We had the good fortune of connecting with Adam Bateman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Adam, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I do exactly what I want to do with my life most of the time, and consequently, there is no real difference between work and life. So, I either have a perfect work/life balance, or the worst one imaginable. One way or another, I have basically found ways to make my life more or less synonymous with the answer to the question: “What I would do if money wasn’t an object?” which makes for a pretty nice life if you don’t mind not having much money. I give one of two answers when asked what I do, depending on the context. Here I’ll give both. I’m an artist. I’m a problem solver. Responding that I’m an artist is the simple answer. I make room-sized installation art, sculptures, videos, photos, and paintings (those sell a lot better than room-sized installations). My art explores institutional, architectural, and cultural systems that have grown out of our relationship to the landscape of the Western United States. I explore questions about how the National Park System functions to reinforce a shared cultural narrative about the land, for example, or how irrigation systems make it possible to live in the west and how they transform the landscape to meet traditional pastoral aesthetic criteria. I do those things, but really, I apply the same problem-solving I use in my art to many other things in my life. In addition to being an artist, I co-founded and continue to help operate a project called Birch Creek Service Ranch (serviceranch.org), a summer program that teaches youth to learn to work hard, challenge themselves, and be engaged in their community and in nature. During the school year, the Ranch operates as a place for exploring ideas for professional artists and thinkers, by invitation. I ran a non-profit art exhibition space for twelve years called CUAC, first in my hometown of Ephraim, Utah, then (after a 1st amendment dispute) in downtown Salt Lake City. In my time creating programming (that received coverage in places like The New York Times), and fundraising to support the project, I developed studies to understand the impact art and artists have on the community, both culturally and economically. Through surveys and reviewing economic data provided by artists, I was able to demonstrate that for every 1,000 artists living in Salt Lake County, a combined economic activity of more than $250 Million dollars is produced annually. I recently gave a TEDx Salt Lake City talk about that study. Now, I’m putting that research into practice by opening a new art gallery that is also a social space and in Downtown Salt Lake City that will open in mid-fall of this year. So, yeah, I’m super busy and I don’t know where business innovation starts and art career ends. I don’t know where art starts and desert wandering or travel ends. But at least I can tell myself that if I had tens of millions of dollars, I wouldn’t do things much differently, just more comfortably.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Living the life of an artist is one of constant failure and blind faith. We artists invest countless hours and too much money on materials and the making of things, most of which don’t see the light of day, and fewer actually sell–this is for all artists, even the most successful. For me, it’s about the exploration of ideas and about making things. I can’t help but to think hard about stuff and I’m happiest when I’m building things, but it’s in the process that I find happiness. In the art field, tens of thousands of people finish terminal degrees each year while only a few thousand globally are truly financially successful and famous. Success in the art world is analogous to success as a professional athlete in terms of how many people nominally play basketball, for example, and how many are in the NBA. That is an inherent set-up for struggle. The struggle has to be embraced.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Salt Lake City, so I’ll recommend an itinerary there: One must absolutely get a tour of Temple Square (home of the LDS Church) by a former Mormon—not a missionary. It’s such an amazing example of storytelling and an interesting anthropological foray. Visits to Antelope Island, Bingham Copper Mine, and Snowbird are critical. Salt Lake’s downtown has surprisingly good restaurants and bars. HSL, Copper Common, Alibi, Post Office Place, Waterwitch, SLC Eatery, beers at Fisher.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many people deserve credit for helping me or collaborating with me along the way. My parents. Eric Peterson. Diane Stewart. Without the four of them, none of this would have been possible. There are a dozen important people that have funded Birch Creek and CUAC. There are institutions and collectors who have supported my art practice. There are teachers in college and grad school that shaped my ideas like Greg Clark and Brian Christensen. My sisters and their husbands. “The Ephraim Mafia.” So many supportive friends and colleagues. Nothing is possible without a community. Thank you all.