An Interview with Lisa Costello, Giertz Gallery Director
It’s 5:13 on a Monday afternoon, and I’m just a few minutes early to my appointment with Lisa Costello, Director of the Giertz Gallery at Parkland College. After swinging open the heavy glass door, I’m greeted by a rush of cold air followed by a warm greeting by the gallery attendant behind a white reception desk. “She’s not answering her phone, so she must be on her way,” the girl says to me.
At 5:15 exactly, Lisa Costello pushes open the same heavy glass door as I’m sure she’s done one thousand times before this. She’s dressed exactly as you’d imagine a gallery director, simple but effective with neutral colors, basic prints, and a statement beaded necklace.
I was lucky enough to hear 45 minutes worth of her experience in the world of art as well as the position she holds as Director of the Giertz Gallery at Parkland. This interview was conducted on June 15, 2015.
SP: What goes into curating a show in the gallery? Would you say you keep a particular focus on a style that you like? What else influences the exhibits?
LC: We do seven exhibitions a year and no matter the show we do, the students are our main priority. So really, when I’m curating, I always think about how our students are going to benefit from these exhibits and what kind of conversation it’s going to generate. I also have to think about more practical things like shipping, funding, and other logistics. There are a wide variety of factors that go into our exhibits that aren’t always obvious to people. So it’s not always about me and what I like, but really about how our students and community are going to benefit.
I’ve worked really hard in an effort to go nation-wide asking people to submit proposals. Now we get people from all over the country. One thing I was really interested in doing is having artists from all over (the country) showing their individual experiences. For example, think about the difference between landscape art from a California artist compared to Illinois.
SP: It sounds like you are responsible for so many things! Run me through a day in the life of an art director.
LC: Yes! The gallery director’s job is pretty all encompassing. I’m the only full-time person in my department so it’s kind of like running your own small business in the school, because I’m answering phones, writing grants, installing artwork, working on the permanent collection, preparing marketing materials to go out, selling the art work when it’s bought. But I have two really great helpers, Anna Peters, the Exhibition Coordinator, and Laura O’Donnel who does the collections coordinating, in addition to several student workers. It’s always exciting to have student workers and interns because that’s how I first became interested in working in museums and galleries.
SP: Oh, really? So tell me a little bit about your educational background in art and how that led you to this position.
LC: Well, I’m originally from Urbana. I went to the U of I to study metalsmithing, and I kept taking all these art history classes. I just couldn’t get enough! So I ended up staying an extra semester to get two degrees. Most of my interest (in museum work) stemmed from working at Krannert Art Museum as an intern. I loved it! Being around the art and contemporary artists was great. After graduation I moved to Chicago working different jobs in the art community, you know, the whole struggling artist thing. After a while, I held a year-long residency at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
SP: Now when I first think of a residency, my mind jumps to doctors and medical training. What does an artist residency entail?
LC: Basically, they provide you with studio space and you help out in the kitchen, or you teach community education classes. It’s interesting! It’s kind of like an artist colony where people go and take classes.
SP: And you lived there, too?
LC: Yes, you live there too! And I loved it there. It was great for that year. Afterward, I realized I really wanted to go to graduate school. So I applied to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and went there, which was a great experience for me.
SP: Did you get a job immediately after your masters?
LC: No, I taught part-time at, like, 4 different schools! I also worked for a jeweler, which was interesting and taught me the business aspect of art.
SP: So what was your first real, concrete job, then?
LC: I got a job at the U of I as a visiting Assistant Professor. After a year, a job opened up in the exhibitions department at the Krannert Art Museum, which I had previous worked at as a student. While I was there, I was so excited to be working with contemporary artists again. When I heard that this job (at the Giertz Gallery) opened up, I thought, ‘Gosh! I could do a lot of things with the contemporary artists in the community!’
SP: Wow, that is quite a diverse history of experience. So with everything you learned in school and from the workplace, would you say as a curator you’re foremost a: Historian? Critic? Advocate? Theorist? Conductor? Cheerleader?
LC: I’d say all of those! I think it is a lot like juggling all those balls in the air.
SP: Anything that I missed in that list?
LC: No. I don’t think I could have said it better myself!
The Giertz Gallery is located in the Parkland X-Wing. Costello’s current exhibit, titled Around the Block: Artists from our Neighborhood, is available to view now through August 6.