Paint By Numbers

By on June 6, 2018

Is coloring outside the lines viable in Jackson’s high-volume, high-dollar, but highly-nuanced arts community?

‘Saint Quaaludes, Canonization of a Pop Star’ by Arturo Hernandez

JACKSON HOLE, WY – There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of local artist Arturo Hernandez. In fact, there’s a better chance you would be hard-pressed to name a single Latino artist in Jackson Hole’s oft-proclaimed vibrant artistic community.

Hernandez isn’t surprised.

“Latinos aren’t told to pursue art here in Jackson because they know they’re not going to make it,” he said.

Indeed, Jackson’s Latino populace faces constant struggles with housing, immigration and the ups and downs of seasonal work. It has led parents to steer their children towards subjects like science and math that have the promise of defined career paths, leaving arts behind, Hernandez said.

Hernandez aims to dispel parents’ stigma that arts are simply a hobby.

“There are tons of [Jackson] kids who are pursuing arts right out of high school,” he said. He hopes to inspire more Latinos in the community to embrace artistic callings because “it’s not just a luxury. It could be a career if you want it to be.”

Hernandez was born in Mexico and moved to Wyoming when he was five. A Jackson Hole High School graduate, he is enrolled at the University of Wyoming studying art and environmental studies.  

“I wanted to do both because I’ve always wanted to work for a company like Patagonia,” he said. “Originally I was thinking of starting my own company too, but more towards casual street wear, but with similar environmentally-focused principles like Patagonia.”

At 22, he radiates radical wisdom beyond his years. The outspoken artist describes his work as contemporary and conceptual, and is working on one project in particular that, as he puts it, appropriates his own culture.

The series is called “Canonize,” referencing canonization: the Catholic practice of sainting individuals after their deaths. Hernandez grew up Catholic and considers himself religious, but is not an avid churchgoer. With the series, he wants to incorporate pop art and religious symbolism to showcase that, even though Latinos embrace Catholicism as an integral part of their culture and traditions, it was the invading Spaniards of the 1500s who inculcated Mexican culture with the religion.

“A lot of people don’t understand the origins of the things they believe in,” Hernandez said. “It almost causes dissonance because it’s a part of who we are, but it was forced upon us.”

Hernandez’s artistic ideology is inspired by artists like Jean Michel-Basquiat, who captured the experiences of African-Americans to create politically-astute, contemporary works. He is less inclined to paint landscapes and wildlife, even though that art tends to gain more traction in Jackson.

But Hernandez doesn’t want to be viewed as the token Latino artist in a similar vein of Basquiat, who is commonly called “the Black Picasso.” Instead, he wants his art to be seen so it can inspire others in the Latino community. In doing so, he hopes to propel the conversation about racial divides in his hometown.

Still, Hernandez knows artistic success hinges on exposure. If an artist’s work is never seen or showcased, they become invisible. So in a community as creatively vibrant as Jackson, how can burgeoning artists like Hernandez stand out among the overwhelming cacophony of oil-on-canvas Teton ridgelines and Western bronze statues?

‘Watcher’ by Henry Williams

Working Artists

“I’m not interested in painting pictures of the Tetons, per se,” said painter and illustrator Henry Williams. “It’s not really what brings me joy. I love my stones, I love my aspen leaves, I love my large magnifications of irises. That’s more in line with who I am.”

Williams, 47, has lived in Jackson for 12 years and teaches youth and adult art classes at the Art Association of Jackson Hole. “Being an artist in Jackson has its ups and downs,” he said. “But if you’re committed to your craft, people will take you more seriously. You can’t compromise what you do in service of getting ahead. There’s no fast track.”

He has only spent a short amount of his Jackson career as a paid artist. A few years ago he was commissioned for a piece that allowed him two full months of funded art-making.

“It was a beautiful feeling. There’s nothing quite like doing something like that in this town, because those opportunities don’t happen very often for us.”

Williams is among many who envy established local artists who make a living solely with their work.

Kathryn Mapes Turner, 46, is a Jackson native who believes the valley’s artistic community is overwhelmingly supportive, and not something to take advantage of.

“All of us who are artists who live here are so blessed,” she said. “We don’t know how good we have it. I feel like I was raised in this crucible of creativity.”

Turner manages her Jackson gallery Trio Fine Art, and said that it has taken “a lifetime” to establish herself as a full-time artist. At a young age she was mentored through Dancers’ Workshop and took classes through the Art Association to fine-tune her craft.

“Becoming an established Jackson-based artist is a process, not an event,” she said. “You just get to a point where you choose to be an artist more and have a day job less. It’s taken about 25 years of losing that day job.”

Another local painter, Wendell Field, 53, said the community is prime for artists who are looking to make a living due to the area’s wealth. Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a graduate of the University of Wyoming, Field lives in a yurt in Kelly. In his years working as an artist, he has found more exposure and income by selling art on his own than through local galleries.

“You can make a living in that respect, but it’s been years of work. I’ve done art my whole life, but it’s only been a couple years where I’ve been able to make it as an artist,” he said.

Field had to take on a variety of jobs and cut down on his living expenses to get to a point where he could fund himself as an artist. In the past he’s worked as the manager of the Blue Lion restaurant and as a bartender at Trio.

“It’s almost every month where I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I can pay the bills. I sure hope I can sell a painting,’” he said. Side jobs “are not the career you want but it helps you with your art. As you’re working towards that, its tough because a lot of your creative energy is out when you have another job.”

Juggling multiple jobs is not  foreign for many Jackson residents, Williams included. He uses his income as a massage therapist and an art teacher to help supplement his creative endeavors. That constant hustle, he said, is good for the soul and keeps him motivated.

“At this point in my life, I’ve sort of given up the dream that I was going to be this New York artist, and that I was going to be super famous,” he said with a laugh. “So now my joy really comes from making art for myself and helping others make art.”

In terms of the community, Williams sees a lot of potential and hopes the many artistic nonprofits recognize the value in cultivation. He would love to see more scholarships and grants on a local level that directly feed back into the community. Competing for local funding is part of the nonprofit culture, but individual artists aren’t always eligible for grants unless they partner with a fiscal nonprofit sponsor.  

“You have no idea what a desire I have to make art that says something about the place I call home,” he said. “I’m not a nonprofit organization, I’m just an individual. And, honestly, I’ll admit that the competition sometimes makes me question if my voice is even worth being heard. You tend to hear ‘no’ a lot, when there should be a lot more ‘yes.’”

Life as an artist is an spectacularly expensive career choice that can yield little reward unless there is financial support available. “Often times that aid goes to people who are promoting their own personal agenda, or nonprofit organizations that make excellent use of what they are given but aren’t accessible for collaboration.” That’s because “they themselves are financially hanging by a thread,” he said.

Williams also has a passion for performing arts. He is an actor and a current board member of Riot Act, Inc. theatre company, helping with everything from hair and makeup to set construction and stage managing. But the level of productions that he dreams of aren’t always possible. There are limited venues for rehearsal and performance and the fees for those that are available to rent is often cost-prohibitive for small groups or folks like Williams.

“It’s like, come on. Do [rental costs] really need to be that exorbitantly high? Does it need to cost thousands of dollars a night to turn on the freaking lights?” Williams said.

For example, to rent the Center Theater or the Pink Garter Theater for one night can be upwards of $2,000 at their most basic levels. These venues offer discounts for resident or nonprofit organizations, but none are given to independent local artists. Williams believes that being an ambitious local creative should be rewarded.

“If we’re going to be a community that supports the arts, let’s support the arts where it needs to be supported,” he said. “Give us the opportunity to produce something of value. To leave a mark. To do something.”

Turner acknowledged that regardless of your creative passion and the costs associated with them, mastering time management is the key to becoming a successful artist.

“The big challenge is balancing working a lot to afford to live in a place like Jackson, while also balancing this other life,” she said. “It’s very time-intensive to create, at least for me. And there are so many people here who are intense recreators who invest time in their outdoor lives. We have to invest time in our creative lives.”

In Jackson, Teton Artlab has been a major player in helping artists make that investment, from the Factory Studios circa 2011, which housed more than 20 local artist studios, to its current artist-in-residence program. That effort imports artists from across the nation and world to create, discuss and inspire art and cross cultural dialogue in Jackson Hole.

Field happens to be debuting a solo show at Teton Artlab on June 18. Located on South Jackson Street, the Artlab, headed by Travis Walker, is a place that he and visiting artists use as a community area.

“It really comes down to figuring out how to make your own exhibition in places that aren’t traditionally seen as galleries,” Walker said.

Opportunities for Wonder

Lyndsay McCandless has made it her mission to help elevate local artists. She is a longtime Jackson resident and director of creative resources at the nonprofit Center of Wonder. Before that she founded and managed the Lyndsay McCandless Gallery on Jackson Street from 2001 to 2011—an accessible space that featured local artists without pretension. The gallery closed due to a perfect storm of events including zoning complications that limited the amount of people who could be in the space at once, as well as a crumbling economic climate.

“As I’m doing more of my own art, I recognize the struggles artists face in getting exposure in the community,” McCandless said. She works primarily with animal skulls, exploring the relationship between animal totems and naturalistic energies and using pen and ink in a tattoo style to visualize those connections. “I think you just have to be really creative about it and find whatever avenue you can.”

Center of Wonder hosts the online calendar DailyWonder.org, a free resource that artists can use to advertise events. The website had more than 5,000 unique visitors in May. Community members are encouraged to post any creative happenings on the calendar, even if it’s just a pop-up show or an art opening in your garage.

“We’re putting a lot of money towards SEO [search engine optimization] capabilities in order to expand Daily Wonder’s reach and exposure, so I think it’ll be an even better resource for artists than it has been,” McCandless said.

Center of Wonder’s reach will be growing soon. On Friday it announced it will be merging with the Art Association to create a single nonprofit focused on artistic expression and education.

“It’s going to be awesome,” McCandless said. “My hopes are that it will allow our organizations and all the creative people who live and work here to be even more creative and do things even better. I think it’s going to spur a lot of new ideas of what we can do together and enhance the programming that’s already happening.”

The Center of Wonder also provides a few artist grant programs including $3,000 dollar Arts for All grants. About 18 are available for both nonprofit organizations and individual artists. Applications are due on June 27 through centerofwonder.org. McCandless expressed some regret that there aren’t more grants available for individual artists, and said she would like to work towards expanding those resources.

She would also like to see more opportunities for pop-up shows and independent renegade art openings in Jackson in the vein of the Saturday Local Artist Market (SLAM) that she once hosted at her gallery.

On Saturdays after the Farmer’s Market on the Town Square, artists set up tables in the gallery and sold art for the day. “I hope we can find some ways to bring that back,” she said.

“Ultimately, as artists, we just need to figure out ways to expose our art in different ways,” she said. “Artists of all disciplines can be supportive of each other and I think teaming up would be a great way to increase that exposure.”

As the housing crisis endures, her biggest fear is that artists are feeling unsupported and leaving town in pursuit of other opportunities.

Now, the Center of Wonder is acting as a steward to one housing option in particular. An anonymous donor purchased a 15-year lease for a two-bedroom apartment in the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust’s Redmond Street Rentals. Applications for that are due on June 15. Read more in The Buzz on page 7.

‘Good Morning in the KYP’ by Wendell Field

Destination for the Arts

There is a new kid on the block working to enrich Jackson’s image as a creative hotbed. But you probably haven’t heard much about it. The Wildly Creative campaign is a partnership spearheaded by the Center of Wonder, the Center for the Arts and the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. In conjunction with the Travel and Tourism Board’s “Stay Wild” campaign, it will bring attention to Jackson’s arts community, highlighting both artistic nonprofits as well as local artists.

Because of the plethora of artistic endeavors in the community, Wildly Creative was a collaborative effort between several arts organizations and local artists who found difficulties independently marketing their programming on a regional level.

The project is headed by Anne Bradley, director of marketing for the Center for the Arts, and Kirsten Corbett, head of arts communications for the Center of Wonder. Recently, the campaign was approved for a $111,240 grant from the Travel and Tourism Board. Phase one was focused on branding and website construction, the design and management of which is headed by local marketing firm New Thought Digital Agency.

The project is no small feat and Bradley and Corbett are aware of the weight they’re carrying on their shoulders as torchbearers for the artistic community.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but we’re passionate about its success,” Corbett said.

One of the campaign’s key components is its Instagram page, @wildlycreativejh, which has recently featured “takeovers” from local creative figures like Turner and DJ Rocky Vertone, as well as Teton County Library. Participating individuals are offered a small stipend for their contributions to the feed.

“We decided that storytelling was at the core of how to communicate about the community,” Bradley continued. “Giving artists and arts organizations a chance to showcase their creative voices firsthand is a main focus of ours.”

This is one way the campaign hopes to put Jackson Hole on the map as an arts destination.

“I think a lot of visitors happen upon the arts by accident,” Corbett said. But by highlighting artistic events through Wildly Creative as well as the Daily Wonder calendar, where the campaign site is hosted, the organizers believe Jackson Hole can stand out as a hub for visitors seeking art and culture. By handing the reins to locals via Instagram, Bradley said there will be more engagement rather than simply advertising with static website banners.

“In year two [beginning September 2018], we really want to focus on that storytelling aspect,” she said. “I think the more we can continue that, we can showcase to the outside world what kind of unique artists work in this community.”

The new budget will also be put towards a public relations element that will boost exposure beyond online sources.

“We want to ramp up visibility through editorial placements and media brands to bring high end editorial writers who can write about the community, and then pitch those articles to their respective publications,” Bradley said.

There are also plans to host workshops through Wildly Creative, providing a variety of resources to artists who may not be as marketing savvy as local organizations.

Both Corbett and Bradley admitted that, in these early stages, the campaign’s strategy has not been completely clear to the artistic community, and they aim to remedy that.

“It’s all going to evolve as we go,” Corbett said, “and I think in time there will be more clarity as to how the campaign can be a valuable resource.”

Contact Kirsten Corbettat at [email protected] for more information. You can also use the hashtag #wildlycreativejh on Instagram to have your creative process featured on the website’s homepage.  

Open Air Performance

Williams is not the only performer who wishes for more affordable performance venues. Local musician and Canyon Kids frontman Bo Elledge lamented that Jackson’s venues are disappearing.

“Now that we’ve lost the Tavern, there are fewer and fewer places to play,” he said.

Getting your foot in the door isn’t easy, Elledge said, but much like the visual artist community, musicians tend to look out for one another and find ways to help their contemporaries gain exposure.

Center for the Arts recently unveiled its Town Enclosure Pavilion, an open-air arts venue.

“The Hootenanny [at Dornan’s] is a great way to meet people and get your music out there,” he said. He also pointed to Songwriter’s Alley, musician Aaron Davis’s open mic showcase on the first Sunday of each month at the Silver Dollar Bar.

But despite having played at multiple venues in town, Elledge hopes for larger opportunities in the future.

“I’ve been here for seven years and I’ve never played the Center for the Arts stage,” he said. Elledge’s band Canyon Kids will be the opening band for Shovels and Rope on August 7 at Center for the Arts , but are slated to play outside on the Center’s lawn rather than in the auditorium.

Carrie Richer, creative initiatives coordinator for the Center for the Arts, also recognizes the lack of performance venue space. As a filmmaker for her production company Hole Dance Films, Richer would love to see more opportunities to showcase her films.

“It can be really hard to find opportunities to showcase our work, especially with film,” she said.

She hopes the recent Pavilion Project will help change that. Pitched by Carrie Geraci of Jackson Hole Public Art, the Center’s 2018 creative-in-residence curator, the open-air venue on the Center lawn is a direct response to the lack of venue space available for artists.

Designed by local firm Carney Logan Burke Architects, the “Town Enclosure” is a 30-foot-wide space that acts as both a sculpture and a performance pavilion. The Pavilion is now open and artists are able to reserve it for free. Richer hopes that it is used to its full potential.

“We want to address the lack of opportunities artists have, and provide something that is very versatile, something that can provide a space for dancers, provide a place for visual artists to display their work,” she said.

The cross-laminated, tempered panels that make up the structure are created out of wood from sustainable forests, and Richer said they could act as a great backdrop for film projection, painting displays, and whatever creative ideas artists can come up with. An amplified PA system is a free amenity with each reservation.

The only rules are that the space cannot be used after 9 p.m., performances are subject to Town of Jackson permit approvals, and artists cannot charge admission for their work. Tip jars, however, can be set out.

“It was designed to be a place where there are spontaneous performances,” she said, “where people walking down the sidewalk can wander over and experience something they didn’t expect.”

The grand opening of the Town Enclosure is June 27. A performance by Dancers’ Workshop will precede the ribbon-cutting ceremony and The String Lake Trio will finish off the night.

Richer also hopes to encourage more artists to apply for gallery exhibitions at the Center for the Arts. Two of the spaces on the campus she is currently “activating” are the Theater Gallery and the Center Courtyard, the latter of which has featured an extended showing of artist Bland Hoke’s giant inflatable goldfish, lovingly nicknamed “Otto.”

“That space itself can be challenging, but we’ve seen some really elaborate applications come through,” Richer said, about the Courtyard. The space is booked through April 2019, but the application process is ongoing, and Richer hopes that more artists apply with inventive proposals.

The Theater Gallery, also called the ramp gallery, connects the two phases of the building and leads into the Center Theater lobby. Exhibits are booked through 2018. The call to artists will begin again in October of this year for 2019.

Richer said that local artists familiar with the space may get a leg-up on the competition. “It’s a weird space for sure, but I think artists who know what it is and understand what the building does are at an advantage.”

To be included in Creative Initiative announcements, or if you are interested in reserving the Town Enclosure for your work, contact [email protected] or visit the Center for the Arts’s website.

A Seat at the Table

In conjunction with this article, Hernandez scouted out local opportunities to showcase his art. He called around to various Jackson galleries to see which might take a chance on his work.

What he discovered wasn’t ideal. The coffee shops Pearl Street Bagels and Cowboy Coffee both take independent submissions, but the waitlists are two years. Unsurprisingly, most high-end galleries are curated and do not take local submissions. Tayloe Piggott Gallery and Altamira are two that do accept local works, depending on the type of artwork that is submitted.

Hernandez said he felt a bit awkward walking into some of the fancier galleries in just a T-shirt and jeans. “But honestly, this is what an artist looks like,” he said with a laugh, tugging at his shirt.

Hernandez, like Williams, has turned to the Art Association in hopes of expanding his exposure and skills. He helps assist teaching youth classes. At first he was nervous to work with younger kids, but he’s found a rewarding avenue to showcase his skills and inspire others, including young Latinos.

“It’s actually really cool to know that you’re helping young people produce their own work and find their voice,” he said.

As a homegrown artist, Hernandez is aiming his ambitions high and wants to make sure that local artists, especially Latinos like himself, aren’t forgotten in the vast artistic community.

“I want my art to always be conceptual and have meaning towards marginalized groups like my own,” he said. “I’m not trying to speak for everyone, but I do want to make sure that artists have a bigger voice here.”

Upcoming Deadlines:

Redmond Street Artist Rental

Two-bedroom apartment for artist housing

Centerofwonder.org; housingtrustjh.org

Application Deadline: June 15

Arts for All grant

Funding for individual creative projects

Centerofwonder.org

Application Deadline: June 27

Takin’ it to the Streets

Locals-Only Art Fair on the Town Square

Artassociation.org

Application Deadline: July 15

Resources:

Wildly Creative JH

Featured marketing and social media  exposure

Wildlycreativejh.com

Art Association of Jackson Hole

Arts education for adults and children

Artassociation.org

DailyWonder

Free-to-post online calendar for creative events

Dailywonder.org

JH Public Art – ArtSpot and Parking Day

Various opportunities for creative collaborations

Jhpublicart.org

Center for the Arts – Creative Initiatives

Gallery opportunities and pavilion rentals

Jhcenterforthearts.org

Penny Lane Cooperative

Concept store with showcase opportunities

Pennylanecooperative.com

 


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