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Q and A with Marcie Kelso

by Mark Peres

February 5,2006

What is the mission of The Light Factory?

We help promote the power of photography and film, the most influential medium in society. The Light Factory helps people experience the art of imagery and we help empower them to create images of their own. Thousands of people visit The Light Factory each year to view our exhibitions, take classes, hear lectures and see films. We offer year-round classes in photography and filmmaking. Our outreach programs in the Charlotte community serve students of all ages and backgrounds. The Light Factory is the only non-profit 501-C3 center for photography and film in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Who is your audience? Whom do you serve?

We serve a very broad audience. Everyone relates to TV, movies, photographs and images. The Light Factory is a contemporary art space where the artists we showcase are alive and commenting. We served over 60,000 people last year and demographically they were across the board.

Tell us about your new exhibits. What should we know?

Our current exhibit is "Fabricated Harmony," which features American artist Pat Ward Williams and South African artist Sue Williamson. We commissioned new work from both of them in which they explore racial integration in the United States and South Africa. “The Freedom Box” exhibit is the result of our international outreach exchange program. The box is a symbolic representation of a slave who mailed himself to freedom in the late 1800's. Students from local CMS high schools joined students from several high schools in South Africa to create the exhibit. In March, we’re launching a new exhibit called “Threshold of India,” which is the result of artist Martha Strawn's 20 year visual ecology project. The exhibition includes photography and live threshold painting, which is an ancient Indian tradition in which women create rice flour designs on the ground outside the doors of homes. The exhibit celebrates the threshold practice and its place in the history of Hindu culture.

Tell us more about your education and outreach programs.

We offer classes in photography, darkroom film exposure, screenwriting and filmmaking. We offer our students hands-on experience with working professionals. We want to provide educational programs that promote media literacy. Our outreach programs touch the lives of thousands of students in the community, serving students from kindergarten to high school. One of our outreach programs, called ‘My Family, My Stories’ works with students who speak English as a second language. The students take photographs of their families and then they write stories in English that accompany the images. That’s one example of how we work to help people become more literate in an increasingly visual world.

What are your thoughts on the film and digital divide?

The divide has been breached. Although we still teach film-based photography and celebrate film as an art, the debate is over. In the last couple of years, commercial photography has become entirely digital. Art forms change with technology. At the turn of the 20th century, photography changed from platinum palladium based film to silver based film. At the turn of this century, photography has changed from film to digital. With each change, new possibilities present themselves.

What does The Light Factory do well? What do you want it to do better?

We’re good at helping make the eye and mind work together. We're 30 years old and over the last 3 years we've worked hard to become a more professionally managed organization. We’re unique in our region and we want to reach out more to all corners of the community. We welcome volunteers who would like to help us further our mission.

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