Lola A. Åkerström catches up with the visionary behind Galleri Duerr – artist and designer Deborah Duerr – who knows Stockholm’s art scene inside out.
An American transplant from Kentucky, Deborah Duerr studied Graphic Design, receiving a Bachelor of Art in Design from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio. She moved to Stockholm in August 1984 from New York City with her husband, and has worked for design firms, ad agencies, architects, and industrial designers before starting her own studio – Galleri Duerr – in 1996.
STS: Are you an artist yourself? What medium and for how long?
Deborah: I am a graphic designer. I have done quite a lot of photography, but not on a professional basis. I studied photography at university (it was a prerequisite each year) but I have not had the opportunity or time to work with it in the past years.
What inspired you to open up Galleri Duerr and why did you launch it?
My family lived in Laos in South East Asia (1992-1995) while my husband was working with a project there. Our children were small – 10 months and 3 years old when we moved. I had the pleasure of working as a design consultant with a renowned textile designer and other designers/entrepreneurs. I also documented Laos during that period – black/white and color photography holding several exhibitions in Vientiane. It was here that I started to teach – working with the International School and the Swedish School as well as training Laotian teachers.
I was seriously considering continuing professionally with photography upon our return to Stockholm in 1995, but stumbled upon my present space and decided to open a multidisciplinary design studio specializing in graphic design, education, and photography.
I began by focusing on starting an art school for children and young people, Fantasihuset Konstskola, after realizing the tremendous need for quality art education when our daughter started school upon our return. I brought in other artists to help teach, and ran classes every afternoon and weekend in the space that is now the gallery.
I also took on smaller design jobs but did not have much time over for my photography. Shortly after starting Fantasihuset I was contacted by Nina Balabina with the proposition to run the art program at the new music school she was starting up – Lilla Akademien.
This was in 1997.
I am still teaching there today and am actively involved in the school. Our own children have attended both its grade school (grundskola) and high school (gymnasium).
Starting a private art school in Stockholm was a struggle. I had no funding from the government or any other organisation. Just months after I opened my school, the government decided to levy a 25% sales tax (moms) on private education, which unfortunately included my school, making it extremely difficult for me to compete economically with other art programs that fell under the state’s umbrella that were MOMS-free (Moderna Museet, Kulturskolan, Kursverksamheten and other study circles). My classes were greatly appreciated, but it became too difficult to manage financially.
I was ready to give up, but then during the Easter of 2008 I baked a batch of knäckebröd to take to a friends for dinner, instead of a bottle of wine or a bunch of flowers. Being that it was so appreciated, I made it again the following weekend for more friends, who, by the end of the evening, had convinced me to start producing and selling the bread.
Deborahs Extraknäck was born.
I found a way to connect the bread to the rest of my work in design and education, supporting art and design education. The entire story can be found on my website. I now work with a distributor/sales representative and our challenge is to grow while maintaining the quality we have today.
I have visions of selling outside of Sweden as well.
I have always shown student work in my space, and even started up a creative café in the fall of 2005 with the help of an energetic and creative group of young people (Kreafé). In the fall of 2008 I sponsored an art exhibition and auction for Democrats Abroad, organized by Roland Williams.
One of the artists exhibiting, Anthony Mills, asked to be artist in residence. I accepted. I decided to develop the space as a gallery, and after much deliberation decided on the name ”Galleri Duerr”. Anthony had several exhibitions and I started bringing in other artists to show their work as well.
I am still teaching young people (although outside of the gallery), currently at Lilla Akademien but also at other elementary and high schools in the Stockholm area from time to time. I also work with companies, running workshops focusing on the creative process, in the gallery space as well as in other venues, and I’m a board member of ”Stories for Society”, an organization founded by Julie Lindahl.
Stories for Society is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 after a period of research and development concerning the transformational potential of collective story-telling among children: learning becomes more compelling, communication easier and problems more accessible to solve. Since then, we have learned that our method is equally relevant to youth and adults for similar reasons.
More on Galleri Duerr
Galleri Duerr has since its start had an exhibition program that combines painting, sculpture, photography and design. The gallery shows both new and established artists, Swedish and international, as well as developing a successful cooperation with guest curators. During the years, the gallery has evolved into a living forum for performance and exhibitions in various forms – classic/jazz concerts, dance, poetry readings, talks, and more.
I do not show any one particular style or genre. I try to work with people and projects that I find interesting and stimulating. The result being a rather eclectic mix and crossover. This approach is evident in most of what I take on. I am always searching for that ”red thread” that binds everything together. This is, of course, quite a bit more difficult, but I find it to be much more stimulating and it forces me to remain creative and to stay ”on edge”.
My design education is quite broad, rooted in the Bauhaus traditions, based on being open to stimuli and new ideas and thoughts and translating these stimuli into a personal statement – quite simply being able to ”see”. I do not follow any one school of thought or any one pedagogical theory. I open my eyes, absorb and react and follow my intuition and listen to myself.
This is what I strive to teach my students and this is what I strive for in my own work as well.
This fall we will be showing the Mongolian artist Altansukh Demberel with his exhibition ”Tiny Pieces” – photography, paintings and video from August 22 to September 29, followed by a young Peruvian artist just out of the art academy.
Both artists will be telling their own stories.