Buff Ross is a man about town, an artist, art advocate, designer and philosopher. He's in love with great urban environments, museums and technology with the capacity to transform.
Ross, active in Charleston's visual art scene, has degrees in anthropology and museum studies and runs Alloneword Design. His work is informed by a desire to use code in ways that inspire and inform.
And what would he do if computers suddenly became out of reach? Travel. Find ways to get close to great art, old and new. "I would work in a museum in some deeper capacity," he said. "I still get to interface and collaborate with museums but wish that was more frequent, deeper and consistent."
Q: You have lots of museum experience as a curator and designer. Were you an artsy kid? How/why/when did you get interested in the arts?
A: My mother was potter and always fostered and induced artistic interests. But as much as I was artsy, I also swerved crafty. We had contests in lamp building (any material), bicycle mods and even made our own backpacking equipment from early REI kits. This duality is why I love both design and coding. Currently I find myself coding less and less, but when I can and when you get to hit “push” and the math and language result in something visual, it always reminds me that it is a craft.
Growing up, I drew a ton and began painting in high school and college but largely abandoned that. Lately, I have been illustrating as much as possible through work as a way to reconnect with visual art.
Q: You and your wife Leila recently started Show and Tell Art and Design, a web-based commercial gallery featuring works by artists you care about. Why did you decide to get into the art-selling business?
A: Because the art “buying” business is far less lucrative. Just kidding. Most of the impetus of that decision should be credited to Leila. She had a desire to create a gallery business that offered artists a chance to tell the story why they create what they do. The natural impulse then was to find a physical venue for that expression.
Galleries, like restaurants, have a generally low success rate. After researching spaces in the crowded and expensive Charleston real estate market, we decided to hedge our bets and leverage our skills to create an online market that eliminates some of those risks. Additionally, we have been able to create pop-up spaces that bridge the digital disadvantages.
Q: You run Alloneword Design, and create interactive, dynamic websites. At what point did you embrace technology as an artistic medium? And what role do you see technology playing within the arts going forward?
A: As a graduate student in Museum Studies in the late '90s during the first internet boom, I was intrigued by the opportunities this new medium presented to museums and, by extension, artists. Living in San Francisco during those days I was on the sidelines watching folks predict what could and couldn’t be virtually commodified. Being involved with museums though, I quickly identified that we were on the cusp of a revolution in the access to information.
Museums typically have incredible repositories of cultural and artistic assets that typically never see the exhibit floor. Eighty percent of objects in museum collections never make it to public display. This disconnect always seemed like a collective cultural deficit that the internet might offer a mitigatory solution. So, that was my initial impetus and continues to motivate me today.
Q: You are active on the boards of the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art and Redux Contemporary Art Center. What is your assessment of Charleston’s relationship with contemporary art? How can art improve the quality of life in town?
A: That is the million-dollar question placed in front of any organization trying to fund-raise on the “Skinny Peninsula” today. Is the impact of art as easily quantified as other social needs issues? Never. Does that make it a less important thread to the fabric of this community? I would offer that it is an integral facet of a well-rounded community just as it is a facet of a well-rounded human.
Charleston sits on the precipice of the new economy where talent chooses to move to locations that revere “quality of life” over all other deciding factors. One crucial element of that should be, and is, the arts.
If we want to keep accelerating as a nationally relevant city economically, we must also preserve the arts, history and natural environment that are attracting intelligent and creative new residents to our city.
Q: You are a community-focused person. What are you currently working on that might have a positive impact on public life? Any Halsey or Redux projects in the works?
A: I am fortunate enough to be working on some great projects with both organizations and two other groups in Charleston. They are exciting but not fully gestated enough to discuss right now. The fun of seeing a collaborative idea come to final fruition is only eclipsed slightly by the intellectual consumption of multiple ideas as they struggle to become a narrative. So stay tuned …