Artist Profile: Ashley Gifford, Founder of Art & About PDX - Portland, OR
Hi Ashley! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii for the first fourteen years of my life, enjoying the beach and sun - then I moved to Westchester County, New York, forty-five minutes outside New York City. It was a monumental change for me, both spatially and in relation to how I saw and engaged in life, and art. After living in New York for a couple of years, I returned to Hawaii where I knew I wanted to stay and go to school. Shortly after graduating university I was ready for my next chapter, so I moved to Portland, Oregon. I immersed myself in the art scene - working various jobs in digital creation, art organization, and as fate would have it - my personal project, Art & About PDX.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Studio Arts & Art History from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The majority of the time I was in school, I thought I’d eventually go into teaching either at the high school or college level. By the time I graduated, I still didn’t know what path I wanted to take but knew I wasn’t ready to go right back to school. So I opted to take some time off to travel and give myself space to discover what my next step might be. After traveling for 3 months with my best friend, I knew I had made the right decision, in that I was afforded the ability to experience my own life along with the lives and cultures of others through a fresh lens - away from academia, and the places I knew like the back of my hand.
Ever since travel has become an instrumental aspect of my work and has been the main motivation behind my Art Guide. I wanted to show a side of the Portland art scene that resonated with the uniqueness that I saw but that was sometimes off the beaten path - to connect people on their own journey to something new.
As an interdisciplinary artist, are there certain forms you consistently work in?
Absolutely. My artistic practice is mainly focused on photography, and then ceramics, whether its pottery or sculpture based. I’ve always loved ceramics, but I’ve also come to really love the way photography goes with me wherever I go. It has helped me to practice art outside the confines of my studio and in a way that’s totally organic - it’s not always thought out, and it's spontaneous in a way that really speaks to my personality. I think edging toward photography has also been the main factor in the creation of Art & About, which has become an extension of me and in a way, my artwork as well.
When and why did you begin Art & About PDX? What about Portland made you want to create a space and platform to support your fellow artists?
I originally created Art & About PDX a couple of years after I moved to Portland, in 2014, as a result of the difficulty I was having accessing and finding information about art spaces, exhibitions, and events. There are the newspapers that sometimes have articles or listings, and each space had a web presence – but there wasn’t one unified place to find information about the arts, like I had seen in cities like LA, Chicago, NYC, London, etc.
I created my own internal document for reference, and all the pieces started coming together. I was amassing links, info, meeting gallery owners and managers, curators, and other arts professionals. At that time I was also taking my camera everywhere and really getting into photography. I ended up taking a lot of pictures--mostly of friends engaging art, or at least at first. I got a ton of positive feedback about the photos of people and art and realized I wanted to create something related to all this. After a long road trip from Portland to Joseph, Oregon, I came up with the name, Art & About, and since it was going to be focused in Portland I added PDX to it.
Ever since I created the platform, we’ve been sharing photos on Instagram, and shortly after I created our website. I like to use ‘we’ in all our posts to highlight that this is a community effort that was grown organically out of a need for arts coverage in Portland. Art & About PDX has changed and evolved over the years, but we still have the same mission – to connect people with the art scene in Portland, the way ‘we’ see it.
Could you tell us more about what you do and your Art Guides?
The Art & About PDX guide was created as a natural progression in bridging our social media presence with something tangible. As I spent more and more time covering art happenings and taking photos, I found myself doing ceramics less and less, but I still had the desire to create. I thought about what might be useful to the community and also helpful for our platform. My idea was to take our online art guide and make it into a printed guide for art spaces to give away all around town - it seemed to be the perfect fit. Though I had a basic idea, I still didn’t know exactly how to make it happen and only had a basic idea of what I wanted it to look like.
Luckily my community stepped in and helped me to realize my vision. My friend and designer, James Casey helped to imagine and print the guides and taught me a ton of new things. Our first version was a major success at all the places we distributed them at, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback as well.
My next step was then to figure out how to expand on some of this feedback. I knew I had to keep the guide up to date, and fresh. I thought that since the guide was for the art community, how else could I incorporate them more into this project? I reached out to a few local artists about reimagining the guide in their own way, which would both keep new art guide relevant, releasing them on a quarterly basis and also give a nod to some of the creative people that make covering art in Portland even possible. Our 2018 Artist Collaboration Art Guides will now be coming out in the very near future, and we’re super excited!
Overall, the project has been about simply exposing the Portland art scene on a broader scale to those who perhaps know nothing about it, or just want to know more. Covering art here over the past few years has led me to really appreciate and respect all that goes on, and I’m happy to have a way to share that with people.
How has running an Indiegogo campaign gone for you? Do you have any advice about crowdfunding?
This was my first time running an Indiegogo campaign and I’ve learned a lot throughout the process. I think my one piece of advice--and maybe this goes beyond just crowdfunding--would be to not let your lack of experience with something stop you from doing what you need to do. You’ll learn along the way. If you’re passionate about something and convey your message authentically, people will notice. After going through it once though, there are certainly a few things that helped me reach my goal.
First, I think it’s really important to keep your audience up to date. I made sure to post about my Indiegogo campaign at least a few times a week over our social media channels, and I received a ton of great feedback over the entirety of the project. Secondly, it was really important that I followed up with people in a timely fashion - showing devotion and interest in your project reflects well on you as an individual, and on your work as well. Finally, networking played a big role in my success. Social media can only go so far, but attaching a face to my work has helped me to connect with my donors and supporters personally.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I’m passionate about the work I’m doing with Art & About PDX because it feels like I’m doing something important for the community, and especially the art community. My work also lies at the intersection of doing what I love in engaging art, and giving back - so it’s not only fulfilling, it's fun. Being in new spaces and covering events is one thing, but meeting the people behind the curtain also bridges the gap between the work and the people who put so much effort into showcasing it - having that complete picture has really elevated my passion for the Portland art scene on a much more interpersonal level.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
I’ve always been guilty of being a people pleaser. Trying to go everywhere, see everything, and do everything without reflecting back and thinking, ‘why’? Over the past year, I’ve really tried to rid myself of that fear of missing out and just enjoy the things I’m able to cover or attend. I work a full-time job outside the art world - that’s how I pay the bills, and that’s how I’m able to keep Art & About PDX going. Life happens, and I over the past couple of years I’ve realized you just can’t be everywhere at once.
Taking a step back has led me to really focus in on the things that are truly important to me, whether it be work or personal related. When it comes to Art & About PDX, I’ve never tried or wanted it to be something that covers every single last event, but rather, a curated look at an experience as it relates to the art scene in Portland and beyond. Having that personal focus has also helped to give Art & About PDX an identity that’s authentic - not just another person trying to be everywhere at once. I think success happens at this intersection between work and life balance, where each side helps to inform the other - and as Art & About PDX has grown, I’ve seen that doing what I love, and covering it in a real way, has paid dividends.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Today it seems like everything has boiled down to who is ‘winning’, and who is ‘losing’ as if this dichotomy leaves no space for something in between. As divisions are consistently played out and exhausted in the media, it’s truly the commonalities between us that will bind us together. Instead of placing a focus on how we are different, what is it that makes us similar?
Likewise, women supporting each other through their shared experiences is one of the best ways we can collectively pull ourselves up. Although a competitive drive, in my opinion, is healthy, it’s this insecure and punitive competitive drive that I feel can push women apart - to one-up the next. And we don’t have to do that, there’s room for everyone. As a child growing up with two sisters, I saw what strong healthy relationships with women can mean and I’ve always tried to mirror that in my personal and professional relationships.
It also goes without saying that anyone who identifies as a woman in today’s society is still treated secondary to a man. It’s not my opinion, it’s just a fact. Even more so of a reason for women to come together and remind ourselves that we’ve been in this together as women, we’re still in it as women - and we’ve still got a long way to go. Doing it together makes it that much easier.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
There are so many artists, activists, and creative women that I could give a shout out to – but I’d really like to recognize two women based in Portland that have inspired me throughout my entire journey with Art & About PDX.
May Barruel (Nationale & Stumptown Fellowship) and Kate Bingham-Burt (Outlet & PSU)
have both been incredibly inspiring to me. They’re women who are doing things the way they want – and have been doing it for years. They’ve also found success in doing what they love in an authentic way, which is vital to me – not to mention, they’ve done it with poise and class.
I could gush endlessly about all they’ve individually accomplished, and what they do – but on top of all that – it’s the resolve, wit, and determination that I find so inspiring. They embody the ideals that I think everyone should hope to possess, and I’m lucky to call them friends.
What have you learned from creating your own business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
I came to learn very early on that finding your niche and identity is vital to achieving success. It may sound cliche, but believing in yourself and your ideas can really set you apart from the pack. More importantly, having that unwavering confidence in your own work can speak volumes to those who may know nothing at all about you - show people who you really are, and they will really see.
Organization has also been key to keeping me on track. It has helped me to declutter my life and focus on the things that matter. Brainstorming, dreaming. Knowing your limits, and not being afraid to make mistakes. Paperwork, deadlines, emails - all these things stand as a roadblock, and getting them off your chest helps you get back to what really makes you-- you.
Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
We live in the information age, so having access to all the internet has to offer is amazing. Today, gallery owners and artists are just a direct message away - yet I feel that this is only a small piece of the puzzle. I’ve also found that pounding the pavement, so to say, has led me to the most important connections I’ve ever made. Its great to connect with people on Instagram, where I primarily run Art & About PDX, but actually building real relationships, and even friendships, has pushed me to cover events in a way that’s much more visceral - and has helped me to genuinely expose art as a union between the work, the curators, and the creators.
That goes without saying that art doesn’t exist on an island - it's a reflection of what we see in the media, pop culture, and politics among a variety of other things. Keeping up with current events and the news has helped me to see the art and work I cover in a relative light and has helped me to frame my professional life in relation to what I experience in my personal life.
Is there someone who helped shape your career path?
I’ve always drawn inspiration from a variety of people, from friends to family and professionals alike. I think having the experiences of so many diverse groups helping to shape my own career, whether directly or indirectly, has helped to mold me into an individual in every sense of the word. I’m neither here nor there, I’m just myself, carrying all the experiences of those around me.
There have been two individuals though who have played a very important role in my career, and they are my sisters, Chelsea and Kara. They are both wonderful people, but also play both sides of a coin in nearly everything I bring to them. Chelsea is the voice of reason, and Kara helps me to see things anew. Having opinions that I can trust, but that also that are unique in their own right has grounded my opinions somewhere in between. I’m forever thankful for their presence in my life.
How do you manage your time?
I’ve always liked to make lists. Over the past few years, I’ve really tried to utilize technology to help organize my time and thoughts. I schedule everything, set reminders, and calendar dates. Letting go of those mental reminders for sake of an app has let me focus on what I do. I don’t worry about deadlines as much these days because I have my calendar set up to remind me of them and stay on track. But I’m also human and there’s only so much you can control; things come up or get pushed to the side, sometimes it’s not any fault of my own or anyone else’s. No one’s perfect.
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
Moments of self-doubt are totally natural, everyone experiences them. Instead of harping on these moments, I really try and embrace them to the fullest. I think it’s these moments that define us - when we’re worried about a deadline, giving a speech, or just putting yourself out there – you wonder how you’ll be received. I’ve tried to reconcile within myself the idea that I can only be authentically me in these moments of self-doubt, less I try and become only what others want to see in me.
Then again, this mentality hasn’t come entirely from just within. Falling back on friends and family has also helped to instill confidence in who I am and what I do. They provide such candid and honest criticism, which challenges me to reflect and put my best foot forward. To become the best version of myself.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I’ve always felt that it was important to constantly try and be a student, in that one should never stop learning. As I’ve grown older, I still find myself learning – about myself, about my interests, and about just being a person who shares this planet with everyone else. I look back on my successes and failures as moments of growth, and as experiences ripe with lessons.
Being open to learning new ideas have not only been paramount to my experience but increasingly today, it seems to have become something that's lacking in today’s society. We’ve become fixated on being right or being on the right side, even to an extent that’s without regard for the other side.
As I continue my own personal journey though, I’ve become really interested in foreign languages. I speak some French and have recently been trying to work on learning German. Seeing how words and ideas are framed through the tongue of another culture has been incredibly fascinating to me. It has pushed me to see things I’ve never even considered before in completely different light – through new idioms, metaphors, and most importantly, though the words and history of another culture.
What are some of your favorite places in Portland?
I spend most of my time covering the art scene in Portland so it’s great to share what else makes Portland a piece of me. I love the dishes at Kachka, which is a Russian restaurant in Southeast. They have consistently great food, an awesome happy hour, and just a really cool vibe. Bailey’s Taproom has also been a great place for me to unwind, have a great beer, and connect with friends or do some work. It’s right downtown, and they have some awesome Mexican food right across the street. Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge have been wonderful escapes from the city for me - the mountains, and the forest lets me breathe and take a step back from it all.
Find Ashley at:
Art & About PDX