Nebraska's been windy the past couple months and it seems to mimic the movement of my life since mid-January when it became official that I would be the first Artist-In-Residence in a partnership between Gateway Mall and the Lincoln Arts Council. I tell people that I've tried to stay under the radar with organizations for the past several years and somehow the arts council found me as they reached out to the mall in an effort to bring art and artists to the space. Robert Goldberg, the Outreach coordinator for LAC, contacted Jennifer, the leasing agent at Gateway and soon Robert was told the artist the mall works with was none other than me. Yes, I've partnered with Gateway on numerous occasions, but to have them call me their "go to" I was above honored. So, Robert reached out and eventually asked me what it would look like to be an artist in residence for six months and what I would need to be paid to create a project while there. SO, I spent a good many of my morning walks pondering what to propose and came up with building a paper garden. I have this strange need to create art that requires hundreds of pieces to complete.....so why not a garden with hundreds of handmade paper flowers. The proposal also contained a collaborative component with the public where in they are invited to create flowers to help it "grow." AND sitting where I am, almost a month into the project, I will definitely need everyone's help to make this garden a reality!
We began working through the details and by March we were ready to prepare the facade of the chosen space and began setting up for an April Grand Opening. I was excited and a bit nervous at the idea of being relegated to a weekly Friday / Saturday schedule in the space we entitled "Gateway to the Arts." But work moved forward as I gave a week and a half to painting the facade and the final week to setting the gallery / studio space.
On April 1, at 12:30 pm, we opened, and the day was filled with curious folks. The space selected for Gateway to the Arts was none other than the entrance space to a restaurant called the Tilted Kilt which had closed down some 6+ years prior and had since had most of its space retrofitted for other stores. Nothing but storage occupied this unit until now and people were naturally excited and interested to see what was up. I greeted so many amazing people that day. Some had watched me paint the facade and came to say hi and look at my art on the walls, others had seen the many Facebook posts about the opening and came to look around. I was overwhelmed by the interest and two weeks after that day with a hugely successful first First Friday / Grand Opening I wrote:
Reflecting on the grand opening weekend, I realized that throughout the day on Friday and into Saturday, I had been blessed with the support of someone from every area in my life over the past 20 years plus! Cousins, in-laws, siblings, neighbors, UNL Art college classmates, co-workers from Hobby Lobby and Nebraska Public Television, bible study group members, mall walkers, and connections to organizations I had the honor of being part of. New people came in to look around and I even connected with a few ladies who participated in The Breakthrough last spring! Stunned by the pockets of my life represented, I couldn’t help but be thankful, humbled, and inspired! Humbled by the privilege to be part of these communities over the years. Blessed by the staff of Gateway Mall and Lincoln Arts Council, I can only pray that the next six months will be a reflection of community and connection. I always aim for relationship building when I place art in a space. Art can be a catalyst of hope and open the door to conversation.
I’ve reflected on my art this week as well. I try not to compare my work with others, but sometimes the temptation to do so creeps in. It leaves me wondering how I fit into the grand scheme of the world of art. Contemplating on my corner of a market hell bent on angst, inner turmoil, social issues, and the like, I came to the conclusion, I have but one thing to offer – hope. Not only through the art, but through conversation and connection. To the art critic, my art may not fit in current trends, and I’m ok with that. After all, VanGogh, who worked during the age of Impressionism, never really fit into that genre, instead he paved his own path. I can only hope that in the same way, my art can stand on its own going counter to culture and bring joy, good memories, and healing to those who encounter and participate in the creation of it.
And so, here we are the last weekend in April and ready to embark on a new month with new possibilities for Gateway to the Arts as May's First Friday will celebrate the work of Nicoleh Radenahmad (or as he says "simply Nick") from Thailand! He came into the space one of the first weekends and I knew right away I had something to offer him! I look forward to seeing his work alongside mine this next weekend.
As for my May exhibit, I'm pulling out work that I've made over the years in an attempt to process difficult circumstances. Though much of my work IS hope-filled and about beauty I felt it was important to show some of the work I often keep to myself. The more vulnerable stuff. The pieces I'm not so sure I accomplished what I wanted to say, but those in which the process was the important part. At this moment, I'm nervous to share those, but am excited about the conversations this work will create! I'm not sure if I'll keep the work up all month or just the first weekend, we'll see how it goes.
What can I say, life, like Nebraska's weather, changes in an instant and sometimes the wind takes us where we never thought possible. So I'm embracing this project and the months of Fridays and Saturdays ahead and as the Garden of Possibilities grows, so will I.
Ann has worked as a professional artist since 2006. She currently works on her own studio artwork as well as large, commercial works and with other artists in any way she can.