Kirstin Van Cleef: Founder of IN FLUX

Kirstin Van Cleef, founder of IN FLUX and outreach and temporary projects manager at Scottsdale Public Art, photographed at her home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Kirstin Van Cleef, founder of IN FLUX and outreach and temporary projects manager at Scottsdale Public Art, photographed at her home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Kirstin Van Cleef

Vacant Valley storefronts get new life thanks to IN FLUX, a public art initiative founded by Kirstin Van Cleef, outreach and temporary projects manager at Scottsdale Public Art. Van Cleef founded the program in 2010, and it gives artists the opportunity to take over a vacant space and fill it (or cover it) with innovative visual and performance art. The 34-year-old Tempe resident started IN FLUX in Downtown Scottsdale, and she now works with public art programs all over the Valley to bring creative works to otherwise desolate spaces. IN FLUX completed its latest annual month-long call to artists in August, which garnered a new roster of impressive artists to show off their work.

Van Cleef is involved with Scottsdale Public Art programming this weekend, as artist and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art muralist James Marshall, aslo known as Dalek, comes to town for a Meet the Artist party Friday, November 7 at 7 p.m. at the Museum — find more info here. Saturday, November 8, Dalek hosts a Community Mural Project at 10 a.m. — find more info here.

Keep reading to learn how IN FLUX works, and to watch a video of Van Cleef naming her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents brought my sister and me here when I was 10. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, then we moved to Colorado and New Mexico, then here for my dad’s work. I went to Cactus Shadows High School and ASU, where I got a degree in photography.

What’s your typical week like?

There’s no typical week, and I like that my job has a lot of variety, and I’m juggling a lot of different projects. The outreach side of my job involves knowing everything that is going on for our office overall, and temporary projects are temporary public artworks I’m directly managing or collaboratively managing with other members of our staff.

To name some specifics, on any given day, I can be in meetings and on site visits, running selection panels, conducting calls to artists, coordinating photo shoots, talking to press, editing copy, creating content for our website and social media platforms, reviewing proposals, and writing contracts.

What inspired you to start IN FLUX?

I was seeing a lot of other public art programs start art initiatives to fill vacant spaces when the economy crashed. I went to my supervisors with the idea to start one of those here. They thought it was a great idea, and it started as a pilot program in Downtown Scottsdale. We looked for an area that had a lot of need, and the Downtown gallery district had a lot of empty spaces. We found some property owners who had multiple properties vacant near each other, who were willing to cooperate, and we had five projects the first year in 2010.

Then, I thought a lot of other places could do this in the Valley, and reached out to other public art administrators about partnering. City of Tempe Public Art joined first. We always wanted to focus on featuring local artists, to cultivate our local artist community, while also activating vacant spaces and helping out the local economy by filling up the gaps to create a draw and activity. So much of it is pounding the pavement and talking to property owners about why it’s such a mutually beneficial thing to get involved in, for the artists and the community overall. So much of my work is connection-making, communication and seeking out what we need for each project.

What’s great about it is that we release one call to artists, allowing artists to apply for dozens of projects at a time. Typically with a public art call, you’re applying for one project, so your odds are better to get work with this approach. It also relieves some workload for the other public art administrators I am partnering with.

I started IN FLUX for Scottsdale Public Art, and it’s now become a collaborative thing where I’m working with other public art administrators from around the Valley. My role is to connect everyone who is working on the projects. There are 11 commissioning agencies now.

Something new this year is people who want to commission projects but don’t have art management staff to run the projects can pay a management fee back into the initiative. Now we have actual property managers who don’t have art staff but want art at their properties. It’s a lot of organizing.

What are some of the most memorable projects over the years for you?

For me, with IN FLUX, what becomes memorable is when something new or different happens within the initiative. The first time I had a performance artist work in a vacant space, it was Rachel Bowditch, who created an installation that was a set in the storefront, so there was something to look at all the time, but she had regularly scheduled performances featuring multiple performers in the space. It was astounding to me, because we’d have crowds of dozens and dozens of people who would just stop and watch from the sidewalk. That was the first time I’d had that situation, where it was almost like a mini-theater in a box. Performers would move really slowly and gracefully and write all over the walls and floors. It was an entrancing piece about women who write, and they were writing passages by famous women.

Another example is really great project Ann Morton did in Chandler. That was the first time someone took a vacant space and, instead of activating the inside of it, she activated the outside. She wrapped the building with woven silver Mylar, and it was beautiful. It was reflective and so simple, yet so beautiful.

Do you think IN FLUX has helped fill the properties the installations and performances are held in?

It’s hard to say or prove. We’ve had to de-install for new tenants who sign leases for the vacant spaces we are working in many times, which is a good sign.

How would you characterize the Valley’s art scene?

It’s very, very flexible, which I think is interesting. There’s a lot of saturation in some large cities outside of Arizona, and because we’re such a spread-out place, there’s a lot of room to grow here, which is really good for creatives. You have a lot of freedom.

What could improve the Valley’s art scene?

I think just getting a tad more professional. A lot of times, artists are not used to a more formal process, which a lot of agencies have to use to make these projects available. It would be great if everybody could get more adept at those formal processes and approach their art as a business.

I don’t mean that to be disrespectful to artists at all, but people need to take ownership of the fact it is their profession, and they get more respect for the art by being professional. I will say this advice I take from myself, as well — it goes both ways — art administrators need to keep up on industry best practices, etc., too.

What tips do you have for artists to cultivate a sense of professionalism?

Read and follow the instructions when you’re applying for something. Realize it’s like applying for a job. The way you behave, and the things you say and do, and the polish you put on your materials needs to be applied in the same way you would with a job you’d apply for in any professional setting.

If you don’t know how to do something, as far as documenting your work or doing something technical, find a friend who does, or barter. Seek out professional development opportunities.

What are your goals for IN FLUX?

I would like to continue to see it grow every year, which it has so far.

What does the selection panel look for when choosing artists for IN FLUX?

The panel consists of representatives from all the commission agencies all over the Valley. They’re looking for an artist who can respond well to the needs and aesthetics of that project area, and who can meet the goals and objectives of the site they’re working with.

Why is public art important?

I think communication in general is important. As humans, that’s what we’re built to do — to relate to each other and our world. Public art gives an outlet to do that in a very accessible way. It gives you something out in the world to add to your experience, and gives you a moment of connection to the people who made it or the people you experience it with.

Also, of course, there is definitely a case to be made for public art to be of economic benefit for the places it occurs in. People are drawn to it, sometimes at high volumes when there are events to highlight the work, and it increases the value of a particular area — all good things for residents and business owners alike.

Learn about other Valley arts professionals:

Learn more about Steam Crow artist Daniel Davis here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Alexi DeVilliers here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Nicole Royse here on Phoenix People.

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