As an organization dedicated to works in progress and unfinished ideas, The Project Room is interested in the pursuit rather than the final product. But how do you map a landscape that has no landmarks? How do you chart a trajectory that has no investment in end points? We value the exploratory over the concrete, and while this embedded flexibility is what makes us unique, it also creates a singularly interesting ongoing challenge: it is nearly impossible to explain what The Project Room is.
This Fight Club-esque atmosphere is not intentional. It is simply the natural byproduct of operating as a constantly shifting experiment, and our organizational continuity comes in the form of our Big Questions. From 2011-2013, The Project Room asked: Why Do We Make Things? And from 2013-2015, we are asking: How Are We Remembered? These questions function as guiding principles, and all of our programming is based around our Big Questions. It is only though this lens that our little think-tank/event space/literary journal/lab/meeting place/incubator/sure-we-might-occasionally-put-framed-art-on-the-walls-but-we-are-not-an-art-gallery starts to make any measure of cohesive sense.
With our founder Jess Van Nostrand having accepted a position at MoMA, The Project Room is transitioning into a new chapter. At its helm is our new Incoming Director, Tia Kramer. “I’ve been holding off on the question of how to introduce myself,” Tia explains as she pours hot water for tea. She smiles ruefully and shrugs before handing me a mug. “I do so many seemingly unrelated things that I might end up sounding really disjointed.”
For some organizations, it is true that having an impossibly multi-faceted Director might be seen as confusing or detrimental. But for The Project Room, this is a very fitting problem. (Full disclosure: Tia has been one of my closest friends for five years, and as such I am (happily) incapable of writing a dryly-professional introduction for her. Again, this seems apt.)
The solution to the question of how to introduce Tia Kramer is embedded within the organizational structure of the Project Room itself. Yes, Tia’s identity as a curator/educator/traveler/artist/consultant/outdoorswoman/jeweler does indeed defy concise explanation: but it also illustrates why she is the perfect person to take the reins here at The Project Room. These distinct roles are all lines of inquiry in service of Tia’s personal Big Question: What Makes Life Meaningful?
Tia’s versatility is outmatched only by her endless curiosity, and the insightful concentration that she brings to each of her disciplines gives her a broadly open-minded depth of focus that is a delight to behold. She is an artist, designer and curator who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and at Macalester College. She has a special interest in collaborative, socially engaged and site-specific arts programming, and has curated exhibitions and art happenings at Bellevue Arts Museum, SOIL Gallery, American Institute of Architects, and Canoe Social Club.
In addition to her object-based works, she has presented public performances at Fort Lawton in Seattle's Discovery Park, Smoke Farm in Arlington, WA, the Bellevue Arts Museum, and downtown Chicago. Recently awarded a 2015 Duwamish Revealed Grant and the 4Culture Historic Site-Specific Collaborative Grant, she is currently collaborating with choreographer Tamin Totzke to produce a durational performance for the Georgetown Steam Plant debuting in the fall of 2015.
But these are all things that you can learn about Tia if you spend enough time on her website. If you dig deeply enough, you will learn that Tia’s inquisitive nature has pulled her to some very interesting places. You will learn that she spent two seasons working in Antarctica— the first as a vehicle operator, the second as a communications specialist— and has studied traditional West African fibers in Ghana. You will uncover a consistent interest in architecture and utility, in the melding of function and form. You will discover a curiosity for kinesthetics and the mechanical underpinnings of movement. You will be introduced to the varied questions of a fascinatingly searching mind.
But what you cannot learn from reading about Tia’s career is how deeply she cares about everything that she does. Her website will not show you the beautifully considered intention that she brings to each of her actions. You will not learn that she eats a lot of aged cheddar cheese, or that she has a very friendly dog named Otis. You won’t see her love of the mountains or her appreciation for silence. And you won’t be introduced to her husband, Tim, a physician and woodworker who stands as a quietly understated foundation that always encourages Tia to explore.
I have had the privilege of learning these things about Tia through the course of our friendship, and more so than her impressive professional resume, it is these small details that make me excited to see what she will do in her new role. The Project Room is an unorthodox organization, and it requires unorthodox leadership: our new curator/educator/traveler/artist/consultant/outdoorswoman/jeweler Director couldn’t be more perfect for the job.