“I want art to do what it says it’s supposed to do which is be for anyone - it's not for everyone, but it could be for anyone” - Art critic Jerry Saltz on The Art Angle podcast.
Art is meant to be impactful and appreciated by those who would like to indulge in it -- problem is, art is not available in many communities and/or it is not presented in such a way that it can be recognized as something accessible to all.
Big museums can be intimidating. Galleries can seem snooty. Even when there is powerful, important art on display, it can fall short of meeting those that is was intended to impact, merely due to the fact that it wasn’t presented the right way.
Well, now that we are living with COVID-19, we’ve not only had to reshape our professions and industries, but we have also been given chance to step back and really examine whether or not we are serving the communities we set out to serve.
In Baltimore, just over the train tracks on N Howard St. and across the street from a small seasonal sunflower patch, sits Current Space - an artist-run gallery space committed to ‘showcasing, developing, and broadening the reach of artists locally and internationally’. And the current show The People United presented by Rebel Lens and WDLY and curated by Teri Henderson and Casey McKeel, brings literal meaning to the ‘local’ reach. Combining a spontaneous feel with a calculated form of impact, The People United” brings art straight to the community with a retail-like window display… The entire exhibition can be viewed from the street view. Whether you’re walking to go grab food at Refocused Vegan or waiting on the corner for the 80 bus, you’ll run into this exhibition… And that's the point.
Howard St. is a historic, predominantly Black, district in Baltimore whose residents are highly affected by the major issues that are being highlighted in the Black Lives Matter movement: over-policing, police brutality and occupation, and governmental economic neglect within Black communities (just to name a few). So the images on display for the entire community to see, including photographs of BLM protesters and a billboard reading ‘Defund the Police’, are much more impactful when displayed this way! Conceptually, members of this community can relate to these images in a real way. They can identify with the words and people depicted in them. The harsh realities showcased in the documentary clips, including false imprisonment and red lining, are very real issues to the people of this community (and Baltimore as a whole).
In a practical sense, The People United has made art for anyone of the community that wants to see it. It has given audiences the autonomy to decide whether or not they want to take part in the exhibition. There is no red tape. There is no pressure to have any prior knowledge before viewing. No receptionist that makes you feel like you don’t belong or that it's not ‘okay’ to have just stumbled upon the space. No grandiose structures that communicate a need for a certain level of education before entering. Just you and the artwork separated only by glass.
This approach is one that I think we’ll see more of even after we’re back to “normal” life. Many art institutions have sought out ways to directly impact the communities they claim to serve. This is a great example. Take notes.
Big shoutout to everyone who is part of this! Especially my friends Teri, Rob, and Trae.