Rachel Stuckey shares behind the scenes of the female-centric gallery Women & Their Work.
By Sierra Rozen, Photos courtesy of Rachel Stuckey
Founded in 1978, Women & Their Work is a local nonprofit gallery that only features art by women. Each year, they host up to eight artists to bring more art to the Austin community. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the gallery has temporarily closed, pausing its current exhibition, featuring Jill Bedgood. Its website offers a variety of resources for artists and creatives in need of financial assistance during this time.
Before its closure amidst setting up for Bedgood’s show, Austin Woman sat down with gallery director Rachel Stuckey to hear what a day in her life looks like and the significance of supporting female artists.
Austin Woman: What does it feel like to work with all female artists?
Rachel Stuckey: It’s awesome. Since my educational background is in film, and I’ve done some work in that industry, too, which is very male dominated, it has been such a difference working in an all-female workplace. Obviously, we work with men, but the artists who we show are all women. It’s very supportive and exciting.
AW: What does an average day here look like for you?
RS: We are currently installing Jill Bedgood’s exhibition and that opens on Saturday. At this point we are kind of toward the end of install, we’re getting the last pieces and doing the lighting for the show which is one of my favorite parts to work on, as well as getting the materials ready like the gallery guide for the opening. At the same time, I was on the phone this morning with the artists for our next exhibition so we’re also getting ready for that and always looking ahead.
AW: With so many talented female artists to choose from, how do you decide who to feature?
RS: We do an open call. So, every year we put out a public call for any women artists who are based in Texas, and who haven’t shown with us in the last 10 years, to apply for a solo exhibition. From that, we tend to get around 300 to 350 applications for seven to eight spots. How we choose is we have a panel of jurors, and it’s the three full time Women & Their Work staff and we collectively have one vote together. Then we’ll usually invite two external jurors who have some past affiliation with Women & Their Work, whether they’re an alumna artist or they somehow are aware enough of the space to know what our mission is and what sort of work would show really well here.
AW: Why do you think that the industry tends to be male-dominated, or at least why do people think it is?
RS: If you look at the statistics of museum collections, it’s majority [art done by] men, because these wealthy people who are purchasing artwork have historically been purchasing male artists, and that’s what’s getting gifted to museums for shows. There are fewer private collections that have holdings of women’s artwork, so there’s less to be gifted to museum shows. I think anyone could quickly name five male artists and struggle to name that many women artists.
AW: What does it mean to you to be promoting all these women artists and having a gallery that just showcases women?
RS: I have seen that it has a strong impact because we have a strong focus on solo exhibitions and that’s the hardest thing for women to get. I think there’s more opportunity for women to show in group shows and less often they’re chosen for solo shows. I think as a step in their career development, it’s really important. I think for me, being able to work with and mentor artists through that process, it’s just really rewarding to see them move on to big, exciting other opportunities after they show here.
AW: What sets Women & Their Work apart from other galleries in Austin?
RS: We like to show very ambitious shows, and part of our mission in selecting artists is to ask artists to propose a show of new work. When the work comes in the door, we may not have seen it before. We choose artists based on their past body of work, and then say, “We trust you to go somewhere new and exciting,” which is a risk. It’s exciting for us and the artist to kind of take that leap of faith to say, “Let’s go to the next level.” You don’t want to show what you’ve already done; you want to invest in pushing yourself.