Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fired Up and Ready to Go: Interview with Ann Berchtold, Managing Director, San Diego Art Fair

Curiosity drew me to inviting Ann Berchtold for an interview. For three years I have attended the San Diego Contemporary Art Fair, held each September, showcasing contemporary art galleries, art dealers, furniture designers, art labs, and solo artists from around the U.S. and other countries. Having attended several other art fairs and art related trade shows over the years, I have been impressed with San Diego Art Fairs’ unique point of view, lively and engaging weekend long series of events and its celebratory approach to presenting visual art. Ann Berchtold is a savvy businesswoman who sees the importance of creating an ‘art experience’ as a way of capturing the publics’ attention. In 2011, the fair had a record 8,000 visitors, and went from 27 gallery booths in 2009, to the 61 expected in September, 2012 at the Activity Center at Balboa Park.

The title of this year’s fair, “New Art City”, comments on Berchtold’s belief in and enthusiasm for the city of San Diego as an important contemporary art destination. The seeds for San Diego’s first art fair were sown in Miami where Ann first experienced a contemporary art fair. Having been a frequent visitor to Miami during her growing up years, she said she was “blown away and turned on” by what Art Miami did for that city, its growth as a travel destination and art town. She commented “It was a game changer for Miami and if Miami can do, so can San Diego.” Ann came home after Miami and enlisted the support and help of her friend Julie Schraeger, and together they began their research into art fairs, learning ways they could move forward with their vision. During 2007 and 2008, they visited many art fairs around the U.S. learning from the directors of those fairs, while simultaneously doing outreach to the San Diego art community leadership, meeting with civic advisory groups and were able to bring partners and sponsors on board to launch the first San Diego Contemporary Art Fair in September, 2009. Today, the fair has United Bank of Switzerland as their largest sponsor and partner – the same bank that supports Art Basel, considered to be the largest and finest contemporary art fair in the world.
Ann Berchtold is not an artist and what brought her to San Diego was college.  She attended San Diego State University, majoring in Business and Marketing. While in school, Ann worked at Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe for several years and when she graduated, her boss offered her the job as Catering Director. From there, she moved to San Francisco to the Ritz Carlton where she worked as Catering Director and handled many large special events. Through these jobs, Berchtold honed her skills in logistics, project management and the organization of large complex events. When asked how she developed a passion for the arts, Ann attributes it to her family.  Raised in Michigan, Berchtold is one of four children with three brothers, all of whom, including her parents, are in the arts. She minored in fine art in college and along the way unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit as she brings people, art, and music together.

Ann began her art connection in the San Diego community as director of the L Street Gallery, in the Omni Hotel while developing a website featuring local artists and events. In 2007, she teamed up with Patricia Frischer, to launch the San Diego Art Prize exhibition at the gallery. They were able to obtain a grant for this well received exhibition and the San Diego Art Prize continues as one of the featured events of the San Diego Art Fair.

Over the four years of its existence, the fair has developed a list of thousands of art collectors, and has attracted more and better galleries. This year’s New Art City’s venue is in Balboa Park so that there is a collaboration with the museums and attractions of the park and promises to engage an ever growing audience of support and participation. The fair has moved from the Grand Del Mar to the San Diego Hilton and now hopes it has found a home in Balboa Park. Berchtold is looking towards 2015 which is the centennial celebration of the park and wants the San Diego Art Fair  to be a leading contributor to the events.

Ann Berchtold hopes to build a new kind of art fair – changing it up from a predictable grid-like system of exhibitor booths to showcasing all of what San Diego has to offer uniting artists, musicians, art collectors, sponsors, and partners, together with galleries from around the U.S. and the world. Armed with unbridled optimism, enthusiasm and the creative passion of an entrepreneur, it looks like she will continue to succeed.
For more information about the New Art City Art Fair at Balboa Park taking place September 6 – 9th, please visit

Cathy Breslaw is a southern California visual artist, writer and lecturer who has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and 50 group exhibitions across the country at museums, art centers, college and university galleries and commercial galleries. Her work can be found in many private and corporate collections.
Her work and writing can be seen at:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Behind the Scenes Conversations: Interview with Erika Torri, Executive Director of the Athenaeum, Music and Arts Library, La Jolla CA

Erika Torri is the Executive Director of the Athenaeum, Music and Arts Library in La Jolla.  She became director in 1989, so for the past 23 years, Erika has seen the Athenaeum through design and building renovations, an expansion of staff, the development of arts book collections, studio art school, and the growth of many music and art exhibition programs.  As she walked me through the spaces of the building, I could sense the pride and passion she has for the athenaeum and what she and others, under her direction, have accomplished there.

Robert Kushner, ScriptoriumThe Athenaeum is a unique cultural institution in San Diego county and is one of only 16 non profit libraries in the U.S. Devoted exclusively to music and art, it is an amazing resource for books, reference materials, CDs, and DVDs – it has one of the most important collections of artists books in Southern California. For a small yearly fee, members can borrow materials and take part in the large calendar of events taking place throughout the year including concerts, exhibitions, lectures, studio art classes and special programs.                                                                                     
During our conversation, Erika explained that what exists today as the Athenaeum has actually taken every bit of the 23 years to be created and developed. Over the years, 5 million dollars has been raised to create what exists today. Erika oversees a current 1.5 million dollar budget, which is raised through fundraisers, member dues(currently 2300 members), grants , donations and school fees. Erika has developed a staff of over 20 who help in running this multifaceted music and arts library and its accompanying programs.

When Erika was hired, she was told she was the “perfect person for the job” and as we talked, and as the “whole” of her background unfolded, it was easy to see why.  Erika Torri was born and raised in Bremen, a city in northern Germany. When asked about her arts background, Erika explained that in the years after World War II, there was a lot of emphasis placed on arts and culture, and she frequently visited museums, theater, and opera and as a result of this influence, she minored in music for her undergraduate degree.  She was educated at the University of Hamburg where she received a masters degree in Library Science. Originally she thought about getting a degree in Chemistry or Pharmacy, but quickly learned that Library Science would have better job opportunities. During her training she did a series of internships, the most noted being at the
Sorbonne in Paris.

Erika had always had an interest in coming to the U.S. for an extended visit so when she completed her schooling, she found a way to live in New York City for a while and then went to Boston for an internship at a library - there she met her future husband, Fred, who was studying at MIT. She returned to Germany to her family and then married her husband and moved permanently to the U.S. For a few years they stayed in Boston and Erika was a librarian at Harvard’s medical school.  Her husband’s job then brought them to San Diego where she has lived for the past forty years.


Erika’s interest in visual art first began with weaving.  As a 12 year old, Erika met a woman at her church who introduced her to the craft and taught her how to use looms. This introduction to weaving has grown and sustained over many years and she still keeps several looms at her home.  When her two daughters were in school, Erika spent her time weaving very small art pieces which she exhibited and sold widely across the country.         

Erika’s weaving was interrupted when she was offered a part time librarian position at MOCA in La Jolla.  This worked well as she could balance her family responsibilities with a job.  She speaks of this as a wonderful time when she was exposed to many contemporary artists and their work. She was especially taken with the work of sculptor, Mauro Stacciolli who she had an opportunity to meet. It was during this time that the Athenaeum was looking for a librarian and after long consideration, decided to take it. Still wanting to balance home and work, Erika took It as a part time position, working 12 hours per week. Shortly after Erika took the job at the Athenaeum, the Director left and she took on the added responsibilities of overseeing all the renovations of the building going on at that time.

As the years went on, Erika developed the art exhibition program which exists today.  Artist exhibitions include the yearly  juried exhibition which is selected by outside jurors or by invitation by Erika and the arts committee. There is no particular curatorial system for selecting artists, but she welcomes artist packets if their work has some connection to the mission of the institution – having to do with artist books, music or the written word.
While there is great participation and enthusiasm in the community for the Athenaeum, Erika’s
wish is for everyone living in La Jolla to become a member. Though there is outreach to all 8 districts in the school system, many kinds of events, concerts and lectures, Erika believes there are still many folks who are still unaware of all that is available at this wonderful music and arts library. It is truly a crown jewel of San Diego county and in large part, we have Erika Torri to thank for it.

**Photo Images: (in order of top to bottom) Robert Kushner, Scriptorium:Devout Exercises of the Heart, 2012
                                                                                  David Adey, John Henry, 2010
                                                                                Adam Belt, A Religious Experience, 2011
                                                                                Kathy Miller, Leaving a Mark, 2006
Cathy Breslaw is a southern California visual artist, writer and lecturer who has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and 50 group exhibitions across the country at museums, art centers, college and university galleries and commercial galleries. Her work can be found in many private and corporate collections.
Her work and writing can be seen at:                                                     

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Gap Between: A Poem

The Gap Between

Black, empty, still.
A space to contemplate what is
In my mind’s eye.

No eyes, or ears or legs or hands – a completely helpless place.
 And a seed lies covered, buried and waiting for the miracle.

Schedules and  signs missing  - in the deep silence.
Floating motionless,
I watch – anticipating,
Is today the day?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Behind the Scenes Conversations: Karen McGuire, Curator of Exhibitions, William D. Cannon Gallery

Behind the Scenes Conversations:

article by Cathy Breslaw

Karen McGuire, Curator of Exhibitions,

William D. Cannon Art Gallery, Carlsbad,CA
From the moment I sat down for an interview with Karen McGuire, I could sense the joy she has for her work. Karen has been the Curator of Exhibitions for William D. Cannon Art Gallery since 1999. Having been a resident of the Carlsbad/Encinitas area for many years and a frequent visitor to the adjacent Carlsbad Dove Library, I have often had the pleasure of stopping in to the gallery. I have always enjoyed the wide range of work in these exhibitions so talking with Karen was an opportunity to learn more about the person orchestrating and implementing all these exhibitions.

Part of why I enjoy interviewing people engaged in the art community, is to understand the source of their passion for the arts. Karen traces her love of drawing back to early childhood. Her father who was an amateur artist, gave her an oil paint set when she was in kindergarten. This opened the door to years of making art. Later attending a community college in Orange County, Karen took several studio classes. Her goal of becoming an artist continued until life intervened when she married, had children and began an eighteen year stint helping run some family restaurants in southern California. After her marriage ended, Karen returned to school at Cal State Fullerton where she completed a B.A. in Art History and an MFA in the Exhibition Design and Museum Studies program.

Karen’s motivation for her transition from making art to curating exhibitions came from a Museum Studies class she took at Saddleback College. Karen lends credit to her instructor, Patricia Levin, for introducing her to the idea of becoming a curator and, together with her art history background, realizing she was well suited to this career path. When she completed her masters degree, Karen was invited by Bill Riley, another instructor at Saddleback College, to teach Art History and Art Appreciation and to run the college’s art gallery. Though she was not paid for this position, it was a good chance to become knowledgeable about the workings of a public gallery. At the end of two years, Karen was hired full time and she continued as gallery director for another three years.

Life intervened again - In 1999, she saw a listing for an open position as Gallery Director of the new William D. Cannon Art Gallery and with some hesitation, she applied for it. She is very happy she did because Karen has continued as Curator of Exhibitions for the past 13 years. When she first began, the gallery hosted seven exhibitions but it has been reduced to five to offer a longer opportunity for more people to visit the exhibitions. One exhibition each year is a travel exhibition. Karen told me “ I wanted to bring the world to Carlsbad” and that she did - there have been thirty-three countries represented in the 13 year history of the gallery. Though the gallery has exhibited a wide range of media, she admits an affinity for Latin American and folk art. As with many public institutions, she says the gallery’s biggest challenge has been with budget constraints however, Karen feels fortunate to be working for a city that values the arts. The Gallery Advisory plays a large role in suggesting exhibitions and along with the Arts Office staff developed a vision statement for the gallery in which Karen takes into consideration when making decisions for future exhibitions.

Though the gallery’s exhibition plan is complete through 2014, there is one show reserved every two years for a biennial - open to San Diego County artists. Karen insists on it, and believes it gives many local area artists a wonderful chance to have their work be seen by the greater community. Karen selects outside jurors for these exhibitions, and last year’s show had sixty artists represented. From this group, Karen selects five artists for a group exhibition, providing them the opportunity to exhibit a larger body of work and having it documented with a full color catalog.

When we talked about the challenges for San Diego artists, Karen was very encouraging. Surprised by the small number of artist proposals she receives, Karen welcomes artist proposals and packets (no web links please!) which she believes should include a CD or Xerox of images, a short artist statement and CV. Contrary to many curators and exhibition directors, she does not believe that exhibition history or formal education is critical claiming that “the work speaks for itself”, and, that “older” work may be better and more relevant than an artist’s “new” work.

We discussed the closings of some good San Diego galleries in the past few years, yet Karen remains very optimistic.

She sees a lot of good work being made by San Diego artists and put it this way - “San Diego’s art community is not down for the count”.

Cathy Breslaw is a southern California visual artist, writer and lecturer who has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and 50 group exhibitions across the country at museums, art centers, college and university galleries and commercial galleries. Her work can be found in many private and corporate collections.
Her work and writing can be seen at: