It takes a powerful presence to inspire new growth from the Great Beyond. Leave it to the High Priestess of Soul to make that leap.
“I got the name from Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good,’ where she sings ‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life,’” Courtney Matthews said.
What it birthed was “Neu Dawn,” an artistic happening blending various creative forms on Sunday, May 6, 4-7 p.m. at Sway Downtown (10 S. Conception St.). The benefit for Mobile Arts Council’s Summer Arts Program will feature more than 50 local creatives. How the instigation got started is sort of circuitous.
Matthews closed her bohemian curiosity shop Lunatix a few years ago to stick with her primary occupation as a makeup artist. While working a 2017 fashion show, she pondered the hours of planning and work poured into something seen for just a few minutes, if at all.
She simultaneously mulled our creative community’s natural ebb and flow. Artists drop away as others emerge.
“There’s so many [artists] in my own life, but in the last year I’ve realized how many don’t know each other. You would think they would have been entwined, but there were many who have heard of each other’s names or seen each other’s work but never actually spoken or met,” Mathews said.
Post-Mardi Gras, “after everyone could think straight again,” she coalesced ideas. She imagined merging wearable art, paintings and music while prompting fresh acquaintances.
“Everyone involved I’ve either known in real life or Instagram land,” Matthews said.
One painter, DJ Wildlife, came courtesy of his cousin Charlana Quivers, proprietor of Backflash Antiques. Another is mysterious graffiti artist Dumb, a new arrival to town whose face is understandably unknown.
After compiling lists, Matthews matched more than a dozen painters with costumers and models. Scant instructions stemmed from her musical inspiration.
“The specific lyric of ‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day’ is what I gave everyone, the power in her voice when she sings that line and what it means to them. It’s appropriate with all of the craziness in the world and how we’re forced to focus on ourselves and our own world,” Matthews said. She also directed participants toward Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year, Ultra Violet.
“It’s the most royal purple you can imagine but just turned up a little bit,” Matthews said.
The paintings will be large — 7 feet tall by her description — and serve as backdrops for individual installations. Among the models Matthews recruited are familiar faces from Mobile life, some on stage, some behind bars, some from more workaday roles.
The listed artists Matthews revealed included Mateo, Jordan Atchison, Holly Krause and Ryan Jetten among others. Amanda Solley-Wilson and Beezy Wright are coming down from their offices at Alabama Contemporary Art Center to participate.
The wearable art designers listed included Mobile Fashion Week guru Richard McGill, costumer and performance artist Lillian McKinney, sculptor and art instructor April Livingston, Angela Krause, the aforementioned Quivers, Jessica Price and more.
Rachel Stringfellow made a name for herself as one of the most sought-after film costumers in the area but began college as a painter. Though relocated to New Orleans, she’ll be back for “Neu Dawn” with both a painting and a costume for display.
Matthews has a small platoon of hairdressers and makeup artists ready. Trey Lane will curate music.
“I have total faith in their creativity. It’s one thing to have thoughts, another to have people say yes and another to have them be excited, and everyone’s been excited. They feel like it’s pushing and challenging them,” Matthews said.
Location was an initial hurdle. She looked at raw environs with urban grit, like the old Red Cross building at Dauphin and Broad, but reconsidered.
“When those didn’t happen, it was kind of a relief because we wouldn’t have to worry about power and air and water in an industrial setting,” Matthews said.
Previous yoga classes at Sway’s studios paved the way for propositioning owner Noel Hanley about hosting the multi-disciplinary affair. A personal happenstance worked in Matthews’ favor, too.
“Turns out [Noel’s] older sister and I were best friends from 4 years old to 6 years when I lived in Greenville, Mississippi. I literally played at Noel’s house before she was born,” Matthews said.
Entrance is free. Befitting a lazy, late-spring Sunday, visitors are encouraged to wander in and out at leisure. Portions of the installations will be for sale — not the models, folks. It seems her prime priority is boosting our cultural backdrop.