Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Artists Share Experiences From First Year of Phantom Galleries Superior

The first year of Phantom Galleries is officially over. And what a very special year.

As is often the case in life, in order to move forward it is important to look back. For this reason the Superior SPACES team invited all artists involved with the Phantom Galleries Project to gather once more for an informal discussion regarding the effectiveness of this past year’s Phantom Gallery experiences. The aim is to tweak what was clearly a valuable experience to make it even more effective for the local community.

The meeting was held at 1112 Tower Avenue with Tonja Sell's wonderful paintings and sculptures serving as a backdrop for 90 minutes of good dialogue. The purpose of last night's gathering was to seek input from the artists regarding the first year of this important project. I use the word important primarily to express my personal conviction that bringing the arts, the business community, and the wider public together has significant value for the revitalization of communities not only here locally but nationally as well.

Erika Mock moderated the discussion. "I’m so thrilled at how this past year went," she began. The agenda was simply an informal dialogue aimed at discovering what worked and what didn’t.

The observation was made that even though all the Phantom Galleries were within eight blocks of one another here on Tower Avenue, each gallery space was situated in a different neighborhood. That is, the businesses around each space each had a different character.

Kathy McTavish shared how setting up her space adjacent to the Androy Hotel drew people in. "While installing my work I talked to a man who had never been to an art gallery. He helped us set up and got involved."

Screen printer and painter Gary Reed, the famous Phantom of the Gallery at some of the openings, noted that many of the people who saw the art in these spaces would never go to an art museum. Many have never seen an art book or read an art magazine. There is a certain sort of innocence in the manner in which some of the visitors to these spaces approached the art on display there.

Jeredt Runions concurred, adding that this is part of his motivation for having shows in restaurants and other public spaces. Runions brought a copy of Juxtapoz magazine to point out that the theme of the recent May issue had to do with this very thing, art in public spaces. He likewise affirmed the value of public art and shared his experience with the mural project last year which got the community involved in a high profile project. The way the kids responded was a thrill for him.

The Red Interactive show received similar comments. Because people invited to the opening were asked to bring something red (for a collaborative sculpture) and to wear something red, "it made us feel part of it," someone said. 

It was also interesting how the various artists used the spaces in which their works were displayed. Kathy Kollodge held painting classes in the New York Building space. Red Interactive collaborators John Heino and Ed Newman conducted a brown bag lunch discussion that circled around questions regarding art in a post-modern world. John Heino led the discussion, titled "Engagement or Chaos," which sought to get clarification with regard to what art is. Is everything art? Or is art only art after it has been "blessed" by some authority? The dialogue was intended as a starting point for future discussions regarding the relationship of art, commerce and culture.

In 2011 Phantom Galleries Superior (PGS) was one of six Phantom Gallery initiatives in the state of Wisconsin supported by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. PGS is a unique partnership between Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments (SPAC2ES) and Superior Business Improvement District (BID), the property owners, the artists, and the community. Use of properties is generously donated by the owners. Additional support comes from multiple artistic resources, the BID, and the Morgan Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

"The circle of art includes bringing it to the world," Mock said. It will be interesting to see how it far can go.

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