DOPT UPDATE: Exploring the South

Dear Department of Public Transformation!

Since my last update on Monday evening, we have visited with artists in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. We have also driven through Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia – our wheels and are heads are spinning, but we are so happy, hearing so many inspiring stories, and making many new friends along the way!

First, we stopped in West Texas in a town called Albany to visit with Pat Kelly and Kenna Hogan at The Old Jail Art Center. In this town of about 2,000, this incredible former jail turned contemporary art museum has more works in their permanent collection (2500) than they have people in their community. This includes works by Klee, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Modigliani to name a few! Their mission is to make contemporary art accessible and relevant to their community and they are kicking-butt doing it!

From there, we made our way to the town of Edom, TX – in the 70s Doug Potter purchased an old building on Main Street of this struggling community and started a small but powerful movement of artists moving in! Here, we met with the potters Doug and his wife Beth, jewelry makers Zeke and Marty, Birdhouse Joe, Sherry Albertson, a musician and owner of the local coffee shop, and Jeff and Julie Gottesman who run The Old Firehouse gallery and music venue. In this town of 350, arts are more than alive and well – they are thriving!

Next, we made our way to Fayetteville, TX (pop. 250) to visit with Jeanne Schilling and her staff at ARTS for Rural Texas. In this area, nearly all arts programs have been cut from the schools. This little engine that could provides arts programming to thousands of children per year – both in their town and many of the surrounding rural communities. They utilize this youth programming to access the adults in the community, as well. And, since they started about 10 years ago, many more galleries and artsstudios have opened in the community – AND, the local community comes and participates! In addition to visiting with ARTS, we also met with Joan from the Red & White Contemporary Art Gallery and a local stained-glass artist, Blake Bour, who is also a veteran, a firefighter, and the only woman / person under 40 that’s a member of the local American Legion - in small towns, we wear many hats!

From Fayetteville, we made our way to Arnaudville, Louisiana to visit with the NUNU Collective – this eclectic and passionate group of artists have transformed their community in less than 10 years – not by leaving behind tradition, but by embracing, highlighting and celebrating the language, cuisine, art, talent and culture of Southern Louisiana. In addition to filling us up with so many inspiring stories and ideas, they also fed us a delicious pot of Chicken a la King, gave us a jar of roux, and taught us how to make Gumbo!

Next, we made our way to McComb / Summit, MS to meet with Calvin Phelps and his husband, Clay, of Pike School of Art. Calvin moved back to the area from Los Angeles less than two years ago and is already making major connections and incredible work happen – including a nomadic arts residency for artists to research and create work based on the troubled history of the south. We also met with the powerhouse Fern Crossley in an on-air interview on WAZA (which we live-streamed on Facebook here) and at her home gallery showcasing her late husband’s art work. We also paid a visit to the incredible Jubilee Center for the Performing Arts – whose students blew us away with an unbelievable impromptu choir concert!

From here, we made our way to Newbern, AL to meet with Xavier Vendrell – one of the instructors of Rural Studio – an amazing program of Auburn University. Architecture students have the option of participating in the Rural Studio as a part of their degree program. In the 20+ years that rural studio has been in operation, they have built a beautiful new firehouse, library, and city hall for the community alongside many other development projects, giving the students real-life community engagement experience and showing them that there are options for designers and architects outside of the urban environment.

From here, we drove through Georgia, spent a day in South Carolina (which I will write about in my next update, since this one is already so long!) and we are now driving through North Carolina and Virginia on our way to Washington DC to prepare for the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow.

I march for Public Transformation.

Thank you all for your love and support and words of encouragement along the way! There are so many more stories to share and I am looking forward to giving them all the reflection and time they deserve, so I can share them back with you!

In solidarity,
Ash, Randi, Bodie, & Dan the Van