Lucia Davis: Taking Art on the Bus

The first Guild Hall artist in residence whose field is curatorial/critical studies
An incoming Guild Hall artist in residence, Ms. Davis will feature eight artists in her mobile gallery this summer. Chelsea Audibert

If all goes well for Lucia Davis, a refurbished school bus will depart from Greenport this summer, but not with schoolchildren aboard. Instead it will be a traveling showcase of art and artists that will hold collaborative events at each stop along the Eastern Seaboard.

Before she can launch the Art Bus Project, an idea that has been percolating since 2014, she will spend nine weeks, starting on Saturday, as one of five Guild Hall artists-in-residence, and the first whose field is curatorial/critical studies.

The other selected artists are Lydia Hicks, a photographer, filmmaker, and video artist selected by the photographer Ralph Gibson; Tanya Gabrielian, a pianist chosen by the actor and director Steve Hamilton; Judson Merrill, a writer picked by Dava Sobel, a writer and novelist, and Walter Price, a painter also selected by Mr. Gibson. The architecture critic Paul Goldberger picked Ms. Davis.

“The bus is basically a curatorial thing,” she said at the East Hampton house of her mother, Loretta Davis, the executive director of the Retreat. “I’d eventually like to have a fleet of buses. I’d like to do different parts of the U.S. with that fleet.”

It is also a fund-raising effort, she said, and crowd sourcing has taken the project more than halfway toward its goal. “Fund-raising is very hard, a lot harder than I thought,” she said. None of her previous jobs were for nonprofit organizations. “My mom talked to me about the nonprofit life. She said that we survive by the generosity of others. It’s so true.”

The Art Bus will feature eight American artists. Two of them, Anna Wittenberg and Khem, formerly known as Christian Jackson, were friends of Ms. Davis. Others had been on her radar, in some cases for years, because of  work she had seen at art fairs and other venues. “I want to show artists of different ages, races, sexes, and working in different disciplines.” The mediums of the eight artists include video, installation, performance, holograms, music, paintings, sculpture, and interdisciplinary projects.

Ms. Davis was born in New York City and grew up in Westchester County. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., where she majored in economics. While there she made the first of two trips to China, where she worked for a gold mining company. Her senior thesis was on gold mining and environmental stewardship.

“I speak a little Mandarin,” she said. “I love China. I thought I could live there, but it’s really lonely if you’re not with other students.” 

Leaving her economics major behind, she embarked on a career as a journalist and editor, first with the short-lived Equities Magazine, then with iMedia Connection, which publishes news and features covering the online marketing sector. After a stint at PR News, she moved to Obviously Social, a social media company founded by Mae Karwowski, an old friend.

“I wrote a lot of stuff there and was director of content. Mae and I went to South by Southwest, Fashion Week, and other events, providing advice on the use of social media. When you’re doing that, you have to be out in front, tweeting, which is not something that comes naturally to me.” But those skills have helped her launch the Art Bus Project, for which she does all the social media.  

Before Obviously Social, she never did Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. “I was the first generation of Facebook in college, but I was never the person who would post, ‘I feel sad today.’ But I was very plugged in when I worked for Obviously Social. Mae actually has somebody she can call at Facebook. Watching her grow with her business inspired me to go out on my own.”

She and her husband, Sean Clifford, a film and television producer, lived in Los Angeles at first, but she soured on it. “After a while you can’t talk about people’s colonics anymore, you just can’t. I was tanner and thinner, but after a while I just couldn’t deal with it.” They relocated to Manhattan’s Chinatown before moving in October 2015 to Greenport.

The concept of Art Bus began when they were living in a 600-square-foot apartment in Chinatown. “My journals are my own personal writing, and I didn’t have a place to go to write them. I used to write for four or five hours, and I need absolute silence. My husband would say, ‘You’ve been writing for five hours. Can’t we go out?’ The project came out of that, and the idea that artists, especially in New York, can’t afford the space they need.”

The Art Bus Project recently got its 501(c)(3) status. “We have an amazing board of all women. We just had our second meeting. I’ve gotten to create my dream, which was fully formed when I left Obviously Social.”

Before applying for the artist-in-residence program, she met with Kate Mueth, an East Hampton director and actress, who suggested she talk to Andrea Grover, the executive director of Guild Hall. Ms. Grover urged her to apply. “We haven’t met in person yet, but we’ve talked a number of times. I was so pumped when I got it. Marianna Levine, who runs the program, was so supportive.”

She also had several conversations with the artist Eric Fischl, the president of Guild Hall’s Academy of the Arts, who had his own idea for a traveling art exhibition, “America: Now and Here,” which was to have six specially outfitted tractor trailers. “Mine is similar to his, but on a much smaller scale. His were world-famous artists.”