Francesca Wilmott, Los Caminos
Photo by Jason Gray
“Camino” translates roughly to “path”, which could provide a basic analogy for Francesca’s relationship to art. She is most certainly on the path of art, and in a relatively short amount of time, has traveled a long way (having co-founded/curated two apartment galleries and worked for several important arts organizations both in St. Louis and Chicago, all in less than a decade). Still, Miss Wilmott somehow remains entirely approachable, and considers promoting emerging local artists one of the important aims of her latest involvement, Los Caminos.
Francesca and Los Caminos are but two examples of the ever-expanding, St. Louis art-scene; proof that this city along the Mississippi still has something in store for an audience fast-becoming willing to look. If you haven’t been over to Cherokee Street lately, why not make your next trip a visit to an opening at Los Caminos? That is, right after you read her interview below.
HOI- What is Los Caminos, and how did it originate?
FW- Los Caminos is an apartment gallery on Cherokee Street in St. Louis. I run the space with Cole Root (who lives in the apartment) and we use the common areas of his apartment as a meeting place to exhibit, discuss, and generate contemporary art. We open new exhibitions about every two months and also host programs and events.
Cole and I worked together at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis about five years ago and stayed friends. Over the years we discussed different ideas we had for shows, using each other as a sounding board for projects we had in mind. When I moved back to St. Louis last May we finally got a chance to open a space together. We used the summer as a planning period to conceptualize how we would run the space, build the website, meet with artists, and organize a number of exhibitions. Our first opening was in October 2010, and as of March 2011 we have opened four exhibitions and have hosted two one-night events.
HOI- Do you think that your project fills the proverbial “shoes” of the late Boots Contemporary Art Space (also on Cherokee Street), or that it treads upon new terrain? Why?
FW- Juan [Chavez (the creator of Boots Contemporary Art Space)] has been an important mentor to both me and Cole and his sister was actually my high school art teacher and thus also had a huge influence on me pursuing a career in the arts. Naturally, Juan is a close friend to Los Caminos and Boots has greatly inspired us. That being said, Juan has some big shoes to fill and we realize that we will never replace Boots. Los Caminos is quite different from Boots not only in its physical form (it’s on the 2nd floor rather than in a store front), but also because Boots was structured as a non-profit and Los Caminos is neither a non-profit, nor a commercial gallery. So to answer your question, I would say that we strive to continue Boot’s welcoming environment and spirit for experimentation. However, without a non-profit status, we operate quite differently and have different goals in mind.
HOI- What advantages does an apartment gallery or exhibition space have over a conventional gallery?
FW- One of the main advantages of running an apartment gallery over a commercial or a non-profit space is that we don’t report to a board or other stakeholders. On the flipside, we also have fewer resources than such organizations and must scale back accordingly. Risk functions in two ways in an apartment gallery: since the overhead of the gallery is covered in the monthly apartment rental, there’s less of a financial risk as there’s little monetary investment on our part; additionally, the fact that it’s not an income generating model allows us to program experimental exhibitions that might not be lucrative in other venues.
HOI- What makes St. Louis a good incubator for the arts right now?
FW- There’s so much creative talent – artists, writers, curators, musicians – in St. Louis, and I think that over the years such talent has found a community of mutual support on Cherokee Street. I’m not sure if I can specifically identify what has triggered the recent artistic growth on Cherokee Street and in St. Louis at large, but I believe that the strength of the St. Louis art scene comes from a combination of its creative talent, close-knit community, and an abundance of cheap space. Also, any competitive spirit within the St. Louis art scene seems to raise its standards, challenging us to exhibit more relevant and exciting shows.
HOI- Do you think that this particular climate is sustainable?
FW- While I don’t believe that apartment galleries like Los Caminos are a sustainable model (or that they are designed to be), I think that the larger movement that they are part of can be sustained. It seems that the rapid growth on Cherokee Street comes from within the neighborhood itself. I don’t believe that there are outside developers coming in and plopping down galleries and shops and then taking off again. Almost everyone who is invested in Cherokee Street also lives in the neighborhood, and as a result, wants to see that this particular environment can be sustained.
HOI- Where does your fascination with art come from? How has your path to where you are reshaped your ideas about art, or has it?
FW- After taking my first art history class in high school, I realized that the one thing that I enjoy more than making art is studying it. Since discovering my passion for art history, I have tried to get involved in the art world in any way possible. During my undergraduate summers I worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Pulitzer and the Contemporary (where I met Cole). Though guarding galleries was not the most glamorous job, it exposed me to like-minded people who share a passion for contemporary art and for making things happen.
While in graduate school at SAIC I was also greatly influenced by the DIY mentality that pervades the Chicago art scene. In particular, my supervisor at the Hyde Park Art Center, Allison Peters Quinn, said something that stuck with me. She said that it bothers her when students say that they’d like to become curators one day. With curating, she said, you don’t wait for an invitation; instead, you should just start organizing shows in your corner of the world. After working with Allison I opened an apartment gallery (Concertina Gallery) with my friends Katherine Pill and Corinna Kirsch out of our Logan Square apartment.
HOI- Do you have any advice for someone inspired by your example; what tips do you have for the aspiring gallerista?
FW- If you have a passion for curating then nothing should stop you from putting on your own shows. It’s not easy (and often requires many years of schooling) to land a paid curatorial position. Plus, no one will hire you unless you have experience. So use whatever space and connections you have to organize your own shows. If you’re working with the right people then the exhibitions you curate will benefit all parties involved, and as a result, finances can be shared and become less of a burden.
HOI- Finally, can you share a bit about what Los Caminos has in store for the next few months?
FW- Our exhibition schedule is currently booked through the fall. After our current show, Do the Right Thing, we are exhibiting the work of St. Louis photographer Dave Johnson alongside Chicago mixed-media artist Dominic Paul Moore (who also runs his own apartment gallery, ebersmoore). During the summer, we’re hoping to do a film series, perhaps projecting onto our large bay window that looks onto Cherokee street. We’ll kick off our fall season with a group exhibition that Cole has been developing for some time. We’re also hoping to develop more public programming (artists talks, a bike tour of alternative spaces, etc.), so if you have any ideas for programming, please send them our way!
All photos featuring Francesca Wilmott are by Jason Gray; all others are used by permission of Los Caminos.