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Leap year shaping the futures of emerging artists

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Leap year shaping the futures of emerging artists

The Shade by Auguste Rodin at the High Museum of Art.

The Shade by Auguste Rodin at the High Museum of Art.

Erin Davis

The Shade by Auguste Rodin at the High Museum of Art.

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

The Shade by Auguste Rodin at the High Museum of Art.

By Erin Davis, North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia

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A Mecca of DIY and emerging visual artists lies within the heart of Atlanta; this flourishing and diverse metropolis serves as a catalyst for unprecedented creative expression. Through the years, Atlanta’s creative scene flourished into a melting pot of visual arts, infusing various art forms, cultures and practices. An ever-expanding plethora of art spaces, galleries, festivals, platforms, and creative collectives exist within the city’s local hearths.

These creative spaces include The High Museum, the South’s hallmark art museum, and the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)—the only museum in the Southeast devoted solely to design.  Emerging grassroots art galleries and spaces shape the innovation incubated within the local arts community, and organizations such as The Bakery and Mammal Gallery act as both platforms and collectives for DIY artists. Creators even splatter the walls of Atlanta with public installations and murals spanning from Krog Street Tunnel, The Beltline Path, Sweet Auburn along Edgewood Avenue, to Little Five Points. The vibrancy and diversity of Atlanta’s art community set standards for artistic excellence nationwide.

Atlanta’s emerging and underground arts scene celebrates the avant-garde along with the unconventional, all under the umbrella of non-commercial art. The thriving art scene within Atlanta defines itself through its up-and-coming artists, as well as having a plethora of community organizations geared to fostering its growth.

Leap Year, a flagship program of MINT Gallery, strives to provide the space, resources, and opportunities that these emerging artists need to flourish within Atlanta’s immense art community. The organization, founded in 2006 by Atlanta university students, originated from the dissatisfaction with the lack of space and accessibility to resources for emerging artists. Thus, MINT’s creation revolved around the desire to give a voice and platform to emerging local creatives. The organization presented over 1000 artists through its platform over the years, and continues to encourage creatives to explore media including installation, sculpture, painting, film, performance, photography and literature. The organization challenges the established ‘status-quo’ and to promote emotive and original work outside the mainstream.

Leap Year, MINT gallery’s resident fellowship program, arose from the lack of resources and rising financial burdens for local Atlanta creatives. An annual panel made up of leaders within the Atlanta arts community review applications from artists across the city; from this pool, the panel chooses five distinct local artists for the year-long fellowship program. In addition to developing individual voice and technique as creatives, Leap Year artists also engage in public art and community outreach programs. In a city whose artistic expression intertwines with social issues, this key focus serves as a bridge between Leap Year artists and their local communities.

Beyond community leadership, however, Leap Year artists create a unique additional square to Atlanta’s patchwork art scene. Through the Leap Year program, the support artists receive allow them to conceptually and creatively explore and test limits. The program cultivates the development of emerging Atlanta artists; through the program, artists receive a living wage to present “ephemeral and experiential” work.

“We believe that this program is necessary as the creation of this kind of work is essential to a vibrant arts community, but is not usually commercially viable. Leap Year provides a space for artists to create without the need for it to be viable at retail,” Director of MINT Gallery Cory Klose said.

Mint Gallery provides Leap Year artists with a variety of resources geared to foster development and as well as provide support, such as a studio space for six months, a two week residency at the Hambidge Center, public art and community engagement opportunities, studio visits with guest curators and critics, a solo exhibition, and mentorships.

“We believe that this unique combination of program attributes provides Leap Year artists the time and the tools to experiment and create important work,” Klose said.

Though underexposure and lack of space create significant hurdles, the most immediate issue concerning emerging artists revolves around financial support and resources, or lack thereof. Despite its ever-growing and developing local arts community, Georgia holds some of the lowest per capita art funding in the country. Georgia’s creative industries represent $37 billion in revenue and $62.5 billion in total economic impact, employing 200,000 (5%) of Georgia’s population. These industries provide nearly 140,00 jobs across the state, with a total of 1.6 billion earnings.  Despite this, Georgia claimed the 49th spot nationally for states dedicating funding for the arts in the 2018 fiscal year at 11 cents per person.  In June of 2018, Georgia saw a small regional shift in budgetary spending, in which a $664.4 million budget, passed unanimously by Atlanta’s City Council, doubled the city’s public funding for the arts. In analysis, these statistics point towards Georgia’s undervaluing of the arts, despite the creative industries that blossom there. Atlanta, the largest and most populated city within Georgia, where a large concentration of the state’s arts and creative industries thrive, represents a beacon of change and innovation not only within Georgia, but within the South on a whole; further changes mirroring the city’s own may yet ripple throughout budgetary policies and funding. Further, through The Georgia Council of Arts, regional artists and arts organizations claim that the arts “drive tourism, create jobs and attract new businesses to our state” as well as “revitalize communities”; “engage citizens in programs and services that offer benefits ranging from improved physical and mental health and increased civic engagement to new skills development and better problem-solving”; “play an essential role in education, cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, inventors, and creative problem solvers that will place Georgia as a leader in the global economy”; and “build and invest in community connections creating a collective sense of place and identity”.

These assertions further drive the benefits of cultivating and funding a rich arts community and provide insight into the reasoning of any future shifts toward more statewide arts funding. But arts funding exists as more than just numbers and statistics; funding and budgetary cuts affect both the arts industry and the artists and students of creative studies alike.

“I think the creative community is what helps us progress as a community. Underfunding the arts stunts cultural growth. I think sometimes people just don’t realize how necessary arts are, but we rely on them for a lot. Entertainment, social insight, inspiration, it all comes from artists, no matter what form of art they create,” senior Hope Kutsche said.

Arts funding policies and action ripple throughout government institutions statewide. Neglect of the arts may start at upper-tiers, but it works its way down into local school programming.

“I think that the focus on athletics is unfair to many music programs across Georgia, considering that many art students like chorus, band, art, and orchestra put in great amounts of effort to execute their talent and work ethic. And yes I think that investing in the creative community is vital to the success of students and the school alike,” senior Zaarah Ukechi said.

Perhaps these statistics influence the overvaluing of sports and other programming in comparison to the arts within schools. Causation may exist between the importance placed on athletics and abysmal arts funding.

“Sports are seen as important because they build character skills and foster teamwork. However, I feel that the arts are equally as important for providing an outlet for students outside of academic classes. The arts provide creative and expressive opportunities that strengthen communication skills and encourage higher thinking,” senior Claire Vance said.

Neglect of the arts in budgetary funding places a particularly hefty financial burden upon artists. An artist’s craft demands studio space, exhibition space, and materials, which individually generate excesses of costs. This necessitates a consistent and stable source of income and a degree of financial stability that emerging artists struggle to attain. Along with that, career planning and informational resources prove an essential element for the development of emerging artists, particularly student artists.

“Young artists need access to support systems because they are viewed as unimportant and need to have support in order to grow and continue their art expansion.  Arts are important at North Cobb because they offer a way out for many students. They allow students to get their stress and other emotions out in a positive, productive way. Without the arts, many students would feel lost or hopeless,”  sophomore Ana Leigh Toth said.

With the impressive arts program that thrives at North Cobb, a lack of resources available to students planning to pursue fine arts careers serves as a hindrance to their development. These resources are vital to protecting the professional and financial futures of these students, as well as the local arts community overall.

“The Atlanta arts community is a blossoming culture of young minds full of creativity, and  North Cobb’s arts program is one of the most influential programs at the school,” junior Garrett Byrd said.

Career planning and advisement serve as a large part of a student’s preparation to enter any field; however when it comes to the arts, the extensive planning proves even more vital. Students in need of counseling in regards to career planning can contact NC counselors through the contact information of the NC counseling site, as well as through in-school appointments, and can even find outside resources for fine arts career planning, such as job shadows and summer programs.

“I think it’s important for any student to know how to seek out resources to pursue a certain career. I believe it makes sense for students to shadow someone in the chosen field they are looking to pursue in order to understand what the day to day life looks like in addition to the different ways people end up in certain careers,” NC counseler Ms. Perozzi said .

Job shadows and pre-college programs provide a valuable assessment of the potential of a career in the arts of a student. Though job outlook projection will increase by 8 percent for multimedia creators and artisis, the arts persist to be a largely underpaid feild in the current market. Going into a risky field where subjectivity determines success, students must be aware of cost-benefit analysis in their decisions in college programs and associated tuition and costs.

“I think that students going into the arts need to be concerned about the job outlook in their chosen field, if they are pursuing college first. This can be an expensive endeavor for anyone attending college, and it’s important to be in tune with the job placement rate of any college or training program. If a training program or college offers a good “return on investment” as in students have a job quite soon after finishing their degree/training, that would be a good investment of money,” said Ms. Perozzi.

With low tuition and the promise of the HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships to qualifiers, local options for art programs such as Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University draws students with knowledgement of both the risky career path they pursue and the restriction of financial resources.  Though scholarship and grant options exist, the scarcity of organisations that provide the much needed career and financial resources for fine arts professionals and students casts a daunting outlook on the uncertain future of the field.

Thus the financial resources and services that organizations like MINT Gallery provide supplement the financial demands of creating art full-time as much as possible.

“The main struggles of emerging artists all start with finances. Leap Year provides a long list of perks including studio space and a solo show which is free to the artist, and pays them a stipend in addition,” Klose said.

Leap Year strives to provide the support its artists need to ensure their success, slowly buildings a strong generation of up-and-coming artists. And though financials play an inarguably large part in its programming, the impact that Leap Year has overall on artistic development goes far beyond financials. The mentorships and exhibition opportunities the program provides also enriches the artists’ experiences.

“Since the program is geared towards emerging artists, this is usually the first time they’ve presented an entire solo show or had a mentor in such a personal capacity. I think this is a huge part of a person’s development as an artist,” Klose said.

Leap year artists create innovative and emotive creations as a diverse group of creatives. The artists accepted into the program reflect the diversity of Atlanta, a cultural melting pot. The diversity of the program extends far past surface levels and ventures into the conceptual and interdisciplinary.

“We’re proud of the diversity of both our artists and the works they’ve created during their time in Leap Year. Our artists have a unique sense of perspective and have a story to tell through their art,” Klose said.

This year’s Leap Year artists reflect a diverse pool of specializations, conceptual orientations, and background. The 2018-2019 resident artists include Crystal Desai, Angela Davis Johnson, Alex C. Kerr, Blair LeBlanc, Steve Morrison, and Hasani Sahlehe.

Resident Leap Year artist Desai received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from the University of Georgia in 2012. She explores the themes of ancestry, family relationships and self-development in her work through abstraction. Desai’s particular focus revolves around conveying emotional trauma and passion through nature and the female form.

In contrast, Johnson specializes in paintings, public art installation and ritual performances. Her focus revolves around black narratives, particularly that of black women. Johnson explores the vanguard through multimedia, painting and emotive performance.

Kerr, who earned a BFA from the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University in 2015, studies contemporary ideas of vanity and class portrayed in pop culture. His sculpture explores these notions and their disconnect from real world-contexts and realities.

LeBlanc explores patience and empathy through her work. A Georgia State University graduate of 2017 with a BFA, she weaves vulnerability and authenticity into her work and reflects upon how it can uplift her community.

Morrison earned a BFA in Illustration from Brigham Young University in 2006, and later an MFA in Painting from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015. Morrison, professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of West Georgia and professional illustrator, analyzes the natures and movements of shifting and evolving forms.

Sahlehe, the last of Leap Year’s artists, received a BFA in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015. The multidisciplinary artists portray and explores varying concepts of perception through simple forms, language, and artistic techniques.

MINT Gallery’s Leap Year program showcases a plethora of local artistic talent, and endeavors to uplift the emerging local artist culture. Reflective of the needs of its community, MINT Gallery strives to uplift local artists through its Leap Year program and support the flourishing of the growing Atlanta arts community as a whole. The organization not only adds to the Atlanta arts scene, but the entirety of the local community.

This story was originally published on The Chant on December 18, 2018.

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