Review: National Arts Program Exhibit 

The S.P.A.C.E. gallery exhibits the creative side of local government

While discussions over the City's 2011 budget continued last week, a different side of municipal government was highlighted by an exhibit that opened at the S.P.A.C.E. gallery on Henry Street - its creative side.

Featuring more than 100 works, the 4th annual National Arts Program exhibit opened hallowed gallery walls to work created by folks whose artistic talents might not otherwise see the light of day - City staff and their families.

Broken up into categories that range from Youth (under 12 years old) to Adult Amateur, Intermediate and Professional, ‘eclectic' falls short as a descriptor for the work displayed in the exhibit, which runs through December 17.

From ceramic and found object sculptures to more traditional gallery fare like photos and paintings, one is hard pressed to find a medium that isn't represented (performance art might be the only one missing).

While the quality of the work is as diverse as the age groups represented amongst participants, scattered throughout the show's large catalog are some truly impressive creations.

Heather Hildebrand's photo "The Marina" is a perfect example. Hildebrand is a human resources professional, but her picture, which captures a timeless marina façade in a nostalgic light that imparts everything but the smell of salt water and the sound of seagulls. The piece won first place in the Adult Amateur category of the juried exhibition.

The honor of "Best in Show" was awarded to the tongue-in-cheek ceramic sculpture titled "Nose Hare," by Deborah Stewart, which features a rabbit holding a large container of nasal spray.

Wandering through the spacious gallery, what is most striking about the work is not that it is being displayed publicly, but that it was created by everyday folks who, by day, are far from the ranks of "artists" in any sense of the word.

Empowering people to create and removing barriers to self-expression are the goals of the National Arts Program, a Pennsylvania-based foundation that has been organizing shows around the country for twenty five years.

Over the last two and a half decades, the program, which started with a show featuring employees of the City of Philadelphia, fosters annual exhibits in 41 states and helps generate more than 30,000 visual art pieces per year by participants from around the country, most of whom are employed by municipalities or are family members of those employees.

In S.P.A.C.E. (which truly earns its acronym of Savannah's Place for Art, Culture & Education with this show) there are pieces indistinguishable from what can be found at most any downtown gallery, but they were created by police officers, maintenance crew and housing professionals, among others.

Whether the quality of the work knocks professional artists off their pedestal, or elevates appreciation for the creativity of non-artists, is a glass-half-full-or-half-empty matter of perspective.

4th Annual National Arts Program Exhibit
When: Through December 17
Where: S.P.A.C.E. gallery, 9 W. Henry St.
Cost: Free
Info: www.savannahga.gov/arts



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