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Sitting at a long table in the storefront gallery space opened early last year in Los Angeles’ Museum Row, ForYourArt’s Bettina Korek declares that not only did curator Hans Ulrich Obrist join Instagram at her (and writer Kevin McGarry’s) behest, but now she’s reading a book by French anarchist Félix Fénéon that he described to her as “pre-Twitter.”
It all falls under the type of inquiry Korek deals with as the founder of ForYourArt, a Los Angeles arts organization that doesn’t quite reject definition as elude it—but it’s definitely about engagement via social technology on some level. Even Korek has a bit of trouble articulating what ForYourArt does, her long SoCal vowels breaking off mid-sentence to start on another tacit element of the role the company plays in the flourishing Los Angeles arts community.
“We’re nimble,” Korek says perfunctorily. The sound echos off the walls of the ForYourArt space, tucked under the shadow of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Korek worked for years in both the prints and drawings and communications departments. When asked what 2013 holds, she finally finds the words, as if translating what part she plays is like finally getting a pesky knot to loosen: “It’s going to be more explicitly focused on helping people navigate opportunities for engagement and potentially other resources that are online—the more meta position from an information perspective.”
Whether that means teaming up with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to have a reception for their performance art series, “Engagement Party,” helping promote other organizations’ events through her vast communications expertise (ForYourArt started in 2006 mainly as an arts calendar, and maintains that function to this day), or her most recent project of transforming city buses into canvases for artists like Barbara Kruger and John Baldessari, it’s all for the purpose of “engagement.” Maybe that engagement is resonating with Angelenos outside the arts community, or enticing people to dig deeper. There are a lot of philistines in L.A., but it’s happening, slowly but surely, in no small part to Korek’s dedication.
She remains demure about her course, despite having facilitated some of L.A.’s most interesting public and institutional projects over the past six-plus years. “My credit is ‘creative producer,’” says Korek, who grew up in Van Nuys to a father in finance and a mother in graphic design, the latter of whom took her on trips “up over the hill” to LACMA and instilled in her a deep passion for the arts. “I hope that ForYourArt can be a part of a system that supports people like Emi [Fontana of West of Rome] and Lauri [Firstenberg of LA><ART] and LAND, and everyone who’s doing projects, whether it’s by consistently communicating about them, or by being a resource—I’m always introducing people who might be helpful.”
Connecting is a key element to understanding Korek. In a 2008 article on ArtInfo.com, she was described as the Santa Monica Freeway of the L.A. art world. While that metaphor might be a bit clunky (the Santa Monica Freeway is known as a street to avoid because it’s plugged with traffic), the sentiment is appreciated: Korek can and will do anything to bring a project to fruition, or, in the case of a 24-hour doughnut party in concordance with LACMA’s screening of Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” bring a project a level of interest it wouldn’t have normally gotten. There’s a limited audience for a 24-hour film, but everyone has time for doughnuts. And hey, while you’re here, you might as well check out this brilliant piece of art.
And Korek is not just connecting the dots for others. The Baldessari-designed buses reflect the desire to connect art with the community. “The bus project is the first big public art project that we’ve really done,” Korek explains, fiddling with the trackpad on her laptop. The project is a collaboration with #ArtsMatter, an initiative to raise public consciousness to the importance of arts education in L.A.’s public schools. On the buses, of which there are 12, Baldessari has emblazoned the respective sides with the missive “Learn to Dream,” and the Spanish of that saying, “Aprende a soñar.” When Barbara Kruger’s buses were released in L.A., it became something of a game to try and find them—when you saw one, or boarded one, it was as if you were hopping on a piece of art. “It’s about linking with education, and bringing an artist together with a cause outside of art.”
She shuffles around on her computer and pulls up a website. It’s writer Teju Cole’s project inspired by Fénéon’s pre-Twitter musings. If there’s one absolute in all this, it’s that despite the confusion of the times, Bettina Korek will always be there on the cusp, ready to bring people together or utilize the tools of connection, in order to bring the most information to the right people in the right way.