When art pieces in the recent “pop-up” exhibit by area artists began to appear on the front patio of the Eastern Shore Art Center, I was informed that the art was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizer was local physician Lynn Yonge, who had been making art while quarantined with the virus. Yonge asked me if he and other artists could use the Art Center grounds to display their work. I joyfully agreed, understanding that the art created could potentially cause a myriad of reactions and emotions – everything from sadness, to controversy and debate, and even hope.
The dialog that has resulted has been inspiring, and as expected, all over the board. Some like it. Others do not. Some said that the Art Center was not the appropriate place for such work and that I should have the art moved elsewhere. Others commented in social media that the art should not be taken down just because it may not agree with some people’s views. One person stated that while they “believe in freedom of expression”, they do not believe in “art that cons people.” Interestingly, many perceived the messages conveyed by one piece to be exactly the opposite of what artist Bruce Larsen intended. When Larsen chimed in and explained his meaning behind the imagery, people actually retracted their statements.
Regardless of where one stands on issues surrounding the meaning of the artworks, from the vantage of one who is an both an artist and an arts organization administrator, I see the conversation as positive and healthy.
This morning I put up two signs at ESAC regarding artists responding to the pandemic.
One states that the opinions expressed in the current exhibit on the patio of ESAC are those of the artists, and not reflective of positions of the Art Center.
The other poster offers artists and non-artists alike the opportunity to express their own reaction to COVID-19 by creating art on a 12’ x 12” square of cloth. We will combine all submitted pieces by sewing them together as a “quarantine quilt.” We’re even offering free, pre-wrapped square hankies for folks to use. Just pick one up from the basket below the poster. But you don’t have to use one of ours—anything 12 x 12 inches can be used, so long as we can sew it together with the others. The deadline is May 28, and we plan to exhibit the quilt once completed.
The COVID-19 reaction art still stands in front of ESAC. Your civil liberties allow you to decide whether or not you want to come and view the art, to respond to it or not, to like it or not, and to even to debate whether or not you even think it is art.
We welcome the discussion.
Bryant Whelan Executive Director Eastern Shore Art Center