When I think back over all that has happened in 2017, particularly in the South County arts scene, I can’t help but think of art and activism.
For a while, it seemed the communities we cover were host to one “feminist” event after another. From pop-up shows and book sales to gallery walls and theater stages, area artists explored a range of political and social topics, using their mediums as a means of asking big questions, making a statement (often of resistance) and hoping to inspire change within our communities.
There were, of course, other noteworthy events, like the Museum of Primitive Art and Culture in Peace Dale celebrating its 125th anniversary (but not without organizers noting the museum has largely survived because of women), and Tim Charron hosting the inaugural Rhode Island Country Music Fest in Narragansett, although even this event came with a message – using the stage as a platform for anti-bullying.
The following is a round-up of all things new and notable covered this year:
- Wickford artist Janelle Feigley completed her month-long “People Project” in October, for which she painted at least one nude a day to bring awareness to breast cancer. All of the women she painted were either cancer survivors, or friends or family of a survivor. “The fact that these women were willing to share these stories with me … made me feel very special,” Feigley said. The paintings were displayed at her shop, Gossip Boutique in Wickford, throughout November, and she hopes the project grows in 2018, perhaps extending beyond Rhode Island.
- Rose Weaver brought her one-woman show “Menopause Mama,” to Peace Dale in early November, marking its South County debut. Weaver hopes to remove the stigma surrounding women’s bodies and encourage the sharing of stories about the process of aging through her theatrical, and musical, performance. “Us older women have resilience and stamina,” she said. “We want to encourage the young women to do what’s necessary for themselves to maintain good energy and stamina.”
- The Carolina Fiber and Fiction Center launched the Octagon House Press to help writers publish their works.
- The South County Art Association welcomed Kathleen Carland as its new executive director; Brian Mitchell wrapped up 20 years working with the Kingston Chamber Music Festival, the last 10 spent as its managing director, a role to be filled by Cathryn Cummings; and David Floyd moved on from his role of running the Music at Lily Pads series.
- The Contemporary Theater Company held its first Ocean State Improv Festival, attracting performers and troupes from around the country and abroad.
- Rhythm & Roots celebrated 20 years of bringing music to Ninigret Park in Charlestown, featuring three full days of music, with performances by Rosanne Cash, Big Voodoo Daddy, The Mavericks and many others.
- The Museum of Primitive Art and Culture in Peace Dale marked its 125th anniversary. “Every object here has a story – like a library,” said Mary Brown, the museum’s education coordinator, in September.
- In August, the South County History Center received a major acquisition in the form of the Kenneth T. Mars Jr. photograph collection, and launched its “History in Focus” capital campaign. The photographs were donated by John Peterson, a man who long admired Mars and who acquired his photo collection from the Mars family a few years ago. Erica Luke, executive director of the center, said the collection could be an amazing resource to the community, and that “It belongs here; it belongs in South County.”
- Country music singer Tim Charron teamed up with Sunset Farm, the Narragansett Lions and the Narragansett Parks and Recreation Department to host the first Rhode Island Country Music Fest, which overlapped with the Kinney Bungalow Harvest Festival and the 21st annual Pumpkin Festival in Narragansett. “I used to summer in Rhode Island, my mom and grandmother both had summer cottages in Matunuck,” said Charron, who now lives in Nashville. “[It’s] where I grew up and fell in love with the ocean, right in front of the Vanilla Bean and the Ocean Mist.”
- North Kingstown was home to a range of art exhibits, with Wickford Art Association hosting its fifth Poetry & Art exhibit, “Creative Connections,” in September; the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum presenting “Pathways: Inland and Coastal Views of Southern Rhode Island,” an exhibit of plein air works by members of the group Monday’s Palette, in the fall; and a trio of women organizing “We rise … Wickford,” a pop-up exhibit held in February to highlight all of the artwork inspired by the Women’s March on Washington (and Rhode Island) in January.
- A month later, in nearby Narragansett, “Nothing to See Here” opened at OneWay Gallery, offering social critique and commentary – “a step above the protest sign” – through the works of Jessica Cabral, Scott Moran and Tom West. “It’s a political act to come to an art show, let alone an art show that is political,” said Cabral.
- The University of Rhode Island hosted “Invisible Bodies, Disposable Cloth,” a gallery exhibit that explored the history of slavery in Rhode Island from 1783 to the 1850s, particularly its connection to the textile mills in South County. The exhibit was organized in partnership with the Rhode Island Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, including university professors Robert Dilworth and Karen de Bruin. “We wanted the story to be told on cloth, and through cloth. That was a very big deal,” Dilworth said. With the help of students, the exhibit panels were printed on muslin on a large printer in the university’s art department; large-scale artworks made by Deborah Baronas also were included.
- In September, woven works by Norma Smayda and Jan Doyle were displayed at Hera Gallery for “The Shape of Weaving” show. Smayda is the founder of the Saunderstown Weaving School, and Doyle helped found the Carolina Fiction and Fiber Center. “Jan and I have worked together, [and] admired each other’s work for decades,” Smayda said.
- The Jamestown Arts Center also hosted a range of exhibits, most notably its “WORD: Text In Contemporary Art” summer show. Karen Conway, the exhibition director and curator, spent more than a year working with local artists, as well as national and international artists, to put together the exhibit. “I never thought they would all agree to be part of the show,” Conway said. “They were extremely generous.”
- We also said goodbye to Kate Vivian, a constant lover, promoter and supporter of music in South County, whose presence will long be felt at The Towers and beyond.