Pump It Up!

Flex Space coordinator Rebecca Marino takes over parent space Pump Project post-EAST

Rebecca Marino
Rebecca Marino (Photo by Sandy Carson)

It's the Tuesday before the East Austin Studio Tour kicks off, and there's a laundry list of to-dos over at Pump Project's satellite studio space and gallery, Flex Space. Walls are being spackled while door frames get a fresh coat of paint. Artists wander in and out of the main gallery asking Flex Space gallery director Rebecca Marino about last-minute submissions to the EAST group show. Frames are placed against walls and moved just as quickly by Marino as she mentally maps the gallery. Endless motion and exuberance fills the space, which seems exactly how Marino prefers it.

Marino has spent the past three years honing her skills as a gallery director and curator. Appointed by Pump Project founder (and current studio manager) Joshua Green and gallery director Debra Broz in 2010, her first task was overhauling the gallery and boosting traffic to the satellite space. Flex Space had fallen out of the arts community loop. Long beat out by more competitive galleries and simultaneously dwarfed in popularity by its parent space, Flex Space required a new identity to mark itself as a distinctive, creative force. What that identity would manifest itself as, however, was uncertain.

"Debra asked me to take over the space because I had a network of artists to pull from. Those first exhibitions were me asking anyone I knew if they wanted to show," laughs Marino as she lays a second coat of paint on a pedestal. Marino's immediate network happened to include some local powerhouses, such as the Contemporary Austin's current associate curator, Sean Ripple (a two-time Flex Space artist), Caitlin McCollom, and Eyes Got It! founder Jaime Castillo. Marino drew from a long list of experimental and emergent art forms in her first featured exhibitions. 2012's VidKidz show "#hashtag!!1," complete with blinking computer screens on loop and Furby sculpture, can attest to that. As Marino continued to offer opportunities to artists and creative organizations in Austin, Flex Space grew to fulfill an updated version of the Pump Project mission: to elevate and participate.

In three short years, Flex Space has become known for showcasing upcoming contemporary artists and offering an open environment for creative experimentation, thanks largely to Marino's efforts. Opening nights at the gallery are packed, with a steady stream of collectors and observers who stay to discuss the work long after Flex has closed. It has stepped out of the shadow of Pump Project and become a notable gallery all unto its own. Marino has not only transformed the reputation of Flex Space but also furthered the work of artists who have shown there, including some of Austin's brightest artistic innovators. Flex Space alumni David Culpepper and Lindsay Hutchens were recently named Austin Art Boards winners, while artists-in-residence at MakeATX were recently featured on KUT.

And now, that momentum is receiving a new home: Pump Project proper. After a seven-year run, Broz is stepping down from her position as gallery director this month to relocate to California, and, with support from Green, has found her successor in Marino. Marino intends to move the rest of Flex Space's 2013 programming and some of early 2014's bookings to the main gallery space at Pump Project on Shady Lane, while continuing to host additional smaller events at Flex Space. The satellite gallery will lose Marino's focus as a curatorial hub, but the space will remain occupied with rentals and scheduled exhibitions through the spring.

The transition comes after many years of Pump Project notoriously hosting more established and conservative creative communities, such as the annual exhibition of work by Austin Community College art faculty and the show of work from the Little Artist, Big Artist program, in which Eastside students are mentored by professional artists, every spring. Asked about the challenge of migrating the seemingly opposing curatorial tastes, Marino quickly chimes in: "That's why I even became a part of Pump Project. To participate, and give back. We want to showcase portions of the artistic community that might otherwise be overlooked. We are a part of the community. We want to give back to the community." Regarding Broz's departure, Marino says, "Debra is absolutely my mentor. I am so grateful for the work that she's done."

Pump Project has long sought to integrate Austin's creative forces and facilitate their success. Marino insists that won't be changing under her leadership, though she intends to continue booking artist solo exhibitions as she had at Flex Space. "It will just be a merger of the two," Marino ventures. "We're really just bringing the scheduled Flex [Space] shows to the main gallery."

That said, Marino's appointment to gallery director marks a shift in the ethos of Pump Project's programming. Her nuanced sense of trends, such as employing digital work and working in more performative and temporal climates, alongside her academic background in photography and art history from St. Edward's University, funnel directly into her programming. It is both thoughtful and imaginative. A recent show, "Field Collision," in which Marino was both a participant and curator, combined photography and multimedia around a central astronomical theme. The exhibition allowed the individual artists to employ their personal creative strengths while remaining unified thematically. It is these kinds of exhibitions that speak to Marino's expertise. She toes a distinctly fine line between innovation and sophistication, without ever compromising either.

The hustle of Flex Space leading up to EAST creates the perfect portrait of Marino. She smiles excitedly as artists rush in to consult her on what they were including in the show. She studiously observes the gallery and begins to align the exhibition with her envisioned plan. She remains at the space past 2am, making sure that the studios and gallery are ready for the crowds and faultless for the in-residence artists. Committed to her work, adept at accommodating new situations, and enthusiastic about what is ahead, Marino is the kind of young artistic force that Austin rallies behind. With her at the helm, Pump Project is destined for a revival, and with the ever-changing tide of the city's creative impact, we can think of no better hands for Pump Project's programming to fall into.

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Pump Project, Rebecca Marino, Austin visual art, Flex Space, Debra Broz, Joshua Green, Sean Ripple, Caitlin McCollom, Jaime Castillo, VidKidz, David Culpepper, Lindsay Hutchens, MakeATX, Little Artist, Big Artist

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