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Halley Sun Stubis – Director, Studio Gallery DC

Halley Sun Stubis - Director, Studio Gallery DC
Halley Sun Stubis - Director, Studio Gallery DC

Halley Sun Stubis (she/her) is an Asian American artist and the Director of Studio Gallery, Washington, D.C.’s oldest artist cooperative and women-founded nonprofit. She received her BFA at The School of The Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Halley’s art has been exhibited at Studio Gallery, where she works with the cooperative’s 60+ local artists to bring public attention to their diverse portfolios. Her experience includes curating exhibits, conducting media relations, and initiating community outreach. She is passionate about bringing people together through a shared love of the arts. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

Passion for the arts seems to run in my family! Music, literature, dance, and the visual arts have all been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds; my paternal grandfather, Talivaldis Stubis, was a proficient artist who designed hundreds of Broadway and movie posters (including Funny Girl and Indiana Jones) and illustrated dozens of popular and award-winning children’s books. My paternal grandmother, Patricia Thomas, was a ballerina in New York City, and was friends with a number of Balanchine dancers and Martha Swope, the famous ballet photographer. My maternal grandmother Yan Gu was an actress in China. My father Mark Stubis is a Juilliard-trained pianist and communicator who has been awarded American Humane’s National Humanitarian Medal, and my mother Qin Sun Stubis is a newspaper columnist and writer whose memoir, Once Our Lives, is being published in May 2023 by Guernica World Editions. I have always been surrounded by creative minds, so pursuing a career in the arts always felt like the right choice for me. I have been a visual artist my entire life, but also spent 12 years as a classical ballet dancer and was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to perform with The Washington Ballet at The Kennedy Center. It was around 2017 that I discovered Studio Gallery and fell in love with its artists, history, community involvement, and overall mission. Here, my passion for art has expanded to include arts management and art-based communications. I adore working with so many artists every day; not only am I in constant communication with our cooperative of 60+ artists, but we often have artists and art lovers visit from the area and around the world. It is so inspiring to be in contact with these passionate and talented people on a day-to-day basis.

Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?

I am originally from New York, studied in Boston, and have been living in the D.C. area for 10 years now. I have been very lucky to experience the art scenes of all three of these major east-coast art hubs, and each of these places has shaped me in unique ways. I have come to love these cities’ fantastic museums and galleries, as well as their individual and distinct environments. Living in New York, Boston, and D.C., I have been exposed to great talent and interesting people. It’s been a great privilege to have been a member of several arts communities and a frequent visitor to revered places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Gallery of Art. These experiences have all pushed me to learn more, to be open-minded, and to create. They have also reminded and inspired me to lift up others who have not been given the same opportunities and experiences that I have. 

You are the Director of Studio Gallery in Washington D.C. Tell us more about the gallery and your role! 

Studio Gallery is Washington D.C.’s oldest artist cooperative and a women-founded nonprofit. Our mission is to support artists local to the DMV area and to offer a welcoming arts-centric environment for members of our community to enjoy and engage in. Historically, Studio Gallery has also been a pioneer in raising awareness of minority artists and those not typically well represented in this field, including Cherokee, Peruvian, and Cuban artists. In its first 25 years, Studio Gallery showcased the works of an estimated 2,000 artists! We continue to be driven and passionate, with our focus on supporting our community of local artists. Though our exhibitions revolve around our artist cooperative, we host an annual outreach exhibit highlighting the works of emerging artists, many of whom are people of color. We have also offered free/affordable arts programming for underserved children in the D.C. community, offering summer workshops and classes. 

Working for a small gallery, I, along with my powerhouse team of interns, run our space and am involved in just about every aspect of gallery upkeep. From press relations to financial bookkeeping to physical artwork storage and organization, I dabble in it all! I have had several opportunities to curate group exhibitions at Studio Gallery and have been the lead coordinator for our bi-annual all-members’ shows. Our exhibitions rotate out every three weeks, so I play a big role in making sure that these switches go smoothly and that our artists have everything they need, from reception-planning help to creating online catalogues for their shows. This job demands multitasking, quick thinking, and creative problem-solving; Studio Gallery is an exciting place to be! And as we are located in a historic, architecturalIy unique building, I also feel very lucky to have one of the most beautiful office spaces in D.C.! 

What is something you do every day to keep you motivated? 

Every day, I speak with people who love art. The simple act of being around passionate and motivated people is more than enough to also keep me motivated and passionate! Whether I am discussing an exhibiting member’s artistry and technique with a visitor from out of town, discussing our cooperative with a prospective member, or simply helping one of our artists set up for their new exhibition, I am surrounded by people who are devoted to creation. It’s a really inspiring environment to work in and the diversity of experiences really keeps me on my toes!

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world? 

Be open-minded and kind to everyone you come across. I have met so many amazing people through Studio Gallery, and each one inspires me in a unique way. Unexpected opportunities have popped up through mutual friends and co-workers and surprised me in the most pleasant ways possible. It’s important to take note of the people around you and their talents. When you develop genuine connections with those around you, a beautiful cycle of growth and giving can often occur. I believe that these relationships are important not only in our personal lives, but also in our work lives. 

Studio Gallery, to me, is not just a place where we can celebrate our local artists’ great work; it is also a haven from the rest of the world. When someone steps through our doors, I want them to be transported to a place of creativity, originality, and warmth. One of my favorite things about being the director of Studio Gallery is my ability to uplift and support people in our community, making them feel welcome whether they are a seasoned artist in our network or someone walking by who simply happened to see our sign in the window. 

Is there any media you’ve consumed recently (e.g. books, movies, podcasts, music, etc.) that has influenced you? 

When asked about books, I always have to recommend Italo Calvino! His style of writing is so mysterious and unique. Invisible Cities and Cosmicomics are two of my favorites by him; they offer interesting looks into fictional worlds that feel simultaneously very familiar and extremely strange. His works inspire me to view the world differently than I have been taught to, and to be open-minded when confronted with new realities. I think his name should be on every book-lover’s list! 

I recently read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. I am very interested in psychology, and have heard such great things about this book. I love how healing the process of art-making is for so many people and how so much about a person’s personality and outlook on life can be found in one painting, print, or sculpture. I have spoken with many artists about how they have healed from trauma (or how they are in the process of healing) by creating artwork. In my opinion, some of the best types of art are the ones that are deeply raw, honest, and vulnerable. An artwork can bare the soul of an artist, which can be both painful and therapeutic. 

On a more lighthearted note, one of my favorite comfort shows that I often go back to is Parks and Recreation. I find that a healthy dose of humor and absurdity is vital for my overall wellbeing and productivity. While there are a lot of serious things in this world to be aware of, it is also so important for us as people to know when to let our guard down and partake of some silliness. That’s another thing I love about art: it can allow us that freedom to be strange, be different, and just have fun as we are! A great recent example of this was Deborah Addison Coburn’s Summer 2022 solo exhibit, For No Good Reason. Her main tagline was “No concept, no cause, just painting.” I was delighted by its joie de vivre and colorful exuberance of her work. Coburn said that “the artist has concluded that the joy of doing something is reason enough to do it,” and this concept has had such an impact on me ever since because she is just so correct!

What are you most excited for this year at Studio Gallery or in the art world as a whole? 

This year, I am most excited about continuing to learn how to bring more events back to the gallery in a Covid-conscious way. Learning to navigate public gatherings during the pandemic has been challenging and has challenged the way that I problem-solve. For example, in September we brought back Dupont Circle’s huge Art All Night event for the first time in three years! It was a huge success with 19 locations attracting over 26,000 guests. Studio Gallery’s exhibit was one of the best-attended, with over 2,000 visitors walking through the gallery in just five hours. We found creative ways to keep our artists, staff, and guests safe, and visitors enjoyed artist talks and demos throughout the night. I look forward to working with the gallery to continue increasing our participation in D.C.-wide events, while  keeping guests’ health a priority. I have heard so many people express their desire for live events to return, so I am glad to be part of the movement bringing these opportunities back for our community. 

How do you think the art world can become more inclusive? 

I think the art world can become more inclusive through more actively and continuously including underrepresented people in leadership and advisory positions. As an Asian American woman artist, I was overjoyed to become the director of Studio Gallery because I felt that my values aligned so well with the gallery’s. Since its founding in 1956, Studio Gallery has made a point of not just including, but really highlighting artists of color, and especially women artists of color. I am very proud to be involved with an organization that emphasizes inclusivity. Through my time here, I have had the pleasure of working with many deeply talented artists of color and other underrepresented artists. We have continuously pushed for our gallery to be more representative and more welcoming to all who enter our doors. We aim to uphold and continue improving the systems we have in place, actively questioning how we can keep doing better for the artists and art-lovers in our community who we aim to serve. 

If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection? 

If I could own work by five different artists, my collection would include Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, an embroidered artist book by Candace Hicks, anything by Mark Rothko (I could look at his work all day), The Cathedral by Auguste Rodin, and a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. 

Though I regrettably don’t know the artists who made them, my one unreachable dream would be to own the three large iconic statues in the Museum of Fine Art’s Buddhist temple. I used to visit the museum every day as a student and sit in the Buddhist temple for an hour at a time, admiring the statues and reflecting on my life. That space was one of the most peaceful environments I have had the pleasure to enjoy, and every day I wish I could be back there! When I was able to revisit the temple this past summer, I saw those sculptures again for the first time in years and their sheer beauty brought me to tears. It was like visiting old friends. I genuinely wish that everyone in the world had a piece of artwork that makes them feel like this; there’s nothing else like it.

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