On Tuesday, the long-running San Francisco arts organization Southern Exposure
announced that its new executive director will be Patricia Maloney, the soon-to-be former head of the popular online art publications Art Practical and Daily Serving. The news may come as a surprise to many in the Bay Area arts community, considering that Maloney founded Art Practical
— which is based out of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco — and has been at its helm for seven years, during which time she merged it with the national publication Daily Serving
. But in an interview this past weekend, Maloney said that she feels now is the perfect moment to hand over the reins.
In the press release sent out by Southern Exposure on Tuesday, Maloney is quoted echoing that sentiment. “I am excited to take on this new role as the Bay Area cultural ecosystem undergoes one of the most consequential transformations it may ever experience, with the confluence of new spaces opening alongside shifting demographics and significant economic challenges,” she said. “Southern Exposure’s position within this new landscape is perhaps more vital than ever because of its capacity to catalyze and support artists’ practices.”
Southern Exposure has been searching for a new executive director since its former one, Courtney Fink, announced her departure
in July of last year after leading the organization for thirteen years. Maloney will begin her new position on March 14, but will remain an advisor for Art Practical and Daily Serving. The publication pairing plans to hire two people to take Maloney's place — one to do the editorial aspect, and one to take over her professorial position at CCA that’s part of the publications’ mentoring partnership with the school. Those names have yet to be announced.
Maloney’s appointment is only the latest development in the long, winding history of Southern Exposure. The nonprofit was started as a collective of artists in 1974 at Project Artaud, San Francisco’s oldest live/work artist space. The early structure of the collective is described on the Southern Exposure website as “bordering on anarchistic,” but in 1988 a board of directors was appointed to deal with business administration, and in 1999 the collective became an official nonprofit. In 2006, the organization left its home of 32 years and became a nomadic entity. Then, in late 2009, it moved into the building that it now occupies at 20th and Alabama Streets in the Mission District.
Although Southern Exposure has undergone extensive evolution, the organization has stayed true to its artist-focused roots and continues to employ working artists at every level of its operation and provide some of the Bay Area’s most crucial programming for supporting forward-thinking local art practice. One of those methods of support is the Alternative Exposure grant, which consistently divies up funds from the Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts to some of the most promising and avant-garde projects in the Bay Area. Coincidentally, Patricia Maloney received an Alternative Exposure grant to start Art Practical in 2009, when she had just finished her master’s degree at the San Francisco Art Institute.
“I think SoEx is not only one of the most vital artist-centered spaces in the Bay Area, I think it’s one of the most vital artist-centered spaces in the nation,” Maloney told me, “And I think it’s because of how its mentoring and creating resources for artists is such a core part of what it does, and I want to continue that.”
Maloney said her main impetus for wanting to make the transition is to be able to enact some of the standards for compensating artists that she often writes about
on Art Practical. In 2014, the publication devoted an entire issue
to highlighting various perspective on the topic of labor in the art world. “I’ve realized for myself this has just been an evolution in my focus and my project as an individual going from really being focused on publishing and creating a forum for critical dialogue to honing in on conversations around labor,” she said. “And not just how we can pay writers but how do we create organizational structure, how do we create the infrastructure needed to sustain that activity?”
According to Maloney, Southern Exposure is in the process of acquiring certification from W.A.G.E
, a New York-based nonprofit that sets standards for artist and curator compensation based on the budget of the organization. But Maloney hopes to push those best practices even further. “I am also really committed to also thinking about how do we, alongside of that, make visible, make transparent what the organization itself needs to thrive?” she said. “You know, like try to be as transparent as possible about that commitment to artist stipends and the percentage of the budget that it represents.”
Southern Exposure’s annual budget is around $800,000, a significant portion of which comes from membership fees. $72,000 of that total budget goes to Alternative Exposure grants.
Part of Maloney’s vision for the space is to be more upfront about who the members of its curatorial committee are and what their artistic research focuses on. Also, she’s hoping to further diversify the programming both in terms of racial representation and discipline. “So thinking about the queer-centered performative work, work that has a really strong correspondence to the political engagements to the artistic community here,” she said, “bringing in a much more diverse group of artists into the mix.”
One of Maloney’s other core initiatives will be to expand Southern Exposure's partnerships. Likely, that will mean working with other arts spaces in its vicinity such as the Kadist Art Foundation, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, and 500 Capp Street, she said.
As far as the obvious opportunity for a partnership with Art Practical goes, Maloney said that there’s potential, but it could be tricky. “This is sort of new territory, I think, for the publication. Where do the conflicts of interest lie? I think we have to sort that out,” she said. “I think also a new person has to come in and set their own vision for Art Practical and Daily Serving and I really want to make sure that I step out of their way so that they can do that.”
Disclosure: The author of this report has written for Art Practical once in the past.