Madison artist Jenie Gao hopes to bring attention to minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and artists who have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic – and to also honor Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month – when she hosts “Artist’s Talk and Virtual Studio Visit” at DreamBank on Thursday, May 28, at 3 p.m.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a fair share of chaos and the Madison-area arts industry – often driven by events and programming – has taken an especially hard hit.
“Art is one of the bastions of our economy that is really about in-person meeting and community,” Gao tells Madison365. “This is where our ecosystem congregates. You think of people going out to an art show as part of their night out. You think of art as a network that often connects all of these other industries. Right now, we’re cut off from that.”
Gao is a full-time artist, creative director, an entrepreneur who has been a strong supporter of Madison’s art community. She says that during her virtual artist talk she plans of sharing insights into her practice, what she’s working on during the shutdown, and what she envisions could come after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
“The first portion of this virtual artist talk I will give a little background on my career and my business and my artwork,” Gao says. “During the second portion, I will give people a tour of my studio.”
Gao works out of her Jenie Gao Studio in the Main Street Industries building on Madison’s near east side. Jenie Gao Studio produces murals, printmaking, and installation and according to its website, “specializes in contemporary artworks that expand the boundaries of who we are.”
“I’ll walk people through what I’ve been working on through quarantine and talk a little bit about how this has shifted things for my business. There have been a lot of questions about what this all means for the small business community, the creative community and what it means for minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses,” Gao says. “My business happens to fall at the cross-section of all of those things.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, art was having trouble getting funding, especially here in Wisconsin. Since the budget cuts of 2011, Gao says, Wisconsin had ranked 48th for arts funding.
“As of last year, we dropped to 50th. We were already on this downward trend and we’re basically in last place for arts funding and support,” Gao says. “You’re talking about an industry that is significantly less supported than other industries.”
Gao’s Artist’s Talk and Virtual Studio Visit is an important event for artists who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic but it is also being held to honor Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) Heritage Month, a period for the duration of the month of May in the United States recognizing the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.
“To be honest, I don’t even know that Madison – in a normal year – has that many events focusing on AAPI heritage,” says Gao, a first-generation Taiwanese-Chinese-American. “I don’t really know why that is. But I think it’s especially difficult for the community to have a presence during this time when everything is done virtually. So it’s great to be able to celebrate AAPI heritage month when and where we can. ”
Gao is a full-time artist, creative director, and entrepreneur who creates large-scale projects like murals, woodcuts, and public installations that claim space for diverse stories. She is an outspoken advocate for diversity in the art field.
“In 2020, artists represented in U.S. art museums are still 85% white and 87% male, and women of color collectively make up less than half of one percent of US art collections,” Gao says. “This was finally becoming a mainstream conversation in 2019, but with museums furloughing their staff and so much up in the air in the art world, it’s likely we’ll see diversification in the arts industry delayed for several years because of this.
“Especially considering that Wisconsin, as I mentioned, is 50th in the nation for arts funding, progress will be slower here,” she adds. “This will have a ripple effect in other industries, since representation in media and culture often precedes representation across fields and professions. And I think it’s important for people to keep this at the forefront of their minds on what kind of community we envision after COVID-19’s impact.”
Gao is looking forward to her May 28 event, which will Livestream on Facebook. She says that part of the reflection that she will be sharing, from an artist’s perspective, is what steps we can be taking to create a better society.
“I do believe that crises are a chance to see all of the things that weren’t going great at the larger level and to be able to address them,” she says. “It’s hard because many of us are taking this day by day and working to meet our immediate needs and it can be difficult to think of that broader picture. Right now, we’re seeing the breaking down of paradigms and it can be that visionary thinking that can be really transformative.”