I’m writing today to let you know that I will be leaving my role as Director of Light Work in February in order to focus on the launch of Assembly—a new model and global platform supporting photographic artists. I am thrilled to be co-founding Assembly with Ashlyn Davis Burns (former Executive Director of Houston Center for Photography), who shares a vision for important change and innovation in our field. I’m excited to tell you more more about this ambitious new project, but before I do I want to take a moment to reflect on my time here at Light Work.
When I came to Syracuse in 2011 for a Light Work residency, I could not have predicted just how important this organization would become to me. I immediately identified with the ethos of “artists supporting artists” and the notion of an artist-run space that can make positive impacts on the work and careers of image-makers. Shortly after my residency, I was fortunate to assume a leadership role with Light Work and these last nine years have truly made possible some of the most meaningful professional and personal experiences of my life. I’ve learned so much from all of the amazingly generous and creative human beings with whom I’ve been able to interact, including many individuals on Light Work’s staff and board over the years, and my wonderful colleagues at Syracuse University. I’d like to personally thank the current staff, including Jeffrey Hoone, Mary Lee Hodgens, Julie Herman, Anneka Herre, Xuan Liu, Dan Boardman, Ryan Krueger, Rebecca Marris, Cjala Surratt, Victor Rivera, and Richard DeNune. As we often say, and is true, “Many hands make Light Work.” I want to extend my deepest gratitude for their unwavering support, generosity, and guidance.
Light Work remains one of the oldest artist-run organizations in the country, founded in 1973. What it means to me to be part of this legacy is difficult to put into words—it has in itself been nothing short of a profound experience to be in the company of so many visual pioneers who have inspired me over the past decade. The gallery has hosted the work of numerous artists and talks that have moved me in ways that I will remember and cherish—but I’ll always recall the words of one artist who, following a reception dinner, confided in us, “Light Work changed my life.” To make even a small impact on an artist’s life is why we do what we do, so this moment continues to resonate with me today and will for many years to come. I am grateful to have worked with hundreds of talented image-makers from around the world, including hosting more than 100 artists-in-residence here in Syracuse, producing more than 50 exhibitions, publishing more than 40 issues of Contact Sheet, contributing to numerous monographs, educational programs, and various satellite projects. So, I’d like to express my gratitude to all of these artists, and to those of you reading this letter, for making this community so truly special.
Light Work has grown in many significant ways during this time as well. We have redesigned our award-winning publication, Contact Sheet, as well as all printed materials and the website, and completely rebranded the organization with a new graphic identity. Light Work has played a major part in expanding the definition of photography in important ways in recent years. We have continued our mission of showcasing a diverse range of voices and bolstered our commitment to supporting emerging and under-recognized artists working in photography. We received national recognition and funding for our programs, including ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the New York State Arts Council (NYSCA), and secured new prestigious grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. We fully renovated our digital lab facility, maintaining it as a state-of-the-art makerspace for photographic artists. We launched a new and improved online collection, featuring more than 4,000 objects from our permanent collection. We grew and developed as a staff and now have one of the hardest working and best teams in the organization’s long history. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we moved our programs online in just a matter of weeks, launched a podcast, and reimagined ways to connect with and support artists during this difficult time. After nearly five decades of service to artists, we have much to be proud of as an organization, and while many challenges most certainly lie ahead, I feel Light Work is ready for new energy to carry the organization into the future. The staff are working together on a transition plan and will be announcing more about what’s next for Light Work soon.
As I make this transition, I’m thrilled to be able to continue supporting artists through Assembly. Assembly will operate in a multitude of ways—as a gallery, agency, creative studio, and art advisory, with an innovative approach to providing holistic support to a diverse group of artists working with photography and the moving image. Ashlyn and I will offer value-driven consulting for collectors, museums, and institutions, creative production and art buying services for magazines and brands, and work with an expansive network of creatives to develop unique projects that tell memorable stories about the world we live in. If you’re interested in learning more, please take a moment to bookmark the website (www.assembly.art) and follow us on Instagram at @assemblyprojects. Stay tuned for our official launch on March 1, 2021.
Many of you know I also work as an artist myself, so I am very happy to be able to return to devoting more time in the studio to my own photography practice (www.shanelavalette.com) and will be looking to work with more curators and photo editors on new projects this year. In February, I’ll be working with Laimun, a Berlin-based residency program for visual makers and researchers focusing on the relationship between images and texts, books, and archives. I’m looking forward to sharing some other exciting news soon as well, including a major museum exhibition in the works for Fall 2021. My personal Instagram is @shanelavalette and I invite you to stay in touch there too.
Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you—the Light Work community—for being so good to me over the last nine years. I look forward to keeping in touch and finding ways to continue collaborating with Light Work and other art spaces in my new role.
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