So often people want to know the story behind the photographer or the creative on a project, but what about the art producer? Art production is such an interesting job to say the least. The people I know in this position come from such rich and diverse backgrounds and rarely do they follow the same path to become one. Understanding this, I thought it would be fun to start a series of interviews with art producers that don’t just address how to get their attention, but instead celebrate the art producer but for who they are, where they came from and what is important in their life.
Thank you Dave Lewis for agreeing to be next in our series. I met Dave when he was an art producer at Fallon in Minneapolis. I would bring cookies from Tank Goodness and over the years we became friends. He was always one of the first to reply to my emails about a visit and we always found time for a drink or a dinner. And, of course he brought his wife Jan and that was always a bonus! Years later, we are still drinking and eating together and enjoying a friendship that spans back to a time when art producers were called art buyers.
Here is what he had to say:
What was that first moment of inspiration when you knew you would work in a creative position?
There were, and still are, layers to that inspiration.
When I was 21 I auditioned as a drummer for bands in the Twin Cities and began playing music. Creating with other people changed the way I looked at everything. At that time I met and fell in love with a visual artist. I experienced art through her in a completely new way. I felt very opened and inspired.
Later in my 20’s, still playing music, I got a job as a pastry chef at Gallery 8 Restaurant at the Walker Art Center. My co-workers opened up the creativity of cooking for me; the relationship I developed with food and cooking and the people there was a lot like making music. And being at the Walker at least 5 days a week was an amazing exposure to visual and performance art. (I got to meet Yoko Ono and serve her molasses pie! And Danny Glover told me he loved my Red Velvet Cake!)
I choose to live creatively now and am open to what that may bring.
Growing up, what were your creative interests?
In our home I was surrounded by music. Dad was a drummer and in a big band. Mom went to Juilliard because of her amazing voice and taught piano most of my childhood years (sometimes I still hear arpeggios in my head) . My siblings and I grew up playing instruments and singing and on many days there was a big band or classical record on the turntable.
In middle school I fell in love with photography. Most of the pictures I took were awful, but I still kept shooting. With some coaching (and laughing encouragement) from the owner of the camera store I got better.
Today some of my family is still making music and inspire me. My brother Greg is a professional trumpet player, teacher, clinician and arranger. He’s performed with David Byrne and Bruce Henry to name a couple of hundreds of artists. Sister Wendy is a writer and vocalist. I was in a band with her called Rhea Valentine and she sang/toured with jazz band The Bad Plus. Nephew Michael is a multi-instrumentalist. A couple of the bands he currently plays with are Bon Iver and Happy Apple. And, niece Hannah has a band with her boyfriend Geoffrey called Jus Post Bellum. Check out their links; pretty incredible.
Did you ever consider becoming a photographer yourself?
I’ve been exposed to jillions of photographers that are compelling. When a photograph really sings to me I think for a second, “I want to do that”! Really? No, I’m not a photographer. But taking pictures is still important to me.
Being an art producer at an ad agency is such a unique position. You do not really learn about it in college and many tend to discover by means of another job. How did you discover what the role entails and how did you know you wanted to hold this position.
My friend Mark LaFavor called to invite me to be one of his photo assistants at his new studio. It didn’t take long to learn I sucked at that. But Mark noticed I was good at organizing and talking on the phone with agencies and clients. He saw the producer in me. Working for him was like going to an Ivy League school to become one.
The Art Buyers we worked for were phenomenal. At that time I honestly couldn’t imagine being one. That job looked like a rat-race-nightmare.
Shortly after Mark had to lay me off, I got a call from Martin Williams asking if I would like to freelance as an Art Buyer. After just a couple of days I knew I was in the right job. I finally began to learn how the rat race was run. I loved talking with photographers, producers, clients and being on photo shoots.
When I moved on to Fallon my first account was The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Whew! What an experience. I couldn’t believe island hopping was part of my job! I began to work with more national and international photographers, illustrators and designers. Every job there was a big learning opportunity.
What made you decided to pursue the photographer’s side of production as well as freelance agency art production? Are there any challenges to switching hats?
Working on both sides happened organically. I started as a producer, worked as an Art Buyer and now I do both.
In the first year of freelancing I did catch myself wearing an Art Buyer hat when producing and vice versa in ways that felt awkward. Now those two “hats” have come together. I can’t imagine one without the other.
Lately I find myself in a metaphysical pause with work. What’s the new producer? What’s the new art buyer? Where can I take the passion and experience with music, art, food and producing? Where is this leading me?
It’s exciting to think about. If anyone out there has perspective and experience I’d love to hear from you.
How do you describe your job to your mother or someone else not in our industry?
I’ve tried to explain it a number of times to people not in the industry and they doze off 🙂 . Now I simply say that I help coordinate all the details that make a photo shoot happen.
What one thing has changed in the industry since you have started that you think makes for a better production experience?
Shooting stills and video on the same project. It’s really cool to see a team and production elements come together to create two different things. And clients really get a lot from the sharing of resources if each has enough time.
What do you love about your job? What is the most challenging?
I love the energy of collaboration, realizing the super powers in others, hot coffee in the desert, sunrise, a meal out of a cooler in the middle of nowhere, cooking breakfast for everyone, tech day, sunset, blaring music in the grip truck, little bottles of Perrier, a dog peeing on set, truly being helpful, when a check is in the mail box, everyone laughing their asses off at the lunch table, coming home.
Challenging? Disrespect on set, settling for less, when fear takes over, unrealistic expectations, bullshit and people getting injured; those are bummers for me.
What one thing would you want someone looking to hire a producer (either a photographer or an agency) to know about the skills needed to get the job done?
Grace under pressure.
What are you known for in Minneapolis?
My love of food and cooking, art and artists, and my wife Jan. A friend said to me once, “Dave, you’re a lot of fun, but the party doesn’t really start until Jan walks through the door”.
Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Returning from the farmer’s market and ambling in the kitchen, a trip with Jan to look at art and a double espresso with a lemon twist.
An orange flesh honeydew melon—I kinda lost my balance after tasting it.