A conversation with Melissa Messina, Artistic Director of Flux Projects

Melissa Messina
Melissa Messina

Earlier this month Melissa Messina was announced as Flux Projects’ first artistic director. This marks a change of focus and direction for the organization, now in its seventh year. Messina herself is an artist and a curator, familiar with the Southeast art community, especially Atlanta’s, having received her BFA from Atlanta College of Art and currently residing in Savannah, where her husband is based. (Messina will split her time between the two cities while working for Flux Projects.)

Since being founded in 2009, Flux Projects has been known for offering temporary public art year-round, with a focus on Flux Night, a one-night outdoor public art gallery, the first of which took place in 2010. Then, after hitting a bit of a snag in 2013, Flux Projects announced the event would take a year off and return in 2015. In the interim, the organization focused on additional programming — workshops, visiting artists and lectures. After Flux 2015 had to be delayed due to the weather, the organization decided to take a step back and refocus their mission to adopt year-round, sustainable programming.

We took a moment to discuss these upcoming changes with Messina over email.

ArtsATL: You’ve been a guest curator all over the country — Virginia, New York, Kansas City, Atlanta, and elsewhere. How does your experience in these places inform your vision with Flux Projects and for Atlanta?

Melissa Messina: Well, it will be exciting. This position feels a bit like life coming full circle. I came up in Atlanta, living here from 1996-2003, as an artist and arts professional, so in many ways my experiences here created a foundation and a framework for my curatorial positions thereafter. My time at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum taught me how to present and create dialog around challenging topics and concepts. My time at ArtTable, particularly when we partnered with Prospect.1 New Orleans biennial, taught me more about collaboration and how public programming brings incredible richness to public art. My time at SCAD allowed me to bring artists from the Southeast to broader platforms and to bring international artists to the Southeast, and so forth. Every experience builds on the next and informs an overall practice.

When guest curating, I always want to learn as much as I can about the place where I am working so that the resulting project stems from an informed and authentic perspective. In my experience, the best projects result from making great connections with people, having interesting conversations and ultimately creating meaningful exchanges, which is exactly what I want to do in Atlanta.

ArtsATL: Yes, and part of those meaningful exchanges is bringing outside perspectives — both national and global — into the city. Do you have any specific plans, projects or artists in mind for that?

Messina: Right now, I am scouting sites, researching and listening. I am interested in bringing artists to Atlanta who have an art practice that has the potential for a public component, whose work is in touch with the contemporary moment as well as issues and topics that touch Atlanta, and who have the generosity of spirit to engage our audience, challenge and inspire our community — in essence, who we can learn from and who can learn from us. I am eager to kick off projects but I am tempering that a bit with careful planning. More soon, I promise!

ArtsATL: What do you think Atlanta’s arts community really needs to grow right now? How can Flux Projects help fill that void?

Messina: I do not see the Atlanta art scene as having a void necessarily, perhaps even the opposite — it is complex and has a lot going on. It is also incredibly diverse and pluralistic, not all art communities can say that. I want to be sure that what Flux Projects does going forward is impactful, that Flux Projects does what no other art organization in the city can do. I believe that is the spirit in which it was founded and should continue with this in mind. Flux Projects has grown tremendously in the past two years. It is important as we continue to grow that we do so thoughtfully. So I am asking a lot of questions right now and absorbing a lot of information in my effort to become a local again!

ArtsATL: Can you tell me more about your plans for “Flux Projects Exchange”?

Messina: The Flux Projects Exchange (which is a working title, though it seems to be sticking!) invites three artists each year to come to Atlanta and spend time exploring the city as a site for a future large-scale public project. Each artist will conduct an innovative public program to introduce the city to his or her work as well as engage with local artists, other cultural contributors and the Flux Projects community. It is an opportunity to share an artist’s work with the city and share all the city has to offer with the artist.

I’m still shoring updates but we will have our first Exchange program in Winter 2017, then another in Spring and Summer 2017. I am in conversations with Xaviera Simmons (New York), Cheryl Pope (Chicago) and Alexandre Arrechea (Miami) who are really inspiring artists, who love this city, and whose work I think could really dialog with it in some way. Each are unique, coming from very different points of view, and can collectively cover a lot of conceptual ground.

ArtsATL: Year-round programming seemed to be a more sustainable route for Flux Projects — do you plan to continue the workshops and programs that gained the organization momentum in 2014?

Messina: In a word: ABSOLUTELY! I hope that is why Flux Projects hired me! It is imperative that the educational programs grow along with our projects. We have a solid track record for this that can only get better. My first initiative will be to make myself available for interactions with local artists to learn about their work, give feedback on project ideas, etc. We’ll be kicking that off very soon. I want to be a resource for artists here. I’ve been in their shoes and have been given great advice by some incredible people. I’d be honored to do the same for the next generation.

ArtsATL: You currently have a retrospective on Mildred Thompson, a former editor of Art Papers, up at SCAD Museum in Savannah. Do you plan to bring a more academic approach and incorporate your knowledge of Atlanta into Flux Projects’ programming?

Messina: You know, I try not to characterize my work as “academic.” It seems so riddled with divisive undertones. My experience is that contemporary artists are more interested in posing questions and eliciting responses (both academic and non-academic) in order to bring about dialog and unique experiences. I try to come to each project with that approach too, with a desire to share information as well as learn something myself.

That said, in the hopes of answering your question a bit better, I am eager to continue updating my knowledge of Atlanta just as the city itself is ever-changing and growing. And as with Mildred Thompson, I am always interested in working with artists who are not defined by the trends of their time and perhaps make work that challenges academia – as we know, art history doesn’t always get it right the first time and some of the best artists often defy easy categorization.

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