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Published by Ms. Kianga
Kianga Ellis '91 profile in the Fall 2013 Winsor School Bulletin cover story "Breaking {new} Ground" by Victoria Tilney McDonough '83.
Kianga Ellis '91 profile in the Fall 2013 Winsor School Bulletin cover story "Breaking {new} Ground" by Victoria Tilney McDonough '83.

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Published by: Ms. Kianga on Oct 15, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A modern day Gertrude Stein of sorts, Kianga Ellis ’91 is gathering artists and thinkers and breakingwith the traditional ways of being a patron of the arts. Instead of holding salons, Kianga is using thesocial web to discover artists and promote their work in ways that focus on the process — the experi-ence of artist and audience — rather than the product.After seven years as a lawyer, specializing in commodities and derivatives trading, Kianga veeredfrom her traditional path to blaze a very different trail. Her “ah-ha” moment came while attending theSundance Film Festival in 2003 with a friend. “I was so moved by the filmmakers’ courage and driveto tell their stories. There was no guarantee that they would succeed, but they were passionate andfulfilled in ways that I realized I never would be as a lawyer,” says Kianga. “Until then, it had neveroccurred to me that I could make a career out of my interest in the arts.”Kianga found that supportingthe art community gave her energyinstead of draining it, and she becameincreasingly fascinated in how audi-ence and artist connect — whether in a physical space like a gallery or a virtual place like the internet.“For better or for worse, right now, everyone’s attention is on a screen,” she says. “I’m not interested inthe web replacing real life, rather using it to push people to see and experience art in new ways.”Primarily through Kianga Ellis Projects, Kianga organizes experimental conceptual exhibitionsinvolving the socially engaged activities of a small group of contemporary artists. Increasingly knownas an art evangelist, Kianga uses social media not only to promote the works of artists but also todevelop ways to be an integral part of the creative process itself. Take Martiza Ruiz-Kim, for example.During one 30-day period, the artist made daily artwork that responded to expressions of kindnessfound online. She documented the experience daily with a blog post. The project, “I Will Find,” waspromoted exclusively online with Kianga Ellis Projects. “It basically explored the nature of art onlineas well as non-traditional communication,” says Kianga. “It also served to define a new art practice.”While using blogs, apps and tools like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Pinterest, Kianga is findingthat people are embracing the ephemeral nature of art and its creative process. “At this point, artistsstill need to make paintings and sculptures and sell them, but they can also create experiences alongthe way that collectors can become a part of. It’s all happening fast; everyday is something new.”Can ephemeral art be sustained? Will art collecting and patronage move into the arena of moreexperiential and ethereal art? Can artists — and patrons — make a living if their work does not hangon a wall? “I feel like I’m onto something,” says Kianga. “I am getting clues and affirmations that thetectonic plates are shifting, that the art community — artist, audience, collector — is open to creating,buying, and encouraging conceptual, experiential art.”Along with her growing online presence, Kianga is also doing workshops to teach art organizationsand artists to use the social web as the new public square. “If someone gets a tweet about a digital artproject, for instance, that person may then become aware of the artist behind it and from there seekout her work and even get to a museum or park or studio to see more,” she says. “Success for artists— for all of us — boils down to relationships.”Art, after all, is the kick in the pants people need to get away from the familiar and to see the worlddifferently … to tilt our heads this way then that way until suddenly, we are able to walk upon land-scape after landscape of new colors and textures.
Victoria Tilney McDonough ’83, a writer based in Alexandria, Va., contributed the profiles of KiangaEllis, Betsy Bragg and Alison Brooks.
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