Hurricane season clarifies one truism for Mobilians: No one is an island and it takes assistance and cooperation to make it. If you’re into history, illustration is abundant. Without outside assistance, we wouldn’t have a shipping channel, docks, tunnels, bridges, skyscrapers, causeways, the Bayway, the Brookley complex and all the attendant advantages they bring.
Our artistic and cultural community knows about outside help far too well. A lot of our favorite local institutions and events wouldn’t be possible at all without money from Montgomery and beyond.
The Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Jazz Festival (GCEHJF) has been a homegrown operation for over two decades and even though this year’s pandemic streamlined their activities, cash injection was vital. They received a $5,600 Community Arts Grant and a $2,800 Project Administration Grant through the Alabama State Council on the Arts, which enabled them to employ local musicians during a time when gigs dried up and to absorb the cost of virtual concerts.
“There was an extra expense in conducting an outdoor jazz camp for our students, which included tent rental, hiring a janitorial service, portable toilets and generator rental. The grants meant everything,” GCEHJF founder Creola Ruffin said.
As Artifice mentioned in July, the Mobile Arts Council (MAC) received a $50,000 CARES Act grant that is more vital than ever in a year where fundraising activities and opportunities have plummeted. The biggest of those fundraising events, the annual Arts Throwdown, has now clarified to a form sculpted for the times.
The first noticeable change is in the date. In recent years, the soiree crept forward from its early autumnal calendar slot into mid-September, still late summer in these parts, and served to stir excitement for the rejuvenating arts season.
“We’re thinking about doing it on Oct. 28, a Thursday night, so maybe it can be a Halloween theme. It should be a lot of fun,” MAC Director Lucy Gafford said.
The competition aspect — five artists racing to create an auction-topping work in a 90-minute window — remains, but not with hundreds of onlookers huddled around the workspace. This year is a pre-recorded and edited hybrid.
“It will be the same style as usual: mystery box with some sort of item they have to incorporate in 90 minutes. Darwin Singleton will be our host and we’re going to style it like a reality TV show and cut it down to highlights and interviews with the artists and all that stuff. It will probably end up a 30- to 45-minute program,” Gafford said.
Last year’s champion, Anna-Marie Babington, won’t be there to defend her title. She has been in Portugal “for months” and won’t be back by then. Gafford said Babington will record a message for the competitors.
Who those artists will be hasn’t been decided yet. There’s an open call that closes on Aug. 31 and announcements will come around Sept. 2 by the director’s estimate.
“We’ve already had some interesting people enter. Kathleen Kirk Stoves applied. Abe Partridge applied. It’s going to be exciting,” Gafford said.
Of course, a winner can’t be declared without a high bid. There’s a plan.
“We’re going to have a live online auction after the program streams. We might also have a small viewing party at the gallery that night. It just depends on what’s going on with COVID and everything by that time,” Gafford said.
The silent auction will occupy half of MAC’s gallery space in Room 1927 beside the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.), sharing it with MAC’s annual Members’ Show. It will remain in place through October.
“When it comes to buying art, it makes a big difference to see it in person, the scale of it and all that. People can see them in person, all the time that we’re open and all the bidding will be online through an app,” Gafford said.
MAC will reach out to Throwdown supporters in the mail. She’s talking about stickers and other prizes so it feels more inclusive and “supporters aren’t cut off from the activities.” If it includes a recipe for their infamous Red Rooster adult beverages, minus the worry of having to make it home afterward, it could prove the most high-octane Throwdown experience yet.
The Throwdown’s Halloween timing should be opportune. Last October’s Wild Things Ball at Alabama Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) was such a success; fans begged them to abandon their initial “every other year” plan for the costume party. Though they balked at a 2020 repeat, ACAC looks like the prescient ones.
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