Activity is picking up measurably on the Mobile arts scene. Maybe that’s why Mobile Arts Council (MAC) Executive Director Lucy Gafford felt she needed the kick from midday coffee on her weekend’s first day. The September LoDa ArtWalk was the night before and visitor numbers for MAC’s gallery had increased for the second month in a row.
Short on volunteer power, Gafford led from the front and threw herself into preparations. She was certain an Azalea City Quilters Guild exhibit was guaranteed to attract visitors. They were joined in the MAC gallery by something associated with the next item on Gafford’s swelling to-do list — the five creatives at the center of the upcoming Arts Throwdown on Sept. 16, 6-9 p.m.
That’s when artists Mayssam Iskander, John Halliday, Christopher Murray, Elizabeth Brooks and Devontae Knight will race a 90-minute clock to create a piece of art that includes an element unveiled right before the clock begins. While they work, a crowd circulates and watches them toil, then battle for bids on the results. The artist earning the highest sum is crowned Throwdown champion.
There’s a silent auction for attendees to peruse throughout the evening. More than just visual art, there are tickets to concerts, ballet, opera and theatre, photoshoots, bookshop gifts, Airbnb stays, watches and far more available. The items listed through the MAC website — mobilearts.org — numbered more than 100. Early bids can be placed there now.
Ryan Balthrop will provide musical entertainment. Food from The Royal Scam and Heroes will be served. Since it is Mobile, libations — the event’s notorious Red Roosters, perhaps — will be on hand.
Another Mobile custom — not buying tickets until the last minute — is in evidence, too. Ticket sales so far are on track with pre-pandemic standards; 10 years’ worth of Throwdowns show most attendees tend to decide at the last minute.
“If you want to pay the extra money for tickets at the door, we’ll take it,” Gafford said and laughed.
If lucky, this indicates we could see Mobile’s most active arts season since 2020 put a kink into everyone’s chain of events. The civic cohesion provided by cultural endeavors is indispensable.
The money is always needed since the Throwdown serves as MAC’s biggest fundraising event of the year. Proceeds go toward MAC’s vision of boosting arts presence through education, exhibition and community programs that run all year.
The Throwdown is back in the expansive, air-conditioned environs of Battleship Park’s Aircraft Pavilion, first utilized in 2019. The 2020 version was virtual. This year’s competing artists were in place for 2021’s Throwdown before COVID-19 numbers scratched it.
Considering recently swelling ArtWalk crowds and a general zeitgeist, Mobile Bay arts denizens seem ready to settle into a post-COVID-19 “normal.” The absence of Throwdown events the last two years means the 2022 rendition feels like a reset of sorts. We’ll see how that intersects with the Throwdown’s previous role spurring on each new cultural season.
Easy to see why Gafford felt a little over-extended during her weekend, on what she joked was her “Sadder-day.” She was also feeling her post-ArtWalk decision to cheer on her father’s musical ensemble at Veet’s into the later hours.
Maybe with the Throwdown in the rearview mirror, Gafford’s next weekend can start with a “Gladder-day.” Of course, that might depend on Friday’s Red Rooster intake.
Book release starts spooky season early
Author RJ McDowell’s specialty in haunted stories seemed destined. The gothic trappings of her Spanish moss-draped childhood in coastal Mississippi were a big factor.
“I heard a lot of stories growing up, barrier island stuff and haunted hospitals and things like that down there,” McDowell told Artifice in 2019.
When she read a spooky thriller to her son’s middle school class, the students’ enthusiasm sold her on a career change. McDowell dropped her previous law enforcement career and developed Middle Grade horror books.
Her new work in a series she calls The Deadfellow Five, “Agatha Anxious and the Deer Island Ghost,” follows its central character around her 13th birthday. The unfolding adventure includes a vanished relative, a pirate coin, a skeleton hand that draws messages, a midnight funeral home visit and a haunted Mardi Gras mask shop. Its intricacies and legends are based on stories McDowell borrowed from coastal Mississippi lore.
McDowell will launch Halloween season with a book release party on Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., at Lupercalia Art Society (358 Dauphin St.). There will be hors d’oeuvres, drinks and reading from the book.
Check lupercaliaartsociety.com for more info.
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