Dan Cameron: A Q&A with the Southern competition juror

Dan Cameron is single handedly changing the landscape of contemporary art in the Southern United States. So it's no surprise that we sought him out to be the juror of the current Southern Competition of New American Paintings. (Apply online!)

A curator for more than 30 years and the founder and director of Prospect New Orleans, the largest biennial of international contemporary art in the country, Cameron has introduced audiences in the South to exceptional work from artists across the globe. More importantly, however, Cameron and Prospect have contributed significantly to a new growing contemporary scene in New Orleans and a further revitalization of the Big Easy.

I caught up with Cameron while at his New York office last week to talk Louisiana and emerging work.

The deadline for the Southern Competition is December 31 (open to artists living in AL, AR, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, & WV), so keep the submissions coming! –Evan J. Garza

EJG: You started Prospect New Orleans after Katrina. How long have you been working in New Orleans?
I’d been a visitor and have worked in New Orleans, on and off, for more than 20 years. I started Prospect as a post-Katrina effort to engage the city. It was really something that the artists and the community called on me to do because they knew that I was very close to the city and they knew that I could get a lot of attention for New Orleans, and that’s how the whole process started.

I was working in New Orleans as early as January 2006 on Prospect, but I didn’t form the company until 2007. But because of raising money outside of a museum, and because of the needs of the community, it was not appropriate at all for an outsider like me to start to open up a new charity in New Orleans less than a year after the storm. So I had to be very careful not to compete with other nonprofits in New Orleans, and bring money from outside of Louisiana, so to do that you have to be in a place where there’s a lot of media, and there’s a lot of art, and that happened to be in New York. So I have two homes: an office in New Orleans and an office in New York.

EJG: Have you seen a direct effect that Prospect has had on New Orleans?
Very dramatic. New galleries have opened up, there’s more attention for museums and galleries. Before, you could barely see any mention of [the city] in The New York Times or Art Forum. Nothing had ever happened to New Orleans which was considered newsworthy on a national level, and that’s totally changed.

Now the Whitney has recently bought the work of younger New Orleans artists—that’s totally unheard of. And I think that’s only going to improve over time. More and more New Orleans artists have national and international exposure and New Orleans galleries are able to start showing their work in other parts of the country and also internationally. I would say that the number of co-op galleries in New Orleans has gone from zero in 2007 to something like ten right now. The whole St. Claude arts district, where the co-op galleries are located, has absolutely exploded. It’s far and away the most exciting new addition to the New Orleans art scene that anyone can remember and that’s all really a direct result of Prospect.

EJG: That’s amazing. It's incredible that it's had that effect on the city. Tell me a little bit about your experience working with emerging artists.
Working with emerging artists is something I’ve always done, since the beginning [of my career]. I’ve never felt comfortable as a curator prioritizing artists who already have a significant career achieved. In the biennial in particular, it’s important to combine the well known and not-so-known, but as a curator I get much more satisfaction out of bringing in lesser known artists to the attention of viewers nationally and internationally.

EJG: That's great to hear. At the very core of what we do as a publication is introduce people to the work of emerging artists.
I have a steady influence of emerging artists in my life because of my teaching, and also I curate a young Brooklyn artist survey every fall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is pretty important to me and my life.

EJG: Yes! We recently featured the work of Jim Gaylord on the blog, who was curated into your recent show at BAM.
I’d seen his work at Jeff Bailey’s. I forgot that he was also included in New American Paintings recently… It’s absolutely solid, I like it a lot.

EJG: Are you looking forward to reviewing submissions from the South?
I am! Because Prospect 1.5 is entirely focused on artists from the region, I’ve been collaborating with artists from Birmingham, Lafayette, and so on, so it’ll be really nice to review all the talent in the South and I’m excited to go right back into it.

Dan Cameron is the founder and director of U.S. Biennial Inc. and organizer of Prospect New Orleans, the largest biennial of international contemporary art in the United States. Prospect 1.5 New Orleans, which opened November 6 and remains on view through February 19, 2001, highlights the contemporary art scene in the city, with almost 50 artists presenting work in 12 venues throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area.

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