Courtney Hall
Dylan Turk

Dylan Turk is the special projects editor of architecture and design at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the co-founder of KIN, a creative advisory company in Northwest Arkansas. Turk is working to cultivate the region’s art ecosystem by integrating more creativity into the way art is experienced and by forging connections between emerging and established artists, art professionals and collectors. It’s in those connections that Turk sees boundless opportunity to democratize access to the transformative potential of art, and to foster an art economy that’s ripe for development. For Turk, art is the way we can truly see ourselves and recognize in those reflections that we — all of us — belong. The curator’s work on the intersection of art, social and economic advancement can be seen at Crystal Bridges’ forthcoming Architecture at Home exhibition (opening in May 2022) and at the recent KIN Art Club show of Katherine Strause’s painting.

While I was researching your work, I came across a photograph of you in your dining room, which you had merged with the library. You were talking about how melding the two spaces could create opportunities for beautiful conversations. Similarly, KIN, your creative advisory company seems to be multifaceted and centered around creating connections between people. 

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Yeah, I love that. I think especially through the pandemic, [this business] has taught us a lot, which is, don’t box yourself in. And how can the arts, especially in a state like Arkansas, be expansive, and help push this idea of creating a really strong [arts] ecosystem? … For example, we’re doing a big project in Austin, [where] there’s an established ecosystem … installers and trained art shippers that know what they’re doing. There’s a whole network of people that’s more than just the artists — more than just the curators — that help make a project strong. And why would there be an art installing company in Northwest Arkansas? There hasn’t been a demand, and there still isn’t quite enough demand, to be able to support that. We need that. And so how do we then find people, nurture people, give an artist a second job so they can keep painting? How can we try and create that network?

This addresses one of my questions for you about how the Northwest Arkansas art ecosystem compares to other art worlds you’ve experienced.

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Crystal Bridges and The Momentary truly are world class art museums. You look at their collections, their facilities, the programming … there’s no other place like that. That’s pretty profound. But I think there are some major voids. A lot of people say, “Well, how do we get more artists to live here?” Well, that’s a loaded question. There’s so much to go into that. Civil rights. Human rights. Why would someone want to move here if they feel like they can’t be themselves? Then, just the simple cost of living, which is what the [Crystal Bridges] Architecture at Home exhibition is hoping to really do — open up the story on how it’s just not necessarily affordable for people. … I think that we have a long way to go. I think there’s a desire [to get there], but you also have to ask artists, you have to ask young collectors, you have to ask arts educators: “What do you need and why wouldn’t you want to be here?” And then meet them where they are. [The arts economy] does not need to be thought of as a nonprofit, or an afterthought. … An example I use all the time is Los Angeles before movies. Now, because it is the hub for a singular arts industry that touches on costume set design, painting, makeup, film, editing, music, all these things, it created an entire art ecosystem. That’s its largest economy. You can do that anywhere. You just have to think about art not as an afterthought, but as a legitimate business investment that we can do to funnel creativity in an interesting way. That’s something that we’re working on [at KIN]. It seems to be going well, but it’ll take time. We’ll see how people respond.

What will the first KIN Art Club exhibition be?

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The first exhibition is going to be done up in Fayetteville; it’s going to be in this beautiful field. We’re building these 16 easels that we’ll stake down; they’re going to be scattered down in this field. We’re [showing] a new body of work with Katherine Strause [that] she’s been working really hard on. I think [it’s] the best work she’s ever done. It’s very focused on women’s archery, and I think it’s going to be a powerful story. … We’re working with a firm to create this really beautiful, almost commercial for it, and Bonnie Montgomery is going to have a song playing during it. So we’re really trying to create an immersive experience that people can access from anywhere.

Fortune Horse Studio
“Field: Katherine Strause”

When will that open?

It’s going to open on Sept. 14, and by “open,” I mean there’s a website that’ll go live.

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It sounds like you’re working with artists at different stages in their careers and with collectors at various price points?

Yeah. You know, right now on our table, we’re looking at $1.3 million paintings by famous artists for collectors that are very interested in that level, to artists that are very successful and selling at — I think — an extremely high price point of $100,000, to artists who are selling things for $2,000. Our belief system is one that helps artists who are in different places in their career. If they’re in a collection with a Jeffrey Gibson or Mary Weatherford, who are very established in museums, then it helps legitimize their work. So we really, really try and push our collectors, our private clients that we work with, to think more expansively, and to really search in the garages. To look at the people who have something to say, but maybe don’t have gallery representation or a trust fund that allows them to paint all the time.

The idea of the Art Club partially addresses my next question on how you see our ways of interacting with art adapting to the restrictions of the pandemic. 

I think that the art world is changing very quickly — accelerated by the pandemic. The global art market used to revolve around art fairs and auctions. [In] 2019, I was gone two weeks out of every month somewhere. We were traveling, going to an art fair, going on studio visits in different cities. It was really about coming together and experiencing art. Well, that fell away. The art fairs I think, really successfully flipped to online platforms, which I love, because it slowed things down a little bit. You know, when you’re in Art Basel, Miami or Frieze in London, it’s first-come, first-serve. You’re waiting in line for them to open the gates. You can literally run through and try to find the work with your client. … Whereas, now, during the pandemic, with virtual everything, is slower. It democratizes who gets access to the art.

Have you seen any ingenious responses to the constraints of the pandemic in terms of how we can find new ways to interact with art and architecture?

One positive thing is that this has provided a lot of space for artists to work, because people are at home. And so there’s great work being produced. … Art is really in its fullest when it’s interacting with a body — when someone is there, right? I think the struggle with virtual is: How do you create a sense of space? How do you create a sense of place? A lot of virtual shows that I’ve been seeing are like a white box with a painting on there. It could be any gallery in any city in the globe, and it’s totally void of anything. [But] if you think about your experiences — some of these transformational times when artists have impacted you — it’s not just that [art object], it’s the walk on the street to get there, what you had for breakfast. The smell of the air. It’s all that stuff. Blum & Poe has a gallery out of LA, and I thought they did a really revolutionary thing during the pandemic. They picked iconic architectural homes, primarily on the East Coast and did a series of exhibitions where they would go into the house, stage it with art from all of their artists … And it showed us a work of sculpture in situ, which is what you need to see, right? … I thought that was really good. I think virtual is powerful, but I think we need to get away from virtual trying to make people feel like they’re in the gallery or feel like they’re in the museum and lean into it more. How can you make it more stimulating? How can we see something that’s more impactful?

Some of those same kinds of limitations you’re talking about —  seeing work without context virtually — you can place that same criticism on some of the ways that galleries are still displaying art. The “white cube,” antisepticized space where art is precious and pristine is still an impediment to this idea of democratizing art.

That, honestly, is a thing that a lot of our clients or private clients who are first-time collectors fear — that the white box is this scary place [that] only billionaires can enter. And that’s not true. Our job is being able to take an artwork and move it from that context and to communicate to our clients. “This is how you can live with it. … It’s not this precious thing, and it feeds into your life, and it becomes a part of your experience of living there.” I think that is really huge. A lot of our job is removing art from this elite context and placing it in a space that feels more personal.

What are your current curatorial projects, and can you say a little about a day in the life of a curator?

Every day is different. … I’m working on a major architecture show at Crystal Bridges. We have architects from Mexico City, New York, LA, Milwaukee. … It’s really a lot of listening — letting them talk and letting them have the space to create, and encouraging that. … Because a lot of what happens, especially in the world of architecture is the dream gets crushed by the cost of reality, right? We want to have this sculptural building, but it’s going to cost this much or the city codes won’t allow this. … Well, we’re at a museum, so “do your thing.” … That’s a lot of what I do [at Crystal Bridges]. Part of my job is holding up a wall between the rest of the world and our artist and saying, “Let them have time. They’ll get there, I promise.” 

… I think [the exhibition Architecture at Home] is going to change how we think about housing globally because we’re asking the hard questions. It’s not just, “Here are five structures that are beautiful.” It’s purified structures that are beautiful that can also be affordable housing. And what does affordable housing [look like]? Why is our natural instinct when someone says that to think of HUD housing? What are the real needs? What are the barriers? [We’re thinking about] why we have to change the zoning regulations and what needs to happen in order to create beautiful spaces for more people to make housing more attainable. And then what does that do? That creates a better city and community and ecosystem, and the economics are better. It helps make cities more diverse and inclusive. So it’s taking one idea —  a house, which is the basic thing — and talking about how it’s really this kind of center hub of making our world better.

… We’re just gonna say you know, that’s kind of the Day in the Life. Every day is different. We’re working on all different types of things, and it’s a juggling act of running a small business, but also telling a profound story and making sure that the art that we’re placing somewhere matters. That it pushes something forward. I personally think that art is a way to help people, more people, see themselves and help more people know that they belong. I think in a state where we’re literally signing bills that say people can’t play sports because of who they are, or [that they] don’t belong, art is a great way of saying, “No, you do [belong], and we’re investing in it — we’re valuing it.” Hopefully, art will spark conversations. As those senators drive past something every day, maybe that helps them open their minds a little bit more.

What’s been the most exciting moment in your career so far?

I’ve been really lucky. I’ve gotten to work on and see so many things and travel the globe. … I think the most exciting part of my career so far is “What’s next?” 

There are fun stories and neat personal experiences that have happened because of my job — from, you know, getting to tour Oprah Winfrey around and having her hold my hands and look into my eyes and say, “You’re doing something. This is great,” which was a life moment, to getting to have a truly emotional experience with an artist. … In New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities in the country, I walked into this artist Kristin Meyers’ studio, and I’ll never forget it. Music was playing; her sculptural work was so profound. The privilege of being able to go into artists’ personal spaces and hear their stories — and that they trust me to tell that story — is something that I’ll never get over. That’s a lot of trust that someone gives you to take their story out into the world and protect it and celebrate it and fight for it if you have to. That’s pretty profound.

Any advice for others who want to turn their passion into their career?

You know, the fear doesn’t go away. It will be scary. It will be a risk. You just kind of have to accept that. I think the advice is: Don’t settle for what everyone says you have to settle for. A lot of times, there are projects people want us to work on that I say no to because it’s not right, or the character of what is being asked doesn’t align with my values. … 

And figure out how to monetize [your passion]. Figure out a way you can make enough money off of it. Meaning, look at what you want to do — let’s say you want to be a painter — back up a little bit and realize, “OK, what other things touch that thing, and what are the other ways that I can still be doing something that’s connected to painting at least 25% of the time, and that extra 25% of the time helps feed my end goal.” I do that all the time. Be as creative as innovators are in technology and science and apply it to whatever your passion is. 

Art is changing so profoundly, and there are going to be new ways of talking, thinking, seeing and reading about it, and understanding it. Everyone can figure out what that is and do it themselves and make the next great platform for how we’re learning about [art]. I mean, that can all happen and will happen. Someone will do it.

… I heard someone say that salary is a dream killer. It’s a drug they give you that just impedes your dreams. I believe that because it’s someone taking all your risk away. Yeah, we’ll give you insurance; we’ll give you a salary. You don’t have to worry about how your paycheck happens. Trust me, I’ve done it. I love that stability. But then I felt my dreams kept going to the back burner because the person who was providing me stability was the person I had to pay attention to. … Trust me, there were times when we started our company where I was broke. I was scared, you know, and then kept hustling, kept putting ideas out there, kept sticking by our guns and doing good work. And it has progressed to a point where you know, we’re able to say, “OK, now we have funds to invest in somebody else. How can we do that?”

Can you say a little bit more about how KIN Art Club is developing the NWA art landscape?

KIN Art Club en somme is a series of art installations that will be going across the country that help support and advocate for artists we think have something to say. It’s a buying platform [too] … which is important, because that helps artists continue to work. … I’m thinking outside of the gallery version of how I think art should be experienced and purchased. I think [it’s] what the future of the arts globally will look like. Art advisers, advocates, curators are going to have a much more important role in the arts economy than they have in the past, which has been primarily held by gallerists and dealers. I think that’s shifting, and that it’s happening here. … We’re experimenting on it in Arkansas. We’re working on it, as are people in other cities —  how more people can be connected [to art]. I hope maybe in a year we could talk, and I’ll tell you if it worked. You know, every year our visual vocabulary expands and what we get access to opens up, because of TikTok and all these things. And so how can we align the arts with that same type of [innovation]?