This is the 16th year’s end I’ve seen as Lagniappe’s arts editor. When you live issue to issue, everything is so incremental it feels static. But the wide view? It’s promising.
Back in 2003, the Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) had just finished a $15 million expansion and renovation. It’s changed leadership since, becoming a hub for community engagement. MMoA continued forward in 2018, hosting the internationally renowned and dynamic “do it” exhibition in 2018. A superbly varied yet complementary quartet of shows highlighted by Jane Cassidy’s immersive “Undersea Well” arrived in autumn.
Alabama Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) — the former Space 301 — didn’t open until late 2003 and energized an until then more traditional arts town. Amanda Solley was tapped as ACAC’s latest director in 2018. They also managed to pull creative dynamo Elizabet Elliott from MMoA into their stable as ACAC’s new director of exhibitions and programs.
Renovated in 2006, the Saenger Theatre has been an arts centerpiece all this while, though under municipal aegis now. It’s also been joined by newer, arts-friendly venues like The Steeple.
In 2003, Mobile Arts Council (MAC) was hidden in old second-story offices and seeking an executive director. Nowadays, street-level facilities and galleries have made MAC one of Mobile’s most visible arts entities. Their latest director, Shellie Teague, is a marketing specialist building on 16 years of ascension. Their annual art awards and fundraising event are two of the hot-ticket items on the area’s cultural calendar.
In 2003, Arts Alive premiered as a biannual street celebration of the arts. Its initial success shocked folks and, though currently gone, it paved the way for Mobile’s now-monthly gallery strolls. Similar events take place during spring’s SouthSounds Music Festival and autumn’s Ten65 festival.
There were few galleries in the 2003 arts district. I recall Cathedral Square Gallery and Koch; others escape my rapidly aging memory. Midtown boasted Gallery 54 and Ashland Gallery.
Today, Ashland remains. Cathedral Square Gallery moved eastward on Dauphin and changed to Mobilia Art Center but can’t fight time’s tide anymore. They close in mid-January 2019. Koch is gone with Gallery 54 and others born and expired in the interim. They’ve been replaced by places like Sophiella, which just opened this year. Innova Arts and Marnée’s Studio sprouted in midtown.
Another newcomer, Sway Studio, not only mixes visual art with dance and yoga but hosted a unique event in early May when local arts denizens merged fabric and visual arts under the direction of Courtney Matthews. Tagged “Neu Dawn,” the grassroots show created an indescribable vibe filled with color, panache and swagger.
In 2003, the Mobile Carnival Association had just obtained the old Museum of Mobile site for their own museum. They’ve not only weathered time and a recession but poached Cart Blackwell from the Historic Development Commission to be their latest curator.
A group of influential Mobilians incorporated and began planning GulfQuest National Maritime Museum some 10 years before 2003. It’s open now, but stormy finances have brought it under city control.
WHIL-FM was still locally produced in 2003 and a hub of the arts community. Sadly, it’s now only a satellite of a statewide network.
Although Joe Jefferson Players Executive Director Jason McKenzie stepped down in 2018, the theater scene is as healthy as ever. Mobile Theater Guild, Chickasaw Civic Theatre and Fairhope’s Theatre 98 have been joined by the upstart and provocative Company 11. Likewise, Playhouse in the Park has been joined by Eastern Shore Repertory Theater and Azalea City Center for the Arts in cultivating artistic yen among youngsters.
Classical music stalwarts Mobile Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and Mobile Opera sail along, fixed on their high levels of professionalism. One of the globe’s most revered performers in both their worlds, soprano Renée Fleming, took the spotlight at an MSO gala in September. The opera has changed to slightly cozier venues now and while it reduced overhead, their talent, schedule and influence remains paramount.
Mobile legend The Haunted Book Shop was reborn on the edge of Bienville Square in 2018. Together with the emergence of the Mobile Literary Festival, perhaps it signals a local renaissance for the written word.
Longtime Mobile Ballet Artistic Director Winthrop Corey went to a new company, Classical Ballet of Mobile. Newcomers Katia Garza and Israel Rodriguez — artistic director and ballet master, respectively — are at Mobile Ballet with perspectives innovative for the area.
Mobile had a relative arts boom from 2003 until 2011, something we grew used to. If these new names and approaches mean we’re about to eclipse those times, the New Year couldn’t be happier.