A simple list of admired peers has snowballed into a vast online artist community that works as resource for students, educators, collectors, curators, and everyone in between.
Ceramic artist and Artaxis founder Brian Harper has always been interested in promoting the work of other artists. What started out as a list of artists he admired on his website’s “Peers” page in the early 2000s is now a full-fledged organization with over 1000 members from more than 50 countries.
Providing a Direct Link to Artists
Harper’s vision early on was to create a site where viewers could have direct access to artists. Each Artaxis member has their own page that includes images of their work, an artist statement, a bio, and contact information, as well as links to their website and resume.
The Artaxis website receives thousands of views daily from around the world, including other ceramic artists, educators, students, collectors, curators, and gallerists. Traffic increases during the academic year when educators use the site to share images, themes, and techniques with their students. Students often use the site to conduct research and interviews.
Living Up to Its Mission
In addition to promoting the professional pursuits of its members, Artaxis’ mission is “to engage the ceramics community through promotional, educational, and networking programs while celebrating diverse artistic practices and being a resource of aesthetic values.”
In 2013, Artaxis became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and instated a board of directors. Though the organization is a virtual entity with no physical home base, it’s registered as a state non-profit in both Indiana and Minnesota, where it can apply for state-sponsored grants. Harper serves as the organization’s executive director in addition to being an associate professor of fine art and head of ceramics at Indiana University Southeast. He says he’s happy to collaborate with a board of directors where he’s no longer the sole decision maker. Though he still works on the website daily, coding for this vast site is outsourced to a web-design company.
Member Casey Whittier, who teaches ceramics and social practice at Kansas City Art Institute, joined the Artaxis board in 2018, and currently serves as president. She says it’s rewarding to work with a board that is self-reflective, adaptive, and dynamic. In an effort to address the needs of the community it serves, the board and organization as a whole strive to evolve along with changes happening in the field of ceramics. “If we try something new, we always go back and discuss whether we accomplished what we had hoped,” she notes. “This way, our mission doesn’t just live in the land of language.”
Artists at any level are eligible to apply and there are no educational requirements for membership. The straightforward application process requires an artist statement and high-quality images. Though most of its members are ceramic artists, technically, there are no requirements that an applicant’s medium be clay. “The categorization process is meant to point towards expansion and not limitation,” notes Whittier. For each image submitted, the applicant can select a category such as “high-fire porcelain,” “non-fired clay,” or even “non-clay.” New methodologies such as clay performance and social practice are also welcome. This broad categorization process allows visitors to the site to search for keywords to find artists working within those specific categories.
Applications are reviewed by a randomly selected jury of seven Artaxis members who cast their votes through an anonymous blind jury process. Membership benefits include public access to the artist’s work, opportunities for student/artist interviews, and professional networking. Other benefits include: the opportunity to be part of exhibitions; selling work through the Artaxis shop; serving on the board, on a committee, or as a juror; and participating in Artaxis Conversations. When a new member page is posted or updated, it goes out across Artaxis’ Instagram and Facebook pages, giving members exposure to nearly 40,000 followers. Members have the opportunity to meet in person at the annual open-members meeting or at the Artaxis booth at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference.
In his 2014 keynote address at NCECA, Chicago-based social practice installation artist Theaster Gates called on the audience to expand and diversify the field of ceramics by promoting and creating opportunities for those underrepresented. In response to this call, Artaxis created a studio fellowship that would fund workshop experiences. Partnerships, initially with Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine, and currently with Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, afford two underrepresented applicants a year to attend a two-week workshop. Expenses for travel, room and board, and the cost of the workshop are covered. A selection committee, including an international member, a recent fellow, and someone who has been in the field long term, reviews the applications and makes their selections. The only stipulation is that applicants not be current Artaxis members, though they may apply for membership once they complete the workshop.
In 2020–2021, Artaxis and The Color Network collaborated to launch a two-year curatorial fellowship that offers an emerging BIPOC curator the opportunity to create a virtual exhibition of works from Artaxis and/or The Color Network members. The first Curatorial Fellowship recipient was Gerald A. Brown, who worked closely with curatorial mentor Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy. Brown’s exhibition was made available in the spring of 2021 on the Artaxis website where it is still viewable, and a corresponding article written by Brown, “On Speaking with Precision,” was published in the June 2021 issue of Studio Potter.
Partnering with Communities
An ongoing discussion at open NCECA board meetings has been how large conferences tend to sweep into cities and then leave without having a lasting impact. In response, Artaxis partnered with the local organization Women and Girls Foundation at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, NCECA conference in 2018. Works donated by Artaxis members raised money for the foundation, which supports equality for women and girls. And at the 2019 Minneapolis conference, Artaxis partnered with Juxtaposition Arts, raising funds for their youth art program. Artaxis looks forward to continuing such partnerships with future NCECA host cities. The board has also collaborated with museums in rural areas, such as the Longwell Museum in Neosho, Missouri, and the Daum Museum in Sedalia, Missouri, by creating exhibitions to help expand access to contemporary art.
As an all-volunteer organization, Artaxis relies on donations to cover the costs of website hosting and development, programming, and outreach. Donations come through the Artaxis Shop (ShopArtaxis.org), Patreon sustainers (Patreon.com/Artaxis), and application fees. As the organization evolves, Harper says there’s a need for more structure, so future goals include developing a strategic plan to give the organization a framework for continued growth. The board hopes to expand its reach internationally and increase funding models through grant writing, and they would also like to broaden the reach of their fellowship programs with additional national and international craft schools and educational institutions.
the author Susan McHenry, is a studio potter, writer, and educator based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College. To learn more, visit susanmchenryceramics.com or follow on Instagram @susanmchenryceramics.