When public buildings, art galleries and museums began shutting their doors in March to comply with the shutdown, their closures also temporarily put a halt to the Cultural Council’s decades-long Art in Public Places initiative.
Art in Public Places, which offers rotating shows of local artists’ works, is coordinated by Lee Smith, who handles the solo shows at the Indian River County Courthouse; Judy Burgarella, who manages shows at County Administration Buildings A and B; and Mark Wygonik, who coordinates shows at the Intergenerational (IG) Center and in the Vero Beach Regional Airport passenger lounge.
When access to in-person viewing came to a standstill, Wygonik, an artist, arts advocate and former Cultural Council board member, came up with the idea for an offshoot of the program. Although he calls it the more descriptive ‘Art in Public Places in the Age of Social Distancing,’ the virtual art gallery on the Cultural Council website is called Art for Art’s Sake (located under the Community tab).
“I’m the kind of person who likes to be out there seeing what other artists are doing; how they display their work, how they show their work and the shows they put together,” Wygonik explains.
“I think there’s a real art to choosing pieces; some artists are very good at making cohesive shows. I feed off of that and I know a lot of other artists, friends of mine, that also feed off of that. They get inspiration from seeing other artists’ work.”
As viewing works in public was no longer possible, Wygonik began asking artists about their current projects, and how the isolation was affecting their creative process.
“I was hoping maybe it would help me as well. I was being community-minded, but I was also being very selfish. Artists have to be self-centered in terms of what they do,” says Wygonik, noting that in essence, artists continually put a part of themselves out there for the world to see.
“It’s great to see what influences and inspires people at this point, when they can’t go out to see other people’s work. What is their influence? What is pulling them, what is driving them right now?”
Hundreds of pieces have been submitted to the virtual show, which has been online for the past several months.
“A lot of them (artists) are remembering places they’ve been or things that have made them happy. That’s the one thing I think that the general theme has been; things that have brought me happiness or that have brought a smile to my face in the past,” says Wygonik.
“I don’t see a lot of dark subject matter, which is interesting. I think that artists are trying to find the light and the happiness and the optimism right now. But art can also be a reflection of the political and the social times, and I think we’re going to see some of that. I think there’s going to be a period when we’re going to see some darker subject matter.”
Wygonik says he has read about arts organizations around the world that are similarly promoting virtual art shows during this time of greater isolation.
“The New York Times had a huge project where there were artists all over the world who were submitting what they are doing during this time. We’re talking about sculptors, photographers, architects, and they were also pulling in the written arts, with poetry and short stories.”
Of particular interest to him were the shows where people, sometimes even masked, have been putting their own spin on classical paintings.
“They are the ones where people are looking at classical paintings and sculptures, and they’re reinterpreting that for today. There’s some beautiful stuff being done in the big arts centers,” says Wygonik. “So that’s really great.”
Although some galleries and buildings are gradually reopening, he is rightly concerned that the rapidly increasing coronavirus levels in Florida may soon drive people back into isolation.
In the meantime, he says he has been impressed by the work being churned out by two of the artists recently profiled in Vero Beach 32963, Xaque Gruber and Josh McMiller. Despite the isolation, Wygonik says McMiller has been “turning out things left and right; it’s amazing.”
“It’s inspirational for me, but honestly, it’s also frustrating from a personal level. I’m working on several pieces but I’m finding it still very hard to get past my block,” says Wygonik. He adds that it isn’t unusual for artists to find their creative juices blocked at some point in their lives.
“It started before the isolation and this whole shutdown, but it has been an effort for me to see how other artists get past a block that is not necessarily self-imposed, but is imposed upon us,” says Wygonik. “That block of not being able to go out in the public and see things. As an advocate for Art in Public Places and as an advocate for galleries and museums and being able to get out there and see what’s going on in the world, this is my frustration right now.”
To those artists who might also be having a hard time connecting, Wygonik wants them to know they are certainly not alone. It’s one of the reasons he feels that having this virtual outlet might be constructive.
“I hear it from artists, I hear it from collectors and I hear it from the general public, that this project has been very helpful to them. It’s been beneficial, it’s been uplifting, it’s been enlightening,” he says.
“I think that’s important. There are a lot of artists in this county. They’re seeing this art that’s being submitted and they’re getting a little bit of inspiration from it. This is a way to be able to show the public what they’re doing. Even if it can’t be in a public place, it can still be online.”
His hope is that much of the artwork that has been shown online will, at some point, be exhibited for in-person viewing.
“I hope to have Lee and Judy and myself be able to coordinate one big exhibit of all of this work, in all four of the different venues,” says Wygonik. “There are several artists who have submitted images that might be great for a solo show at the courthouse, because their work is big, or they have a lot of it. But that’s down the line. Again, we’re just now having things loosen up a little bit.”
In the meantime, he says, “we’re continuing this project right now because we’re seeing that people are still hunkering down and painting in their creating studios. Even though the gallery strolls are open again, it’s not anywhere like it used to be. And the museum is still not open. We’re dealing with a time that is very uncertain, so we’re still asking artists to send us work.”
Wygonik says their newest idea is to create at least a dozen good-sized banners that will hang in the main lobby of the Vero Beach Municipal Airport for several months before being transitioned to other places.
The Cultural Council will be sending out invitations to its member artists to submit designs, which will be juried down to the chosen number and then printed.
“We are in the process of looking for underwriters or sponsors to cover the costs and I’m working with the airport to come up with a final theme; probably flight or aviation related,” said Wygonik.
When buildings do reopen to on-site viewing, the Art in Public Places program exhibits are on the first-floor of the courthouse; the first floor of County Administration Buildings A and B; the classroom hallways of the IG Center; and in the Vero Beach Airport passenger lounge and, with the banners, in the main lobby.
To view or submit art, visit cultural_council.org.