Alison Bergblom Johnson’s career builds on fruitful partnerships

Editor’s note: As the national platform for Springboard for the Arts, Creative Exchange has long been a platform to highlight the artists, resources, and efforts in our national network. In this pandemic, as Springboard for the Arts’ work is increasingly online and accessible nationally, we’ll be turning the spotlight on Springboard staff and our Artist Career Consultants, to share more about who we are, and the work we do. Enjoy!

Springboard for the Arts Artist Career Consultant Alison Bergblom Johnson knows about how doing things yourself and seeking out support can lead to fruitful partnerships. Her career is multifaceted, spanning disciplines and subjects, exploring gender, disability, trauma and more. She has worked in major museums, residency programs, and nonprofits, and brings herself, as an artist with a disability, to her practice and teaching. She is leading the workshop Work of Art+: Amplify Your Work – A PR Primer, with Krista Rolfzen Soukup on August 29.

Share a little about your creative practice.
As an artist I’m obsessed with questions about gender, value, worth, and trauma. I’m a multigenre artist, and I work across visual, lit, and performance to engage with those questions. They also bleed together a lot, for instance I rehearse my writing as if I’m going to perform it regardless of whether it’s a print piece or a performance text. I was a secret collage artist for a long time, and that’s become something that’s more to the forefront these last few years. (I joined the Twin Cities Collage Collective last winter). I’ve also done a lot of solo performance as a storyteller, written and published essays.

How did you start working with Springboard for the Arts?
In 2009 I was feeling frustrated in my growth and opportunities as an artist. I did a consultation with Zaraawar Mistry that was incredibly helpful. I gained practical tools from that meeting about budgets and promotion. I created a solo show, Other Than Tragedy, about mental health and illness as experienced by some of my women ancestors. I won a Fringe slot that year, and I was encouraged enough by a mix of positive reviews, and doing a bit better than breaking even. Later I went to a few Work of Art sessions in the Hennepin County libraries with Noah Keesecker and others. About this time I was at a conference for artists with disabilities and Kathleen Richert presented two of the Work of Art workshops. There was a huge demand for these workshops. There were many accessibility issues present at the conference. It was important to me as an artist with disabilities to help bring knowledge about arts careers and professional practice to other artists with disabilities. Years later, I participated in the facilitators training for Work of Art, and became certified in the curriculum. As an artist with a disability, I’m feeling like now there is more effort to include us into more mainstream things. I want people to know that we’re here and we exist.

What are projects that you have going right now or an idea in the making? What’s a project you’d like to see happen?
I’m curating an evening at the Walker Art Center as part of Mn Artists Presents in November 2020, though now it will be an online event. The framework is artists with disabilities and our relationships to the mainstream and to disability-specific space. I wanted badly to try and include people who have a commitment to making work, but also are not so well known in order to really amplify artists with disability. This event is also going to have an artists with disabilities-specific networking session and it will be a live session after the performances. I’ll invite folks who don’t have disability to be present but not participate. There are also two short films by artists with disabilities: one is about disability, and the other is not at all. I’m really excited to engage with these questions and promote greater inclusion.

What’s something you wish others knew about you?
It seems minor, but pronouncing Bergblom can be a challenge. It’s Berg – as in a small hamlet, lum as in rhymes with numb, and the second b silent. So Berg-lum.

Also, I am almost 40, and I spent a lot of my 20s figuring myself out and getting medical care so that I’d be able to manage my disabilities. When I approached my 30s I thought ‘Oh god, I’m suppose to have made it by now.’ I felt on the outside of an exclusionary art and theater world. I also self-produced work a lot out of frustration. I never realized then that the attitude of just doing would be something that would lead to really amazing collaborations and partnerships. These partnerships I built came out of not being afraid of making work and just putting it out there. I’m really proud to be part of Springboard because they are great at developing and sharing tools so that anyone can do that.

Photo by Matt Ayers

Springboard Resources
Artist Career Consultants, available for virtual consultations:
Work of Art: Business Skills for Artists toolkit:

Cover photo of Alison Bergblom Johnson by Laura Lee Buhman.