This month The Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, turns 20. To celebrate we’ve interviewed the gallery’s Mason Miles, who’s also 20 and who’s the youngest curator in the USA.
The Art Spirit Gallery was founded by Steve Gibbs in a little house on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene. Four years later he bought a skate shop, tore down the interior walls and built what has now become an Idaho institution.
Today owner Blair Williams and curator Mason Miles continue to build upon the vision that Steve Gibbs created 20 years ago. We caught up with Mason to ask him more about the gallery and how, at the young age of 20 also, he became its curator.
Hey Mason. Tell us how you got started with The Art Spirit Gallery.
I grew up in Boise and lived there until I graduated high school in 2014. Then I attended North Idaho College here in town and started taking art classes. It was totally new for me. When I was in high school I played soccer and my mom always wanted me to stick to it so I never really had the chance to put my focus on art or music. But then I went to college and started taking pictures, drawing, painting. It was always there…Last year I came to the gallery to drop off a resumé and immediately got an internship.
And you quickly went from intern to curator?
Yeah. Steve (Gibbs) was helping me hang my first show two weeks after I started and it was intimidating because I was told he was a tough guy to please. He was very particular. But he didn’t really change that much of my work and everyone was pretty amazed.
But then there was some bad news?
Yeah, it was around that time Steve discovered he had ALS. He had crashed skiing that winter and had hurt his shoulder pretty bad. It wasn’t healing and they knew something was up so he went to Seattle to get tested and was diagnosed. It progressed really quickly and sadly he passed away last New Year’s.
And you’ve been doing this ever since while attending college at the same time?
Yeah. There’s always an opportunity to come in and work because of the shows in the evenings. Usually I’ll spend between 25 to 40 hours a week here but on a hanging week I might work 60 to 70 hours in five to six days. But it can be tricky with school sometimes. The last few semesters I’ve taken nine credits.
Tell us about what a hanging week looks like.
The first Saturday of every month I’ll take down the previous show and move the work downstairs. Then on Sunday I take the whole day to figure out where I’m going to hang things. The rest of the week I’m just pounding it out and getting items up on the wall. It really works my brain and I love that. I try to design it so when people come in, you can tell it was hung with some thought and heart.
Is this your calling?
I think I might be a natural but I thoroughly enjoy aesthetics and design. Even on my days off I like to read art and curating magazines.
What’s the best part of your job?
I’d say the people I work with. I can come into work everyday and they’re always hanging out and we get along so well. If we didn’t have that type of teamwork it could be rough.
Who’s the favourite artist you’ve worked with?
Probably Chris Bivins. He does all the masks we have and his work is always super fun.
What’s the future hold for you?
Eventually I want to move down to Southern California to take the museum curation course at Point Loma. But in the meantime we’re busy working on a collaboration with the University of Idaho. We’re forming The Art Spirit Education Collaboratory, which will teach the business of art to students and then they can intern at the gallery.
Kind of like you?