Monday, May 3, 2010

Career Paths: Sunni Mercer (1 of 2)

Sunni Mercer’s thoughtful and sustainable approach to her career is well worth examination.   Besides exhibiting her own work nationwide and supporting her artistic practice for 20 years, the Bethany, Oklahoma-based artist also consults with museums for exhibitions, strategic planning and more. 

This is the second in a series of profiles of accomplished artist in preparation for OVAC’s “Career Paths” workshop on May 22 (see the first post about Jason Hackenwerth).  Especially, I am interviewing them about turning points in their career and some practical steps they have taken along the path.   Along with questions I developed, OVAC Facebook Fans threw in a few questions that will appear.  Feel free to add more.

Mercer reacted with strong affirmation when asked “Was your MFA worth it and why?”  She said, “I feel like the most important part is that you are given this incredible opportunity for self-discovery.  You are absolutely isolated for a long period of time and I don’t think artists have the privilege or benefit of doing that unless they are in an institution.” 

Her work transformed during that time, as she started the program as a painter and ended as an assemblage artist.  She also emphasized taking advantage of the exposure to national artists and visiting scholars through the university.  

Interestingly, she cites quick success as one of the most challenging stages in her career. Shortly after completing her MFA, Mercer’s work was picked up by a commercial gallery in New York City.  She said looking back she knows she was not ready for this.  First she struggled with the sudden jump in her prices, which were raised for NYC gallery environment.  She was unable to show in other, regional venues because of her prices and how hard it was to find appropriate complementary spaces.  

When she reexamined herself and her work, she realized that was neither the work she wanted to make nor the public persona she desired.  She shifted from gallery, salable work, to conceptual installations and public collaborations with a new financing structure.  She said the shift exposed her to some rejection, but was more sustainable and satisfying over the long term. 

OVAC invites you to the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Career Paths” on May 22, led by Mercer and me. The day will focus on artistic career stages, personal assessment, and practical job options.

No comments: