Hopes and Memories
Interviewed by Journal d'Ambroisie, Editors in Chief
“I want to encourage everyone to go look at art and feel” An Interview with Alexandra Steinacker-Clark
Journal d’Ambroisie:You've been studying and working in the arts for the last few years, and you're an expert on everything related to the art world. So what should we hope to see in the art world in the next few years in terms of changes or developments? What do you see as the shifts happening right now?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: What I hope to see and what I am seeing a bit more of is definitely diversity and representation. And this is not just in relation to ethnicity and people from different cultures – although that is a huge and incredibly important part of it – but also in terms of economic standing. Arts is a sector where in order to garner success, sometimes you have to go freelance, you have to do your own project; it's not always tied to the stability of an organisation – and so if you look at people who have been incredibly successful in what they do in the art world, most of them come from wealthy upper-middle class backgrounds. It's a hard sector to make money in, to make a living off of, so it's rare to see someone from a more working class background or someone who hasn't been brought up with the security of a good financial standing thrive in this environment. Therefore, people from this background “making it” in this world is something that I would like to see more of, experience more of. I also sincerely hope that people within society will recognize the work that we do in the arts, that they'll feel more inclined to engage with the arts. I really believe that embracing the arts will have a positive effect on our society overall, in terms of our education levels, our empathy with one another, and how introspective we are as human beings.
Journal d’Ambroisie:And as the host of the incredible "All About Art" podcast, is this project part of your hope for society to acknowledge the arts more?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: 1000% yes, that is basically everything that my project revolves around. I started recording the podcast during the pandemic, I wanted to feel closer to the art world and to create something that the 21 year-old me starting to study Art History at UCL in London – not knowing much about the intricacies of the art world – would have really loved to have in order to gain a better idea of the sector so that I could feel more confident in entering into it.
Image 1: All About Art Cover
Journal d’Ambroisie:You mentioned that there's more diversity in terms of class and economic background within the artist community. Is there a shift in terms of the audience as well? And is your podcast part of this democratisation mission to expand on who can consume the arts?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: I sure hope so, because it's completely free to listen to. However, it is crucial to also think about who has the time to sit down and listen to podcasts. It is certainly a privilege to feel like you have the time to listen to a podcast about the art world, to get into the mindset of the arts more broadly. But it's free to listen to and you can do it on the tube while you're commuting, for example, so overall it's very accessible. Unfortunately, I don't have any actual way of measuring whether my podcast is reaching people from lower income backgrounds; that's actually something that I would love to find out more about, but as we stand now I only know where they're located in terms of cities as well as what their age is and what platform they're listening on. Even so, I’ve been receiving incredibly positive feedback from people from around the world who get in touch with me on LinkedIn and Instagram saying things such as, “I've discovered your podcast and I love it and it's inspiring to me”, sometimes I receive them from artists who say, “ I was listening to your podcast while I was painting.” All of these interactions are so meaningful to me, I have a little album on my phone where I save all of the messages I receive. If I touch one person with what I do, that makes me happy, but I have been able to touch hundreds, which is surreal to me. And maybe, one day it could be thousands. But the fact that I have been able to positively influence people and inspire them to continue to work in the arts when it is a difficult sector to make a living in at the moment, – which is also what we're trying to change – that means so much to me.
Journal d’Ambroisie: I'm very curious to hear, what are some of your all time favourite topics you discussed on the podcast? And who are some of your all time favourite guests?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: I have to think about this one because there's a total of 46 episodes that have come out so far. I have to say, one of the topics that I loved was a solo episode that I did on art censorship. It was based off of an essay that I wrote for my master's degree, and I ended up giving talks about it as well at the Lansdowne Club. It was something that I researched in depth and I loved talking about it, and it was an interesting one to produce. For collaborative episodes, some of the people and topics that are coming to my mind now are Dr. Sabine Haag, director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, who was talking about how to direct a museum, and she was so open and vulnerable talking about the struggles they faced throughout COVID. Another meaningful one that I really enjoyed – and this is again keeping in mind this idea of class distinction within the arts – was when I did a podcast crossover with Gary Mansfield, who runs the “Ministry of Arts” podcast. Gary has been to prison and he went through a reform there, discovering art, and he has come out a changed man. Interviewing him and also listening to his podcast and just knowing him as a person, and to be able to showcase him and his journey on “All About Art” was an amazing experience. Then there was Gražina Subelytė from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which was one of the proudest collaborations that I've ever done. But also Libby Heaney, who's a quantum physicist and an artist. Or Flora Bradwell, or Lindsey Jean McLean, who are my friends and they are wonderful, amazing practising artists. Alayo Akinkugbe, who runs "A Black History of Art". Sometimes these are such vulnerable conversations and she was opening up to me about how she started her Instagram and how she began to gain confidence in what she’s doing, which was beautiful to hear about. Holly J. Black, former managing editor of Elephant Magazine and the author of “Artists on Art”. And there are plenty more that I haven't mentioned that changed the way I see the art world, and I have gained such an immense amount of knowledge through the people who have come on the podcast.
Journal d’Ambroisie: Where would you like the podcast to lead you personally?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: Honestly, it's a hard question to answer because where I always wanted it to lead me was such a flexible goal. I never really had a big finish line for it in the sense that I just wanted people to listen to it. Now, more people listen to it than I had expected or ever imagined. I'm also getting approached by companies or PR agencies to conduct interviews with people. I collaborated with the Peggy Guggenheim collection. I've had phenomenal people on the podcast who have shared their insights with me. I'm truly already so grateful with what this podcast has given me, and given the whole arts sector. Although I also have to say, obviously, I'm someone who is ambitious and who has goals. Therefore, what I would love and what I'm trying to do is to expand the podcast a bit more so that it's not just online; I'm speaking to galleries that I collaborate on the podcast with about doing a panel talk or an event surrounding the episode. Essentially, doing everything to give back to the art community through creating environments for networking, for knowledge exchange. I also have a newsletter now and I've launched the “All About Art” podcast Instagram. But as I said, I'm trying to move it offline as well, doing more events, networking, panel discussions, exhibition tours surrounding “All About Art” to the point where it adds value to the sector.
Image 2: ‘All About Art’ Episode 46
Journal d’Ambroisie: Can we talk about the two year anniversary event?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: Yes, one of the best examples of these efforts is the “All About Art” second anniversary weekend. I wanted to throw an anniversary party, which I already did last year for the first anniversary on the Slash Arts Houseboat. The collective let me have the boat for the night. I baked a little hors d'oeuvres and I served drinks and it was a very chill night to say thank you to the people who supported me throughout that first year. In the last year, the podcast has grown massively. I'm now in the top 10% of the most followed and the most shared podcasts worldwide. To celebrate this, what I wanted to do this year is create an event that is, again, something that adds value to the larger arts community. I wanted to throw a networking event where we are reimagining party games (like jenga) and creatively incorporating these into a networking structure for the evening so that people feel like they can blatantly network with one another, but in a comfortable, fun environment with barriers brought down. Here, I have to say thank you to Kupfer, the project space and art gallery that I'm hosting the event at – they have given me their space for three days, and in addition to this they offered that if I wanted to do more surrounding the event, they would be happy to help. In fact, the anniversary has now developed into a full weekend with panel talks, exhibition tours, and this networking event, and with amazing professionals coming. I couldn't dream of the people who have said yes and are coming to talk about their experiences in the art world. It's so exciting, I'm thrilled!
Journal d’Ambroisie: That’s a huge milestone, congratulations! Being here where you are now, is there something that you would tell your younger self?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: This is such an emotional question, because looking at my childhood, it wasn't always the easiest. I say that it's a passion and goal of mine to make the arts more accessible to people from low income backgrounds. This is also because I come from a lower income background. I think I would tell my younger self that she does not have to worry, that she will be able to take care of herself and develop such a strong sense of self, and that she will not allow unhealthy patterns in her life anymore, be it from herself or from others in all aspects, for the most part anyway. Obviously no one's perfect and sometimes, things do still crop up. Some things I still need to work through, because I'm in my 20s, I'm far from being perfect, but I'll be working on myself when I'm in my 60s too. So young Alex, you don't have to worry, you’re safe and you’ll be able to take care of yourself, and you can be confident that you’ve worked hard enough.
Journal d’Ambroisie: That’s beautiful, thank you for sharing it with us. Do you have any people in mind that inspired you throughout the journey and made you believe that the art world was for you as well?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: The first person that comes to mind – and this ties into my last point as well, learning, even when you're in your 60s – is my mom, who is receptive to my experiences, who is supportive, and who is a workaholic like myself. My mom is the ultimate strong woman, the number one role model in my life. And she never once said, “How are you going to make money with all this?” She was the person who unconditionally supported my journey from the start. I think we can divide the inspiring people into two categories. There's the personal ones who I can be vulnerable with and who inspire me through their vulnerability, like my best friend, Emilie, or other people close to me who really allow me to grow personally and emotionally. Then there are people who I don’t know personally or closely, but who really inspire me in the art world, like Bettina Korek, CEO of Serpentine, or fellow podcaster Katy Hessel, host of “The Great Women Artists”, who is an absolute superstar in the art world, or like Sadie Coles, a gallerist and art dealer. These people inspire me and I look at their careers and think, “Wow, this is what I'm striving towards, this is what inspires me.” Of course, then there are all the guests who've been on my podcast and shared their experiences.
Journal d’Ambroisie: You've recently given your very own Ted Talk in collaboration
with UCL, titled “Can Engaging with Art Increase Empathy?” First of all, congratulations! Could you tell us a little bit about the whole experience?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: I'm going to be really transparent with you, the experience was mixed. It was panic and joy all in one. I knew I wanted to give a TED Talk for a long time, it was on my bucket list. In fact, one of my philosophies in my career is when you want something, don't keep it a secret, tell people because people are so willing to help and to see you grow if they believe in you. I have had so much encouragement and support from people and I wouldn't be where I am if I had kept everything I wanted a secret. So after receiving some great advice, I reached out to TEDXUCL and once I gave my pitch I had to wait a couple months, and then on February 5th (I can’t believe I know the exact date), I got the email saying that they're inviting me to come speak on the 8th of March 2023. So I had a month, but mind you, I work full time and I also have a podcast, I also want to have a social life, and I also like to exercise, to find time for that – so I had to juggle all of that while preparing for this huge moment. I've never spoken for 15 minutes straight without looking at cards and now I had one month to get ready, so of course I had a bit of anxiety about it. My mum helped a lot with preparing, she told me not to get overwhelmed by trying to memorise everything all at once. She told me to study one or two paragraphs at a time until they are fully memorised, and then move on to the next paragraph, without going back or going forward – just concentrating on one to two a day. As a matter of fact, with this method, I had my speech memorised within a week. Then I had another week and a half to practise without a paper, to just memorise the flow, to be able to speak in a way where I enunciated correctly. Likewise, thinking about what to wear is the hardest thing. I was at the gym when I had an idea, and I got off the treadmill and started texting artists. The idea was to wear an artwork on stage, to get my point across even better. I asked artist Haydn Albrow to tuft a work that I could wear around my shoulders, and we glued her work to a secondhand blazer – in fact, my whole outfit was secondhand. It made a statement and it was also really cool and empowering; and on top of all that, I got to work with a great artist. On the day of the talk, I got on stage, the first couple of sentences were a bit more breathy, I was nervous, and then it came really naturally, it flowed. And then all of a sudden I knew I was on the last paragraph and my brain just went, “Oh, my God, I've done it. I've done it without making a mistake. I've done it. It's done now. This is the last time I'm going to be reciting this. I've done it. It's done!” I definitely hope that I will have the opportunity to give speeches and talks in the future because this was the first time I've done it so there was a lot of anxiety around it, but now that I've learned how to navigate it and feel confident, I feel like it brought me so much joy to be on that stage. So I would love to continue to do that in the future.
Image 3: Portrait. Artwork by Kathrin Isabell Rhomberg.
Journal d’Ambroisie: We would certainly love to see you giving more talks! To return to the theme of hope a little bit in the larger arts movement here at the end; in your opinion, what is the role of contemporary art in finding hope in what often feels like a hopeless world?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: I think it ties everything that I've spoken about together, and it also references what I speak about in the TED Talk in how art will have such positive effects, engaging more with art will allow us to be more introspective with ourselves, more empathetic with one another, but also more conscientious of our consumption, seeing the changes that need to be made in this world. I can only really, truly speak from a personal perspective that I would not be able to live my life and devote myself to a full time job and project if I didn't fully believe in and love what I'm doing. That alone gives me hope in my own future. I also hope that people who might feel confused or lost or who might not be happy in their jobs or who might be struggling with the pressures of an incredibly capitalist hamster wheel society, that maybe, just maybe, they can find solace in contemporary art. Now, I'm not saying that contemporary art is exempt from capitalism, but if you're going to find things in there that make you think and make you feel, then it's the contemporary art world. So that's what I hope it will do for people because I think that we need to be in touch with our emotions and our empathy a lot more.
Journal d’Ambroisie: Any last thoughts that you'd like to share with the Journal, the Salon, this whole community?
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark: I guess if you're reading the interview and you're not in the arts and you don't really know how to go to museums and to interact with art, if you feel intimidated or you feel like you don't belong in these spaces, I just want to reiterate that your personal experiences and opinions on works of art and how they make you feel is what makes engaging with art so rewarding. It doesn't matter if you know about an art piece. It doesn't matter if you think it's crap or a bad work of art. Think about why that is. I want to emphasise that everyone's opinions and feelings about works of art and how they react to them is super valuable. Indeed, I want to encourage everyone to go look at art and feel.
Alexandra Steinacker-Clark is an American-Austrian art historian, curator and writer. She lives and works in London, UK. She obtained her BA in History of Art at University College London and continued her education at Goldsmiths University with an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. Her areas of research include feminism in contemporary art, western museum policies, as well as accessibility and engagement in the arts. She is the founder and host of the 'All About Art' Podcast, co-founder of C/20 Association for International Curatorial Practice, and a TEDx speaker. She currently holds a position at Skarstedt Gallery after her time as Studio Manager for a London- based artist and 4 years at Sotheby’s Auction House.