What connects a secret farm-to-table dinner party with over a hundred attendees, art activities with the homeless at The Haven, a collaborative printmaking workshop, and top quality exhibits at the The WVTF and Radio IQ Studio Gallery?
They are all part of the programming from New City Arts Initiative, “a local network of art practitioners, advocates, and enthusiasts pursuing human flourishing through the arts.”
We interviewed Executive Director Maureen Lovett about what inspires her work, the success of the New City Arts Forum this past spring, and how community members can get involved in the future.
How did New City Arts Initiative get started?
About six years ago, a small group of artists gathered who represented a handful of faith communities in Charlottesville. They gathered as artists to ask the question, “What does Charlottesville need and how are our communities best suited to meet those needs?”
They answered this question in three ways:
1. These artists could use the spaces they were connected with to provide affordable space for other artists to exhibit, work, or perform. (The best example of this is the recent use of church sanctuaries for community concerts).
2. They could host discussion groups on the inherent value of art and why we should be patrons of artists.
3. They could provide opportunities for all of these artists to collaborate in a way that served the city and built community.
These artists, arts enthusiasts, and patrons morphed into what is now known as New City Arts, we are community-centric and primarily work through partnerships (with other non-profits, with businesses, with other arts organizations, with churches, etc.) in order to efficiently share resources, encourage community, and participate in civic life in a way that benefits artists and our Charlottesville neighbors.
What inspires you about working at New City Arts Initiative?
Personally, I love curating – the kind of curating that certainly involves putting together a really exciting exhibit (like the ones that we curate at The WVTF and Radio IQ Studio Gallery), but also “curating” all sorts of other programs and audiences. (I think I love the art of choosing).
For example, if we host something like an artist salon, I love choosing a venue, an audience, and contributors who would really benefit from being together (but might not know it until they got there). When new relationships or ideas form because just the right artist and audience were paired together, I’m inspired. It’s a little bit like match-making, and a little bit of hospitality, in an arts-centric way and I’m stunned when I remember that it’s my day job.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Charlottesville arts community? What would you ideally like to see happen to further strengthen the arts here?
Being a part of this community means constantly introducing others to it so that this arts community can grow and flourish.
I love meeting newcomers to town, hearing what they love (film, poetry, etc.), and connecting them with an already-established program. I find it’s so much easier to be an arts participant when you are specifically invited to attend a film screening when you love film, rather than just considering, “I should get involved in the arts community here.”
Ideally, to strengthen the arts locally, I would love to see patronage become contagious.
When I am able to purchase a piece of art made by a friend, I experience so much joy. (It’s worth giving up a few meals out, or a couple cups of coffee every week). As a 20-something, it’s exciting to start a small art collection, while actually supporting artists I know.
This coming year, we (New City Arts) are going to try to provide some programming around questions of how to afford more art, why it’s so valuable, and how to think about what to buy. Keep an eye out for opportunities!
What events or programming does New City Arts Initiative have scheduled that you are especially excited about?
I love Round Table.
Initiated by Philip Lorish (a friend of New City Arts), we now coordinate almost-monthly, small lectures (called Round Table) in people’s homes on “The Art of Something,” The Art of The Chair, The Art of Growing Food, The Art of Storytelling, etc. The lectures highlight what people care about, which might differ from what they do during the day. For example, Nicholas Wolterstorff presented in January on designer chairs, but he is a philosopher by day who just happens to have collected chairs all his life.
We coordinate these lectures in people’s homes and find contributors to make desserts and provide drinks. Due to the living-room size of most talks, the audience is limited (but we’re always looking for more participants email me!)
I love Round Table because the setting and lecturer are often surprising, topics often deal with things that artists are thinking about but might not directly apply to their craft, and it’s an easy way for “non-artists” to get connected to the Charlottesville arts community.
We will also have two new programs this year: a scholar-in-residence and arts field trips. Look for more information about both, coming soon!
Your first ever forum this past spring was centered on the theme “Arts, City & Society.” Are you planning another forum for next year? Is there anything you can tell us about what to expect?
Ahh, The Forum – what a blast! It was a joy for us to be able to celebrate the amazing resources that this Charlottesville arts community has to offer, and catch a glimpse of the amazing talent at work in our community.
As an organization, we are committed to finding presenters primarily from our region, or somehow connected to this region. With this in mind, we don’t want to “over-saturate” the market by providing this type of conference too often.
Instead, we’re going to host another Secret Dinner in the spring (2013) as a fundraiser for a 2014 Forum. (This secret dinner was one of the most popular events at this past spring’s event. One participant called it a “wedding for the arts.”)
So, come to dinner — date TBA, but most likely in April 2013. You can expect there to be a voting booth for topics for the 2014 Forum. You can expect amazing food. You can expect your friends to be there. You can expect to attend The Forum in the spring of 2014.
(If you missed The Forum, you can download the session content on our website at no cost.)
Tell us more about the artist-in-residency program through The Haven?
We love this partnership! Many of the staff, guests, and volunteers at The Haven are already excellent artists, poets, performers, etc. By having office and studio space here, I feel like I’ve stumbled upon an arts community that is not always visible (the one that resides at a desk during the day and illustrates at night).
Anyway, the artist-in-residence program at The Haven just finished a pilot year-ish that offered free studio space to an artist in need. In exchange, the artist (Patrick Costello, in this case) coordinated workshops for Haven guests and concluded his year by organizing a mural in the downstairs shelter, drawn by Haven guests.
The deadline for next year’s residency is August 14 (at 12:00pm). Rather than one available studio space like last year, The Haven is generously offering the entire second floor to two qualified artist applicants.
We are seeking one artist who has experience with community organizing and is particularly interested in developing arts-related programming with Haven guests.
We are seeking another artist whose primary focus is studio production. We want these artists to function like colleagues, while making art and participating in The Haven’s community.
For more information, visit the program description online.
Finally, how can people get involved with New City Arts Initiative (as volunteers, supporters, artists, attendees)?
We always need support. We are aiming to get to a place as an organization where we can actually give artists grants to make work. In order to do this, any amount of financial support helps (one-time gifts, monthly gifts, etc.) You can find multiple ways to give online.
We are also always looking for folks to provide food and drinks for Round Table, artist salons, etc. If you have a particular taste in coffee, wine, etc., or you have a knack for baking or cooking, let us know! We’d love to put your taste to work.
We don’t have membership because we function more like a network of artists, and less like an association. But the more events we orchestrate that you attend, the better we will know one another. If you want to attend events, sign up for our newsletter. Just go to our website, click “join,” and give us your email address.
(Image by Lucy Taylor of Lucy O Photo)