Artist Shenanigans Post 2

20 02 2012

Part of my job is to facilitate an artist lecture series, and as a result I get to meet artists from all around the world. Which is pretty cool.
On one particular afternoon I had the pleasure of picking up a world-renowned artist just in from San Francisco en route from Singapore.  He had installed a work for the Singapore Biennale and, as he often does when installing works, had picked up the habit of smoking. A habit his wife and kids would never stand for when he got home. However, knowing that his family would be upset, he quit smoking cold turkey during his two night stop over in San Francisco.
Typically, the drive from Denver International Airport into the city is a make or break point in establishing a rapport with my passenger. It’s 45 minutes of delightful conversation or awkward silence. On this day I hit it off with delightful conversation. I learned all about his tattoo: why he got it, why he shouldn’t have gotten it, and why he’s glad he did get it. I heard about the extreme climate where he lives, and why saunas are a necessity and not a luxury. (Who  knew?)
As we were wrapping up his A/V tech check he confided that he was, in fact, very nervous about speaking in front of a group. I was shocked. He asked if I could do him a huge favor: could I find him ONE cigarette to calm his nerves before the lecture? He insisted that I not buy him a pack, because he’d end up smoking the whole thing and he’d be back where he started before he detoxed in San Francisco. I agreed.

I dropped him off to change into his lecture clothes and went back to the museum, wracking my brain trying to remember which of my colleagues smoked. When I found one, I began explaining how I had this artist that wanted to smoke to calm his nerves, but before I could finish my story my colleague told me all she had were menthols. I took one. Unsure if he would want it, I continued to search for another smoker.
Oddly enough, I ran into one of my favorite major donors in the hallway. As we exchanged niceties I realized I was in luck: she’s a smoker! But how does one approach a major donor about bumming a cigarette? There was no course in graduate school about this particular issue facing museum professionals…
After thanking her for her generosity to the institution I began explaining my dilemma to her, and she waved her hand telling me to stop talking. “Dear,” she said, “If he wants one for before the lecture then he’ll certainly want one for afterwards too, even if he’s quit.” As she handed me two cigarettes she also gave me her spare lighter, politely pointing out that I’d need something to light them with. Not being a smoker, that detail hadn’t occurred to me.
Relieved, I headed straight for the auditorium to meet the artist before his lecture. He was beyond ecstatic to smoke before, and after, the lecture – just as our donor said.
The next day I returned the lighter to the donor, who assured me that if I ever had an artist that needed a smoke I could call her; day or night. Good to know!


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