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Plein Air Pawtucket

Plein Air Pawtucket is the centerpiece of the Pawtucket Arts Festival. During the weekend of September 10, 12 artists will set up their canvases along a 1.25-mile walking tour that takes visitors to the Pawtucket Falls, Slater Mill, the library, the armory and along the Blackstone River.

According to Plein Air Pawtucket founder Nick Paciorek, the beauty of the event is that it allows visitors a different view of a piece of art and of a landscape. “Pawtucket offers such a rich source of inspiration for painters, and this event offers a chance for people to enjoy the outdoors, watch the artists work and see the city through the lens of the artist.”

Work done in plein air is particularly interesting because it allows an artist to incorporate color, movement and ever-changing natural light into their work. Passersby who fall in love with a particular piece may purchase it at the Pawtucket-based Pitcher-Goff House Gallery and Studio, a gorgeous venue worthy of a visit. The works created during the Plein Air Pawtucket event will become the inaugural paintings of the Pawtucket Collection, an ongoing collection of art that captures the spirit of Pawtucket.

The Pitcher-Goff House Gallery and Studio is located at 99 Broadway, Pawtucket. fb.com/NickPaciorekStudio




A Room of Their Own: Pawtucket gallery puts queer artists at the forefront

The Queer Art Collective, set in the historic Exchange Street District of Pawtucket, is open to all visitors. There is no sense of exclusion upon walking through its doors, and the artwork of the current exhibit represents a very diverse collection of voices and views, from Joe Welch’s evocative, prolapsing sculptures to the surreal and timeless photographic images by Darrion Rose. But the gallery has an unusual submissions policy: Queer Artists Only Need Apply. 

Gallery owner and director Taylor Davis takes a decisive stand in her mission statement at the company website: “Here, at The Queer Art Collective, we put queer artists at the forefront and refuse to have their true stories silenced. It’s our mission to break down heteronormative art culture and create a space that doesn’t tokenize sexuality for means of diversity. Queerness is not a performance to be commercialized and capitalized upon.”

What makes this space truly unique is that in her quest for an LGBTQIA+ sanctuary, Davis has also managed to create a space where everyone who enters feels welcome.

“I opened during the pandemic – because of the pandemic,” Davis told me. Admission was by appointment only at first. “It was for COVID at the time. People needed to get out of the house, they were getting so depressed, lonely and isolated. Here, they could come in, walk around and see art. One thing a lot of people have said to me was, ‘I haven’t seen art in person in over a year!’”

I asked if there had been any protest from straight artists or accusations of discrimination. This is something that Davis readily admits. “That’s right, they’d be correct in that.” She added, “It’s not our intention to discriminate against heterosexuals. However, it is making the statement that this is our space.” Davis has seen a general lack of representation for queer artists, and sees this gallery as a step toward balance. “How often do you hear about places that discriminate and only hire straight people? And if you aren’t straight, they will treat you poorly. Well, this is a space where LGBTQIA+ artists don’t have to feel that way.” 

Davis is amazed at the support she has found since moving to RI. ”I feel like I have a community here now – I’m meeting all these other people with stores and galleries. I’ve never seen so many workers’ unions. cooperatives and collectives as I’ve seen here, and it’s really exciting to be a part of that. It’s like finding your people. And now I have a company that I am bringing others into; it’s changed me as a person along with my perspective on what community is and what I want to do here.”

The current exhibit runs through October 5 and has an intriguing theme: When The Colors Fade: A Queer Riot Against Corporate Pride. Davis explained, “It’s in response to the companies that don’t support LGBTQIA+ people normally, but they want to capitalize off of us, so they’ve come out with gay pride rainbow merch to cash in.”

The gallery is booked through January, which is when their current lease is up. But Davis has big plans for the future. “I’d like to get a license for a wine bar; hopefully we can open the gallery portion and keep that going during construction. We’re looking at property now in Providence proper. I do love Pawtucket, but I don’t get a lot of foot traffic, so I need a place that’s more centralized for people who just walk in. Things are really opening up.”

As the world struggles to find its way back from COVID, Davis has established her own new normal for a group that has too often been targeted or marginalized. “As human beings we all experience classism in different forms; this gallery is about my own community and what I can do for them. Queer people deserve to have safe spaces. They deserve to have companies that care about them and their voice.”

This is one company that does.

The Queer Art Collective is at 172 Exchange St, Pawtucket. To reserve your tickets for the July exhibition open house visit thequeerartcollective.org/upcoming-events or go to fb.com/TheQueerArtCollective for more info.  




A Suite of Artists

AS220 recently released the “Murmurations Community Tarot Project,” a collaborative tarot deck created by Providence artists as a fundraiser for the non-profit community arts center. “I wanted to pull the community together,” said LUMUKU, an AS220 resident who organized the effort. “I hope it’s a fun way for people to reconnect or even become aware of contributors to the deck that they didn’t know before.” 

José Menéndez and Tati Gómez both contributed to the deck and collaborated on its branding, card backs, layout and packaging. “We hope people can see the diversity of visual artists connected with AS220,” they said. “It is an amazing collaborative effort to support our local arts organization. All this beautiful work is combined in a functional tarot card set that we hope a lot of people order.”

Amanda Soule, a local artist and contributor, said that she “hope(s) that this tarot deck helps people have introspective conversations with themselves while also hearing the voices of their community. I have found the tarot to be an immensely powerful tool for gaining awareness of my own hopes and fears, desires and aversions…I’m really excited to have the input of so many other artists involved in that dialogue, through their interpretations of the cards.” 

More than 80 artists participated. The deck can be purchased at as220.org/tarot, and artwork from the deck is available for viewing by appointment at the project space gallery. 




Gallery Night Goes Virtual

Gallery Night Providence found a creative solution to COVID restrictions by performing a quick pivot from in-person to virtual. They have now hit their stride on Facebook Live with an engaging format that takes viewers on a virtual trolley ride through Providence. “We didn’t miss a single Gallery Night,” said Shari Weinberger, Gallery Night president.  

Alyssa Ann Heller, Gallery Night executive director, explained how it works: “I arrive at a gallery to interview the director or the artist on Facebook Live for 10 minutes. Once time is up, I flip it over to Kelly Brown (Gallery Night’s social media manager) who is waiting at the next gallery. While she is broadcasting, I drive to the following gallery. We continue to tag-team across the city.” After a few months, the event became so successful that Gallery Night’s social media roots increased a thousand fold. 

How did Gallery Night manage to expand attendance, while so many in-person events went under? “Before COVID, we could fit 25 people per trolley,” Weinberger told us. “But for Virtual Gallery Night, anyone can access our Facebook Live videos from their devices, in the comfort and safety of their own homes.” Gallery Night now reaches across the country, from NY to LA, even to Canada, countries in Europe, India and Taiwan. Virtual Galery Night has become such a hit that it will likely become a permanent fixture, allowing those who have a difficult time getting out to stay connected with the Providence art scene. The South Side Cultural Center on Broad Street, a new member to Gallery Night, has also opened the door to a new culturally diverse audience. “At least 38% of our population in Providence is Hispanic, and we want to reach them,” said Heller. She has grants in the works to fund bilingual tours.

2021 is Gallery Night’s 25th Anniversary Year, and Weinberger is optimistic about the future. “Our motto is Art For Everyone. This COVID experience has actually helped us to reach out. It’s not limited by ability or mobility – virtually anyone can participate.” 

gallerynightprovidence.org; facebook.com/gallerynightprovidence; @gallerynightprovidence




From Concrete to Jungle: Adam Anderson continues to bring life to Rhode Island cities

You may already be familiar with Adam Anderson’s work. He’s behind one of the more glorious sights during the summer in Providence, 10,000 Suns, the field of sunflowers that blooms across the parcel of land left vacant by the I-195 highway relocation. When the city put out a request for proposals last year for the new Roger Williams Park Gateway Entrance on Broad Street, Anderson’s studio Design Under Sky (DUS) was a natural to be part of the INFORM design team; their entry became the winning bid. 

I asked Anderson about the impact of landscape architecture on urban life. “I think it is that connective tissue which makes city life possible, this thread that is essential for our existence,” he said. “As an art form, it expresses our relationship to nature and the living world, and makes us ask questions about how we are living.” 

Prior to forming DUS, Anderson worked for the award-winning offices of Landworks Studio and Ground, Inc. in Boston. There, among other projects, he designed gardens for numerous hospitals, both here and in China. “It’s another function of landscape architecture – incorporating the healing balm of nature with the urban realm. We bring nature and culture together in an artistic way, a sculptural way, that allows the two systems to work with each other.”

The colorful new RW Park Gateway Entrance is designed to welcome the Broad Street community and beckon them into the park, but the gardens also serve an environmental purpose. “We took a 100% asphalt site and turned it into a 70% permeable site. I think it’s going to play a big role in increasing the vibrancy of that area.”

Anderson notes that the influence of landscape architecture isn’t always obvious. “The designs aren’t in your face, you don’t necessarily recognize that there’s been an architect involved, but when you see it, you know it – you move through it and then you say, ‘Oh, that was nice.’” 

Anderson’s focus for now is on cities. “I’m particularly interested in urban spaces and bringing the joy and delight of the living world into them so that people can continually reconnect and have that sensibility,” he said. And the simplest design can often be the most effective. Anderson recalls his project Living Edge, just north of the new pedestrian bridge. “There was a beautiful willow tree and all I did was put a bench under it and it became this beautiful little serene spot to look at the river.” He smiled. 

“Sometimes all you need is a good tree, a nice seat and a good beer.”

For more, go to designundersky.com or follow @adameanderson




Governor McKee Releases His $11.2 Billion Budget Proposal: New gov proposes an end to prohibition

Governor Dan McKee released his $11.2 billion budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year today in a budget briefing with the press. He inherits a big task from predecessor Gina Raimondo — balancing a deficit of $336 million dollars with some new budget priorities. Federal dollars will provide a big boost to state and local budgets. The state will receive $1.7 billion in the American Rescue Plan, with $1.1 billion allocated to the state, and the rest to be doled out to municipalities over the next two years.

“My budget also looks ahead for the needs that will persist even after the virus subsides,” said Governor McKee. Highlights from the governor’s budget include additional funds from the medication-assisted treatment program for inmates in the ACI, a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, legalized marijuana, and millions in grants for small business assistance. State budget officials also want to start a child care assistance pilot program for parents pursuing higher education, make investments in utility infrastructure, and create a fully funded car tax phase out. Under the McKee budget, school districts could see total state aid to local districts increase by $34.9 million.

McKee’s proposal for marijuana legalization is different than former Gov. Raimondo’s; McKee favors a market-based system. There would be a controlled rollout of 25 retail licenses spread over three years with five set aside for qualifying Minority Business Enterprise applicants. The governor would create a Cannabis Reinvestment Task Force to make recommendations on long-term investments of cannabis tax revenues in specific targeted areas. 

“This budget will propose an effective tax rate of 20%, around 7% sales tax,” said DBR director Liz Tanner to Motif. The remaining 13% in taxes would be various other retail, wholesale and excise taxes. The effective tax rate, under the governor’s legalized marijuana plan, would be 20%, the same effective tax rate as neighboring Massachusetts. 

The RI State Senate has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana, and officials from the governor’s office said they were looking forward to an ongoing dialogue with the General Assembly on the marijuana moves.

The proposed budget sets aside an additional $50,000 in arts grants and continues to fund the full-time equivalent positions in the arts created from a previous round of federal funding last year.

No new tax increases were contained in the governor’s proposed budget, something the governor had promised previously. There have been slowly growing calls for increases on the Ocean State’s wealthiest over the course of the pandemic as wealth inequality increases. The governor’s team stressed the importance of federal funds in avoiding any tax increases this year, with money dedicated to minimizing the economic impacts of the pandemic and keeping the economy going.

The governor’s proposal also closes the deficit to balance the state budget. The McKee administration seeks to recover lost tax monies from PPP loans. The loans, given to local businesses throughout the pandemic, are typically forgiven if the business follows the loan agreement. Typically when debt is forgiven, the state or federal government is allowed to tax the forgiven debt as income. The first round of PPP loans were not allowed to be taxed by states, causing an estimated $133.3 million loss for the state, according to McKee’s team. The proposal would exempt the first $150,000 of loans forgiven to taxation, with 13% on loans above the threshold. In FY 2021 this will recover $3.6 million for the state, with an additional $64.1 million the following fiscal year.

State officials also want to defer paying back money into the rainy day fund, saving the state $70 million that will not be paid back until 2023. This would be subject to change if the law was amended to allow the state more time to pay it back. Under the proposal, the state would also increase the hospital licensing by 1%, netting an estimated $62 million in revenue, with various other cuts. 




Writing on the Wall

After a June night of violence in PVD, many downtown business owners covered their surviving windows with plywood to protect them from being broken during anticipated protests. Local artists beautified the display by using the panels as blank canvases where portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and messages of peace and justice emerged. The protests were peaceful and the panels unnecessary, but the art remains. They’re now displayed on Eddy Street, just across from the Biltmore Garage, where passersby can witness their messages.

Photo credit: Tess Lyons; art by @twobirds.Art, @diaryofaquarantinedartist, @coleseyeview, @mister.diablo, @_Happysloth_, @tattoovandal, @lunabadoula, @lizzysour, @96CYRI, @so.Roni, @naturalsnatural,  @lucidTraveler_Art, @joselin_0321, @Escoky, @_happysloth_, @brooxana,  @shelaughsxo, @martin_p292




Opinion – Stop Criticizing Shepard Fairey’s “RI Angel of Hope and Strength”

“RI Angel of Hope and Strength” by Shepard Fairey, 2020.
(Source: RIarts.org)

At her daily press briefing on April 25, RI Gov. Gina Raimondo announced an arts initiative, inviting anyone in whatever medium to submit original family-friendly work on a new website RIarts.org created for that purpose.

The governor said that she contacted internationally renowned artist Shepard Fairey and asked him to help by creating a work that inspired hope. “I just called Shepard Fairey a month or so ago, a few weeks ago, I can’t remember now. He’s a RISD grad and he’s a very well known artist. It was kind of the depths of this, to be honest, and I thought everybody could use a little bit of hope, so I asked him if he would volunteer his services and create an image that he thought would be hopeful, and this is what he came up with, like he says, to celebrate the courage of healthcare workers specifically, and generally symbolize the spirit of hope, strength, compassion and resilience. It’s all his artistry and I thought, and I think, it’s beautiful. To me, in addition to the fact that it’s a symbol of hope and strength, I see it and I feel it’s just really a nod to all of our first responders and healthcare workers, and a big thank you from us to them. It reminds me a little of Rosie the Riveter.”

“Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker by Shepard Fairey, 1989.

Fairey got his start as a student at RISD making guerrilla illustrations, most notably the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stickers created as a quick project in 1989, a seeming advertisement for nothing with no clear meaning that he sold for 10 cents each. The surreal incongruity of the “Andre” stickers caused them to appear everywhere, soon plastered on walls and street signs by admirers in many cities, participants in an anti-art mass in-joke subtly ridiculing the techniques and tropes of advertising: “Why does he need a posse, and why are you telling me?” Somewhere between Marcel Duchamp and Zen koan, “Andre” struck a nerve and became a memorable popular icon, widely recognized and frequently parodied. Beyond the community of artists (and sk8er bois) familiar with the “Andre” sticker, Fairey became far more well known in 2008 as the creator of the definitive campaign image of Barack Obama, the “Hope” poster.

Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey, 2008.

While he was alive
the actual André the Giant does not seem to have minded (nor even
noticed) the attention from Fairey, but after his death in 1993 his
estate demanded that Fairey stop selling anything referencing the
trademarked professional wrestling character name, forcing Fairey to
simplify and abstract the image to mostly just the eyes. Fairey
labeled the new version with nothing more than the word “OBEY,”
which became his new brand. In another nod to anti-commercialism,
that is a reference to the 1988 John Carpenter horror film They
Live
, in which space aliens
infiltrate human society and use a secret transmitter to brainwash
people into being unaware of subliminal messages conveyed through
advertising, and the hero obtains sunglasses with “Hoffman lenses”
so he can see what is really happening, an
allusion to Swiss chemist
Albert Hofmann who discovered LSD. (Carpenter
wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Frank Armitage” as an
homage to
H.P. Lovecraft’s
consistent theme of the
“hidden world.”) The
film has since become a cult classic, with the aliens introducing
climate change – remember, this was in 1988 – to warm the earth
more like
their natural habitat.

The governor said that Fairey immediately agreed to her request and designed the “Rhode Island Angel of Hope and Strength,” an obvious evocation of the Statue of Liberty: a winged woman holding a torch, dressed in medical garb with a red cross emblem. The RI Arts website quotes Fairey: “This piece was created to celebrate the courage of healthcare workers specifically, and generally symbolize the spirit of hope, strength, compassion and resilience that we can all find in ourselves and share collectively.” The governor told Motif that no money changed hands and the work is royalty-free for any use.

There is an uncanny
resonance between Fairey’s most famous work, the Obama “Hope”
poster, and the heraldic seal of the State of Rhode Island, a fouled
anchor with the motto “Hope.” Seeking to found a bastion of
religious freedom, the earliest settlers of Rhode Island were
refugees of conscience escaping Massachusetts, and the seal (often
mistaken for a nautical allusion) is a canting reference to the
Epistle to the Hebrews
6:18-19 which, in the King James Version, describes those
“…who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before
us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and
stedfast…”

There is enormous irony that Fairey, whose early work embraced anti-commercialism, now with his wife Amanda runs an advertising agency, Studio Number One, that draws a direct line from “Andre” to a client list including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, Adidas and Nike: “What started for Fairey with an absurd sticker he created in 1989 while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design has since evolved into a worldwide street art campaign. Heidegger describes this as Phenomenology – ‘the process of letting things manifest themselves.’” Given that Martin Heidegger is primarily remembered today as one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century who tragically manifested himself as an ardent Nazi, one suspects Fairey intends this as yet another joke.

In a revealing
interview conducted by Chris Nieratko of International Tattoo
Magazine
in 1999, a decade
before the Obama poster would make his work instantly recognizable,
Fairey discussed that. “I always want to maintain the sense
of humor in it all. I think it’s real important that people can see
the humor in everything. And even though some people don’t see the
humor in the Stalin graphics or the Lenin graphics, people need to
realize they are not serious. You can’t insert obey giant’s face
next to that of a communist leader and hope that people pull the
message, ‘Communist, dead wrestlers should take over the world.’
There are those people that take it that way, that have such a
knee-jerk reaction to the colors that they automatically think it’s
negative. What’s so ironic though is that they are assaulted,
bombarded with Marlboro using the same colors as l am, but they don’t
get uptight over that. They should fear Marlboro way more than a dead
wrestler, that’s for sure. What I’m doing now is making fun of
propaganda and advertising utilizing the same devices at the same
time.”

RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity critical graphic showing “RI Angel of Hope and Strength” by Shepard Fairey, flanked by posters from Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini.

Right on cue two decades later, on Apr 28 the conservative research and advocacy group RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity issued a statement condemning Fairey’s angel as “a bastardization of the Statue of Liberty wearing a communist China-type cap and tunic, in a layout reminiscent of posters supporting fascist dictatorships of the past,” showing it flanked by early 20th Century fascist posters of Stalin, Hitler, and a figure representing Mussolini’s Italy, all with arms upraised in a similar pose. That’s a bizarre criticism, as Fairey’s female figure is wearing a nursing cap, complete with stripe, used since the 1800s as a formal part of the uniform to identify the educational pedigree of the wearer, each nursing school having its own distinctive cap. As anti-communist as one can get, the original inspiration for the nursing cap invented by Florence Nightingale was the nun’s habit, and to this day in British Commonwealth English it is common to describe a medical nurse, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, as a “nursing sister.”

Zeus of Smyrna in the Louvre Museum, with right arm upraised holding a thunderbolt.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A
human figure with an arm upraised holding a source of light is hardly
new, and it
is
very common in art. The Statue of Liberty itself was designed around
1870 and dedicated in 1886. An 1,800-year-old statue of Zeus found in
Smyrna can now be seen in the Louvre Museum
in Paris after a restoration in the 1600s gave it an upraised arm
holding a lightning bolt.

Currier and Ives lithograph showing artistic rendering of the Statue of Liberty the year before it was constructed.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Even more galling, the simplistic artistic style favored by Stalin and Hitler, intended by them to make art uncomplicated and accessible to the average person, had been perfected by Americans in the 1800s not because of authoritarian forces of government but by the democratic impulses of commercialism. Currier and Ives, founded in 1857, advertised itself as “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints,” introducing Americans to mass-produced wall art sold for as little as 5 cents, printed by lithographic presses and then hand-colored by low-skill workers. Indeed, the firm published an artistic rendering of what the Statue of Liberty would look like a year before it was constructed.

Cover of The Saturday Evening Post from 1903 by George Gibbs, showing the late German chancellor Otto von Bismarck with his right arm upraised (holding his hat).
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This style of American illustration arguably reached its pinnacle in The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine founded in 1897 that made a household name of Norman Rockwell and used the work of many other famous American illustrators including J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth; a 1903 cover by George Gibbs shows the late German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, with his right arm upraised (holding his hat) in the red and black color scheme that Fairey describes as characteristic of Marlboro ads.

“Hope and Strength Woman” by Shepard Fairey for Amplifier.org.

The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity statement also alleged the image “is nothing more than a slight modification of a prior work,” but Gov. Raimondo’s office confirmed to Motif the situation was the reverse: the original was made for RI but its public release was delayed at the request of the governor to coincide with the announcement of her arts initiative on Apr 25, while in the meantime Fairey asked for permission to adapt it to a more generic version for Amplifier.org that was released on Apr 10, the dates ordering giving the mistaken impression that RI got a knock-off.

On the day the governor released the Fairey image, she was asked by a reporter whether the young female figure, perceived as white, was unrepresentative of those of color, men and older. The governor defended the image: “First of all, I don’t know that you know that she’s white. It’s an image, and it’s a black and white and red thing. It’s art: you can look into it whatever you want to see. By the way, if somebody wanted to do another image, that’s exactly why I launched the whole other website. Hopefully other people will put up other images and that would be great.”

One need not like Fairey’s work, but asserting that it is somehow “a symbol of communist and fascist totalitarianism,” when it looks at least as much like The Saturday Evening Post or a Marlboro ad, is criticism grounded in plain ignorance of art history.




Hagiography or New Saints

Local Rhode Island artist Norlan Olivo will be displaying his work in the group show Hagiography or New Saints, at Distillery Gallery at 516 East 2nd Street, Boston. As a long-term resident of AS220, Olivo hopes to highlight Providence’s evolution as a collaborative arts community, while challenging some of Providence’s darker undertones. Providence on Fire, the title of Olivo’s first sculpture and political piece, is in response to Providence’s parking and ticketing system as it applies to economically disadvantage communities. The sculpture is a car cut in half and covered in parking tickets. It will be on display from March 6 through April 3. To learn more about Olivo and his upcoming shows, visit Instagram @yoonorlan




Artistic Expression: This pandemic is hitting artists where it hurts

Performance cancellations, while necessary, are having a very real impact on the income of local artists. On this page, we’ll compile a list of resources and fun stuff to help artists connect, support each other and express themselves. To add to this list, email news@motifri.com

Find a list of free resources, opportunities and financial relief opportunities for artists here: covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2FhLt924rScJt2Hl4vMylXNFEDWyamcDhBmPjsWsYIJZ7mbHreC87j370

Rad Cat Crimson Al-Khemia insists that “the quarantine can’t stop the scene” and encourages artists to keep expressing themselves by posting videos of their performances with #TheRadRemedy.

Head Trick Theatre will help you take part in #TheRadRemedy. Email your idea of a theater performance or scene you’d like to perform and record to headtricktheatre@gmail.com.

Spoken word artist Christopher Johnson also suggests artists post videos of their performances with #SocialDistance.