Gallery shows, museums, and other cultural experiences are a proven way to enjoy work by local and visiting artists. But there is a creative current in Northeast Florida that is just as vital as those readily apparent artistic offerings, one that can be sometimes overlooked. For a look at what’s ahead in the arts, Void has chosen to highlight our local residency programs, arts activism, and forward-thinking views that add much needed color to our artistic community’s vitality.
Make an Appearance
Artist-in-residency (AIR) programs are multi-day or even month-long exhibitions designed to bring outside artists into a community, where they can stay and work, engage with fellow artists and the public at large, while also offering experience and instruction to burgeoning artists. The AIR’s supply housing and materials; the artists bring their skills and vision.
Locally, Long Road Projects might stand as the best-known AIR, but Downtown’s Phoenix Arts District hosts artists, and similar programs have been offered at CoRK Arts District and Space 42. Recently, artist Brett Waller began opening his doors to the Interdisciplinary Arts & Music (IAM) Residency Program.
“All of our residencies are unique in their own way,” says Waller, of his space located on the Ribault River on the Northside. “What I thought was lacking was, at the university level, showing people how do you get from ‘here to there’ as professional, in being able to meet and learn from other professionals.”
IAM is currently hosting their fourth artist, with a goal of hosting six annually. Recent IAM resident Joe Wack, who Waller met through his days working in L.A. in the film industry, has been an animator for “The Simpsons” for more than two decades.
“Joe has no education in art and no degree. I think students need to meet professionals; not ‘paraprofessionals, not ‘pseudo-professionals’ and not ‘professional’ academics. They need access to real professionals who make their living solely by making art.”
Since leaving her position as director of the Cummer Museum in 2016, Hope McMath has wasted no time in staying on the frontlines of arts-based community programs and activism. Last August, McMath opened the Yellow House, a stone’s throw from CoRK Arts District in Riverside.
“Yellow House is an organization, a place, a concept that sits at the intersection of art, community, and social justice,” explains McMath. “It is a place where the art on the walls becomes a platform for convening people around topics including racial and gender equity, environmental sustainability, community wellness, universal human rights, and civic engagement.”
Along with arts events, McMath forges connections in activism, and community. Her reputation both in and outside of the arts scene has found her creating grassroots programs in working with families and kids who are “aging out” of the foster care system, hurricane recovery, and with Yellow House she has partnered with various entities including the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, and Jewish Family and Community Services.
“Within one recent month we held poster making workshops for activists attending rallies and protests, had a family day where high school students were leading writing and art-making activities for young children, hosted a night of spoken word highlighting women poets speaking to themes of race and identity, and taught a group of physicians how to use art as a way to build empathy,” she said. “So the work comes in many shapes and sizes.”
The decades-long career of Steve Williams has been that of a visual artist, gallery owner, businessperson, and successful entrepreneur. As the owner-curator of the Florida Mining Gallery, he’s put together shows featuring highly contemporary art. As the CEO of family business Harbinger Sign, he’s helmed that company’s multimillion-dollar business; the company grew five times in 2010 alone.
Williams has enjoyed continued success as a restaurateur, helping to bring foodie franchises Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House and The Bread & Board to the area. But his real love is art, and his business and strategic vision have spotted what he sees as a shortcoming in a gallery scene; a problem that could be fixed in the form of a gallery system.
“A gallery system is a group of galleries in any one area, working together to create a story in the area representing artists,” explains Williams. “I think Atlanta is a good example. Miami of course, even Boca Raton has a good one. And of course the larger cities like New York, Berlin or London.”
A gallery system could benefit this area in numerous ways, from creating an overall “message” that represents our collective gallery community to eliminating any conflicts when several galleries schedule openings on the same night. It’s a system that could foster unity, provide a kind of “brand,” and attract art lovers and art buyers.
“Jacksonville seems to be a city that is young,” says Williams, of this area’s artistic potential. “And collaborating for strategic marketing purposes would always be beneficial, in my opinion.”