Katie Avila Loughmiller, Coordinating Producer
Mary Louise Schumacher, Director
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – After more than a decade of work, the first feature-length documentary film about art critics to be made in the U.S., Out of the Picture, is nearing completion.
Directed by Mary Louise Schumacher, a longtime arts journalist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the film explores the lives and work of writers living through a period of dramatic change for both art and media.
Our film’s team has followed a handful of writers who have made it their life’s work to translate the experiences of art for others. We followed Jen Graves through the underground art scene in Seattle and Carolina Miranda to a mountaintop “dashboard Jesus” outside of Tijuana, Mexico. We witnessed Jeneé Osterheldt interview artists at the intersection where George Floyd was killed, and we were there when Hrag Vartanian started his “blogazine” for his then-fledgling website, Hyperallergic.
Criticism – and its role in the world – has been remade while our cameras rolled. Some of our subjects have risen to become essential voices for their generation, while others have become marginalized, obsolete even.
“Our idea of art and what art should be has changed,” says Jeneé Osterheldt, culture columnist for The Boston Globe. “It’s not seen through such an elite lens … or as much of a secret society as it used to be. Everyone’s getting a say.”
While ostensibly about an esoteric subject — the American art critic — our film is also about something everyone can relate to: change. Out of the Picture is poised to prompt a national conversation about the nature of art, modern life and how meaning gets made in our time.
Out of the Picture is fundamentally about human stories, but it is also rooted in research. While Schumacher was the 2017 Arts & Culture Fellow with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, she set out to learn about the priorities and pressures of today’s art critics. She led a comprehensive survey of arts journalists in the U.S.
Schumacher published the top-line takeaways from the survey in a series of articles for Nieman Reports, a quarterly print magazine covering thought leadership in journalism. This research raised critical questions about who has the capacity for this work today and who holds visibility and influence. These questions bring essential context and weight to the stories we’re telling. The survey’s findings were also the subject of a special ARTnews column by Schumacher, and a lecture at the Smithsonian American Art Museum . It was also referenced in an important New
York Times op-ed calling for more critics of color that was written by Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang, of Critical Minded.
Schumacher became part of the story we’re telling when her own job was eliminated in a systemwide downsizing by Gannett in 2019. That’s when Out of the Picture got more of her focused attention.
Since then, our team has completed production in more than 10 cities during a pandemic, and we are deep into the editing process. We’ve spent the last several months focused on raising funds to get the project across the finish line, to help pay for things like editing, color grading, sound editing, animation, titles/graphics and festival fees.
Out of the Picture will be completed this summer. After that we will apply for festivals in the fall with the hopes of scheduling screenings in the spring of 2023. The documentary will also be the centerpiece of a national impact campaign, which will include free community-based screenings and a publication, featuring some of the work of our film’s subjects.
For the first time, we are turning to our community for support with a crowdfunding campaign on the women-led platform Seed&Spark. We are hoping to raise $25,000 by May 30. As part of this campaign, we are, for the first time, sharing glimpses of the footage we’ve been gathering.
Out of the Picture has already been supported by the Heil Family Foundation; a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Greater Milwaukee Foundation; JustFilms of the Ford Foundation; the Brico Forward Fund; the Herzfeld Foundation; the Brico Covid Emergency Relief Fund, the No Studios/Gener8tor Fellowship; the Astor Street Foundation; and more than 80 individual donors.