NEA Arts Magazine

Up Close and Personal

Susan Sollins Discusses the Television Series Art:21


Installation made of a staircase with many small objects on the steps

Scala Naturae, 1994, by Mark Dion, one of the artists featured on the television series Art: 21-Art in the Twenty-First Century. Photo courtesy of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

Broadcast on PBS since 2001, Art:21-Art in the Twenty-First Century features intimate profiles of contemporary visual artists. To date, more than 7,399 airings on 459 PBS stations have featured artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Maya Lin, Martin Puryear, and William Wegman. Here's an excerpt from a recent e-mail exchange with Art:21 Executive Producer Susan Sollins. Read the complete interview in our Features section.

NEA: What do you hope viewers learn from Art:21?

SUSAN SOLLINS: I trust that the takeaway is an enthusiasm and interest in today's artists, and that Art:21's public understands through the series that artists work extremely hard, that their ideas are substantial, and that new art often needs new forms to contain it. Our artists not only reflect our society, but also tell us a great deal about our identity and the issues that are in the vanguard of our political, cultural, and social discourse. And they provide us with role models for creative thinking in many areas of our collective life as a nation.

NEA: What types of outreach activities are part of Art:21?

SOLLINS: Events include screening and discussion programs for adults and young people, artist talks, and professional development workshops for teachers. We have developed an extraordinarily large network of organizational partners across the country -- including museums, community galleries, youth organizations, libraries, school districts, and PBS stations -- with which we collaborate in order to reach local audiences more directly. Over the last few months we have collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art to present a workshop on teaching with contemporary art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art to host a monthly screening series, and the New York City Public Library to present a series of artist talks. Last season we worked with Americans for the Arts and more than 350 local venues during National Arts and Humanities Month to present 400 screening events in all 50 states and 20 countries internationally.

NEA: How important is NEA funding to Art:21?

SOLLINS: NEA has played a crucial role in Art:21's existence and growth. At the earliest stages of development, the NEA provided the seed money that was necessary to kick-start the organization. Since that time, Art:21 has received crucial funding from the Arts on Radio and Television program for the production of the series, and from the Access to Artistic Excellence program for our education and outreach activities. Without this funding from the NEA, or the endorsement that funding implies, Art:21 would simply not exist.