They say the actual discovery of art is in the process. Unsurprisingly the same could be said about Mobile’s annual art awards.
Photographer Devin Ford should know since she’s chairing the event staged by Mobile Arts Council. It’s her second time at the helm and she’s recharting the course for the next voyage.
“We’re going to wait until the year is done and hold it in January of the following year,” Ford said. The upcoming version will be the last weekend of January. With Mardi Gras arriving as early as Feb. 3 some years, that might require future workarounds.
For more than a decade the event signaled the renewal of cultural activity at the end of summer’s long slog and a bright spot in an otherwise bare-bones period. Last year’s gala was on a chilly December evening in the Gulf Coast Exploreum courtyard.
The elements shouldn’t be a factor this time. The event will be held inside the cavernous expanse of the Alabama Contemporary Arts Center.
“We’re trying to involve as many of the cultural institutions as possible. We’ll be set up in the back room since they have that stagelike area off the right where we can put the band and have another stage for the awards ceremony,” Ford said.
Other big changes include an expansion of award categories. Last year saw the previous “artist” category branch into “visual” and “performing” designations. This year “design” and “literary” honors will make their debut.
“We’ll probably expand the video presentations for the winners and their background, too,” Ford said.
There was a break last year from previous procedure, when a committee decided the nominees and the public voted for winners. Now they will return to the inverse, fielding nominees from the public and letting a committee decide the winners.
Ford seems determined to make the awards as inclusive and wide-ranging as possible, with plans to expand the size and demographics of its committee.
Originally from Grand Bay, Ford came by her profession honestly. Her family is to thank.
“I have officially been a photographer for about 15 years although my mom got into photography when I was little and I started doing it with her,” Ford said.
After enrolling in the Brooks Institute for Photography in Santa Barbara, California, Ford began work in the Los Angeles area. It wasn’t too long before she broke away from her employer to open her own business.
“I lived in West Hollywood for a while and got really involved. There’s things about the community I miss like the walkability and variety of services I’d like to see in downtown Mobile,” Ford said.
Her initiative emerged there, too. While in LA, Ford served as a board director for the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, National Women’s Political Caucus and the West Hollywood Women’s Leadership Conference.
She returned to Mobile County in 2012, met her husband and settled down. Though she now has a couple of daughters, she hasn’t slowed.
“We’re here to stay and we want to help Mobile move forward. We believe that if you don’t like stuff you have to at least try to change it rather than just complain, so we’ve been joining boards,” Ford said.
She likes what she’s found at Mobile Arts Council. It not only appeals to her passions for art but she thinks they’re responsive and community minded.
“There’s a sidewalk chalk festival in Santa Barbara called Madonnari and they create the most amazing, impressive masterpieces, just stunning. So I sent that link to Hillary [Anaya] and Lucy [Gafford] and said we should do this, and within an hour they sent it back and they were doing LoDa Squares,” Ford said. The subsequent event took place in Cathedral Square this spring.
Ford and her husband would ideally like to invest in something more than board activity. Availability seems to be an obstacle.
“We keep searching for property for a downtown gallery but it’s too expensive and we can’t afford it. There’s this one building we looked at where they wanted $1.2 million and it’s an empty shell, like I don’t even think there’s even a second or third floor. It’s all just open, so how is that $1.2 million?” Ford said.
Meanwhile Ford continues to champion local artists. She feels they undervalue themselves and don’t get as much support as they could.
“I see people buy boring prints at furniture stores and I wonder why they even do that when we have perfectly good artists around here. I’ve already started buying art for my little daughter and I hope down the line she can pass it on in the family,” Ford said.