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Were the artists surprised that you came to visit them?

Absolutely. Often, the first question that people asked when we walked through the door was “How in the world did you hear about me?” That feels good because that means that we’re achieving our goal of reaching out and seeking unheralded or under-recognized artists across this country. What we’re finding is that there are multiple centers of art production. Smaller, sure, in terms of scale than New York, or LA, or Chicago, but no less dynamic and innovative.

Have you noticed any trends or commonalities among the artists you’ve visited?

To be a working artist in the US right now is often to be a jack of all trades–to have a day job or sometimes two, and to have a family, and to also carve out time to be in the studio and to create. Artists across the country are educators, either in a K-12 school, or a college, or community-sponsored program. They’re working the best they can to make ends meet so that they can have an hour or two in their studio every day to do the thing that they love to do. The rest of their time is also spent advocating in their communities. Artists in many communities run alternative exhibition spaces that support their fellow artists within the region.

Have you met with any surprises?

Yes! We come in prepared to look, to think, to engage critically, to ask pointed questions, and to come away with a deep understanding of the work. But sometimes you walk into a studio and what you’re looking at, what you’re experiencing, is so overwhelming, so deeply considered, so complicated that you can’t get to the critical place because you’re so enamored with experiencing the work. I would love to go into each of these studios and just sit and think. There have been a few times when all I wanted to do was just dissolve into the work. And when that happens, when the world leaves you, when you can get me to shut up…something special has happened.

Now that the selection process is underway and you’re beginning to get an idea of what work will be in the exhibition, what do you think it will mean for visitors who see it all together?

I’m hoping that visitors will walk away from the exhibition with an understanding that what they just saw was the tip of the iceberg, that the experience will be a representation of the depth and diversity of artistic practices in the United States. I want them to have the sense of being inspired, engaged, and in a place where they feel they can have a conversation about contemporary art. Contemporary art is not scary, it’s part of our everyday lives because it’s being produced right now … by people that you are buying your bananas next to when you go to the grocery store. And they’re responding to the same things that you respond to in your everyday life. Communicating that is an important part of this show.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will debut at Crystal Bridges on September 13, 2014. Read more about State of the Art here. Admission to the exhibition is sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.