Interview: From Mining Town to Art Haven, Bisbee is the Home of The Artemizia Foundation
In 1880, about 90 miles southeast of Tuscon on the US-Mexico Border, a copper, gold, and silver mining town was founded. Bisbee obviously evolved over the years from mining to now being known as an artist-community, with hertiage buildings and stunning setting amongst the Mule Mountains. And now, since 2019, it is the home of the Artemizia Foundation, a contemporary, graffiti and street art museum, gallery, created and founded by Sloane Bouchever. We sat down with Sloane to talk about the unique city in the southwest, his love of street art, what the Foundation's goals are and an upcoming project with one of our favorite artists, Swoon.
Evan Pricco: We often get the chance at Juxtapoz to cover some really unique cities, both urban hubs and the little nooks of the world that have a ton of culture. What is sort of the genesis of Bisbee, Arizona being a bit of a hub or a unique place for art?
Sloane Bouchever: Bisbee is a former copper mining town established in 1880, perched a mile high in southeastern Arizona's Mule Mountains. Just 20 minutes from the Mexican border, when the copper ran out in the 1970’s hippies and artists arrived, drawn to cheap real estate and the temperate year-round climate. The town feels very European, with towering Italian cypress trees, narrow streets, cafes and colorful homes nestled on the steep canyons. Over 200 working artists currently call Bisbee home.
When did you begin to establish yourself there?
My wife Danielle and I were tipped off to Bisbee in 1990 as a potential place to settle and raise our kids. After 10 years living in Europe, we purchased an old miner’s shack for the cost of a pickup truck, built a painting studio in the backyard and I started exhibiting my own paintings in local galleries and then in Scottsdale.
The big question we always like to ask is, why street art? What drew you to it?
Eventually putting my art career on the back burner, in a fit of inspiration in the mid-nineties, it came to me that the Internet had a future and that future was commerce. I was hired as SVP of Business Development at a start-up called Authorize.Net that processed payments on Websites. My career took off, and eventually I was fortunate enough to be in a position to start an art collection.
Beginning with Goya etchings and Chagall lithographs, my taste broadened to pieces by Antoni Tàpies and Montserrat Gudiol. I think it was at the Anselm Kiefer retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 2015 that I first saw posters by the Guerrilla Girls. Their messaging rocked me…. and I changed my focus to living artists with an emphasis on female creatives like Barbara Kruger, Kara Walker and Yayoi Kusama. At that time, I launched Artemizia Gallery in the Bisbee historic district and hosted an exhibition of The Connor Brothers who came over from London. One day a collector walked in and we spent the next several hours passionately talking art. Steve Hansen offered to introduce me to Allison Freidan, co-founder of the Museum of Graffiti in Miami. Allison and I hit it off and I went on a spending spree, focusing on those graffiti writers who made the transition to easel work, including major works by Saber, Lady Pink and CES. At about that time, California street artist MuckRock (Jules Muck) came to Bisbee and painted wonderful murals on people’s homes; Jules and I became fast friends and those two chance meetings really launched me into street art.
What is the Artemizia Foundation, and what is it you are trying to establish with it?
As the collection continued to grow to include major canvasses by PichiAvo, Cey Adams and Sen2 Figueroa, it became increasingly clear to me that my passion was collecting, not being a gallerist. I changed the trajectory of Artemizia from selling to collecting, and the Artemizia Foundation was born.
What is your favorite part of the museum?
Last fall, my wife and I acquired a 9000 sqft run-down hotel, formerly a schoolhouse built in 1917, and after a top to bottom renovation, we launched the new Artemizia Foundation this past March. Bisbee is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the powers that be are sadly anti-mural on historic buildings, so I decided to bring the street inside, and created a labyrinth of murals out of 14 of the old hotel’s interconnecting bedrooms, sitting rooms, bathrooms and closets. Artists came from London, NYC, Montreal, Firenze and LA to paint murals and install paste-ups. Participating international artists include Swoon, Cey Adams, Miss Me, MuckRock, Corie Mattie, WRDSMTH, Stikki Peaches, Whatisadam, Andrew Benincasa, and Sofia Cianciulli along with local and regional artists Aly Miller, Ignacio Garcia, Lily Reeves, Bill Mead, Tracy Brown and Isaac De La Cruz. The Mural Labyrinth is a twisting and sometimes twisted journey of discovery…
Tell us what you are doing with Swoon? She seems quite excited about the project.
I’ve admired Swoon’s artwork for years, and she (Callie Curry) and my wife do a lot of humanitarian work in Haiti with their respective non-profit organizations so we connected on many levels. Mike Snelle of The Connor Brothers personally introduced me to Callie a couple years ago, and we’ve since collected over a dozen pieces including her major ‘Sonia – Mandala Box’. Callie also has a very powerful paste-up in the Mural Labyrinth and she’ll be exhibiting at Artemizia this December. Suffice to say we are beyond thrilled!
Do you use the town, this sort of frontier place, as part of the Foundation? Do you try and make sure to connect the city to your gallery?
Bisbee is a hidden gem, and my long-term goal is to introduce collectors on a national and international level to Artemizia’s collection of over 100 artists from 40 countries. We feel, similar to Marfa, that Bisbee will increasingly become a cultural arts destination that will benefit the local economy and artists. By bringing brilliant artists such as Swoon to exhibit at Artemizia, we are well on our way to achieving our goal.
How have the locals reacted to Artemizia?
Since the 1990s I’ve owned several galleries that focused on Bisbee painters, and the Artemizia Foundation currently supports the local scene through acquisitions, funding catalogues and giving grants. Probably the most common phrase we hear from locals who visit is “I can’t believe there is a world class art museum right in our own back yard”.
We’re currently building out our Sculpture Garden, continuing to add to the collection (recent pieces by Invader and Mickalene Thomas come to mind). We are planning a Cey Adams’ retrospective spanning Cey’s forty-year career from graffiti writer, to Creative Director of Def Jam Recordings, innovative designer to fine artist. When you visit – don’t forget to pick up one of Cey’s awesome AF designed ballcaps!