Smile Politely

Exposed: Bringing the arts together

The November edition of Exposed — a free monthly showcase that gives exposure to both established and emerging artists — takes place this Sunday, November 9th at 6 p.m. 

The goal of Exposed is to provide a smorgasbord of the Champaign-Urbana’s arts scene. This monthly event brings artists of all kinds together in one place, where they can offer a taste of what they have been working on.

“It’s all about showcasing what this community has to offer,” said Amy Ali, the founder of Exposed. “If you’re not familiar with the arts scene here, you can come to Exposed and sample the arts throughout Champaign-Urbana. And if you go to a lot of shows, you can learn about something new and talk with artists and community agencies in an informal environment.” 

The format of Exposed is always the same, but the performers and visual arts on display change every month. Past Exposed events have featured photography, spoken word, poetry, music, theatre, comedy, films, dance, and more. Healthy appetizers from Creative Health are available as part of the experience, and — since Exposed takes place in Soma Ultralounge — cocktails are also available. A house band, Code Red Experience, rounds out the evening’s entertainment. “It’s a really cool vibe,” said Ali.

Ali told me that this is the second version of Exposed. “Exposed originated because I wanted a place to go and read my poetry,” said Ali. “I was writing poetry very often at the time, and I wanted a place to present it. So I started organizing a live poetry event in the back of Boltini with appetizers and live music. That went really well and lasted for about a year and a half, but ultimately it wasn’t sustainable because we had the same group of people rotating through participation in the event every month.”

In its new form, Exposed features artists and performers from multiple arts.

“After the first version of Exposed fizzled out,” said Ali, “a lot of people kept asking me about whether or not I was going to revive it. Eventually, I decided to go for it. But this time, I decided I didn’t want to bring it back by myself. I wanted it to be something sustainable that could continue even if I couldn’t stick around to keep it going. So I decided to connect with community agencies and get them involved. I wanted to build partnerships with folks who are interested in giving exposure to artists.”

The revamped version of Exposed has been going on since June, and Ali said that they have recruited an eclectic audience for their shows so far. “A handful of people come from different arts agencies. Then there are the artists and their friends. And then there are people from the community who love art.”

Even though, to date, promotion for Exposed has only taken place by social media and word of mouth, Ali said that each show has been able to gather a crowd of 50-60 people around small tables in the back of Soma. The intimate atmosphere gives audience members the chance to network with artists in a casual environment.

“Coming to Exposed can help you get involved in the arts scene,” said Ali. “The environment is pretty informal, so you can build a community with the performers and artists who come to present their work. If you’re interested in taking guitar lessons, for example, you have the chance to talk to someone who teaches guitar. All these people who might not otherwise know each other get to come together and share an experience.”

Past Exposed events have previewed early versions of arts shows offered elsewhere in the community. For instance, Anna Longworth, who recently showed her Bare Project at Indi-go Co-op, presented a preview of her photographs at Exposed. “At the time,” said Ali, “she wasn’t quite finished with the project, but she wanted to have some build-up to the full show. So she showed some of her pieces at our showcase. It was pretty impactful stuff.”

According to Ali, other Exposed highlights have included a poetry set read by a man who opened up about the difficulties of a long-distance parenting relationship, a Maya Angelou tribute, and a performance by the West African Drum and Dance Collective. “Djibril Camara, who performed, went off script a bit and started talking about the importance of happiness and how you have to feel free to be happy,” Ali remembered. “What he was saying was very powerful, and I think a lot of people enjoyed that. We’ve had some really amazing performances.”

So far, community agencies involved in Exposed include CUDO, the Champaign-Urbana Film Society, the Community Center for the Arts, the Institute 4 Creativity, and a campus poetry group called W.O.R.D. Each organization sends talent to Exposed, which gives them the chance to get the people they are mentoring or teaching a place to be show off what they have been working on or learning.

“It gives artists the chance to get more comfortable presenting their work or to share their current projects,” said Ali. “And it’s all about taking the stress away from artists. Artists are really great at creating, but when it comes to showcasing their work, they might not have the resources, or the funds, or the network. All the details can become difficult. And we can easily do that for them. So that allows us the chance to encourage them to keep creating, because we want more of that around here. A lot of people want that, and that’s why my team is so driven to make Exposed happen.”

Ali said that while she doesn’t have an arts background herself, she enjoys fostering the arts in her community.

“I’m very passionate about the arts. I’ve stumbled upon some things in other places that have been very inspirational to me. And, because I live here, I wanted to have those experiences here as well. I’m of the mindset that if I want something to be in my town, and it’s not there already, I have the means to make it happen and I should do that. It’s a great feeling to stumble on something artistic, but it’s also a great experience to realize that you made something wonderful happen. Especially since people are always so grateful to have the opportunity to show their work.”

“Also, I want Exposed to be something people can enjoy even if they don’t have any money,” said Ali, and for that reason, Exposed is seeking additional sponsorships. Advertising is available in a several different media, and all sponsorships go to covering the cost of putting on the event.

Ali said that continuing to build a vibrant arts scene will benefit the whole community. “The arts scene makes people want to live here. More and more, people are coming here and deciding to stay, and I think the arts scene is a huge part of that. And we want to be part of helping the arts to continue to grow here.”

This month’s edition of Exposed will feature photography by Kelsey Greene and artwork by Ricky Wells and Katie Funk. Screenings of two Pens to Lens films will also take place.

Exposed takes place on the second Sunday of every month at Soma Ultralounge in downtown Champaign. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m.

Photos courtesy of Amy Ali.

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