“Why Aries are the Best” with Alexandra Silverthorne

June 12, 2024

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As we close out our 2024 fiscal year and approach the halfway point of the calendar year, we thought it was an appropriate moment to talk to Alexandra Silverthorne, WPA’s bookkeeper, “Resident Historian” (a fancy way of saying she’s been at the organization the longest), archivist, and photographer.

Nathalie von Veh sat down with Alexandra to talk to her about involvement with WPA over the years, her commitment to artist compensation, and the research threads she’s exploring in her art practice.


Nathalie von Veh: When did you start working at WPA, and how has your involvement changed over the years?

Alexandra Silverthorne: I started volunteering at WPA (then WPA\C) in the mid-2000s. I think the first thing I did was gallery sit for Wall Snatchers, an artist-organized project by Kelly Towles featuring large scale graffiti projects in a former Staples store in Georgetown. In Fall 2007, as I was leaving a 9-5 environmental NGO job and getting ready for grad school, I began working with then Executive Director Kim Ward as a programmatic intern. I had finance experience from my previous job, so in early 2008, when WPA left the Corcoran, the programmatic internship transitioned into a bookkeeping gig, and the rest is history.

Last year, I had the honor of serving as the Interim Director—though given how collaboratively we work, it was definitely a group project with you, Jordan, Emily, and the board. While I’m primarily focused on the finances again these days, everything we do overlaps so much and I’m also currently working on team projects like our upcoming publication from last year’s symposium, and developing the digital archives in honor of our upcoming 50th year anniversary.

Wall Snatchers, organized by Kelly Towles featuring work by Bask, Eon, Fi5e (Evan Roth), Mister Never, Nick Z, Tes One, and Faile. Photo credit: polaroids by Alexandra Silverthorne, 2006.

NvV: What’s your favorite part of working for WPA?

AAS: Obviously the people. From artists and collectors to staff and board members, we work with some really awesome folks. I’ve met, and become friends with, some of my favorite people through WPA. Beyond that, as an artist, I believe in how we work and how we support artists; much of it influences how I want to work, both in my own studio practice and in the classroom. A special shout out to Jordan for the amazing ways that she works with Artist-Organizers; it is such a gift to get to watch from the sidelines and I’ve learned so much from her.

Alexandra (center left) with (from right to left): Blair Murphy (WPA 2010-2013), Lisa Gold (WPA 2009-2015), and Kaitlin Filley (WPA 2013) in Brooklyn at an exhibition of Matthew Mann’s paintings, curated by Blair Murphy, 2019.

NvV: You were instrumental in getting the organization W.A.G.E. certified. What is W.A.G.E. Certification and why is it important?

AAS: W.A.G.E. certification was co-founded in 2008 by a group of visual artists (A.K. Burns, K8 Hardy, Lise Soskolne, and A.L. Steiner) with the goal of ensuring that institutions fairly compensate artists for their labor. There’s so much work that artists do to present their ideas and work—and the majority of it goes unpaid and underappreciated. W.A.G.E. certification provides minimum payment amounts that are determined based on an organization’s budget, so it serves as a feasible and realistic accountability check. While it’s awesome that WPA was the first W.A.G.E. certified organization between New York and Miami, it’s even more awesome that more regional organizations have also become W.A.G.E. certified over the last few years.

NvV: As a woman with many hats—including bookkeeper, artist, and teacher—how do they all tie together? Does bookkeeping ever inform your art practice and vice versa?

AAS: It all overlaps in so many ways and it feels like everything is always in conversation. There really isn’t a clear delineation to what is bookkeeping, what is teaching, and what is studio. While bookkeeping definitely doesn’t inform my practice or my research interests, the financial skills acquired through this work are so crucial to the budgeting, bookkeeping, and project management for my own studio practice. And on the best of days, I like to think that my art practice influences the hows of everything I do.

Alexandra Silverthorne, Bald Cypress, New Orleans, LA (29°58’51.4″N, 90°06’37.7″W), 2022/23, archival inkjet print from scanned instant film, soaked in water from the Mississippi River, Edition 1/10

NvV: I know you have a couple of long term photography projects and research threads. What are some of the projects you’re most excited about currently? I’d personally love to hear more about rivers and those recent cyanotype experiments…

AAS: I’ve been very slowly working on a long-term project around four distinct urban American landscapes and sustaining life during a climate emergency. It’s a project that ties in my research interests on things like history, urban policy, land use, space, and climate, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet with some amazing artists both here and in New Orleans to brainstorm. I was recently able to nail down a few core components of the project, using rivers as an anchor. Right now I’m working to create a dialogue in the images between people, rivers, trees, and homes. I’ve been making digital images of people engaging with the river and I’ve also been soaking polaroids in collected river water. The soaking often happens weeks or months after the image was made, so I was also interested in something more immediate, which is where the cyanotypes came in. Last month in New Orleans, I began making cyanotypes of leaf shadows on trees throughout the city. Later in the evening, I would process them alongside the Mississippi River. It’s still a new concept and a new way of making images with lots to still figure out, but my next step is to work on them here in DC.

Check out Alexandra’s photography work at her website.

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