Interview with Carolyn Albracht
As a professional educator, a gallery owner, and a practicing artist, you have many “irons in the fire,” so to speak. How do you balance all of your responsibilities and interests, while still making time for your own work?
That is a great question. Sometimes I wonder the same thing! While there are times I fill my plate too full, I try to be mindful of saying no to things that will pull my attention away from my commitments. Being a professor is my main professional priority, with Blue Cat and artmaking intertwined with that. So it doesn't leave a whole lot of time for other things. I am married, and I have two adult step-children, two indoor cats and a semi-outdoor cat, and they encompass my other priorities. Suffice it to say that I have a very understanding and supportive husband, and while my cats are my fur babies, they don't require the kind of attention that human children do. It's fair to say that part of the reason I can balance all of this is that we don't have young children. I do have one other secret to balance, and that is a regular practice of meditation in the morning and yoga in the evening. I cannot overstate how important these two things are for my mental health, and without these habits I would likely be too stressed out to do everything that I do. It's important to give yourself regular mental time away, even if it's only in small increments. My cats and my husband keep me mentally healthy, too! Laughter and not taking life too seriously go a long way towards keeping me balanced.
Blue Cat Gallery has a fun community focus. What made you decide to open Blue Cat Gallery?
When I accepted the position at Wayne State College five and a half years ago, I learned that because the community is small and rural, a desire to build bridges between the town and campus communities must be part of one's mission. When we were looking for property to purchase, we knew that a traditional house wasn't going to fit our needs, and there was one commercial space available downtown that would allow me to have a studio, and would allow my husband space for his office and laboratory, and space for us to live. I joke that I get to live my urban dream in Wayne America! We purchased the building with the intent to open Blue Cat Gallery & Studio within a couple of years, and worked madly to get the space ready to open in July 2017. It's important to note that where we lived previously, I had a similar project for ten years. So I didn't make this decision without requisite experience and knowledge of the logistics to making this kind of project happen.
I also knew from doing my previous project that having a space like this suited my personality for embedding myself in the community. I am an introvert, although I have learned to behave like an extrovert when circumstances require it, and by creating a space where the public comes to me, I knew I could build the necessary bridges with the town community without having to do things that would drain my energy, like join a bunch of committees. Blue Cat requires a lot of my time and energy, but it's a recharging kind of energy. The payoff is worth it every time someone stops by and says something like, "What a great place this is!" or, "Wayne is so lucky to have a place like this!"
For those who are interested in opening a gallery space like Blue Cat, what sort of advice would you share with them? In other words, what do you wish you had known (or been warned about) before you opened your gallery?
One thing that is important about having a space like this is being mindful of public perception. Part of public perception is having consistent hours of operation. I am always ready for the end of December when I know that I will be able to close the gallery for its yearly winter hiatus until mid-March. I get a little of my life back at that time. But the other nine months of the year, I have to make sacrifices and keep my commitment to the gallery. However one decides to keep that commitment, there are always sacrifices.
One way I am able to keep my commitments is by having an intern who helps operate the gallery in the fall, which is a huge lifesaver for me! But the sacrifice for getting some of my time and freedom back is that I have to make sure I can financially support an intern. That also requires sacrifices. I suppose that is what I wish I had known before doing any of this, is that no matter what decisions you make about how to operate a project like this, you will have to make sacrifices of some kind. Even with that knowledge, however, I would still do it all over again. The beauty of doing something like this is that it can change and evolve if the sacrifices become too great.