Tell me about your organization or artistic practice. What is your mission statement or artist statement?
The Present Group is an arts based think tank and creative studio whose projects focus on leveraging new technologies in support of the arts and finding new ways to fund and distribute artist projects. We aim to build tools and facilitate projects and conversations that address the challenges artists face today. Over the past 6 years, we’ve run a range of projects, starting with a limited edition art subscription. We expanded to web hosting for artists, which awards an annual, democratically awarded arts prize targeting an underfunded area of the creative landscape. In the past couple of years, we built an online exhibition space for new media artwork that explores the idea of associating appreciation of artwork with actual dollar amounts, and have been encouraging discussion about how money works in the art world. This spring, we will be building a simple and intuitive e-book creation platform.
How would you describe your career trajectory? What major challenges did you face to get where you are today and how did you confront those challenges?
Incremental. It’s often hard to see that you’re really moving forward until you tally some numbers and look at what you’ve accomplished quantitatively. The biggest challenge has been, and continues to be, financial stability. We’ve worked other jobs to maintain our lives while running this project, but are just now starting to move into a new place where that may be beginning to change. In order to get there, we had to make some hard decisions about the projects that we run, and really took a look at our strengths and tried to work at incorporating those into how we bill ourselves.
Please describe the activity for which you received CCF funding. Why did you want to do it? What did you or your organization gain/learn from that experience?
I used the funding to attend a conference in Seattle, entitled “Museum Computer Network.” My partner (Oliver Wise) and I presented on a panel entitled “Moving Forwards by Looking Sideways: Creative Thinking in Museum Digital Strategy.” Conferences like these are especially important in understanding the shifts that are happening in the field you’re in, and the invitation to present on this panel put us in front of an audience we otherwise wouldn’t have access to. However, the costs for individuals, small organizations and projects is often prohibitive. It’s hard to weigh the importance of attending conferences like these, not only for the presentations themselves, but also for the little conversations that can develop when you’re standing in line and waiting for a cup of coffee with people who are interested in exploring similar ideas as yours. But we’ve learned that there is almost always something that comes out of these interactions. CCF’s funding allowed us this experience, and new collaborations have already come from it!
What professional development opportunities do you want/need next? Why?
There is so much to learn! I’d love to get a professional to look at what we do to give us a bit of feedback in figuring out our plan for fundraising, messaging, and our legal structure. Sometimes I think I need to figure all these things out on my own, but getting feedback from learned eyes could really be invaluable. There are always more conferences and symposiums to go to too!
What advice/direction do you wish someone had given you when you embarked on your career?
Talk to as many people as you can about what you want to do, ask for help, and get as much feedback as you can. Take people out to dinner in exchange for telling them about what you’re doing. You don’t have to do it all yourself, and partnerships are sometimes the best way to move forward.
Eleanor Hanson Wise is the co-founder and director of The Present Group, a project-based initiative that blurs the line between art production, commerce, advocacy, and philanthropy. She has developed a program for TPG that includes an art subscription service, a web hosting service that funds an intermittent arts prize, and Art Micro Patronage, an experimental exhibition platform showcasing and funding artwork online.