Kate Lydon pictured with Anna Metcalfe’s Pop Up Pollinator Picnic, porcelain, glaze, transfer prints, 2016–2021. Photo: Mandy Wilson.

Ceramics Monthly: What has guided and inspired you when organizing exhibitions as director of exhibitions at Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? 

Kate Lydon: Contemporary Craft (CC) has worked to expand awareness of national and international artistic excellence for over 50 years. We feature two major shows annually at our main location in the Lawrenceville neighborhood and four smaller, more regional installations at our satellite gallery at BNY Mellon Center in the city’s center. In researching and developing shows, we work within an organizational and aesthetic framework that advances artistic creation; engages audiences through craft; and fosters cultural equity, access, and inclusion. 

We bring in diverse artistic voices and narratives via team planning to shape the curatorial frame of reference. A strong focus on social justice and community projects, built around partnerships that drive engagement of both targeted and broad audiences, is key to creating relevant, vibrant programming that fosters opportunity and respect. In my 35 years with CC, and my interactions with an extensive network of artists, arts educators, curators, and craft-organization colleagues, I’ve relied on honesty, integrity, and transparency in developing programming and supporting artists.

CM: How did the Lydon Emerging Artist Program (LEAP) come to be, and how has CC sustained it?

KL: Launched in 2007, LEAP was thoughtfully established by CC’s then executive director James A. Wilkinson to recognize my 20 years of service. Over the past 15 years, the LEAP Award has offered early-career artists an opportunity to showcase their work through CC’s retail and e-commerce arm. This unique, year-long retail program provides an entry point to the marketplace and features, markets, and sells the work of one winner—who also receives a $1000 prize—and four finalists. 

LEAP is open to talented graduate students and emerging artists who work in craft media. Over the years, many winners and finalists have gone on to become established artists represented by galleries nationwide. I’m proud to recognize LEAP winners in ceramic media CJ Niehaus (2017) and Mel Griffin (2011); past finalists Jeremy Brooks, Andréa Keys Connell, Donna Flanery, Hiroe Hanazono, David Peters, and Nathan Prouty; and 2022 finalists Taylor Mezo and Noah Greene. LEAP is underwritten annually through application fees and by contributions from CC donors. 

CM: What has changed over the course of your career that you find exciting or beneficial?

KL: When I began my career in the early 1980s, curatorial access to artists was limited to slides, art publications, regional art fairs, or representative galleries. Google searches, Instagram, online connections to craft wholesale and retail shows, and virtual exhibitions were not available tools or contact points. 

Over the past 20+ years, digital access has been transformative for galleries, museums, and artists, opening up new occasions to generate revenue and engage patrons beyond physical visits and events. A curator’s ability to call upon an extensive network—artists, writers, and art educators who are producing innovative, quality work around a range of topics—has been a major change. Zoom and other online platforms have also increased opportunities for curators and artists to engage with patrons even when institutions were physically shuttered during the pandemic. These now-commonplace, unlimited digital connections have altered the gallery/artist relationship and provide a freedom to new and emerging artists. 

The things that excite me most about craft in general and ceramics specifically are the many ways that artists are breaking new ground, exploring, and combining digital and material technologies in their practices, resulting in cutting-edge, dynamic works. 

Topics: Ceramic Artists