Luce Unplugged, an acoustic concert series in the museum's Luce Foundation Center for American Art is the creative genius of Tierney Sneeringer, a program assistant at the Center. Each month, Tierney brings in an emerging, local talent to perform and choose a work of art to be presented in an accompanying talk. We tracked Tierney down to pick her brain about how she dreamt up the series and what keeps her excited to pump out new acts every month.
Christylez Bacon performs at Luce Unplugged. Photo by Mindy Barrett.
Eye Level: What is the origin of this series, and why did you feel a need to create it?
Tierney Sneeringer: I became really interested in D.C.'s art scene last spring when I invited several local craft artists to participate in the museum's Art+Coffee talks. Many of them generously offered their time (see our Facebook album for photos), but when we started to run out of artists with works on view in the Luce Center, I thought, "what next?" I had a lot of ideas jumping around in my head and was inspired by a panel discussion I attended about building better museum and artist collaborations at the 2010 American Association of Museums' conference in Los Angeles. The talk included Mark Allen of the Machine Project, which is an eclectic arts nonprofit based in Los Angeles. They've done several projects with museums and during the panel discussion Allen told a story about a musician who followed museum visitors around while playing songs about the artwork. From then on I was on a mission to have live music in the Luce Center.
EL: You've offered some pretty interesting acts thus far. Any memorable moments?
TS: I've loved parts of every performance! I'd have to say that Christylez Bacon's free-styling was pretty amazing and I really enjoyed how he involved the audience throughout his performance. I wrote about this for Eye Level, and at one point he asked the audience for 10 words for an improvised song. The audience was so excited that they came up with 12 words. I still can't understand how he made 12 random terms work together, but you can watch it on our Facebook page. He even threw in a nod to Luce Unplugged—it was great!
EL: Is it true the performers of Luce Unplugged have a hand in selecting the artworks featured in the pre-concert talks?
TS: Yes, they do! So far I've asked performers to pick a piece that best represents their sound and I ask them for a sentence or two to explain why. During the last Luce Unplugged, Phillips Saylor, the lead singer of Stripmall Ballads actually talked about why he picked Edward Mitchell Bannister's Untitled (moon over a harbor, wharf scene with full moon and masts of boats). He said he was drawn to the dark colors and feeling of isolation. I liked that he connected his music to the painting and that the audience was able to hear it in his words.
EL: What can you tell us about your upcoming summer acts that will entice the public to attend?
TS: All of the groups are extremely different! Lightfoot will start the summer off with a mixture of rock and folk music. I saw them in the spring at the Rock and Roll Hotel and I hope that visitors will move along with the music, within reason of course! July's group, Cephalopods, will be interesting in the Luce Center because they draw on a lot of different genres, like punk rock, and I think it will be cool to hear that mixture of sounds amid our Victorian architecture. August's group, Star FK Radium, has a special place in my heart because they were the first Luce Unplugged band I ever booked. They also have new music so I'm excited to hear how their sound has changed since they came last fall.
EL: Paint us a picture. If you had an unlimited budget and free reign to present a no-holds-barred Luce Unplugged, what would it entail?
TS: No idea! I might like to get a grand piano in the Luce Center and ask a famous artist with D.C. roots like Tori Amos to perform. Or I could get Citizen Cope! The other day a visitor suggested we get bean bag chairs—that could be fun. We are in the middle of planning something extra special for the fall so everyone should stay tuned!
Luce Unplugged occurs on a monthly basis in the Luce Foundation Center on the third floor of the museum. The next performance is June 5 at 1:30 p.m., featuring Lightfoot. Luce Unplugged is free and open to the public.