Dana Rae carries herself with a poise and intelligence that I wish I encountered more often in people. We meet up on a hot summer evening in the Avenues of Salt Lake City so I can make some portraits of her. Dana conserves her energy in the shade and looks on with a calm nonchalance as I set up my gear. She responds to my questions quickly and decisively, not needing much time to think. This is what immediately impressed me about Dana the first time I met her. You sense a curious, critical mind at work, actively experiencing and considering the world.
We discuss different artists. I mention I’ve been reading that massive book about Van Gogh, and we both agree that artist biographies are at their worst when trying to use the artist’s life to interpret or explicate their work. Dana is more than gracious with her time on this sweltering evening. Neither of us is too excited about how hot it is, but she never rushes me. At the end of a long hot shoot I discover that she’s moving to Amsterdam in less than a week and currently in the process of packing up her apartment, dealing with the myriad number of tasks before uprooting to another country. I thank her for making time during such a crazy week. “Oh, it’s not a problem. Honestly it’s a nice break from the mess.”
BRACKET: How’s Amsterdam going so far?
DANA HERNANDEZ: It’s going very well. Summer in the city is magnificent. I'm working hard on establishing the new business my husband and I are starting and residency in the Netherlands, while also exploring new neighborhoods and familiarizing myself with Dutch culture.
B: What business are you starting with your husband?
D: We’re starting a creative studio that offers design and professional services to artists, organizations, and businesses who need help developing their visual identities, applying for and winning commissions and grants, and who believe in the power of contemporary art and experimental design to create a more inclusive and compelling world.
B: Did you guys run into any crazy problems moving to a foreign country?
D: Luckily, because we'd been planning this move for over a year, we prepared as much as we could prior to leaving. We've also been super proactive since we've been here, which has helped. We immediately found a place to live, have been working on immigration, and have been networking and researching as much as possible. Knowing who to talk to and what questions to ask has, thus far, prevented us from feeling totally helpless.
B: What was it about Amsterdam in particular that made you want to move there?
D: The high concentration of creative people, the accepting, art-driven, and more progressive culture. The proximity to Berlin (where my sister-in-law lives) and other metropolitan cities, the fact that nearly everything you see is well designed, the history, the fact that it was a more affordable place to live and less populated than other metropolises, and the fact that we could legally immigrate with our business.
B: You’ve been living in Amsterdam for just a bit now. So far what has exceeded your expectations?
D: I didn't realize how much I would enjoy learning about and becoming familiar with Dutch idiosyncrasies—and there is no shortage.
B: For several years you were involved in the local arts community in Salt Lake City. Can you talk a bit about what you did?
D: I moved to Salt Lake City in October 2009. By December I had registered for Art History courses at the University of Utah, secured a curatorial internship at the UMFA, and was regularly volunteering for the UMFA's PR & Marketing Department. When I moved I already had plans to begin my graduate degree in Art History at the U, but I wanted more than a formal education. I wanted to know the people, the culture, and more specifically the art scene. During graduate school I made life-long friends who continued to introduce me to new places, people, and ideas that led me to becoming a staff member at UMFA, then to CUAC, later to the Utah Film Center, and finally to Salt Lake City Corporation, where I ran the Public Art Program.
In every position I was able to work with artists, which I have since come to realize is a passion of mine. While working in Salt Lake I gained and learned so many helpful new skills ranging from fundraising, to event production, to budgeting, to installing exhibitions, to public relations and communications, to board administration, and finally to project management. Throughout each position I held, I did my best to provide access points to the people in Salt Lake City to explore and engage with the artwork I was helping present. The goal being to help people see something interesting that may give them deeper insight into themselves or the world around them.
B: What’s most important to you when working with artists? How has your practice changed over the years?
D: The most important thing for me, when working with artists, is to ensure their vision is well-developed and presented in a way that allows the people consuming the art to have a meaningful experience. I don't think the way I work has necessarily changed, I think I've refined my skills and gained more tools to help me execute projects in a more effective way.
B: Artists can be an unruly lot. From your perspective, what’s one thing you find that most artists can be better at?
D: I think every artist could really benefit by viewing their practice as a business. In order to run a successful business and to be self-employed you must make smart decisions, know your audience, use your resources responsibly, work hard, and consistently work on understanding the market, the context of your work within the scope of the field and for your consumers, and so much more. This is why I felt it was so important to start a studio with my husband that focuses on offering services to artists to help them put their best foot forward, so their work can be seen. Often artists get stuck and feel overwhelmed by applying for grants, or to commissions that require a lot of work, or don't know how to create a cohesive voice, or distinct look for their website—this is where I can help. I want to help every artist I believe has something valuable to say get their work out there. I want them to win commissions, so I'll make sure all the boxes are checked and that you've answered all the questions sufficiently. I can demystify processes for you. I can help you ask the right questions. Will and I can help you create your next portfolio, artist book, or website so your work makes an impact.
B: Tell me a bit about The CMYK Club. I love print culture and this project looks very cool.
D: Thank you! CMYK Club was a born from my husband Will's mind. Since he began designing, we've collaborated. He's got a true talent for developing concepts and I've got a good editing eye, so whenever he designs something he asks my opinion and we usually end up getting in long discussions about the product (one of my all-time favorite things). Out of our organic collaborations came the knowledge that we work quite well together, and out of Will's intense dedication to creating he decided he wanted us to create something ongoing and of our own. I agreed. He became fascinated with the fact that the digital realm is constantly updated with media and that so much relevant and interesting media exists, but due to the overwhelming quantity of information available and our limited capacity to consume, he wanted to highlight work that only exists in the digital world, and with permission, turns it into print, so that it becomes tangible, in a sense more real, and also gives the consumer a chance to undergo the process of creating and/or manipulating the final product. After we collaborate on layouts, content, etc we upload the issue to the web and provide instructions for anyone to print and fold their own zine. Taking this route we figured helped us cut down on waste. Only people genuinely interested will take the time to print the zine, and it also allows people to become part of the production line. Theoretically, our viewers can choose their own paper, can choose to follow the directions, can replicate our process, or can create their own. All the while, the content remains the same as we believe it is important to view.
We've only done two issues so far, but more will come soon. We collaborate on the theme for each issue and Will creates each zine's identity. I’m primarily responsible for editing and filling it with content. The zine, just like our business, takes both of our skillsets and combines them to create a product. We both love working and love each other, so we decided to combine our love for work and each other together. Too mushy hahaha? Will would probably say so. I think it's mushy, but honest.
B: I don't think that's too mushy! I like it a lot. You two are awesome. The older I get I find myself creating more work than consuming, which is obviously the goal and a great problem to have. But I’ve also found that I need to be much more deliberate in making time to keep up on journalism, novels, films—basically everything that enriches my life and makes me want to pursue art in the first place. I ask this question of so many people now, because I’m fascinated by it and genuinely interested to know. What does your media diet and routine look like?
D: Since moving to Amsterdam I've been reading a lot more and I've made a conscious decision to read and purchase books written by women of color. This month I read two novels: A Tale for A Time Being by Ruth Ozeki and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez. I read a book of poetry entitled Corazón by Yesika Salgado. I’m currently reading Tell me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli. To keep up with current events I rely on the New York Times, Washington Post, and the podcast 1A. The last film I watched was Faces Places—finally! I’m also very much inspired by music and as I did with books, I consciously made the decision to consume music by musicians of color. New favorites include: Negro Swan by Blood Orange, Be the Cowboy by Mitski, I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions by Santigold, and Superclean Vol. I & II by The Marías.
B: On your Instagram, for Women’s Month, you highlighted different women artists every single day all month long. I loved it. That’s actually a huge reason I became interested in having a conversation with you. I’m drawn to people with a strong voice and viewpoint, which you definitely have. What are some women artists you love that we can highlight here and link to? What’s most important to you about your research in this direction?
D: Of the women artists I highlighted for Women's History Month this year, a few of my favorites were:
Carrie Mae Weems—This summer I saw her installation From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried at the Tate Modern and was completely fascinated and overcome with emotion.
Tania Bruguera—I first heard her speak at the U, when I had just moved to Utah, and have followed her work since and am so grateful to the U for bringing her to speak.
Rachel Ruysch—Because I'm now in The Netherlands.
What's most important to me regarding the work I do to highlight women artists is to create awareness. I want the names of these women to be just as common and well-known as Picasso's or Van Gogh's, because their contributions are just as valuable. Their minds, ideas, and concepts, are equally as innovative. Young people, all people, need to understand why Picasso and Van Gogh are household names when Hesse and Arbus are not. I think questioning why many women have been left out exhibitions and collections, or why institutions have an overwhelming inventory of work by male artists, or why women are still fighting for equal pay and representation will move our civilization in a more inclusive direction, which is better for all of us.