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Championing art through diversity and innovation pushes artists forward

Written by Ross Dias

Mia Nielsen has been curating art since the mid-90s, and been at the helm of the Drake Hotel’s cultural programming as their director of art and culture since 2007. Over the course of her career she has introduced audiences to a variety of works by contemporary artists that are always relevant to the times and have something to say.

“In all the shows that I put together, I’m always interested in hitting a kind of balance diversity through gender, and representation of local, national, and international artists,” Nielsen said. “I came up in this age of the so-called body politic and because I am a woman, in all the projects that I did, it was always important. I’ve done shows that just featured women. It didn’t even start that way, it’s just how these pieces started to fall together.”

She continues this work at The Drake, where she has established the hospitality brand as a major cultural institution equally known for its dining and hotel experiences as its deep support for the arts community.

With the current social climate, how can society showcase a brighter spotlight on female artists?

Just showing more work by women. Here at The Drake we’ve had a very even gender split since the beginning including works by Laurie Simmons, Shary Boyle, and Maya Hayuk. It’s something we as an organization are aware of. Certainly over the last 30 years or so, women have been making a lot of great work. There’s no shortage to choose from.

What qualities make a great artist?

What makes a good artist is someone who has a clear voice. Someone who offers some kind of innovation, a new perspective, a new way of presenting imagery, a different technique. There needs to be something in it that we haven’t seen before, even if it’s subtle.

Representation is important, but I don’t think that gender necessarily makes a good or a bad artist. [There are] so many different ways to be an artist. The thing about contemporary art is that this person has a way of capturing some essential elements of the current zeitgeist; something that they understand or are able to present that audiences connect with and is vital to the moment.

How have you seen artists make an impact with your audience?

There’s this sweet spot between the familiar and the unfamiliar; this moment where a work offers multiple entry points but offers a whole new perspective as well. We’re talking about contemporary art, so these are artists who usually don’t notice stuff on any kind of conscious level, but instinctively are able to connect and translate something vital about what it is to be here in this moment. And that can be communicated in a lot of different ways.

Do you have any advice for young female artists?

I’m not sure that I would necessarily give different advice to a female artist, except to not be daunted. Culture, like a lot of industries, isn’t necessarily easy. I think that anyone who’s trying to break into the art world will benefit from honing their work but also communication strategies. In the beginning, it’s important to take opportunities as they come because you never know where that’s going to go. You never know who’s gonna see it.

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