We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Bowling and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking has been a huge part of my career as well as my day-to-day running of the Brea Gallery where I am Director. Without risk there is no reward, as the old adage goes. Storytime: I graduated with my Bachelors in 2012 back in my home state of Virginia. Fresh out of art school, I had no real idea of what I wanted to do with my life, aside from ‘something art-related’ and definitely something outside of my small hometown. So naturally I decided to head out to California to make all my dreams come true. I sent my resume out to something like 40 art spaces in Southern California, and only ended up hearing back from one. Turns out the City of Brea Art Gallery was hiring a front desk attendant and the boss liked what I said in my cover letter. She called me in for an interview, only to find out that I hadn’t yet moved to California. So the day after I arrived in the state, I interviewed and was offered the job. Fast forward 8 years, and I am now the Director and Curator of that same gallery and have a side curatorial/consulting business with which I have put on over 20 exhibits and art collector’s homes throughout Orange County. The moral being: if 22 year old me hadn’t been a bright-eyed, optimistic risk-taker who decided to move to California on a whim and risk it all to work in the arts, I never would have found my calling. In more broad terms, risk taking is something that is essential to running any business, including a contemporary arts space. When I took over as Director of the Brea Gallery 3 years ago, I of course had a lot of big ideas and dreams for the space. Since then, every single time I want to launch a new program or reinvent an old one I do my best to anticipate every ‘what if’, but at the end of the day, I cannot guess what our visitors’ responses will be, or how successful financially the program will be. Or when I curate an exhibit with more contemporary or ‘edgy’ subject matter, I do not know if I will receive push back or negative reactions from my superiors, our City Council, or the public. But I know that if I do not try, I will never know. And luckily I am given the free reign to take these risks in order to grow the scope of our space and the reach of our audience. Even if things do not work out, even if they crash and burn, it is always worth it because worst case scenario these risks always end in a lesson learned.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My curatorial practice is my sole creative outlet and truly area of my job that I am most passionate about. Even though I graduated with a Bachelors in both Photography and Printmaking, I hardly practice those mediums any longer. I still love creating with my hands and have been a part of a few exhibitions over the years, but once I began putting together exhibits I found my true calling. Each and every show I put together has to have several essential elements – that it conveys a feeling or experience as you walk through the space and often it will include some interactive element for visitors to create in their own way. In the end, I want everyone who sees my shows to walk away inspired and comforted by the fact that art does not just belong to famous artists in museums, but rather is accessible to be created or viewed by anyone.
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?
Normally, pre-covid, I would definitely take someone from out of the area to all of the tourist-y stuff in Hollywood (which I secretly love), Knottsberry Farm and the Cauldron bar, the California Botanical Gardens, Huntington Library Botanical Gardens, and of course all of the galleries and museums like the Broad, LACMA, OCMA, Thinkspace, Gallery 1988, Irvine Fine Art Center, and so many more.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to my crew at the Brea Gallery. This team of women are single-handedly responsible for the success of our space and quite simply I could not do it without them.