CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – As stories about the shaky economy continue to surface, arts communities across the country have braced for the worst amidst rumors of budget cuts and timid funders. The arts themselves are vulnerable when the economy is lean because they are at times seen as an expendable luxury.
For curator Ally Reeves the words, "Let them eat cake," attributed to an oblivious Queen Marie Antoinette, spring to mind, though with an added twist. Art itself is often mistaken for superfluous “cake,” with street-level artists and their work providing a sort of elemental “bread” to the communities they inhabit.
In a bold new art exhibit “Scale,” which opens at 8 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Austin Peay State University’s Trahern Gallery, Reeves calls on artists and inventors to envision new solutions to the world’s economic turmoil.
“Just as Queen Antoinette was out of touch with the needs of the masses, ‘Scale,’ suggests something similar may be happening with the arts and their funders,” Reeves said.
Reeves, an APSU alumna, first pulled together “Scale” as an exhibit in Pittsburgh, Pa. All of the artists in the show live or have lived in that community for some time, which Reeves believes has imbued them with a particularly hardy approach to art-making.
“Pittsburgh itself is a post-industrial city,” she said. “The population was cut in half in the last century as industry went elsewhere and people followed the flow of employment. The overbuilt infrastructure and material accumulations of the city leaves residents with a lot of material but not a lot of funding – this is where artists come in handy. We can build amazing stuff with a pile of scrap.”
The eclectic exhibit will feature original works, such as artist Sean Glover’s Sleepwalkers throwing stars around the Trahern Gallery to make the Milky Way look timid, as well as documentation of the underground speak-easy of Guffey Hollow, which has made a name for itself by serving up locally made drinks and bites (like hot ginger bourbon and spring rolls) for $1 each to the Pittsburgh arts community. Visitors can even take away a new outfit, as Artist Teresa Foley’s M for W shows off a line of garments decorated with images gleaned from the Craigslist classifieds.
“With ‘Scale’ you’ll find a collection of artists who are making work and living life with a sustained level of creativity despite the economic downturn,” Reeves said. “They find a way to do it and do it well: be it through the use of re-purposed materials or the insightful framing of an unconventional lifestyle as art. There is an air of sadness here that admits things aren’t easy for today’s artists, but this gloom doesn’t last, and dissipates as the artists depart down rivers, discover curiosities in the classifieds and announce a celebration in the midst of it all.”
For artist Derk Wolmuth, this means displaying a boat retro-fitted to double as a shelter as he navigates down river from the Ohio River in Pittsburgh to Clarksville’s own Cumberland River. For artist Jenn Gooch, a section of the gallery will be ornamented with red hobo “bindles” mounted from flag holders, containing objects that have departed from their owner (and she from them) over time.
The exhibit, which seeks answers to questions such as “how do we live, how do we work, and how do we create in ways that are productive, rousing and sustainable,” runs through Oct. 23 and is free and open to the public.
For more information on the “Scales” exhibition, contact Paul Collins, APSU assistant professor of art and Trahern Gallery director, at email@example.com.