Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Year in Review, 2017

Katy Red at Prospect.4 Artist Party at the Music Box

Some visitors recently asked if there were any local art shows they should see. I mentioned Prospect.4, with 73 international artists at various venues  -- and the PhotoNOLA international photography expo featuring over 60 exhibitions about town. Others include big institutional shows like the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Solidary & Solitary expo of black abstract art from the Joyner/Giuffrida collection, and the pioneering Unfamiliar Again exhibit of contemporary women abstractionists at the Newcomb Art Museum, and of course the New Orleans Museum of Art's vast East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography exhibit featuring over 150 vintage images including some of the oldest ever made in America – enough to keep anyone busy for weeks.

Shinique Smith, Ogden Museum
On top of those mostly locally originated events, NOMA announced that it is doubling the size of its acclaimed sculpture garden, and the Contemporary Arts Center  has just completed a major renovation, so it has been a strikingly busy time for the arts here in America's 50th biggest city. All this has not gone unnoticed. Nola native turned New York art star Wayne Gonzales routinely returned to visit his elderly parents but he only recently got to participate in the local scene close up as a Prospect.4 featured artist. His take on it: “The creative energy of New Orleans is as exciting and diverse as I've ever seen it. There is a strong sense of community that crosses generations and disciplines, and there are opportunities to experiment in ways that just don't exist in bigger centers...” Similarly, Prospect.4 creative director Trevor Schoonmaker noted a “sense of shared community among the artists and visitors,” adding there is something about this city's “way of bringing people together” that he views as “important at this particular moment.”

The big story of 2017 is not simply that Nola has emerged as an increasingly high profile global art center, but has done so in a way characterized by widespread community involvement – a trend that dates to the wave of activism that arose in response to the challenges posed by hurricane Katrina over a decade ago. Not only did artists create a new arts district along St. Claude Ave., but many organizations including the The Music Box, the Community Print Shop, and the newer Art Klub, have all pointedly engaged under-served segments of society. More established institutions like the NOMA, the Ogden Museum and the CAC have all developed extensive community programming. This often involves a special kind of focus. As PhotoNOLA director Amy Dailey Williams put it, “The national photography community got involved early on, but we place a high priority on local communities, so we expanded our outreach into schools and institutions like Kingsley House.” One highly influential institution that, under the direction of Nola native Gia Hamilton, has had enviable success balancing mainstream visual arts and local community concerns is the Joan Mitchell Center, where accessible programs and a major artist residency center have enabled a new wave of artists from a variety of backgrounds make their presence felt locally and nationally. A longtime advocate for art as a tool for social healing and personal growth, Hamilton acts on her belief that, “all humans deserve the right to be creative, and need time, space and resources to help solve our society’s issues. What would happen if humans had more time to be creative -- imagine what problems we could solve together.” ~Bookhardt