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Meet The Art League Staff: Katie Scharmer

Katie with her husband Lucas and their daughter Leontine.
Katie with her husband Lucas and their daughter Leontine.

You may have seen some new faces around The Art League lately. Come say hi! To break the ice, we’re going to be introducing you to everyone around our offices at the Torpedo Factory. First up: Katie Scharmer, the new assistant gallery director.

Katie grew up in North Carolina, received a degree in studio art (with a minor in math) from the University of Minnesota, Morris, and did a tour with the Peace Corps in Botswana. She first started at The Art League as an intern in January and then worked part time over the summer.

After the Peace Corps, Katie studied arts management at George Mason. She also has experience in ceramics, sculpture, wrestling and mixed martial arts, and reality show competition.

What made you want to return to school for an arts management degree?
After my BA,  I struggled trying to incorporate my degree into the workforce. The art program at Morris did a great job teaching me how to create good art, but it gave me no direction on how to get into galleries, create a portfolio, or any sort of job-related skills for being a working artist. I researched people in similar situations and found that many art students stopped practicing their craft soon after college. It frustrated me that artists weren’t given more support.

I decided to go into arts management to be that support system for struggling artists.  I wanted to gain the skills to create supportive work environment for artists, especially those in rural areas. I’ve moved around a lot and I notice that more art opportunities exist for artists in big cities (for obvious reasons, there’s more money in cities). I feel that everyone should be able to experience good art anywhere, not just in major metropolitian areas.

Before you started at George Mason, you were in Botswana working in the Peace Corps. What did you do there, and what was the experience like?
I worked in a clinic to support HIV/AIDS prevention and education. I served with my husband who was working in the schools. We lived in a very small village with no public transportation system or paved roads so we hitch hiked in and out. There was no grocery store so we had to haul our groceries hitch hiking in the back of trucks. Needless to say we had a lot of broken eggs when we arrived. Despite the harsh way of life it was so much fun! We had to create all our own work projects and collaborate with community members to get involved. I taught job skills, women empowerment, and organized children’s activities. Some projects were a huge success, some were failures. Everything in Africa moves at a painfully slow pace. As an American it was easy to feel as though I wasn’t making an impact  but eventually I learned to slow down and appreciate the things I was able to accomplish.

The pottery wheel in Botswana.
The pottery wheel in Botswana.

Although I was working with HIV/AIDS projects, I tried to incorporate the arts as much as possible. I tried teaching students how to throw on the potters wheel. They fired ceramic sculpture in a metal barrel with cow dung as fuel. But the pieces weren’t very sturdy. I found plans for how to build a pit fire kiln using all local materials. I was able to finish the kiln but unfortunately all of Botswana teaching staff was on strike at the end of my service so I was not able to see the kiln ever fired before I left.

Where did you grow up? When did you become interested in art?
I grew up in Greensboro, NC. I have a very artistic mother. She was great at setting up art projects for me and my sister. We made all our Christmas presents, Valentine’s cards. She would take us along to her art classes at UNCG so she didnt have to hire a babysitter so we were taking college-level drawing classes when we were 8 years old. Lots of kids grow up making things and enjoying art. I just never grew out of that stage. I took art classes throughout grade school and high school and much to the chagrin of my father, I knew I wanted to study art in college. I graduated high school in the top 5% of my class with strong scores in history and math. I got my BA in Studio Art with a minor in Mathematics.

Hey, didn’t I see you on Fear Factor?
Ha, yeah. I applied to be on the show about 10 years ago. They flew me out to L.A. to film an episode. I didn’t have to eat anything gross, although back then I could handle anything. I did have to lay in a glass case full of thousands of blood-sucking leeches for 2 minutes. I had to do a few heights stunts. I didn’t win, but I had such a good time doing it.

What’s your role as assistant gallery director?
I assist Rose in all areas of the gallery. I am stepping into Megan’s role of coordinating the solo show exhibits and applications. I am helping Rose organize the fall lecture series.  If any members want to know more about a particular aspect of being a working artist they can send ideas to gallery@theartleague.org. I research speakers and invite them to give a talk. At Mason I studied all aspects of arts management including finance, budgeting, fundraising, PR and marketing, board of directors, and also arts in society and policy.

Katie's Lace bowl in September's All-Media exhibit.
Katie’s Lace bowl in September’s All-Media exhibit.

Why sculpture and clay?
I find 3D work to be so interesting, visually. Painting and drawing are very traditional and sell well but I have just been drawn to create sculpture. I think it is very challenging to have to make something well in three dimensions. I really liked working with clay and bronze in college. Bronze sculpture requires lots of equipment that is just not readily available. I found clay easier to get a hold of once I was out of the college scene. I just had to locate a studio with access to a kiln. I have studied under five instructors now and I learn something new with every one. I don’t love everything I make but some things are really fantastic. I have been a featured artist in four shows to date (two at The Art League). Even if I’m not a successful artist I will always practice my craft so that I remember the passion that drives me to make a better life for working artists.

Are you taking any classes here this fall? How are they going?
I am taking the Handbuilding Ceramics class with Carlos Beltran-Baldiviezo. I have been to only one class but I was very pleased. I like making functional ceramic pottery but with a bit more sculptural aspects. Carlos is a very talented sculptor and gives good direction on how to create effects with the clay. It’s exactly the kind of class I’ve been looking for.

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