Cheyanne Sauter of Art Share LA: Inspiring Leadership in the Arts
Art Share LA’s Executive Director, Cheyanne Sauter, will tell you that she’s an expert at organizing chaos. She proves this point by offering an exact count of the days and weeks that Los Angeles has been under quarantine during the Safer-at-Home mandate. Amid the chaos that is Covid-19, Sauter says the arts are more essential than ever.
“If we're so worried about making sure people are alive with food, and shelter, and safety, why aren’t we concerned about what there is to live for? Politicians are going to need art organizations when the restrictions lift to bring people together and make our society happy and whole again. We’re not going anywhere.”
A Los Angeles native, Sauter has served in the nonprofit world for more than 20 years. In 2013, she joined Art Share LA as their Interim Director and currently serves as their Executive Director, supporting over 700 visual and performing artists per year. She also sits on the board of the Los Angeles River and Business Association and the Arts District Business Improvement District. In collaboration with Not Real Art, Sauter says of the recent grant, “I love being able to give $2,000 checks to six artists. I mean, those calls that I get to make or emails, ‘you've been selected to receive this grant’ give me so much joy.”
Taking care of the soul of the world…
Sauter’s commitment to nonprofits extends far beyond the need to organize chaos. “I think the system that we have created in the world can't support the social needs of our society. So that's where nonprofits come in and should be valued for taking care of the soul of the world. So it was always a natural fit for me. I see a void and want to fill it. I found a lot of luck and love in the art world.”
For a time, Sauter shied away from the nonprofit art world, taking jobs in medical research or environmental causes, but says the “arts just kept pulling me back. I'm very lucky that I have a really creative family. I've been observing artists since I was a little girl and just find them so inspiring and love how their brains work.”
“The art world is a very complicated place, especially in the nonprofit landscape.”
Oscillating between the arts administration world where the prominent focus is funding, and the Frieze Fair environment of blue-chip galleries requires Sauter to walk both paths, simultaneously.
“It's a very mechanical world…the issues that they're dealing with are very socio-political, about equity and issues that are very important in the structure of a society. And then you go to the other side of the art world – think big art institutions and galleries and millions of dollars – and it's so separated and disproportionately unequal in comparison to art administration.
“The arts can be really frustrating because only a few artists are valued and elevated to that blue-chip status and get the praise that everyone deserves. It's a frustrating system. I think there's almost like a veil in the art world to not show the mechanics of how high-end galleries work because it's probably fraudulent, but they also think you don't know the secret. So you know, the value is in the secret.”
A typical day for Sauter has two versions, pre-pandemic and current. “I might thank you later for reminding me what a typical day was like before Covid-19,” she chides. Now when her morning alarm sounds, Sauter is content to “stay put forever,” but duty calls, even if a larger portion of that duty is now accomplished virtually.
Her hectic day starts with addressing any challenges that may arise from the approximately 30 residents occupying the top floor of Art Share LA. In property management, it’s widely known that anything that happens in life, will most likely happen at a property – where life dramas play out in full force.
“It is a full-time job. I have a property management company that does it for me, but a large portion of my day and a lot of my decisions are focused on the fact that 30 people are living upstairs who can hear every concert.”
“So yeah, before COVID…”
“I have a staff of five who come in and we have a lot of staff meetings that I miss so much, sitting around and shooting the shit and creating programs. I definitely miss that. We have a huge facility. So we're constantly rearranging stuff, moving chairs, relighting stuff – facility management. But then I do a lot of donor meetings and talks to keep them up to date with the programs that we're doing at Art Share LA. Then we have artists coming in and out all day, dropping off their artwork or picking up their artwork from the last show. We're installing new shows. Towards the end of the day, we're getting ready for a performance that'll be in our theaters and we're going into the theater and turning on the lights and the sound and helping the musicians load in their cello and piano tuners, as they're kind of plucking away. It's very active, very exciting.
“And if you get stressed with your work, you kind of walk away from your desk and either go sit in the art storage room or go sit in somebody's art studio and just chat with them about the pottery they're making. You never know when you turn the corner, who you might run into– maybe somebody's using our classroom, taping a yoga video, or there’s a Toastmasters meeting. It's just a random platform for these amazing things to happen. Give people the space and they're going to create.”
Now that space is dominated by Zoom meetings. “We've taken all of our programming online. So every day we have a two o'clock performance on Zoom and then we have a 7 pm concert every Thursday night, and we have art that's being sent in daily via Instagram through a virtual gallery. Our platform is moving from a physical space to a virtual space right now.”
Sauter herself moves through a veritable feast of cultures, oftentimes in a single day and the question is posed – what’s the secret to fostering all these diverse relationships?
On being a chameleon
“It truly is hard. I walk in so many different worlds, there's definitely a bit of me being a chameleon. In my 20s, I was a master of seduction and camouflage. Then in my 30s, it was about molding into different groups. And now in my 40s, I feel like I'm not losing myself in the different groups. So if I am with the highfalutin people and they're saying something that's extremely classist or racist I can jump in and say, ‘Oh, can we look at it through this lens?’ Or, ‘Can you see it from this point of view?’ I can stay true to myself so that I don't lose myself in that person or in that image that they have of the person that I'm bringing to the table. But then, I am a very lax communicator. If somebody's trying to come at me all stiff and mechanical and technical, I will break them down so that we can have a real conversation. I'm not trying to be anyone I'm not.”
On the challenges ahead
“It's extremely frustrating right now because everyone is focused on what's essential to live your life –, food and shelter and basic needs that people have. But for me, we're asking people to stay inside for five to ten weeks and all they're doing is consuming culture. They're on their website. They're on their phone. They're on Netflix or watching movies – there’s all this culture. And right now the arts organizations are being squeezed so hard, all the funding is leaving the sector. We are literally busting at the seams. You can go on to Berlin Symphony and watch a Philharmonic show, you can tune into Art Share each day and watch a solo performance. There's just so much happening. If we're not funding our children to get an arts education and we're not sending adult artists work and paying for them, [the arts] will continue, but we will have bad stuff. We'll just have TikTok instead of a Philharmonic.”
When asked what she wants to leave our readers with, Sauter shares, “Just keep creating, even if people aren't watching, even if you aren't getting good reception, keep working, keep digging in. And if you realize self-worth and happiness out of it, then you've won, but if you find yourself and have an inner dialogue that you can manage through your creations, then you've mastered life.”