Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: July 2020

Here we are in a new month, a new season, and new phase of reopening that has yet to impact performing arts venues or visual arts exhibitions. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great experiences to be had. It just means that in most, but not all cases, those experiences will be virtual. There are opportunities to safely learn to move to the music (outside, masked, and socially-distanced), to learn to paint without a brush (but with a palette knife), to create your own visual arts version of a pen pal correspondence, to virtually join a poetree hike through Allerton Park, and to experience visual art in public spaces, both virtually and in person. I hope you find something that excites you, inspires you, or offers a few moments of joy during these challenging days.  

Image: Trail at Allerton Park and Retreat Center. Photo still from event YouTube video.

Take a virtual poetree hike though Allerton Park and Retreat Center 

While this virtual event “took place” on June 27th, its video format keeps it evergeen and available for our viewing pleasure whenever we need a moment of Zen. This guided tour of Allerton Park and Retreat Center’s flora and fauna also includes “live” readings from the poets of the CU Poetry Group, including Jim O’Brien, Will Reger, Ruth Siburt, Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure, Frank Modica, and Elizabeth Majerus. Each poet reads two of their favorite nature-inspired poems plus one of original work. This combination of  takes us back to the transcendentalists and their view of nature as sacred and awe-inspiring which, to this writer, feels like an apt tonic for these times. Since there may be something inherently contradictory about joining a poetree hike from your home computer, you might consider taking your phone or tablet out in to the fresh air as you listen and enjoy this opportunity to reconnect to with local landscape and our local poets. It might just inspire you to plan a safe and socially-distant hike through this or greenspaces.

Watch the video on YouTube (adjust sound as needed in light of reception issues at the Park).

Image: Photo of colored marker sets with a notebook. Photo from Art Coop Inc. Facebook page.

Get some art supplies and start a socially-distant Exquisite Corpse group

Don’t let the name scare you. Exquisite Corpse projects are simply community art projects. They can range in number of participants and in media. Back in May I reviewed the online version of the COVID-19-shuttered Double Take exhibition at the 40 Point One gallery, which was inspired by this approach. Your approach need not be so serious. Many of us have offset our Zoom-fatigue with paper and ink pen pal correspondence. Just think of this as doodling with your pen pal at a distance. Here’s how it works. First decide on the rules. How many rounds will you do? Will you work by mail? Contactless drop-off? Or safely masked or socially-distance at a park? The most important rule is to relax and have fun. The idea is to follow your instincts and quiet your inner critic. Harder than it sounds? Believe me, I know. The harder it is for you to “go with the flow” and not plan, the more you need to do this, and the more you will stretch and grow from it. Try listening to some music as you go, or light a candle to create a sense of ritual and calm. Don’t worry about a creating a masterpiece. Don’t worry about what the next person will create. Just be open to what comes. And maybe if you can learn to do it with a marker, you can practice it elsewhere in life. 

While you can certainly use whatever supplies you have on hand, if you are able to treat yourself to some new supplies, Art Coop has been creating some amazing custom kits at every price range. 

Image: Photo of the mural In the Sunshine by artist duo, BLACKMAU, Kamau Grantham and Stacey Robinson. Photo from Facebook.

Image: Photo of the mural In the Sunshine by artist duo, BLACKMAU, Kamau Grantham and Stacey Robinson. Photo from Facebook.

Check out Urbana’s new mural by BLACKMAU at the The Cunningham Township Supervisor’s Office

The continuation of the City of Urbana’s Murals on Glass program is a bright spot in a season of canceled art events and a sign of our town’s commitment to public art. The winner of the 2020 cycle, In the Sunshine, created by artist duo BLACKMAU, Kamau Grantham and Stacey Robinson, was unveiled on July 3rd as part of the Urbana Amble. Rachel Lauren Storm, of the City of Urbana Arts and Culture Program, noted that “artists, Kamau Grantham and Stacey Robinson, have created a collection of work that centers Black imaginations, resilience, and experience. The images of young Black children, joyful and free, reflects the vision echoed by our nation’s ongoing civil rights movement.” Storm also shared that “both jurors and Township staff were particularly drawn to how In the Sunshine expresses both an exuberance and a sense of safety, values underpinning the Cunningham Township’s work in empowerment-focused wrap-around care for those facing housing instability and other symptoms of poverty.” This is public art at its most vibrant and most significant. 

Stop by the Cunningham Township Supervisor’s Office 205 W Green St. in Urbana to experience this powerful new work in the building’s front windows. Or, stay tuned to the Urbana Arts and Culture Program’s Facebook page for photos. 

Take a socially-distant dance or painting class

Even though school is officially for summer, many of us art nerds see summer as a chance to explore something new. Though the pandemic has limited our choices, here are two wonderful opportunities to learn new dance moves and painting skills, respectively. 

Urbana Dance Company has found a perfect solution for safe summertime dancing. It checks off all the safety boxes (social distancing, masks, fresh air). Classes meet weekly at Crystal Lake Park Pavilion in Urbana. The first half hour includes a donation-based lesson, which is followed by an hour of open dancing to practice your new moves. This class also checks off all of the motivation boxes (a fun way to get in some exercise, a safe space to learn and interact with community members, and a chance to up your Tik Tok game). Go check it out. It will do your heart good. 

For more information, follow the Urbana Dance Company on Facebook

Visual artists, if you have only used your palette knife to mix paint, you may want to listen up. Artist and instructor Paula McCarty is offering a chance to learn how to palette paint with a focus on florals. McCarty is one of the rare people who knocks it out of park in the studio and in the classroom. Her own recent work has shown her openness to new methods and tools. I’ve been lucky enough to study with her and she is as inspiring as she is proficient. 

Watch the time-lapse palette knife florals class on YouTube. Learn more or register here.

Image: Crop of photo of Black woman in tub. Photo by by Sydnee Jo Cearlock

Image: Crop of photo of Black woman in tub. Photo by by Sydnee Jo Cearlock

Enjoy a virtual tour of student artwork from Parkland College’s permanent collection

Like many of you, the pandemic has made me aware of the many things about life in Chambana that I had previously taken for granted. One of those things is the profusion of art lining the walls of Parkland College. Whether attending a class, a play, or an exhibition, I was always struck by some piece of the permanent collection that I hadn’t discovered before. Well thanks to Lisa Costello, Giertz Gallery’s director, you can sample the student artwork from the permanent collection on Facebook. You’ll see work in a variety of media that is sure to inspire you to see the world in a new way, or to maybe pick up a pencil or camera yourself. 

The photo above (Melanin by photographer Sydnee Jo Cearlock) has an interesting backstory. I had the pleasure of working beside Cearlock in a Parkland photography class as the Melanin series emerged. She challenges the male gaze and centers Black female body positivity. In order to produce work as honest as this one must create a bond of deep trust. And through this series the photography student came into her own and become a photographer. This is just one story of one student artist.  Parkland’s collection is filled with many more. 

Start your tour on the Giertz Gallery Facebook page.

Top image: Photo still from Paula McCarty’s watercolor time lapse video. Video from Giertz Gallery Facebook page.

Arts Editor

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