It’s Thursday, October 22. The final evening for pre-submission to OPEN WALLS, our community art exhibit.
I’ll be the second volunteer on shift today. I make it on time (for those who know me well, this is impressive), but barely. I should be early. I have the keys.
I arrive to find Lisa waiting for me. She’s not alone. A line up of four artists–canvas in hand–has formed behind her. These people are excited to share their work.
I really should have gotten here early.
I grab my keys and nervously greet everyone as I get the front door open. We all enter in from the fall chill. Nearly all of us strangers, brought together by creativity.
I greet guests as best I can while Lisa begins to process the submissions. While we do this, more artists arrive. I’m guessing 10 or so by the end of the 2 hour shift. Maybe more.
So many of these artists have never shown their work before. They are grateful for the opportunity to share their work in a decently lit public space dedicated to art. A space where people will not only offer a fleeting glance their way, but pay attention. I cannot imagine how some of these gorgeous works have never climbed out from the basement before today. If I had more idle time tonight, I’d start wondering why.
All night, Lisa, myself and now Grace are frantically taking art, meeting artists and finding space for all of these canvases and frames in our little back room. We close in on 30 pieces. Half way through the evening I remember to put our welcome sign out. In all this commotion, we are also open for the final night of our current show, FORGOTTEN PLACES.
Early in the evening a young man visits the Space for the first time. He has no art. Doesn’t know what we are up to. Just passing by. I get called over to answer a tricky question. Will we accept life-sized sculpture for this show? That depends, I tell the artist, whether we’re talking a life-sized elephant or a life-sized mouse. Turns out somewhere in the middle–a human form cast in plaster and bandages. Brendan Molloy, the sculptor, goes home to take stock of his current work, and returns before the night is through with a beautiful piece - a portion of a torso, head and arm mounted to a block of natural-stained wood.
We close the night with two sculptures and many paintings and photographs. There is embroidery. A large print on aluminum. A tiny collage. A drawing kept from 1974. I leave wondering how on earth we are going to fit this all onto our ‘open walls’.
Turns out we have no problems Friday. Just the usual deliberation and 'humming and hawing' that is essential to any creative endeavour. By Friday afternoon, with plenty of math and a little intuition, the show is hung. 30-odd pieces and still there is harmony. There are discernable clusters of colour, tone and theme. Each piece somehow bolsters those around. Each draws on the energy of community. There is a time for sparse solitude and there is a time for vibrant celebration. This is one of the celebratory moments.
Best of all, we’ve still left some gaps.
I get home to emails from people who missed the deadline. There is no hard deadline, I tell them. We’re accepting work so long as we have room. And when we run out of room, we’ll make more.
If you saw the show at our opening, right at 11 AM, you’ll see a slightly different show now. The show will shift as more visitors get inspired. Guests will think to themselves, ‘oh, I have that piece I hung in my room’ or ‘that piece in the back hallway’ or ‘I didn’t know kids could hang their work here too’.
I am inspired, seeing so many people open themselves up to be seen by others. I know art is an act of vulnerability. I know, for some, the decision to hang a work here took courage and faith.
Once I saw the show hung across our walls–a winding ribbon of colour and texture–I decided to go home and get a painting of my own. I haven’t shown a painting before. I’ve only done a few. But I feel welcome on these walls.
Community is what happens when we open ourselves to the beauty in each other.
Come see and share. We've left some space for you.
OPEN WALLS is open Thursdays from 6-8 PM and Saturdays from 11AM - 3 PM, and closes on Saturday, November 14.
Banner image by Bronwyn Neufeld.