Amy Amdur has been involved with art her entire life.
CUSP Magazine visited the office of Amdur Productions and the private home of Amy Amdur, which is filled with her personal art collection created over the years she’s spent getting to know and supporting artists featured at the festivals.
Q&A – CUSP Magazine & Amdur Productions
CUSP Magazine: How did you get started?
Amy Amdur: I was working for my dad, and he was developing downtown Highland Park. We needed a way to get people to come to Highland Park, and I was trying to think and trying to be this business person in real estate, which was so different than anything I had done. Port Clinton was the project he was developing. I was thinking, “How do I get people to come here?” And I thought, “If I just had a vehicle for people to move through.” And then I thought, “It could be art.” If I had artists, one after another, I could get people to walk through and come back to what I love, which is art. And that’s how I started.
CM: What makes Amdur Productions unique?
AA: When I get to the point of laying out the shows on these huge maps — I still do it on paper because I’m an artist also, so I like working on paper. I’ll have a big map on this table, and I will think about who I’m putting next to each other. I would think about who is going to support you best or who I want you to meet. And by making those connections with people, I’m giving them a better experience at the festival. Those become really important relationships. Community is important, because we’re dealing with a lot of loners and introverts. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So I’ll think about … is this person more liberal, is this person more traditional? Then I think about not only the personalities, but the art. Which art is going to look good next to each other? We, at our festivals, are providing an experience. As we provide this experience, which happens to be art for the public to come through, we think about how they are going to experience it. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but to me that’s one of the things that differentiates how we do things from other people. We only refer to the artists by name and never by business, because that’s our philosophy. Each artist is a person. So even though they may have spent days and weeks coming up with their cute business name, to me they are the artist.
CM: What do you feel your brand is?
AA: We developed a mission a few years ago, and it’s to bring art to the public and to give artists a chance to show and sell their work. That’s our mission, and everything we do is about that.
CM: What do you offer?
AA: What we find with the art shows is that they are this vehicle for taking the walls down so that the public will actually come experience art, because not everyone will go to the Art Institute. And if they do, it’s still removed. But when they come to our shows, the artists are present and we insist on that. We want the artists to be talking about their art and demonstrating so that people can start to see the process, and it happens at the shows. We create this framework for this experience, and then it happens.
CM: How does the jury work?
AA: Every artist who applies to a show sends in four images of their work and one of what their display is going to look like. Then we have a jury of art professionals who review all of these submissions and score them. Artists apply to whatever show they want. Each show is separately juried. A jury is a selection process. The jury just looks at [a lookbook of submitted images], and it kind of levels out the playing field. They’re not looking at the person, they don’t know if they’re male or female, maybe a name, but they don’t know the age. It’s really all about the art. This is how we fill our shows. The only people who don’t go through this process are the award winners from the previous year.
CM: What are the top things you look for when you jury your shows?
AA: There’s something called body of work. Body of work means that four images hold together. We look for creativity. We look for execution, which is how well something is made. That how well something is made question applies whether it’s ceramics, photographs or wood … it’s the actual technique involved. The reason body of work is important is it really separates someone who is farther down the road in their art life than someone who is just out of art school or who’s just at the very beginning learning how to do one of this, one of that. When you start to be able to recognize a body of work, you can see how those images hang together. This jewelry hangs together, those pieces of Judaica hang together. Then you start to see bodies of work. Body of work is probably the biggest thing we look for.
Amy – “We developed a mission a few years ago, and it’s to bring art to the public and to give artists a chance to show and sell their work. That’s our mission, and everything we do is about that.”
CM: How do you reach out to artists you’ve never worked with before?
AA: We’re kind of low key and we let them find us. But we also do this thing called “Call for Artists” that Elana, the director of public relations, does. But also, artists find us. If you go to our website and you go to the analytics, people from all over the world go to our website. I think that if you’re doing a search, no matter where you live, and you type in “art” and “festivals,” you’re going to find us. There are not many groups that do what we do. It’s a pretty small number.
CM: Do artists create their work and sell their work based on the schedule of the art fairs?
AA: Yeah, but there are artists who will go to Florida and find shows to do in the winter. Some just get in an RV and move down there or just rent a place. It just depends. Some of them will use the winter as their creative time. The reason why is just the weather. No one really wants to be outside in these cold months. We’re limited that way. But, we will be doing an indoor version at Navy Pier in April next year.
CM: Is the new ecommerce site, ArtZipper, going to change your business model or just expand it?
AA: Just expand it. There’s still nothing like seeing art in person … being able to try a ring on, being able to look at the surface texture of a painting, to be able to experience a piece in full scale. How the festivals are going to work with the ecommerce site is that, say you see a piece over the summer. You see a dog, you’ve “met” the dog. Well, at that point you may need some months to ponder it before you decide. Then you would be able to — you maybe don’t remember the name — but you know you can go to ArtZipper and find the dog again. We think the festivals give you the actual taste, and art is to be experienced first hand. And then the website is there for you to explore. You can start at the website and end up at the festivals or start at the festivals and end up on the website.
CM: What have you learned about the Chicago art scene and Chicago artists by being so involved with them?
AA: There are a lot of artists, like Chris Knight for example, who are incredibly talented. Whether they’ve come out of an art school or they just are these independent, inspired people, there is amazing depth of creativity here in Chicago in all fields. That, to me, is great. And the other thing that makes it possible is that you have people in Chicago who really value art. Both sides of the equation have to work, because there are people who will support the artists.
Amy Amdur believes living with art can elevate the quality of your life, and she practices what she preaches. From the jewelry she wears daily, to the her massive art collection incorporated into every single space in her home, to the job she’s carried out for over three decades, Amdur demonstrates her commitment to not only letting art elevate her own life, but elevating the life of the artist.