proliferation; projected the careers of numerous fellow artists, and changed the culture of a entire city through grass roots arts advocacy.
Sand T, a warm and energetic woman who can't go very long without smiling, is a woman who demands excellence of herself and of others without apology, but not without understanding. She has come to this place in her life, as an internationally exhibited artist and celebrated arts advocate through perseverance, dedication to the practice and execution of her craft, her ability to see opportunity in adversity, and the question she asks when I communicate ideas with even a hint of doubt, “Why not?”. This simple question has inadvertently guided the community of Malden, Massachusetts into a new phase of economic growth and quality of life; initiated by the vision of this one woman.
It is common in Massachusetts, as it is elsewhere, that artists will settle in an undesirable area, drawn by low rent prices and available space, repopulating and reviving the neighborhood through creative initiatives which lead to business development and opportunity. Subsequently, the property values increase. The artists are then displaced by property developers or local governments who gentrify the area and either exuberantly increase rental costs, re-designate studio buildings' zoning codes to exclude artist studios, or raise them altogether. Such was the case with the Stilling Street buildings in Boston's Fort Point Channel in 2000.
A plan of a 500-vehicle garage and office building was made to replace three low-lying Stilling Street structures occupied by dozens of artists for more than two decades, including Sand T and S.T Gallery, Sand's first gallery space which she founded in 1998. The demolition of these warehouse buildings, built at the turn of the twentieth-century, displaced 32 artist-tenants who lived and worked in the building, and five small businesses.
Sand worked tirelessly to stop the chain of action that greatly undermined the efforts of artists to turn the area from a crime-ridden undesirable neighborhood into a safe community where businesses, artists and families flourished. Through the efforts of Sand T and the Fort Point community, community meetings were organized; signatures were collected; concerns were addresses; letters of petition were sent to respective authorities. The buildings were still demolished, despite community-wide objection.
Sand remarked on the experience, “Even though we didn't save the Stillings Street buildings in Fort Point, I believe our efforts helped to create public awareness of the migration of artists from the Boston area looking for affordable live/work space.” This experience of activism, ending with a negative outcome for the Fort Point community in Boston, would eventually benefit the city of Malden, Massachusetts.
Upon displacement, Sand T's first gallery called S.T Gallery, relocated to Malden, a suburb of Boston lacking visible creative collaborations and public encouragement of artistic endeavors.
Sand T rebuilt her gallery in Malden as artSPACE@16, an alternative gallery space housed in a spacious double car garage. She renovated the space with the help of supportive friends and followers, including her husband and fellow artist Wesley Kalloch. This new, non-commercial fine art gallery was also dedicated as a center for art advocacy where artists and art enthusiasts gathered to create a collective force in the promotion and development of an artists' community in Malden.
Art reception at artSPACE@16 in Malden, Massachusetts. 2007
Through collaboration with city officials, Sand T, a grass-roots advocate who worked without the umbrella of an established institution or staff, paved the way for the redevelopment of Malden's center to become a destination point for artists and a cradle of creative economy. She strategically ensured that artists would not be displaced by encouraging public discourse; bringing artists and politicians to the table to negotiate fair terms for mutually beneficial co-existence and collaboration; and consulting as a member of an advisory committee to the Malden Redevelopment Authority on creating live-work spaces for artists as well as affordable artists' studios. This partnership has successfully leaded to the establishment of IDEAS 5 Artists Studios and Irving Street Studios in downtown Malden that houses nine units of live-work studios and a gallery.
Under Sand T’s ingenuity and inspiration, art galleries and new art initiatives continued to establish in the community. To name a few, the Mayor of Malden dedicated a space in his office for the exhibition of art; the Malden Access Television created an exhibition space in its facility; a 1,600 sq ft Elm Street Gallery was established in the First Parish; an online art magazine MaldenMuse was launched; Window Arts Malden annual exhibition was founded.
Sand T brought changes to the Malden community through her vision of establishing a creative community that would embrace, not displace, its artists. Her sheer determination founded in the knowledge and firm belief in the transformative power of the arts changed the culture of an entire city.
In the past decade or so, Sand T has provided over five-hundred artists exhibition opportunities and thousands of visitors an accessible venue to peruse innovative contemporary works that were often overlooked by the mainstream gallery system. Sand T's eye for discovering new talent, her ability to assemble striking exhibition design, and the relentless promotion of her artists made artSPACE@16 a highly sought non-commercial exhibition venue by both emerging and established artists, as well as those who were hungry for innovative visual dialog.
LAST SHOW at artSPACE@16, May 2008. Image courtesy of Sand T.
In June 2008, a decade after the gallery's conception, Sand T chose to close artSPACE@16, knowing that the arts community she pioneered was politically endorsed and publicly supported. The arts community felt a collective loss at the closing, but also celebrated Sand T's decision to focus on her own work.
As a result of Sand T's community building work, she was nominated Citizen of the Year by the local newspaper, The Malden Observer. In 2007, Sand received The Malden YWCA Tribute to Women Award, and was nominated by her peers for a Commonwealth Award for Outstanding Contributions to Arts and Culture in Massachusetts in the same year.
Her website for artSPACE@16 was recommended by CommunityArtsNetwork APInews as a grassroots model for advocating city redevelopment through the arts in 2005. In the following year, her gallery was selected as one of Raphaela Platow’s (former curator at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University) 11 favorite Greater Boston galleries. The awards she received for her gallery work continued when artSPACE@16 was voted Best Art Gallery for A-List 2007 conducted by WBZ-TV and CityVoter in Boston, and received the highly revered Boston Magazine's 2008 Best of Boston ® Home Award, in 2008.
Amongst other numerous awards and long lists of reviews about her community building and gallery work, Sand also received grants from local fiscal agents of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, as well as private foundations.
In Sand's new phase of her art career, as a full-time professional exhibiting artist, the tables have turned. She is now actively seeking and acquiring venues for her own work. It was in this capacity that I met Sand T, as founder of the Little Gallery under the Stairs, in Lynn, Massachusetts, just north of Malden. Sand's resulting solo-exhibition at the gallery allowed me unique insight to her work and artistic process. Upon visiting her studio prior to her exhibition, I was educated about her multi-step process. She led me through her process of conceptualizing, the creation of the cradle, the preparation of its surface, and the composing and layering of the graphite lines and epoxy resin to attain the desired results through both control of the medium and an allowance for its inherent qualities. Each step is attended to with utmost attention to detail and goal of a creating minimalist, harmonic compositions - visually defying their labored conception through delicate relationships between elements of line, color, balance and light.
Sand T's painting submission to “Important Things,” a juried show at TLGUTS was awarded an "Exceptional Work Award". "The Space between", 30 x 30 x 3.5", resin, paint and graphite on clayboard, 2009. Image Courtesy of Sand T
Sand explained that her unique epoxy process was discovered accidentally during an attempt to protect a painting early in her artistic career. She covered the painting with epoxy. Struck with the qualities of the material, she began to explore it as a creative medium, one that she has since mastered and claimed as her own. The harmony of the elements of her pieces coincide with her community work. Through her community work, Sand T promotes harmony amongst people, whether the backgrounds on which they are set is stark like ebony, or vibrant like chartreuse. Her lines dance forward and backward, through the layers of epoxy, intermingling, relating with each other, like the people who are drawn to Sand for her contagious positive energy. Surface drips magnify and sway these lines, calling on them to come to life, to move, as Sand calls on those around her to move, to come to life and amplify what is. Sand's visual work, like her work as an advocate, can be looked upon straight forward and seen from a singular view point, and seem whole, but not until you look from an angle, from a varied perspective, do you understand the full quality of her work.
This is the effect that Sand T has on the people she comes across as well. She inspires them and moves them to become something more than what they already are, through subtle encouragement, and by asking them to see things from a new perspective. She orchestrates harmony in all that she does. It is hard for me to look at Sand's work simply for it's inherent and masterfully articulated artistic qualities, because I see so much of the artist herself in her work. While her intellectual and creative choices do stand alone, once you get to know her, they begin to make sense in a different context.
It would be remiss not to mention my struggle with emphasizing Sand's nurturing qualities. In an art community where de-sexing one's female nature to come across as almost androgynous in order to retain credibility is still apparent (albeit diminishing), I find there is no other language that aptly defines her motives and actions. I make no apology for my language here, because she is a nurturer. She cares tremendously about her visual work, those she works with, her communities and family. All too often in American visual arts-based institutional settings we neglect the human emotions which drive us all into action. We over intellectualize the intent of the work to rid it of emotion in order to validate the work in the institutional settings. With few exceptions, artists whose work is nurture based are dismissed. We promote the notion that our intellects alone direct and derive from us what the audience seeks and supposes. In this case, there can be no separation of the two. Although her visual work is not based on the concept of nurture, her community work is, and its approximation to her visual work *makes it* difficult to separate *the two* as the promotional work of both feed from each other. She has earned credibility as an advocate and artists through her tenure, tenacity, and above all, her insight into those human and elemental artistic qualities which draw us together and to visual works. Our need to nurture each other, to seek and find relativity and our penchant for celebrating our unique industry of creativity and ingenuity are relevant in both aspects of Sand T's work.
In an interview by James Manning, Former Director of Art Initiative, Inc., Manning asked, “How do you think being an artist, in particular an Asian American woman artist has shaped your role as a curator, gallery director, and your role in the community?”
"Besides my role as an artist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I also operated an art-consulting firm, working on art projects in collaborations with the Malaysian National Art Gallery, local art colleges, private galleries and individuals to promote Contemporary Arts through organizing and curating exhibits. During that time, this question was never asked while I was doing the same thing in Malaysia as I am doing now in the States. My woman-ness and Asian-ness has been magnified after my move to America. My role as an Asian woman, and artist and a curator who grew up in a multicultural country like Malaysia, and now living in another melting pot, the United States, has not changes significantly. I perhaps have more to provide culturally and artistically to the community here. I see myself as a person who wants to make a difference in the community, anywhere, no matter how small."
This being the case, perhaps the United States has more to learn from Malaysia's culture than we know.
It is rare in the current Boston art scene, that an artist extends their abilities and voice so ambitiously with such measurable results, through both their creations and a sense of responsibility to their community, or in Sand's case, communities. During my visit to her studio, we also spoke in depth about Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur. Sand T described her home with nostalgia and pride. She took a prominently displayed map of Malaysia from her studio wall and laid it down on a table to explain the Malaysian geography and history of emigration. She talked about her family and childhood, the diversity of its people, and the strong sense of community that was fostered within her, which no doubt had great impact and influence on her work here in the United States as a community builder.
Sand T's work in promoting Malaysian and Asian cultures here in the United States have been multi-fold. She worked with local non-profit agencies, artists and individuals on an Malden Cultural Council awarded community project, entitled the Asian American Artists Roundtable Series. The program included seven events, successfully implemented at artSPACE@16 and several venues in Malden and Boston.
She has also constructed a blog site, Eye On The Arts: Contemporary Malaysia, wholly dedicated to Malaysian contemporary art. This web site serves as a bridge between to the United States and Malaysian art communities. She has been an unofficial ambassador of Malaysia to her extensive Greater Boston audience, educating Americans and the WWW about the contemporary ideas and culture of her homeland.
Not long after Sand T decided to close the doors to her physical gallery, she began an ambitious project to continue to support artists with multiple web endeavors including the Malaysian Contemporary Art site. A second online site, MAKING THE ART SEEN - a non commercial virtual gallery featuring artist interviews created in April 2009, has been met with as much appreciation and interest as artSPACE@16. With artists contacting her regularly in hopes of becoming one of her featured artists, the web page has continued the legacy of the work she began at S.T Gallery. A much more manageable project than maintaining a physical gallery space, Sand T has been able to continue her community building work on the internet while maintaining her studio work.
Sand T will be showing her new work in LINEAR, a curated group show to be held at Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery in Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts this March-April. Exhibition Dates: March 11 - April 7, 2010. Reception: Thursday, March 11, 2010, from 6-8pm. To learn more about Sand T's work, please visit her website.
What is so remarkable about Sand T is that she works independently. In her studio, without a team of artists helping her to complete her prolific collection, the solitary nature of her artistic practice ensures uniform quality and authenticity in her work. This body of work is a fresh face for the art scene, combining intellectual curiosity with vision, creativity, and continuity creating a harmonic discourse between her pieces. In her activism and gallery work, she works without the umbrella of a governing organization. In the United States, a country where million dollar studies are done before any action is taken, only to find that the intended action would cost millions more, Sand T moves forward with empty hands, asks that simple question, “Why not?”, and wheels move. Without staff or funding, through hard work and determination as well as a firm knowledge and belief in the life transforming powers of the arts, she helped redefined the heart of a city. Sand T is nothing short of an international artistic treasure, both inside and outside gallery walls.
About the writer:
Jocelyn Almy-Testa, gallerist, artist and writer, is the owner of TLGUTS, The Little Gallery under the Stairs. She also coordinates the Hartman Leigh Children's Art Gallery at LynnArts in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she serves on the curating committee.
Recently Published Articles by Jocelyn Almy-Testa:
August 9, 2009 ArtThrob magazine, Andrew Carr
October 16, 2009 ArtThrob magazine, Isa Leshko