So You Want a Career in the Arts? Q&A with Peter Mays

Peter Mays is an interesting fellow; I met him at a party that was, in part, thrown to raise funds for the art organization he heads, The Los Angeles Art Association (LAAA).

One might think that, as the executive director of the LAAA, Mays is surrounded in Monets, Manets, and Rodin scultures all day. However, the LAAA serves a broad cross section of artists of all mediums, career levels and socio-economic backgrounds, including those from low-income communities. So, it's not just the "big names."

By supporting the emerging talent at the onset of their career path, the LAAA's goal is to influence the cultural stakeholder groups in Los Angeles to grow the cultural identity of that community. Taking care of our own, as it were.


Q. What's LAAA exactly, and how'd you get started?

A. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Los Angeles Art Association's mission is to provide opportunities, resources, services and exhibition venues for Los Angeles emerging artists of all media. Founded in 1925, LAAA has launched the art careers of many celebrated artists and has played a central role in the formation of Los Angeles' arts community.

As for me, I have an MFA in Printmaking, was a gallery director in Pittsburgh, Pa., and I got dragooned into the world of non-profit management when I moved to L.A. in the mid 1990s. First landing at the Tierra del Sol Foundation in Sunland, where I oversaw an expansive arts program that served the needs of hundreds of developmentally disabled adults. Just prior to my appointment to LAAA, I served as the director of Development and Supplementary Educational Services for the Galef Institute, a Los Angeles-based educational non-profit organization. In 2005, I was appointed to the position of executive director, Los Angeles Art Association.


Q. Working in and around art galleries sounds amazing – but what are some of the downsides to a career in fine arts? Bad job market, long hours, or what?

A. In times of economic challenges, art is often viewed as an unnecessary or luxury item, and non-profit organizations are also amongst the most impacted, so there's that...


Q. What are you working on right now? What does the executive director of LAAA do all day?

A. My days are filled with advocacy on behalf of emerging artists and exhibition/program planning. A couple things are exciting in the near term... Our Annual Benefit Auction on Aug. 7 is a terrific opportunity to get amazing art and food by NOBU! On Sept. 7, we have the cornerstone of 85th Anniversary programming -- an exhibition curated by internationally renowned physicist Lisa Randall (Warped Passages) and celebrated artist Lia Halloran -- I love the challenge of cross-pollination between art and other disciplines!


Q. What one piece of essential advice would you give to an artist who'd like to make a living of it?

A. Artists make art because they HAVE TO, so my advice is to follow your own vision w/ ongoing feedback from informed and trusted individuals; making art for solely commercial reasons is a strategy that rarely works for emerging artists.


Q. What's the very best thing about your job?

A. The best part of the gig is the ongoing opportunity to work with and learn alongside an army of the most talented artists anywhere!

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