By Tom Patterson
Tom Grubb, the director of the Fayetteville Museum of Art, is a hands-on arts administrator, as he demonstrated during a visit to Winston-Salem on a seasonably cold morning last month. Having driven across the state the previous day, Grubb stood in the back of a rented Ryder truck parked in front of the loading dock at the Sawtooth Building. While rearranging several dozen large cardboard boxes in the truck's trailer compartment, he talked with a small group of local artists and another onlooker, who stood on the pavement just outside the truck.
Each of the boxes contained one or more of the artworks that these artists and several others had brought to Grubb for "The Artists of Winston-Salem," an exhibition that was scheduled to open at his museum just three days later.
The show, which is on view through March 2, is the fifth in a series designed to showcase works by some of the more outstanding artists living in cities across the state. The series was inaugurated in 1999 and has brought one such exhibit to the Fayetteville Museum of Art in each of the last four years, with previous installments devoted to works by artists from Wilmington, Raleigh, Charlotte and Greenville. Grubb said that the museum has included works by 10 to 14 artists in each of these exhibitions.
Represented in the Winston-Salem show are 10 artists who work in various mediums - Kathy Cooper, Terri Dowell-Dennis, Amy Funderburk, Sharon Hardin, E.O. Hill, Trena McNabb, Ricky Needham, Charles Rawlings, Gini Williams-Scalise and William Willner. By prior arrangement, all had packed their works for the exhibit and brought them to the Sawtooth Building, where Grubb had asked that they meet him at 10 a.m. By 10:30, all of the works were on board the truck. "I'll tell you," he said, "I'm certainly impressed with the punctuality of the artists of Winston-Salem."
As he carefully secured the boxes of art for the 120-mile return trip to Fayetteville, Grubb talked about the exhibition series and the process by which he selects the artists to be represented in it.
"We occupy a particular niche in the state, in that we're primarily concerned with the contemporary art scene," he said. "Our mission as a museum is to showcase the work of contemporary North Carolina artists, and that's what these shows are supposed to do. They also give us on the staff an opportunity to see what's happening in other parts of the state. And we sometimes get ideas from them for potential (solo) exhibits in the future."
Grubb said that last year he asked both the N.C. Arts Council and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County for mailing lists of Winston-Salem artists who had been awarded fellowships or grants from either of the two agencies in any of the preceding four years.
He combined and cross-referenced the two lists, then sent information about the projected exhibition to each artist listed. Those interested in being represented in the show were requested to submit slides of their work, and Grubb selected the artists from the pool of 20 to 25 entries. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the budget to make visits to every artist's studio," he said.
"By no means are we claiming to be showing all of the great artists from a given area," he said. "This show is intended to be just a sampling of the professional, high-quality work being made by contemporary artists in Winston-Salem."
Grubb, who has been the Fayetteville museum's director for 14 years, said that it was not unusual for him to be singlehandedly packing and transporting the works for the exhibit, as he has done the same for each of the previous shows in the series. This arrangement stems in part from the fact that the museum has a modest budget - about $350,000 a year - and a small staff, consisting of four full-time and five part-time employees. But Grubb said he enjoys this aspect of his job.
"I really like this kind of hands-on approach, because it gives me an opportunity to meet the artists," he said. "And we've found that it makes a world of difference to the artists if we come pick up the artwork. It's taxing on the museum's resources, but it's a way of helping the artists out."
Hill, one of the artists who was still on hand as Grubb finished packing the truck, confirmed that idea, adding that if he had had to ship the drawings by which he would be represented, he probably would have selected smaller ones than those he had brought to Grubb.
Noting that each of the 10 Winston-Salem artists was asked to bring four or more works for the exhibition, Grubb said, "We usually ask for more pieces than we've got room to exhibit, because that gives us the curatorial opportunity to fine-tune the show at the museum and make sure that each artist is represented in the best possible manner."
Of the 40 to 50 works he brought back to Fayetteville with him, Grubb included 35 in the exhibition. The selection includes paintings, drawings, beadwork, digital imagery, mixed-media art and one sculpture. "We feel this represents a good sampling of what's happening in contemporary art, not only in Winston-Salem, but also in the art world overall," he said.
"The Artists of Winston-Salem" opened on Jan. 17 in the wake of a snowstorm, but Grubb said that the weather didn't prevent six of the artists from traveling to Fayetteville for the opening reception, at which each of them spoke informally before the more than 80 attendees at the event, otherwise open to museum members only.
"Whenever it's possible, we try to educate our audience by introducing them to the artists and letting the artists talk about their work," Grubb said.
Grubb said that the next show in the series, scheduled to open in November of this year and run into early 2004, will be "The Artists of Asheville," and that it would probably be followed about a year later by an exhibition devoted to the work of artists living in Chapel Hill.
"The Artists of Winston-Salem" will remain on view at the Fayetteville Museum of Art through March 2. The museum is at 839 Stamper Road in Fayetteville. For more information, call (910) 485-5121.
Published: February 2, 2003
Reprinted from the Winston-Salem Journal
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