As 2013 fades, so ends my initial decade as Lagniappe arts editor. Inevitably, the question arises: what’s changed in that time?
In a lot of ways, everything is different. Yet, in smaller but more integral measures, not enough has changed.
Ten years ago, there were no monthly Artwalks. Now, they’re so well attended the police are experimenting with shutting down Dauphin Street traffic for an 11-block stretch during those monthly gallery strolls.
In 2003, the Centre for the Living Arts was just putting the finishing touches on a new exhibit space in the old Press-Register building on Cathedral Square. Now, that spot – Space 301 – has premiered as a prime location for exemplary contemporary art. It has been expanded to include CLA offices and other amenities, all while becoming a true showplace for internationally famous artists.
Back then, CLA was running the Saenger and tending to the aging building as best they could. They have since restored it to its former glory via a $6 million renovation and ceded control back to the city of Mobile.
A decade ago, the Mobile Arts Council was searching for a new director and making do with offices in a downtown cubbyhole. Now, they’ve welcomed a director from Indiana who brought new energy, found a highly visible home at street level, opened a gallery, begun more publicized fundraising events, started an annual awards program to honor the members and organizations of our arts community and become a locus of community engagement.
In 2003, we saw the first of a new event, the Arts Alive festival that brought more focus on the various artisans and artistic disciplines living among us. Though it’s mutated a bit, it’s still going on every spring.
The Gulf Coast Exploreum has come into its own with a series of record-breaking exhibits – the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pompeii, Egyptian mummies – over the last decade. With its IMAX theater, it has brought the fascination of intellectual discovery to tens of thousand of adults and kids alike.
The Exploreum’s next-door neighbor, the History Museum of Mobile, has endured personnel changes. The man currently at its helm boasts a resume that includes stints overseeing presidential libraries around the nation.
The History Museum’s former locale on Government Street has become Mobile’s Carnival Museum, a year-long introduction to our Mardi Gras heritage for out-of-town visitors. Tangentially, Mobile native Margaret Brown made the annual pre-Lenten festival the focus of her internationally acclaimed and award-winning film “The Order of Myths,” exposing both good and bad for all it is worth.
The Mobile Museum of Art had just premiered its $15 million expansion in 2003. It has since changed directors twice, but has increased a notable reputation for engaging, varied and provocative exhibits in that time.
The Mobile Symphony Orchestra has hosted its most renowned guest musicians in the last decade. Names like Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman have graced Mobile audiences with astounding artistry.
Arthouse and independent film have found a permanent home at the Crescent Theater, a downtown institution that was completely unforeseeable in 2003. Other film happenings have bloomed, such as the annual South Alabama Film Festival, the Fairhope Film Festival and Mobile’s inclusion on the Southern Circuit of Independent Filmmakers.
The Southern Literary Trail has also become a regular occurrence, popping up every other year to celebrate our notable natives.
Grassroots efforts have escalated. We gained a yarn bomber with the sobriquet the Knitting Loon. Local graffiti artist Priest created a tempest with his Banksy-influenced works before cutting out for the Crescent City not long ago.
The Rumor Union, an artists’ collective seeking to engage and aid the community while expanding consciousness, was born and established headquarters in downtown. Their annual Temporal City Festival implements our surfeit of empty buildings in a celebration of contemporary art and their efforts were key in manifesting a three-day festival to avant-garde colossus John Cage in 2013.
Though our presentation of dramatic arts is still represented chiefly by community theater groups in Midtown, Fairhope and Chickasaw, one older company has re-emerged. The South of the Salt Line, specializing in satirical treatments of our Bay area eccentricities, arose in 2013 and continues with plans for further lampoons.
As expected on life’s roller coaster, not all the changes of the last decade have been good. Fine arts nexus WHIL-FM has remained on the air but is no longer locally produced.
A contemporary arts showplace, GULF ArtSpace, made a splash in Fairhope but then faded away after a few notable years. Likewise, several galleries have opened in downtown Mobile that could never manage to boost sales until they either shuttered their doors or relocated.
Most tragically, we’ve lost patrons like Palmer Bedsole, Ann Delchamps, Sam Eichold, former arts editor Gordon Tatum, engines of entrepreneurial spirit like Leila Holloway and William Chesser along with great artists such as Ira Swingle, Lil Greenwood and David McCann. That much is inevitable but still hard to swallow.
So while Mobile can often feel like the same ol’ somnambulant town, growth is all around us. If the last 10 years are any indication, the next decade can’t pass soon enough.