Southern Oregon University announced Tuesday that professor Scott Malbaurn has been named the interim director of the Schneider Museum of Art, effective immediately.
Malbaurn, 39, has been an adjunct professor in SOU's drawing and painting department for two years. He received his bachelor's degree in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and his master's, also in painting, from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.
His career has included a stint as the acting assistant chairperson of fine arts at Pratt, where he oversaw the undergraduate fine arts program in the areas of drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, jewelry and ceramics. He also worked at the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in Queens, N.Y., and was a co-owner and curatorial director of the H. Lewis Gallery in Baltimore, Md.
Malbaurn spoke to the Tidings on Friday about his his road to SOU, his new role, his vision for the Schneider Museum and his genesis as an artist.
DT: You did your undergraduate and graduate work back east. So, what brought you all the way to Southern Oregon?
SM: My wife was born and raised in southern Oregon and we came out to assist her mother after her father passed away. … Her parents own the property in Williams — large, gorgeous, beautiful piece of property that they built with their own hands and we wanted to assist my mother-in-law as best we could .. Before we came out I sent a packet to (SOU’s) then-chair of fine arts, Peg Sjogren, introducing who I am and what I do. And Peg as well as professor Cody Bustamante reached out to me. They gave me a tour of the facilities and I was extremely impressed with SOU’s fine arts center for the visual arts facilities — the studio classrooms, the gallery spaces are amazing, the museum is gorgeous. So coming from a fine art hub like New York City and then seeing what is available in southern Oregon, I was just really impressed with what we have here and then when I began teaching I was also equally impressed with the skills and the excitement that the students have for the fine arts.
DT: You’ve had your own work displayed nationally and internationally. Do you still find time to work? If so, how do you deal with the challenges of working on your own project while simultaneously serving as a director?
SM: I talk to my students often in regards to what it takes to be an artist today. It’s not about making art when you are feeling creative, inspired or motivated. A lawyer may work 80 hours a week. An accountant will work 40 hours a week. I would ask my students, "How many hours a week do you spend in the studio?" Then think about the fact that most artists today do have a day job. So it’s about finding that balance for each artist. And for myself, living in New York I worked in the Noguchi Museum as well as taught at Pratt Institute simultaneously and then still managed to log in about 30 hours a week in the studio. So coming to southern Oregon, I’m just trying to maintain that balance between work and studio practice. It’s a marriage of sorts and I’m very happy to say that one does support the other in many ways, and it’s really up to the artist to figure out how best for themselves to come up with a plan of action of sorts. It’s about giving myself space, maintaining a studio, a place to go. Whether I’m inspired or not I go in and work. Whether it’s cleaning the studio or mixing paint, repairing walls, stretching canvass, I usually end up getting work done.
DT: Along those lines, artists today wear many hats, from curating to art criticism to gallery operations? Is this trend healthy for art? For the art industry?
SM: Once again, each and every artist needs to figure out who they are, what their strengths are, what works for them. So moving to a place like New York City, there are hundreds of galleries, dozens of museums, nonprofit organizations, lots of available studio spaces. There are opportunities to get involved and the artists who do get involved beyond their studio practice, as art history kind of shows, tend to find a more solidified space and place for them in the dialogue of art history and contemporary art.
DT: When the school announced your new title it also mentioned a “strategic plan for a successful future” and “additional programming focused toward connecting our student and community groups.” Can you expound on that and give Ashlanders a sense of what’s to come at Schneider?
SM: “We are in the early, early inception stages of creating a strategic plan. There are many models and we will adopt the one that we feel fits us best. We are currently meeting with community groups, community leaders, faculty, students here at SOU and starting preliminary conversations, which is allowing me to interface with those who interface with the museum so that when we do begin the strategic plan I have a better sense of histories, current state and general interest for the future. The strategic plan will give us those of us who come into the museum each day to do work a set of goals to work towards for that. …The museum itself runs on volunteers and donations, and a museum is not a museum without volunteers and donations, so we’re going to try to align our vision and mission with the larger shared group as a whole.
DT: You’ve been quoted as saying, “What we do over the span of a year is what will define us.” What does that mean?
SM: It’s about visualizing our programs and exhibitions as a spectrum, so we’re scheduling our programs and exhibitions out for one year. Currently we have an exhibition of "Chuck Close: Face Forward." It’s been an extremely successful exhibition for the museum. It has a very high visitorship ... Chuck Close is an internationally renowned blue-chip artist, almost a household name of sorts. When people see this name in the newspaper they recognize it, and because they recognize it they want to come in. So when we plan things out for the year we want to continue bringing in blue-chip names, blue-chip artists, but we don’t want to fall into a rut where we’re constantly looking to cater to the blue-chip artist. We do not want to forget about the young, emerging artist, and we want the museum to provide a space and place for the young emerging artist as well as the mid-career artist. We want to connect with curators. We want to bring curators from around the nation into the museum to work on projects, which in turn will help create more national recognition for the Schneider Museum. We want people to come here and have such a good, successful time that when they go back to their home base and connect with their fellow artists and curators and critics, they speak highly of the Schneider Museum. Then years down the road — through word of mouth, publications and programs that we do — we can be seen as a welcoming, exciting art museum in southern Oregon.
DT: The Schneider Museum will have a fall exhibition, “Breaking Pattern”, that will be curated by a New York-based team that runs a gallery in Brooklyn. Is that because you have East Coast connections and can we expect more of that?
SM: Yes. In the contemporary art world many New York artists are participating on a national and international level. So once a year we’re reaching into the cookie jar that is New York. We need to expose our students, faculty, community groups to what’s going on in a city that is considered the art market capital of the world. So once a year we want to bring some artists from New York, but we also want to bring artists from Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, so that as we up the context of the contemporary art here at the Schneider Museum and then when we include the local-based Oregon artists, we’re going to place them in this context that is participating on this national, contemporary art world scene.
DT: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
SM: It’s going to be a cliché, but as most artists would say, my whole life. As far back as I can remember. My father was a talented draftsman. His mother created artwork on her own and studied in Japan for a short while. So there was a support system in the family. I was very fortunate to have a support system. When I, in high school, said I want to go to school for art both of my parents were very supportive of that. It’s kind of rare. Many parents would say, "Well, why don’t you get a degree that will help you get a job first, then maybe get a degree in art." And from my experiences with those who I’ve come across sometimes that’s detrimental because then those people are always left with a sense of, "I wish I did this, or I could have done that.”
DT: What was it like to be a young artist in New York City?
SM: “You kind of discover your tribe. The art world is full of many different circles and you find the context that you fit in and you discover that there are shared sensibilities with so many individuals. In the art world past there were always conversations of a competitive art world. I think the art world today is much more of a do-it-yourself and assist your fellow artist, where artists are working together, they’re collaborating, they’re going for interdisciplinary projects, they’re supporting each other on social networks — Facebook and Instagram. So being in New York City — I was in New York for a little over 10 years – you just felt as though you’ve arrived. And then you discover that it is possible to participate in the art world. … I assisted one student to get into the MFA program at the Pratt Institute and she’s just finished her first year, and every time I see her and speak to her she always says thank you, that her dreams are coming true, and she never thought this was possible.
DT: How does that make you feel?
SM: Very, very happy. Very pleased and proud, but I also tell that person, "It’s not me, it’s you. You’re the one that worked hard, you’re the one that got in."
DT: What do you do for fun, entertainment, when you’re not working?
SM: My wife and I, we fell in love with the Applegate Valley. We enjoy all of the wineries in the Applegate. In particular, Wooldridge Creek Winery I think is making some incredible wines and great cheese. We love the local breweries that we have here. And we’re enjoying probably just the overall quality of life. It’s so much easier to live a healthy life in southern Oregon with access to farm-to-table foods, and the culture support that southern Oregon has, and the care that all of the growers have growing organic foods has been a major plus living here in southern Oregon. We also have a small dog, a 9-year-old French bulldog named Goose that we spend a lot of time with, taking him on long walks and enjoying the outdoors. And when we were in Williams, we loved working in my mother-in-law’s flower garden and vegetable garden. That’s just part of enjoying the fruits of southern Oregon.
DT: Do you miss New York?
SM: I go back often, two to three times a year for extended stays. My wife, for the past two-and-a-half years, she continued her full-time job in New York and she’s there now training her replacement. So every time she went back, I would go back and we’d stay for two to four weeks at a time. And that’s the thing. New York City’s not going anywhere. We have social media, I maintain the connections that I have with all my friends and artists in New York, and then when I do go back I will spend at least a week going to two or three artist studios a day and just have conversations and take photos. The only thing that I would say I miss about New York is the 24/7 access to things happening and going on — the night life and the diverse culinary arts there. But then we always have Portland we can go to, which we consider probably one of the best foodie cities in the country.
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.