Five days ago imagine/Northampton opened it's gallery for the fourth month to Arts Night Out Northampton. It was a cold and rainy January Friday, but people were out. Some were going to the galleries and other venues in town.
In our minds, last Friday night was an experiment within an EXPERIMENT - the latter being offering the imagineGALLERY at all. The prior months were more traditional in the media we showed: paintings, photography and wall-hangings plus hand-made books. All very well-done and well-received.
Last Friday's experiment took a different tack. Let me give you the back story. A number of weeks back, we asked CT poet and friend, Brad Davis, if he'd be willing to do something for our January exhibition. We asked him to come up with an idea. Beyond being a friend and a fellow color-outside-the lines Jesus follower, he has graced our space before first in September, 2010, when he coordinated and collaborated with poets Jendi Reiter and Nancy Watkins Denig for an evening of their poetry called the splendid ordinary. Then, last spring, he offered a day workshop for creatives called Place and Possibility. Both were well done and we knew he'd come up with something cool
He named it IMAGO: self portraits w/ disposable camera. The idea came from a chapbook he created called I & We You & I: self portrait w/ disposable camera. For those who don't know what a chapbook is: "a chapbook is a small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or tracts. The term is still used today to refer to short, inexpensive booklets." (web.mit.edu/21h.418/www/nhausman/chap1.html) His concept for the evening was people would come to the gallery and have the opportunity to have a portrait Tricia would take with a Polaroid camera in any pose they liked. They would also have to somehow hold or pose a small disposable camera in their portrait. Their posing was supposed to be personal and expressive of how they see themselves. Then, periodically, Brad would read from his chapbook.
To create a buzz, Trey McCain and I went out on Main Street with handbills to entice folks to come and see our gallery. We encountered young and old. Some were not gallery-hopping; others were, and many we handed handbills to actually took us up on our invitation. Our trudging around paid off.
When people came up into the space they had three opportunities. The first, was to sample the wonderful food, some of it gourmet, we put out for each reception. It's part of offering quality and enhancing their overall experience. People ate. Ben, the street guy, piled a plate 3 inches high at it's apex. The second, was the chance to hear Brad ably read poems from his chapbook two times an hour. People sat and listened. They responded appreciatively. Their feedback was that of interest and connection. The third opportunity, was to sit for their picture in their preferred poses.
Those who participated in the evening said it was fun and different. We loved the fact they joined in making the IMAGO collage of Polaroids. Some were playful. Some were reserved. There were couples and individuals each expressing a visual notion of who they are, or how they wanted to be seen in the image.. There was even a triad of friends.
We were so glad Brad and Deb Davis were with us. We always are. They got to see Brad's creative idea enfleshed so to speak - the creative word blended with the created image making strangers collaborators in the imagineGALLERY space. Simple gestures and evocative word images married. Tastes and sounds and images all working together to create a simple happening for a few hours. It felt good.
Equally important was people came into the space who'd never been there before. That led to conversations about what imagine is. No one ran screaming from the building when they discovered imagineGALLERY was an effort of imagine/Northampton, a church. Their assumed categories were altered a bit, I bet. We like that. Challenging cultural assumptions, and doing so with unexpected dollops of grace builds a human bridge.
We like that too. A lot.
Who knows how this EXPERIMENT will morph over the next months. We hope it'll create relationships, offer support for artists, and reveal that "church folk" can be about community or cultural activities which don't seem or look very churchy. In other words, what if people could let down their guard a bit, enjoy some art together, and perhaps, just perhaps, have a conversation about eternal things without everybody getting all weird.
We really like that!!!