It wasn’t actually an epiphany. Let’s call it affirmation.
The stimulus was Mobile Arts Council’s (MAC) Dec. 3 Stream-A-Thon, created in conjunction with Giving Tuesday. For eight hours, a parade of area cultural players — museum personnel, symphony and opera directors, painters, sculptors, poets, designers, singers, actors, comedians, collectives and festival organizers — dropped by the new MAC offices for quick, on-camera chats with MAC personnel. Their appeals for patronage took numerous avenues: purchases, donations, membership, participation and volunteerism. The video is still available on the MAC Facebook page.
Most of the day, I listened and watched online except for the hour or so when I visited the set. As I watched an interview with a couple of art quilters, I was struck by the beauty of the work behind them. Extrapolation resulted.
Though there were nearly 30 slots on the show, it’s a fraction of what’s available in the Azalea City if you just open your eyes and look. This isn’t a big city — we don’t even crack the top 125 largest American metropolitan statistical areas — but we hold arts treasures beyond expectation.
Mobile Symphony Orchestra, also on the Stream-A-Thon, performs to an outsized quality level. Their guests are true global superstars.
Mobile Opera discussed their upcoming Seven Days of Opera in early January. They described an audience of school kids at one of October’s “La Traviata” dress rehearsals and the youngsters’ exuberance. It transported me to an elementary school field trip nearly a half-century ago, where I was spellbound by a performance of “Tosca” in a downtown Birmingham concert hall. Obviously, those impacts can last a lifetime.
Along similar lines, Mobile Museum of Art’s Glenn Robertson hinted at new changes in their kid-centric exhibition that may or may not include a massive Lite-Brite. There’s also a feminine version of the Southern Masters exhibit coming in February.
Alabama Contemporary Art Center’s (ACAC) Elizabet Elliott and Allison Skoda brought news on “Operation Tumbleweed,” a new work premiering Dec. 13. London artist K. Yoland has combined performance, writing, filmmaking and found-object sculpture into a unique discussion on otherness, dislocation, geopolitics, nature and the enforcement of physical and mental boundaries.
Originally commissioned by the Pensacola Museum of Art, “Operation Tumbleweed” was exhibited at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas prior to rolling into Mobile. It remains at ACAC until Feb. 15.
It’s also further evidence ACAC has modified its usage of limited funds. Rather than spend beaucoup bucks on huge names and shows that stay in place a year or more, they aim for hungrier, newer voices and change exhibits more frequently. It’s leaner, more dynamic.
The entire Stream-A-Thon idea was a novel approach, a direct result of new director Lucy Gafford’s creativity and energy. It accentuates MAC’s influence and dedication. They allowed participants who aren’t necessarily MAC members; their mission to promote the arts was more important than limiting involvement.
It also shows new vision at play. Just a dozen years ago, Gafford and the others named before her were eager to find their places, surveying the landscape and seeking inroads. Now, they’re not just passengers; their hands are on the wheel. We’re on their journey as much as they are on ours.
I’m looking forward to what it holds. Arts get stale if you don’t shake up things regularly. Perspectives get moldy. People stop thinking. Monotony chokes inner growth.
Boomers and Gen Xers have little choice but to scoot over and make room for these new folks. If we don’t, the culture we claim to value will suffer and the losses will be wider than ever anticipated.
Change is inevitable. It’s best to just embrace it.
I think there’s worse places to rest your trust. In the decades I’ve worked with Lagniappe, I’ve covered various parts of Azalea City life and history. Business, law, crime, politics, what have you, they can make you cynical. Arts are the antidote.
The people who move in Mobile’s arts and culture realm — artists, teachers, patrons, organizers, workers, volunteers and especially those in anonymous toil who know their names will never adorn a building or scholarship or receive much recognition — they’re the best this place has to offer. I’ve found them the most perceptive and generous, insightful and thoughtful, sympathetic and empathetic, heartfelt, kind and open-minded folks here.
That particular slice of our population gives our corner of the world its zest and flavor. They’re a town within a town, the concentrated heart of a place enthralled with its own curiosity and eccentricity.
Just a dozen years ago, Gafford and the others named before her were eager to find their places, surveying the landscape and seeking inroads. Now, they’re not just passengers; their hands are on the wheel. We’re on their journey as much as they are on ours.
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