Jessica Kooiman Parker brought new life to Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center in her time there as director and curator, mounting fresh and vital exhibitions that neatly bypassed the pictures-on-a-wall gallery model while incorporating her second passion, film, into the center’s programming. Parker is both sharp-eyed and a natural collaborator as a curator, advocating for artists. On the side, she created the Front Range Film Festival, which rolls into its seventh season on February 23. Now she’s moved on to a bigger palette as curator of the Dairy Arts Center galleries in Boulder. What keeps this creative powerhouse running? Learn more as Parker tackles the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jessica Kooiman Parker: What inspires me most is probably food, particularly fruit. I’m also happiest reading The New Yorker on my couch. I’m lucky to work with many talented artists who are a constant source of inspiration. As a mother, I’d be lying if I didn’t say other mothers: There is nothing like birthing a human, and the transformation is so powerful yet underappreciated. Lastly, ever since I was young, I’ve prioritized travel to scratch my curiosity itch. There is no other way to collect so many new perspectives.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Best is how supportive everyone is of each other and their work, ideas and dreams. There is an incredible amount of talented artists in multiple disciplines challenging the status quo. The worst is that with so much support comes little criticism. I believe constructive criticism is essential for healthy growth.
How about globally?
Globally, I love that there is a new wave of artists coming up that own the title “artist” and demand fair pay and respect. The bad news is that women and minorities are still underrepresented and underappreciated.
You've curated a show called Touch. Tell us a little about it, and why you wanted to explore the premise behind the exhibition.
Touch features nine local artists all exhibiting work that you can touch in some way. It is art you can hold, walk in or on, move, hear, scratch or change. I’m forever intrigued by the viewer’s experience with art and am always looking for ways to mix that up. Touch started as a way to engage a younger audience, but became a powerful way to connect viewers to work in an unexpected way. It’s breaking down a barrier between viewer and artwork to allow a different type of connection to bubble up. It was essential that all of the work on display was able to be touched or the experience wouldn’t be the same.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
More travel: Mexico City, Montreal, Vietnam. I’d also love to find a way to get back into the studio to create my own work again.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I do love Denver. It’s got a great vibe and is charging ahead of other states in a lot of social areas I believe in. The Great Lakes are the main reason my husband and I talk about leaving.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I can’t possibly narrow it down to one, but my first art crush here was Katie Caron, who turned me on to Martha Russo. The two of them together is a lovely conceptual dream. I’m also a huge fan and collector of Liz Quan, Suchitra Mattai and Kaitlyn Tucek. I’ve had the great pleasure to work with Drew Austin on various exhibitions and a project called Studio.Public. He has my heart with his lust for more, his fortitude, his vulnerability and his pragmatics.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’ll be working hard at the Dairy Arts Center to raise money for exhibiting artists and to bring crazy, weird and unexpected work to the Front Range.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community this year?
Joseph Schaffer is a dear friend and has been in Boulder for years, but never gets the coverage or opportunities he deserves. He is incredibly thoughtful, and his work has so much depth it hurts. I’m also eager to see what Kenzie Sitterud, Moe Gram and Eric Dallimore get into this year.
The hands-on exhibition Touch runs through March 3 at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. Keep up with continuing art shows at the Dairy’s website. Learn more about Jessica Kooiman Parker online.
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