With two years left in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, it will be some time before the city’s first family has to pack up and head back to their three-story rowhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
But Chirlane McCray, the mayor’s wife, is keenly aware of the time remaining — “696 days,” she said in a recent interview — and of the legacy she wants to leave, at least as far as art and culture are concerned.
A big part of that effort has been the exhibitions she has spearheaded at Gracie Mansion, the fourth and last of which opens on Feb. 24: “Catalyst: Art and Social Justice.” Like her other shows in the mayoral residence on East End Avenue, this one emphasizes equity and inclusion, the general priorities of the mayor and first lady.
“When we came here and were surrounded by all these portraits; it wasn’t long before I said, ‘Where are we?’” Ms. McCray said over strong ginger tea in the mansion’s formal dining room. “‘How do we fit in here? Where are the people we know? Where are the people of our city and what do we need to do to really be the people’s house?’”
“Catalyst” looks at transformational New York moments from 1965 to the present, including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and AIDS activism.
“We can’t do everything,” Ms. McCray said. “But I think we’ve done our best to incorporate as much as we can so that people get to see the variety of the activism in our city.”
The nearly 80 works in the exhibition include Martine Fougeron’s portraits of trade workers in the South Bronx (from auto-parts makers to cake-bakers), Diana Davies’s photographs of LGBTQ+ activism and Tania Bruguera’s project on undocumented immigrants.
The more than 50 artists in the show — including Nari Ward, Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson — have strong connections to the city. “I want to make sure we have artists from every borough,” Ms. McCray said. “We want this to be as inclusive an exhibit as possible.”
That emphasis initially caused concern that the administration would neglect or shortchange larger institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center in favor of smaller ones outside Manhattan.
The city, for example, has given bigger funding increases to smaller cultural organizations than to larger institutions to try to level the playing field.
But Ms. McCray said there is more than enough to go around. “We have not put any institution in jeopardy,” she said. “This is a wealthy city and there is no reason why we need to concentrate on anyone. There are no losers here.”
Indeed, the pie has increased overall by more than 35 percent, to about $212 million for fiscal year 2020, up from about $156 million for 2014.
“Despite record funding for culture these last few years, there hasn’t been the sense that the arts are a real passion for the mayor, so it’s a net positive that Chirlane seems to care about these issues,” said Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, chairman of the City Council committee overseeing cultural affairs. “She’s an influential behind-the-scenes player when it comes to fighting for the arts.”
Small arts organizations said there is still progress to be made. “There is a lack of attention and equitable funding to not-for-profit arts and cultural organizations of color,” said Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.
Ms. McCray has taken her share of heat in the cultural sphere. Some blame her for the abrupt departure last fall of Tom Finkelpearl, the former cultural affairs commissioner. He resigned amid battles over the city’s rethinking of public monuments to honor more women and people of color, an effort led largely by Ms. McCray’s She Built NYC commission.
“Tom and I got along great,” was all she would say, adding, “From everything I know, it was a mutually agreed upon departure.”
Mr. Finkelpearl said he had a “warm relationship” with Ms. McCray, “who is a strong advocate for arts and culture.”
While the actor Chazz Palminteri called Ms. McCray a “racist” after the city decided not to devote one of its first statues to Mother Cabrini, a patron saint of immigrants, Ms. McCray said “It has nothing to do with her not being worthy.”
That discussion became conflated with her efforts to honor “people who were underrepresented, who had no recognition whatsoever,” she said.
Given the strong feelings around the issues, however, Ms. McCray acknowledged that the public process could use improvement. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who often clashes with the mayor, said the state would commission a Mother Cabrini statue.)
“We need a more coordinated process for statues,” Ms. McCray said. “I’ve been working on that.”
Both the first lady and the mayor have also been criticized for not attending as many cultural events as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg did. While Ms. McCray has attended the occasional gala — namely at the Studio Museum of Harlem and Carnegie Hall — she said, “that has not been the top priority on my list — to be seen at things.”
“I’m not that kind of person — I don’t like getting all dressed up,” she added. “I work really hard, so at the end of the day I like to just sit with my husband and watch TV.”
Ms. McCray has faced questions over her stewardship of ThriveNYC, a nearly $1 billion plan that addresses mental illness in the city. The initiative, now in its fifth year, includes dozens of programs across numerous agencies; critics, including some City Council members, have questioned its performance and its spending.
At the same time, Ms. McCray said she is proud of what they have accomplished with CreateNYC, the city’s cultural plan — which linked city funding to diversity requirements — and the Gracie Mansion exhibitions, which helped draw 40,000 visitors to the residence last year, up from 25,000 in 2016.
Jessica Bell Brown, an art historian who curated “Catalyst,” said Ms. McCray “has shown interest in art as a bridge for thinking about social justice — the way in which artists can offer a window into the most important issues of our time.” Ms. Brown also was curator of the first lady’s show, “She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York,” which focused on female and women-identified creators.
Ms. McCray said she was particularly moved by the appreciation of the artists in “She Persists,” some of whom have had “little or no recognition.”
Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum, said Ms. McCray’s installations have attracted new audiences and “created the opportunity for a broad range of artists, artistic practices and different visions to be on view.”
Having grown up playing piano, dancing, singing in the school chorus and writing poetry, Ms. McCray — who also oversees the city’s mental health initiative — said she keenly appreciates the value of culture. “I don’t think I’d be alive today if it weren’t for art,” she said. “Everyone needs a healthy way to channel their emotions.”
“Having art,” she added, “makes it possible to live without other things.”
One thing her experience in Gracie Mansion has given Ms. McCray is the desire to live with more art when she returns to Brooklyn and to expand beyond paintings “by Dante and Chiara de Blasio” (their now-grown children).
“I can’t afford a Mickalene Thomas; I can’t afford Faith Ringgold,” she continued, “but I’ll do what I can.”
Preceding “She Persists” was the 2015 exhibition “Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York,” which featured 18th-century art, and “New York 1942,” in 2017, which concentrated on Fiorello La Guardia, the first mayor to live at Gracie Mansion.
While the shows are temporary, Ms. McCray said she hopes she has opened a discussion about what art and which artists belong in the mayoral residence. “Whoever lives here next, I challenge them to do more and do better,” she said.
“Our gift — or our legacy,” she added, “is that we showed what is possible.”
Catalyst: Art and Social Justice
Public tours begin Feb. 24 through Aug. 25. Gracie Mansion, East 88th Street and East End Avenue, Manhattan; To reserve an individual or school group tour of Gracie Mansion: 212-676-3060, nyc.gov/gracie tours.
At the Vancouver Art Gallery, monsters and magic mesmerize in Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds – Straight.com
At the Vancouver Art Gallery until May 24
Shuvinai Ashoona is that most magical of artists, one whose distinctive and often fantastical vision of the world—monstrous creatures with bulging eyes and curling tentacles, a human ear transforming into a swan, giant eggs from which alien forms emerge, green and blue planets spinning across the tundra—reaches out to an audience far beyond her small northern community. Beyond the usual curators and collectors of Inuit art, too.
Born and based in Kinngait (formerly known as Cape Dorset) on the southern tip of Baffin Island, Shuvinai is a graphic artist focused primarily on drawing, her usual media being coloured pencils, ink, and graphite. Her increasingly large and ambitious works have been shown across the country and around the world, from Basel, Switzerland, to Sydney, Australia.
Currently, she is being celebrated in Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, a major touring exhibition surveying the last two decades of her creative practice. Organized by Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and curated by Nancy Campbell, an independent scholar and the leading expert on Shuvinai’s art and life, the show has now landed at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
At a media preview there and later at a public lecture, Campbell remarked that this is the first time an Inuit artist has had a solo show at the VAG. At the same time, she stressed the importance of resituating Shuvinai’s work from the peripheral category of “Inuit” into the mainstream of international contemporary art.
In many ways, that repositioning is already occurring. Shuvinai is the subject of multiple articles, reviews, and catalogue essays, as well as a monograph by Campbell (available online and in print from the Canadian Art Library). Still, despite the exposure and acclaim, despite all that has been spoken and written about her, much of Shuvinai’s imagery remains mysterious.
It is intriguing and engaging, sometimes astounding and occasionally frightening, yes, but in many senses unknowable.
What to make, for instance, of Earth Transformations, a drawing that features a creature with a large blue-and-green globe for a head, arms and hands composed of strings of similar but smaller planets, a torso draped in octopuslike tentacles, and human legs with blue toenails? And how to read this creature’s companion, a parka-clad Inuit man holding up a picture of a scene in which a hunter with a rifle sits behind a blind that is also an artist’s canvas? (The titles are not really clues, as they’re assigned by others.) Shuvinai doesn’t like to talk about what her works might “mean”. She produces them without plan or precept, seeming to draw her images directly from her unconscious mind.
Whatever her propensity for the surreal and the phantasmagorical, Shuvinai’s drawings also reveal a keen understanding of everyday life in the North, from the snowy roads and prefab houses of Kinngait to hunting and camping scenes on the tundra, the land scattered with pebbles, stones, and rocky outcroppings, the lake shores covered in animal bones. At the same time, her drawings are informed by Inuit tales of human-animal transformation, Christian stories and beliefs, and American popular culture as encountered on TV and DVDs. Shuvinai is a big fan of nature programs and horror movies—and also, as witnessed by her dramatic drawing, Sinking Titanic, James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic.
One of the most extraordinary works on view is Untitled (Birthing Scene) in which a blue-haired woman, whose hands and feet are changing into fins, feathers, and claws, gives birth to not only a wee baby but also a cluster of tiny blue planets. Lying on the ground beside her is another baby, this one with an older boy’s head, who is also giving birth. The midwife seated behind the woman is a large yellow seabird with a polar-bear foot, and hovering in the lower right corner of the picture frame are three more little planets, superimposed on each other. In many ways, this is a work of extraordinary realism—the rocky stretch of tundra in which the scene is set, the sheet of plywood on which Inuit women typically give birth, the excrement that comes out of as the woman pushes down—but it is also a scene of otherworldly transformation.
There are a number of drawings, such as Composition (Creature Invasion), of hideous monsters attacking hapless humans. Equally, there are images, such as Untitled (People, Animals, and the World Holding Hands), that suggest living in harmony with each other and with the creatures and entities of the natural and supernatural realms in which we dwell.
In her talk, Campbell stressed Shuvinai’s essentially positive outlook and the many works she has created that speak of tolerance and understanding. Of all the mysterious images and symbols Shuvinai enfolds in her work, this is the meaning, the message, that we should take home with us.
Work on southern Alberta art gallery deferred by Lethbridge council – CTV News
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. —
City council has taken the first of several proposed money saving measures, by shelving a scheduled $2.7 million renovation to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in downtown Lethbridge.
“We are ready to move forward with the CIP request when the city is,” said SAAG executive director Kristy Trinier.
Council had originally approved the renovations in 2017, as part of the current Capital Improvement Program budget cycle. But councillors voted Monday to discontinue capital funding for the project as the result of austerity measures by the Alberta government.
Trinier says the SAAG board was anticipating government belt tightening and had already taken steps to scale back the project.
“Tough decisions are made, and eventually in Alberta the important things do get done because Albertans value culture. We see that, and so long as it happens, even if it enters another budget cycle, we accept that.”
Council will also be deciding on the future of several other major projects in the coming weeks and months.
Councillors have delayed a vote and discussion on funding for a new multi-purpose building at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden until its March 9th meeting.
Garden executive director Michelle Day says the board is looking ahead optimistically to work with the city on the project. She says the facility is needed to support programming and grow events like the popular Winter Lights Festival.
“We’ve maximized our space, and we are very reliant on weather conditions for being a revenue generating operation.”
Day says there were nights during the festival when 300 to 400 people were visiting the gardens each hour. She says the current visitor centre and small gift shop isn’t meeting the need.
“So this new building would give us the opportunity and community support for Henderson Lake users, our tourists, our visitors and guests, to have an indoor space they can go to.”
Council also delayed debate until March 9th, on capital funding for pathway connections and extensions in Lethbridge.
A decision on the fate of capital funding for a new performing arts centre has been deferred until June, giving city administration time to meet with project consultants, to see what impact a delay would have.
The funding was to pay for a business case study, site review and selection, and project design.
Mayor Chris Spearman says funding from the provincial government is getting tighter and council has to make some difficult choices between tax increases and delaying projects.
“It’s difficult to fully fund one project at the expense of others. We need to have a full and fair debate where all projects are given an equal opportunity.”
Suzanne Lint, executive director of the Allied Arts Council says the groups know council is facing challenging and difficult financial times.
“It’s certainly a huge disappointment for the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, who had an approved project and budget.”
At the same time, Lint says she can understand why councillors want to pause to hear what’s coming down in the provincial budget, and what the implications might be for the city.
“These are also important projects for our community, to community members who’ve put a lot of heart and soul and passion into them. So I think the decision has been taken to delay, to give the community a bit more time to consider, and talk to councillors, and then some hard decisions will have to be made.”
Arts groups say they hope the projects will go ahead in time, adding they’re prepared to continue advocating for the funding to be included during the next Capital Improvement Plan budget cycle, which begins in 2022.
Art Battle returns to Campbell River – Campbell River Mirror
Twelve of the Campbell River area’s best artists will compete across three fast-paced rounds for audience votes when Art Battle returns to Campbell River on Saturday, Feb. 29.
Held at Campbell River Toyota (2785 N. Island Highway), the audience will circle the competitors in each round, and choose their favorite. After the final round, only one champion will remain!
These competitors are a mix of veteran professional artists and emerging talents who want to share their process and talent with a new audience. Featured Battlers include Alyssa Penner , who uses her painterly approach to express “the fantastical beauty of local island nature and wildlife,” as well as Dave Stevens, whose signature blend of representational imagery and abstract elements is inspired by his goal of “evoking memories, associations, or connections.” Art Battleinvites culture enthusiasts, painters, art collectors, art party lovers, and the entire Campbell River community to join us for this free experience and vote for the next Art Battle Champion.
Art Battle has been sharing live painting competitions and incredible artistic performances with audiences since 2001. Today, across the country and around the globe, we celebrate live talent by turning a blank canvas into a work of art.
Campbell River is one of more than 100 cities on six continents and tens of thousands of competitors from Brooklyn to Bangladesh, São Paulo to San Francisco, and many more.
Anyone interested in applying to be a special voting delegate should email@example.com
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