“To believe in art is to believe in magic.” And with those words, one of Mobile’s most adventurous arts groups, turned to a blank page.
The phrase was uttered by now-former Rumor Union director Elizabet Elliott in resignation from a job she no longer has the time to keep. The occasion was the first of a succession of reorganization meetings for the artists’ collective that has made a big splash in a short time.
Approximately 25 people sat in a circle at The Hive, a facility the Rumor Union shares with the Delta Bike Project in downtown. A few had previous relationships with the group but most were ingénues eager to see what would happen.
One couple trucked over from neighboring Pensacola, Fla. Another attendee was Bob Dorsey, a Mobilian known for organizing grassroots art shows in a pocket park near Murphy High School.
Born as an offshoot of a 2010 play Elliott penned named “Ballad of the Bear King,” the Rumor Union brought together several of Mobile upstart young artists in efforts to reshape their community. A following project, “The True Legend of Me,” mentored kids from Wilmer Hall, a residential facility for displaced youth. The 15-week course provided guidance in a number of creative disciplines.
The Rumor Union project that’s made the biggest splash has been Temporal City Festival, which implemented Mobile’s surplus of unused downtown spaces for art installations and exhibitions. Staged during the last four years of April’s Arts Alive event, it has steadily grown and affected many locals who had never been exposed to creative endeavors of such an experimental nature.
“We have families who I know aren’t normally arts supporters that make a point of coming back every year,” Elliott told the gathering. “This year we had someone who was so moved by Jillian’s (crochet) installation they started crying and that in turn made Jillian start crying. It was one of the high points of my life.”
While they haven’t been a non-profit in code — the proper paperwork hasn’t been filed with the IRS to date — they certainly are in action. Just like with other groups, most of the duties fell on five percent of general membership.
The result? The burnout manifested in Elliott’s withdrawal. Delegation of weight to additional shoulders would have guarded against it.
Another difficulty originated with egalitarian principle and the desire to keep the Rumor Union’s collective nature intact. More clearly defined hierarchy along with a more active board and executive committee will be necessary in moving forward.
A dramatic infusion of new members and leadership is what they’re hoping will cure these ills. Steps have been taken toward that end.
A new leader has emerged in Sarah Brewer, a math teacher and artist at the Alabama School of Math and Science. Her penchant for research and organization has shone as she’s taken the reins.
“I just think the Rumor Union and the things it does are too important to let this die,” Brewer said. The pair of meetings under her guidance reveal a clear vision and understanding of group dynamics.
Another chief asset has been the emergence of J.J. Moody, a young woman with a background in fundraising and nonprofit development whose expertise is abundantly apparent. It’s obvious she’s jumped through these hoops in the past.
One of the most exciting changes has been the inclusion of Makerspace Mobile, a group of locals who have started our version of one of the DIY shops. Led by Rick Green, an IT manager at Lenzing Fibers, they already have hardware like a 3D printer but now need a physical space other than Green’s backyard for the collection of engineers and programmers to exercise their creative tendencies.
When Green mentioned some of their work with robotics and the like, eyes lit up at the possibility of folding their skills into the Temporal City installations.
“I’d love to see a room full of robots like brushing people’s hair or something,” performance artist Lillian McKinney blurted. “We could really do a lot with this stuff.”
Green mentioned a 10 a.m. June 21 class at the Moorer Branch of the Public Library in Spring Hill. The “show and tell” session is aimed at pulling in more involvement to the tech-oriented group, also visible online at makerspacemobile.org.
All of these steps are encouraging. While the Rumor Union has been long on creativity to this point, Artifice isn’t surprised some of these customary issues have arisen. Folding in some left-brain personalities and talents like Brewer, Moody and Makerspace will go a long ways toward shoring up previous trouble spots in the Rumor Union’s operations. They’ll still feature their more popular offerings like Temporal City and the Dance-Off fundraisers, but with additional input and sweat equity.
They’re still looking for more community involvement and welcome any interested parties to meetings. The next pow-wow is slated for Sunday, May 18, 5 p.m. at The Hive (SE corner of St. Francis and Warren).
Noticeably absent were many faces that have become synonymous with Rumor Union activities to date. Whether they remain will tell whether it has been been more a fad or cult of personality rather than being a genuine vehicle of progress.
Artifice feels the Rumor Union is vital. Their injection of verve into Mobile’s arts scene has been welcome.
That said, they’re at a vital crossroads. They must grow and adapt or their stasis will become death. Their projects are of a size, their potential of a manner that more substantial and customary steps must be taken. “Flying by the seat of their pants” won’t get any of this off the ground anymore.
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