'30under30': Connecting young artists with exhibit space
WEST STOCKBRIDGE — In any arts community, so much happens through personal connections and face-to-face interaction, perhaps more so in a smaller one like the Berkshires. Finding and nurturing the next generation of artists is not really much different, so it is natural that a show dedicated to local artists just starting their careers would come about through a personal relationship and a desire to uncover what might be afoot.
Mika Mintz, a dancer and photographer in her 20s from Great Barrington, had been in touch with Lisa Landry, co-owner and gallery manager of the No. Six Depot Cafe and Gallery in West Stockbridge, about possibly showing her work.
They struck up a friendship, and Landry remembered it was in September 2016 they were out on a hike in Beartown State Forest with Mika's dogs. "She said there aren't enough places for young Berkshire artists to show their work," she said.
Mintz said the idea had been on her mind for a few years. "I have so many friends who are so creative and the fact they hadn't had a space to share their creativity was pretty frustrating," she said.
That first "30under30" came together last spring and was enough of a success that they have put together another edition this year. The 2018 edition opened in late February and will run at the gallery through April 20.
It features examples of work from 30 young artists with some connection to the Berkshires, and covers an enormous variety of works. While a celebration of the quality of the work, it is also a chance to make connections among artists and realize the possibility of sustaining another generation of artists in the region.
"Last year was mostly word of mouth and people I knew personally," Mika said. "This year, I had the idea to only show new artists, to spread the net as wide as I could and get other people out of the woodwork that I didn't know about."
Works on display in the gallery's large sun-drenched space include prints by Molly Ann Almeida, whose engravings feature botanical images and symbolic figures, and by Fiona Wood, who created a series of images of femininity based on images of surgical equipment used during a surgery her mother underwent.
There are paintings, like the black-and-white abstract explorations of Olivia Wade, and intimate figurative images by Fiona McTeigue. There are photographs that include some very close to photojournalism in Sam Backhaus, with a series about the Boston Women's March, and a montage exploring alternative images of male intimacy by Wes Elliot. Objects on display include leather clothing by Lee Blackmer, and a cabinet of Brazilian lacewood and birch by woodworker John Humes.
And it is not just objects and images. The show includes a slate of performances and other media on display, as well. On March 24, there will be a night of poetry, music and spoken work, called "Alternative Facts," performed by Conor McCaffrey, Rachel Coopersmith, Michele Hatchette and Lia Russell-Self.
On April 7, there will be a collaborative performance, "Achilles Alchemy," including dance, film and light with Anna Masiero, Marc Zambrano and Isabel Filkens (due to demand, there will be two showings, at 6 and 8 p.m.)
And there will be a film screening April 14, with works by Jane Burns, Jordyn Cormier, Sam Laiz, Mika Mintz and Marco Zambrano.
All the artists have some connection to the region, including Dana Piazza, who is from Lenox and whose signature large-scale line drawings are included. The work is inspired by the conceptual, algorithmic approach of Sol LeWitt.
"Certainly, growing up around Mass MoCA played a part," he said. "They have a three-story building devoted to the guy, and it's something I visited time and time again, and it introduced me to the whole notion of conceptual art."
He left the area to attend SUNY-Purchase, and is now back moving a lot of things. "I really missed this place," Piazza said about choosing to come back to the region. "It's beautiful, there's nature and I find the people are friendly here."
In addition to his work as a graphic designer, he is a gallery manager at Sohn Fine Art Gallery in Lenox, and teaches drawing to seventh and eighth graders at Berkshire Country Day School, where he graduated in 2006. His career is coming along, with shows coming up at the Geoffrey Young Gallery in Great Barrington and an appearance at the "Art on Paper" fair in New York this month.
Much of this momentum comes through connections he has made in the area. "People in the Berkshires have this drive to support each other," he said. "I never experienced that in New York City. There's a real nurturing experience here."
That seems to be one of the themes that emerged reading through a collection of artist statements. Perhaps not surprisingly, many mention the role of nature in their work. But many weigh in on the unique challenges of a making a career in the Berkshires compared to in a city — in terms of earning money, finding studio and exhibition spaces.
Mintz said that hasn't been a part of her experience, in part because she is not pursuing a professional arts career. She studied dance and psychology in college, and since graduating has tried to balance her love of the arts with her interest in medicine. She currently works at Fairview Hospital, and is applying to medical school.
"I agree that there hasn't been sufficient space, but I do think there is a collaborative energy that I have actively sought out," she said.
For Landry, encouraging young artists to consider their options close to home is an important part of the work. "The Berkshires is really suffering, especially the southern Berkshires," she said. "It is getting older, the schools are getting emptier, and young people aren't staying here and they aren't moving here."
She said seven works sold at the opening alone, on Feb. 25, and the connections and networks they are building can pay off down the line.
"It's great if sales happen, but if connections happen they see a way to stay here and feel a connection there and see a future here, that's a great thing."
Even though the gallery is booked up to the two years out, Landry said she is committed to carving out space for the under 30 show. Even as Mika plans another path, they are already looking for someone to take over curating.
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