Amber Abramson, Shop Owner and Gallery Director, Austin and Los Angeles
how do you describe busy-being to a stranger?
I usually say the shop is a culmination of handmade items made by artisans, most of whom I happen to be friends with already. I rotate the artwork on the walls every six weeks and the artists I bring in are largely imported from my last ten years (plus) of working in the art world – but not limited to. Now that I’m Austin-based I’m doing more cross-pollinating of that group with local Austinites.
what do you do while you’re just sitting around at work?
I still work as the Associate Director of New Image Art in Los Angeles so a lot of the time I’m on the computer doing gallery work. I’ve also just returned to school too so I’m trying to do homework at the shop but it’s hard to concentrate in there.
do you ever get bored? if so, what do you do then?
Yes, there are a lot of days that are really quiet and if I don’t have any other work to do I’ll usually read D-Listed (my favorite trashy blog). I’m also really into dancing and am a part of Austin Samba school here so I can spend hours watching YouTube videos trying to work on my technique. I’m always down for a shop dance party!
where did the name of your shop come from?
Busy-Being started as an online store back in 2004. My son was pretty little then and we were spending more time at the gallery than we were spending time at home so I got the idea to do an online shop. The name came from just generally being busy, but I liked that it was open ended, so you could be busy being anything, really. The online store never ended up becoming a full-time thing because I was consistently busy with gallery work so the name just embodied what was going on for me: being busy being a mom, a girlfriend, a gallery director, etc. The name still applies for me and I feel like it applies to a lot of other people too; just juggling roles all the time – or maybe not, maybe you’re just really busy being chill, that’s cool too; it’s a name for everybody.
what is an average day for you?
Feed the kid, the cat, and the turtle first thing in the morning and now it’s off to school for both us Two times a week I help out at my son’s school after my classes, then head to the shop and work there for about 6 hours. I usually go to samba practice a few nights a week, then I’ll go home and cook dinner / hang with my son. Do homework and crash out.
what is harder about running a shop than you thought?
It’s tricky having to pay for your life (and son’s life) and bills in addition to being able to re-circulate that money back into the shop to keep it stocked up and looking fresh.
what is easier?
Being well-received by the community. I feel really embraced and supported by the people that come through the shop and that has definitely touched me.
tell me about the workshops you are hosting at busy-being.
This has been a longtime vision of mine that I’ve been holding onto so I am really excited that it’s finally happening. The intention is to host workshops that are accessible and fun for the community and create a dialogue. There are workshops I specifically have wanted to host like the New Orleans Bounce class, and the indigo fabric dyeing workshop (both were super fun!) I’m into the idea of an exchange of information and skills. I’ve invited friends to come lead them but also encourage proposals from anyone that has something they want to come in and teach.
the store is adjacent to domy books and the recently-opened paper party and olive vintage. how do these spaces all work together?
We all run our separate businesses but the idea is that we are complimentary and each have our specialties. We are all offering something totally different from one another and that way we can offer a more unique shopping experience and support each other at the same time; Domy is books and periodicals, Olive is vintage clothing, Paper Party is paper goods, and I’ve got kind of the arty gift shop mix of jewelry, chocolate, art, home, etc. and of course we’ve got the Schmaltz trailer in backyard serving up delicious veggie sandwiches as well!
you also are an art director in LA: how the heck do you do all that?I’m the Associate Director so the big head (and owner) of the gallery is still in LA. Really, the bulk of gallery work can be done on a laptop, you just need to be there physically to install and de-install, and then you have an gallery assistant to open the doors during normal business hours. The majority of the work is really correspondence between artists, collectors, and then managing logistics with shippers, etc. The work is in knowing how to run this kind of business and maintaining your relationships with the artists you work with and the collectors. We happen to have a lot of collectors overseas that we haven’t met face-to-face and it’s mostly a relationship formed over email.
you are a big art collector. can you talk about what role you see art playing in everyday life?I’ve been really fortunate to receive a lot of beautiful work from the people I’ve worked with as gifts and that’s what most of my own home is filled with. I really like things that have a personal story behind them, hence the relationships behind the products I carry and what I see everyday on my own walls. I’m a collector when I can afford to be and I am also not shy about asking for a layaway plan when I fall in love something! If that’s not possible than I’m just a coveter. In my own life art is a part of each day. I can’t really speak to other people’s lives but if you just look around there is art there all the time. I believe it’s in everything.
do you have any tips for new art collectors who don’t even know where to start?It depends on the budget of course, I have helped first time collectors purchase their first piece for $55k, but I’ve also done the same thing for other people and they went with an $18 print. My first rule is that you have to love it. If it’s a budget thing, prints are a good way to buy work by established artists at a more easy to swallow price. When I work with a new client who doesn’t really know what they want I show them lots of different work and see what speaks to them and we take it from there.
do you make anything ?
I really like textiles. I love weaving but its time-consuming and time is a hot commodity for me. I used to sew a lot and make my own clothes but after having my son it became more of an issue of balancing time and space, that hasn’t changed a whole lot for me but it’s getting a little better.
who are some underrated artists? overrated?
There are a lot of both. I don’t really want to say who I think is overrated because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, on the other hand, they’re laughing all the way to the bank so good for them. Some artists that I really like that are still kind of under the radar (depending on who you are) are Chris Lux and Paul Wackers. I think they are both super talented and inventive artists, I’m really enjoying watching their processes and their careers too.
how did you end up in Austin?
It’s long and slightly complicated story but the short version is that I had always wanted my son to go to high school outside of LA but I hadn’t figured out where that would be. Then, in 2008 I met this guy (an Austin artist) at an art fair in New York and I ended up coming to Austin to see him several times and that’s how I discovered Austin. I was like, “this must be the place,” like the Devo song. We eventually moved here in the summer of 2011; the summer of him beginning high school.
what are some of your favorite local spots? (Austin and LA!)
I like being able to see nature; if it’s a body of water and lots of greenery I’m happy.
LA: the beach is for sure my #1. I particularly like Venice Beach even though there are so many other prettier beaches. Venice has tons of memories for me growing up and I love the energy there. I love being at the beach super early in the morning with a hot cup of tea to see the sunrise, the hardcore surfers, and the dolphins jumping out of the water. There is nothing better in my opinion. My favorite tile floor and chai tea are at Intelligencia, favorite bookstore is the Bodhi Tree, favorite corner café is the Casbah Café, favorite stores are Dream Collective and Lost & Found, favorite dance spot is the Little Temple Bar on Saturday night for 90’s R&B and hip-hop.
Austin: Barton Springs, Town Lake early in the morning before it’s filled with joggers, the swings under the 7th Street bridge. I like the Tillery St. nursery, Garaj Mahal, Contigo, the Eastside Kings trailer over at the Grackle, favorite night is when that gypsy band plays at the Eastside Showroom, best vibes: Cheer Up Charlie’s.
do you have your dream job right now? if not, what is next?
Yes, I do, this exactly what I want to be doing right now. That being said, I also have a tendency to keep my plate really full and I love learning new things. I recently asked myself what I saw myself doing as an 80-year-old woman? What would I be happiest doing at that age? I realized that I would love to see myself as an old medicine woman, which to me feels like a very natural inclination. My father was a doctor and mother is a nutritionist / yogi / hippie / and student of the “healing arts” since the 60s. I’d like to link what I’m doing now to that down the line in terms of the community outreach and workshop model. I’m back in school now gearing up for this next evolution. I feel like it’s the kind of thing you just get better at with time because you are constantly learning and building onto your foundation. It may sound a little scattered but it makes sense to me.
do you spend a lot of time on the computer? if so, what are some of your favorite websites?
Yes, if I’m in the store I’m almost always on the computer. I try not to look around too much at what other stores and blogs are doing because I want my vision and what I’m doing to stay clear and authentic. If I look around too much I start to feel overwhelmed and not cool enough. My biggest time wasters are Facebook, D-listed, and YouTube.
what are you really liking right now?
I’m liking the new man in my life. Watermelon with balsamic vinegar, bagels and cream cheese, coconut water, the architecture and landscape of New Orleans and the bayou, just about everything in the dragon herbs catalogue, I’m also experiencing a newfound appreciation for sleep. My bff’s new line, “Lookout & Wonderland” is knocking my socks off pretty well too! My lovely Austin crew, and my father deserves a big shout out as well; he’s been my rock and especially lately, thanks Dad!
Images by Ann Lowe