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TransCultural Exchange Director Has Built a Career In and Out of the Studio

By Jacob Nelson

Mary Sherman does not like the word “no.” The artist, teacher, writer, and director of the TransCultural Exchange has made a career out of pursuing opportunities out of curiosity, only to learn new skills in the process.

“People say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ and it makes me want to do it more,” Sherman said. She will be speaking at the upcoming MSLCE Speaker Series event on April 6 at 5:15 p.m.

Sherman has always been an artist; however, the number of additional hats she wears has grown throughout her career. For instance, when she was first beginning in Chicago, she noticed there was not much art criticism and reviews in the city’s newspapers. So she asked the Sun-Times if they needed a reviewer.

“I do everything cold because I don’t realize there are protocols,” Sherman said with a laugh. “My editor line edited my work, and basically taught me how to write.”

Covering the city’s art community gave Sherman the chance to learn more about Chicago artists, and pushed her to expand her knowledge of art history.

“I filled in my art history background tremendously, which made me as an artist much more critical of my own work,” Sherman said. “It was very good for my career.”

Writing was just one of the first decisions Sherman made that was motivated by the desire to step outside of her own artistic output. Perhaps the most consequential, however, was her decision to bring artists from around the world together.

“Someone from Vienna wanted to do an exchange show and I thought, ‘Well, why not?’” Sherman said. “Artists need to talk to their peers and their peers may not be down the street.”

That first gathering turned into TransCultural Exchange, an annual conference that brings together artists from across the globe.

“We started the conference and the results have been tremendous,” Sherman said. She pointed out that bringing artists together leads to important collaborations that would not have happened otherwise. “Artists meet each other, and once that happens, many things happen.”

Between her writing, teaching, and overseeing the Exchange, Sherman has learned that getting out of the studio can be just as important as producing work from within it.

“Although I would prefer to stay in the studio all the time,” Sherman said, “it’s not to the advantage of my work.”

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