Summertime has Amanda Solley sopping wet. Not necessarily from sweat, although that should be the case for the whirling dervish of an executive director at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center.
She and her husband are moving to a new home. It’s not far, mind you, but in the nation’s rainiest city, any distance can involve deluge.
“We can use the plastic covering for painting drop cloth later,” Solley laughed.
Ever optimistic, Solley is in the middle of summer camps at 301 Conti St., the facility where she imparts channeled creativity to youngsters ranging in age from 5 to 17. This is in addition to organizing exhibits and overseeing community-oriented projects. It’s enough to challenge the sanity of anyone.
“Well, I’m crazy like that,” Solley quipped.
Crazy? Determined is more like it.
Tapped for the job in March, Solley is the first successor to Bob Sain, who left in December 2015. During the interim, she had her hand on the rudder as director of exhibitions and programs.
Solley led the charge during Cuban-themed exhibits in their space since spring 2017. The primary and most recent one, “Back to Havana,” has been in place since September and was just extended another month.
“We have summer camps running through June 30 and wanted to make sure [students] had work to inspire what they’re doing, and we have new interns who need experience with this,” Solley explained.
An exhibit running Aug. 10 through Oct. 10 involves more than aesthetics. Alabama Contemporary Art Center board member Dr. Roma Hanks also chairs the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at the University of South Alabama. When Artifice spoke with Solley, the project was named “Raise 2-5-1” and will be executed in partnership with USA’s Center of Excellence for Health Disparity.
It is what it sounds like: an effort to highlight varying levels of health throughout our area with emphasis on nutrition. Solley cited focus on community gardens, agriculture, farmers’ markets and low-income communities’ access to healthy food.
There will be workshops on starting community gardens. Photographer Vincent Lawson will work with youth on something titled “Photo Feast.”
“We’re putting cameras in the hands of those doing good work on the ground and the idea is to let the work speak for itself,” Solley said.
Food deserts will be a particular emphasis. The American Nutrition Association points to the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition of as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.”
Critics of USDA studies say the study discounted independent grocers and corner markets of the type found in larger urban areas, that they are apart from convenience stores.
Solley mentioned conversation with an older Mobilian who has transportation issues. The elder said heat, rain and time wreaked havoc, that frozen food thawed by the time she returned home.
“When you’re in your 80s and you’re just trying to keep your head above water, you’re not going to think about how to change the system. You’re just trying to do your best to eat and get through another day,” Solley said.
Of course, an art exhibition will accompany the project. Pinky MM Bass will install a work of embroidered felt. Wanda Sullivan will contribute botanical prints focused on climate change and global malnutrition.
“Jamie Grimes from UAB does these corrugated, plastic-pressed sculptures and programs his own LED lighting. It’s going to be called ‘Transpiration’ and will be installed right in the center, going up to the ceiling,” Solley said.
Also in the fall comes the first part of Alabama Contemporary Art Center’s collaboration with a nationwide concept called the “50-State Initiative.” They will join the Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) as partners in Alabama’s efforts.
An outgrowth of For Freedoms, a nonprofit organization inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1941 “Four Freedoms” series, the initiative is encouraging public exploration of liberty. They’ve implemented public art in the form of yard signs, billboards, window fronts and other avenues in this pursuit.
While MMoA will utilize works from its existing collection, Alabama Contemporary Art Center has asked a local artist and sculptor to curate a show using their statewide affiliations. That will manifest in April, but this fall’s portion will use the “Teen Spark” program to ignite participation in self-governance.
Higher engagement with the public is their priority. Whether it’s more rotation of exhibits or greater awareness of all programming, they are determined to find what the community values.
“It’s an experiment, so we’ll see,” Solley said.