Public Art: An Interview with Coordinator and Curator
Public Art (Exhibit of Proposals) is unlike any art show ever before on display at Joe’s Movement Emporium. It’s intention is to give the public an intimate behind the scenes look at all the planning, strategy, energy and iterations that go into proposing, modifying, and installing a public art piece. The Gateway Arts District has many such pieces (use MyGetwayArts.org’s Public Art Locator to find them) is also home to many of the artists behind them. To have so many of this nationally respected artists gathered in one place to expose their process is a treat.
I had the opportunity to talk to the Coordinator and Curator of show, artists Alonzo Davis and Nehemiah Dixon III, respectively, and pick their brains about how this idea came about, and the challenges behind realizing it.
Detail of Joanna Blake’s work
How did the idea for an exhibit of Public Art Concepts come about?
Alonzo: The idea for the exhibit came from a studio conversation with Margaret Boozer who said, wouldn’t it be a good idea to exhibit artist’s concepts, whether accepted or rejected, somewhere in the Prince George’s Arts District. At first I was reluctant, but I got caught up in her enthusiasm and began to look for a venue. Originally the 39th Street Gallery was approached but had a conflict. The next stop was Joe’s, a very active community arts venue, and Brooke welcomed the idea and suggested I work with Nehemiah Dixon III, the coordinator of exhibitions. The extra plus of this exhibition was that Joe’s provided an auditorium that we could use for a formal panel discussion. Plus Joe’s Movement Emporium is very active in the “Art Lives Here” projects taking place around the arts district.
Nehemiah: Brooke approached me one day and told me that Alonzo had a great idea for an exhibition, and I should call him. We met in his studio and talked briefly about the idea and immediately I was on board. Alonzo then connected me to Margaret Boozer who originally came up with the concept. She was debating what she would like to display the show and I immediately thought of the piece she had just installed at Brentwood Arts Exchange. From there I began to ask artists samples of their public art work and display materials that went with them.
Detail of Martha Jackson Jarvis’ work
How did you pick the artists to participate?
Alonzo: This area has many artists who create works for public spaces, especially those artists located in Mount Rainier and Brentwood. I had also done a collaboration with the Washington Glass Studio and was impressed by their professionalism and incredible proposals. I have long been impressed with the work of Martha Jackson-Jarvis and Valerie Theberge. Alan Binstock and I are members of the Washington Sculpture Group and have talked about a collaboration that has yet to happen. From there we took off by asking artists who were other artists whose work they liked and respected.
Nehemiah: I had just worked with Alan Binstock and Howard Connelly in New York. Installing Binstock’s work I got to know Connellly and his aesthetic and knew he would both be a perfect fit in the show.
Detail of Margaret Boozer’s work
Talk about what excites you most about this show?
Alonzo: The coming together of artists who usually work isolated in their respective studios/workspaces for which proposals are concepts for art to be made, not a finished product. The art work is a projection of what could be. In addition to the public art concepts that are on display is the panelist who will be giving a presentation on public art in their jurisdictions and their goals and selection process.
Nehemiah: It’s exciting to have so many nationally recognized artists on display at once. Melissa Glasser is my studio mate and I know she’s done a lot of local murals, it’s great to see her work hung at Joe’s.
Detail of Alan Binstock’s work
What challenges did you face in coordinating and curating Public Art Concepts?
Alonzo: The usual challenges of an exhibit, getting the work delivered on time, working through egos, making sure Joe’s understood what this exhibit would be about and meeting deadlines we set for ourselves.
Nehemiah: Curating was difficult because Joe’s Movement Emporium is not an art gallery. The space is interesting but challenging to hang and light properly.
Detail of Alonzo Davis’ work
How was Friday’s panel picked?
Alonzo: There was a breakfast meeting with Valerie Theberge, Anne L’Ecuyer, Nehemiah Dixon and myself on who we would like to see make up the panel. We look for the most successful public art programs in the DC Metro area and invited arts administrators who were willing to participate. Those who agreed to participate are:
Detail of Michael Janis’ work
What topics are you most looking forward to hearing about?
Alonzo: We want the panelists to bring to the audience and artists how they make selections and examples of chosen works for public spaces. This is an opportunity for the community to heighten it’s awareness of the artworks that occupy their municipalities.
Detail of Valerie Theberge’s work