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Goodyear Arts Gives Artists Still More Space,Time

by John Schacht

Goodyear Arts Gives Artists Still More Space,Time

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Picture by Renee Cloud

August 22, 2016

Photos: (top) "It's a Win-Win Situation" by Renee Cloud; (upper middle): installation by Leah Cabinum; (lower middle, left to right) Goodyear Arts co-directors Graham Carew, Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman; (bottom) part of the cooperative creative space in the main gallery at Goodyear Arts. 

Disruptor—it's the overworked term du jour popular with techies and digital entrepreneurs because it signals tectonic shifts in our social interactions and, by extension, in familiar business paradigms. And in those fault lines between old and new there is money to make and legends to build.

Of course, disruption is old hat to artists, something they practice regularly and more often than not without a profit motive or stock options driving them. For most, it's the reason they make art in the first place—to shake us from our air-conditioned nightmares, as Henry Miller described our day-to-day somnambulance. And the wonderful thing is that, from zeitgeist shapers down to the local artist-in-residence, art can—if we're lucky—disrupt our worldview every bit as much as today's code wizards and app gurus.

First, though, it has to be made. And contrary to prevalent notions among non-artists, making art doesn't come cheap or easy; painters, sculptors and choreographers like start-up money, too. Materials, devoted art-making space, and the time to make art come at a premium, while chasing grants and affordable studio space actually steals from art-making. In an era when public arts funding is shrinking in inverse proportion to the number of artists who could really use it, funding the arts needs new models to emerge.  

Enter the local disruptors at Goodyear Arts. Founded and run by artists and co-directors Amy Bagwell, Graham Carew and Amy Herman, the Goodyear Arts project is dedicated to providing artists with the "space, time, money and community" they need by partnering with local developers to make use of local buildings targeted for demolition. Taking its name from the old Goodyear building on Stonewall Street where, as Skyline Artists in Residence, the program first ran for six months in 2015, the latest iteration is about to bear the fruit of its first two-months-long residencies in a showcase this Friday (6-9 p.m.) at the Goodyear Arts building (516 N. College St.). That's when artists Micah CashRamya, and Chris Thomas will explore the creation of boundaries both real and imagined in new work that includes painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, virtual stories, and film (Thomas' films run at 7 and 8 p.m). 

So far, Goodyear Arts has defied the odds since its hastily assembled beginnings (the original program took shape over a single hectic month). And despite the temporary nature of its pre-razed homes, it has also suggested a working model for artists and arts-funders moving forward. The trio of co-directors certainly views the current building and its artist-residents as a continuation of the ethos (and on-the-fly logistics lessons) established during the initial Goodyear/Skyline residencies.

"(The artists) hurled themselves at the project and they created the momentum," says Bagwell, conceding that the directorship plays key roles as well. "But the artists really propelled this, made it sing, made it noteworthy. My hope is that that compounds here—it is a torch-carrying, because however good this is really is the difference between it happening again or not. The artists and residents this time owe it to the previous residents, and these artists owe it to the future residents to keep it going."

By most measures, the program's expansion suggests that the momentum is real. The residencies are now two months long (July-August, September-October, November-December) rather than one, and the $1,500 stipends represent a 50 percent jump. More space and better climate conditions allows writers, filmmakers, and photographers to qualify for residencies, too, along with the painters, dancers and installation artists. There's even room for an alumni studio and unaffiliated visiting artists via in-person sign-up, as well as a main gallery large enough to accommodate after-hours band and dance troupe rehearsals.

"If they have a special project and they want studio time for a few hours or a few days or a few weeks, they can talk to us about the calendar," Bagwell says. "As long as they're doing something that isn't ridiculous and they're nice people, that's it. We just want to be able to offer space, because  it's so hard to find studio space that's affordable in Charlotte."

But space is just one component of what Goodyear Arts offers. One of the main goals of the project, the trio says, is to provide Charlotte artists with a tangible sense of community strong enough to keep them from emigrating to higher profile arts scenes.

"It's an 'our studios are our homes' kind of thing," says Carew, a Kilkenny, Ireland native who's been involved in empty space projects there after the austerity wolf gutted Irish arts funding over the last decade. "Being able to work pretty much 24/7, and talk about art and deal with other artists working in different mediums that I don't even know about—that's the number one thing that I've brought forward."

That sense of community was on display in July during the Goodyear Arts building's opening party, when an estimated 600 people dropped by to get their first look at the new building and artist-residents. But it's also apparent a few weeks later on a quiet Saturday morning at 10 a.m. (the building's open hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The former Comedy Zone and nightclub space—donated by Levine Properties, who worked with Bagwell and Carew on their Wall Poems project—almost seems custom-made for its new purpose. The main gallery room could double as a basketball gym; it's an open space roomy enough to house ceiling and floor installations, and feature walls lined with photographs, paintings and mixed-media projects from current residents and alumni.

And on that Saturday morning, with the summer furnace already in full effect outside, a handful of patrons and artists sat in climate controlled comfort—courtesy of Crescent Communities, who remain a founding sponsor—at donated picnic benches or in donated rocking chairs, working on laptops accessing the building's free Wi-Fi. Several drank coffee brewed on the premises by Lindsey Pittman, 28, formerly of the Daily Press pop-up cafe in NoDa. Two weeks before the Goodyear Arts building's July 15 opening, Pittman was asked if she wanted to recreate the pop-up cafe and jumped at the offer as a way to prep new baristas and promote Hyde Brewing, the South End restaurant/brewery/coffee partnership she's part of and which is scheduled to open in early 2017.

"This is a really great way to show everybody that Hyde is going to be involved in the arts, and that we want to promote our local community, we want to be involved in any way that we can," Pittman says.

"We wanted to not only create community among the artists, but we wanted to bring community in," Herman later adds. "So having a gallery space that we're also treating as a coffee shop that has workspace for people to use and Wi-Fi for people to use and encouraging people to come here during the day and work, and how can that also become community and enhance this community of artists. When you get the right people sitting at the right tables, how does that benefit community?"

Meanwhile, in the back room, artists began drifting in to the studios that have been sectioned off using discounted materials and at-cost labor, courtesy of the group's connections with the construction world. Original paintings and prints decorate each partition in bold colors and figures, while some of their makers relaxed in the donated couches and love seats. Another group gathered around a substantial conference table (donated) in comfortable office chairs (also donated), discussing the group's impact on the Charlotte scene.

Bagwell, Carew and Herman say there have been unforeseen benefits in the direct partnerships forged between artists and local businesses. Trust is one of them. In addition to combating the stereotype that artists are hobbyists and art a luxury, they've exploded the notion that giving free reign to artists is to open the door to a bacchanalian freak show.

"One thing that Goodyear proved is, if you give artists space, good artists, they're not going to mess it up," says Bagwell. "Artists want space so they can make art. People don't need studio space for debauchery. Artists are professionals—they can take care of a space."

"A lot of other residencies or projects I've come across, they're trying to put it in box, or standardize it," Carew adds, "where the beauty of this project is that we trust our artists, and the people who fund us trust us to trust our artists."

There are still valid questions to ask about the role of public funding in creating a society that values the artistic spirit as much as it does the entrepreneurial one. But in the here-and-now trenches the equation is simpler—studio space, materials and time are getting harder to come by in Charlotte. Bypassing some of the traditional, red tape-heavy funding models and shrinking arts budgets in favor of direct, one-one-one interactions where supply meets demand has so far proven to be a legitimate disruptor for local artists.

"Everyone thinks these are such different worlds—'business and art, you can't get much more diametrically opposed'," Bagwell says. "Well, those businesses are just people, and they like art just like anybody else. And they're interested in getting it, and they have money to pay for it, and they're also really binary—you ask a business person a question and, in my limited experience, you get a 'yes' or a 'no.' And it doesn't take them that long to make up their minds. It's actually really great working with business folks who are interested in supporting arts endeavors because of that; they know what they know, they know what they can do, and they know that when it comes to art, someone else knows more about that."

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Tags: arts, funding, painting, sculpting, photography, Crescent Communities, Goodyear, Levine Properties, gallery, Micah Cash, Ramya, Chris Thomas

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