Call Libby Barbee an artist moved to help other artists, and, in her own practice focusing on human interaction with the landscape and environment, the entire world. A native Coloradan raised on the eastern plains, Barbee also serves her community as RedLine’s programming manager, as overseer of the art center’s Arts in Society grant program, and as a teacher, working directly with young artists at the University of Denver and Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. Barbee shares more on her multifaceted relationship with art via her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Libby Barbee: Books are my creative muses. The ideas for almost everything I make are sparked by something that I have read. Whenever I start a new project, the first place that I head to is the bookshelf. That said, I have to admit that I have a three-year-old at home, I work full time, I teach and I make art — so I don’t have a lot of downtime to sit and read. Audible is my saving grace. I consume audio books like candy and read while driving, doing housework, making art, and whenever I can put on headphones and tune out.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I abhor idle small talk, but love a good party AND a good story. For that reason, I have often wished that I could have been present at the parties that Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla reportedly threw, during which (story has it) they would mystify guests with all sorts of technological trickery. Because I appreciate in Twain a cynical idealism that at once suffers at human imperfections and still genuinely hopes for humanity, I would have to throw Kurt Vonnegut into the mix for good measure. Also, I imagine that all three of these men were sufficient drinkers and knew how to have a good time.
Now, if it's coffee and conversation that we’re talking, John Muir, Edward Abbey and the Australian paleontologist Tim Flannery would be my choices. Though holding very different attitudes toward nature, their work informs mine, and I turn to each of them often in my thinking. Despite my having some very important differences in ideology with Edward Abbey, I imagine that he would make a very entertaining drinking partner. Muir most likely would not. Flannery, I don’t know enough about. So with this trio, I would happily settle for coffee and pointed conversation.
I think that the two best things about the local creative community are that it is accessible, and it is thriving. There are so many opportunities to get connected with the arts in Denver. People are eager to share what they are doing, collaborate and create opportunities for others.
The arts have really expanded in the last ten years, and one thing that excites me is that many people and organizations are fighting to making sure that even in this growth, the cultural landscape continues to represent diverse approaches to culture and creativity. Also important to this thriving cultural ecosystem is the fact that Denver is increasingly home to organizations that can support artists at many levels of their career. With residencies like RedLine and PlatteForum that help form the careers of emerging artists, and galleries like the CVA, Black Cube and the MCA that exhibit local artists within the context of a national or international dialogue, it is becoming easier for artists to build a career in Denver.
The worst two things about Denver, the two that I think most threaten Denver’s ability to develop as a contemporary art center, are: 1. There is a real lack of critical writing and discourse about art, and 2. We have very limited funding opportunities for individual artists, coupled with a weak collector base.
I don’t give too much authority to trends. I think that often trends can give a sense of the pulse of a society or community, but by and large, by the time something becomes a trend, it is already obsolete.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
My favorite accomplishments as an artist have been opportunities for which I have had to support other creatives. I spent a few years after graduate school focused solely on my studio work and, surprisingly, found it very unfulfilling. I believe that art is important, and I will always have an active studio practice, AND I find that I am most proud and happiest when I am helping others access the arts or realize their own creative projects. I have loved teaching at the college level, managing art programs at RedLine, and, currently, I’m very excited to be managing a grant program called Arts in Society that funds socially engaged art projects in Colorado. For me, this work feels integral to who I am as an artist.
I have to admit that I really hate bucket lists. There is something that feels inherently privileged to the concept, and I dislike the focus on singular experiences that probably bring us some immediate pleasure but contribute little to our overall joy. Sure, there are places that I want to see in my life and things I hope that I will have the opportunity to do, but higher on my list are things like having a happy family, being a good mother, knowing my neighbors and creating beauty.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it — mostly. Colorado is my home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The arts community in Denver is what keeps me here, but the small-town girl in me sometimes yearns for wide-open prairies, dark night skies and the quiet.
Oh, man! There are so many amazing creatives in Colorado that I couldn’t possibly pick one favorite. However, I will say that the people by whom I am most inspired tend to be those who don’t just make art, but rather live a fully engaged creative life. For these people, there is no separation between art and life, and art is a tool for engaging with the world. Two people who embody for me this way of being in the world are the dancer Tara Rynders and Warm Cookies of the Revolution creator Evan Weissman.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
On November 10, I have a show opening at Artworks Loveland alongside Kaitlyn Tucek and Jodi Stuart; in February, I will be part of the RedLine alumni show at RedLine and the Pink Progression shows at the Denver Public Library and the Boulder Library Canyon Gallery; in March, Chinn Wang and I have a two-person show opening at Naropa University in Boulder. In September of next year, I am very excited to be participating in an interactive, sound-based project around land and ecology titled Recall, which will take place over two days at the Rocky Mountain Land Library in Fairplay, Colorado.
I think that current RedLine resident artist Esther Hernandez is doing really interesting work that deserves attention. The type of performance-based work that she is creating is something that we don’t see much of in Denver, and through her work, she is investigating power in really new and interesting ways. Also, Suchitra Mattai continues to push her work in really exciting directions, and I think that she will continue to get increasing, and much deserved, attention.
See works by Libby Barbee, Jodi Stuart and Kaitlyn Tucek in Borderline, which opens with a reception on Friday, November 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Artworks Loveland, 310 North Railroad Avenue in Loveland, and runs through December 29. An additional artists’ reception and gallery talk follows on Saturday, December 2, from 2 to 4 p.m. Learn more about Libby Barbee and her work online.