Operation Art: Connecting the Military Community is proposed by Stephanie Shively

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

I first became aware of Crusade for Art through Society for Photographic Education. The website and past submissions motivated me to submit a proposal for the Crusade Engagement Grant. I was particularly inspired by the language - “…to create unique approachable programs that bring new audiences to photography and allow them to engage with art in a meaningful way.” As a military spouse of five years and an artist for most of my life, I have noticed the need and potential demand for art within the military community. Military installations, particularly army bases, are often located in remote areas where hubs of art and culture are not readily accessible. The military lifestyle can be isolating, frustrating, and stressful at times. I have found that creating and viewing art related to this experience can be therapeutic and cathartic.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I developed the concept for Operation Art from the isolation I’ve experienced as both an army wife and an artist. I felt caught between two very different and disconnected worlds. My MFA thesis exhibition, All Requisite Parts, explored this experience and communicated my struggle to balance the roles and expectations of a mother, army wife, and artist. Through showing this work, I learned that even though military life is relatively unfamiliar to most people, it is not completely beyond comprehension. Universal feelings and sentiments connect us all, regardless of occupation or lifestyle. I hope that by bringing photographic art that explores the human condition onto military bases, a connection will be fostered between visual artists, the military community, and the general public.  

How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?

I think education about art is extremely important. Intention, detail, and the overall experience of art is lost in translation when solely viewed on a computer screen. It is our responsibility as artists to share our work and explain why and how we make it. We must bring our art and information about art to communities who would benefit from it. Whether it is a workshop or class, open studio event, panel discussion, lecture, anything, to engage the community, cultivate connections and spread awareness.  

Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?

Things that are unfamiliar are often intimidating. I think many people find art intimidating because it may not be readily accessible to them. Perhaps they feel ill-equipped to judge or understand something that is uncommon to them. I think transparency and education are key in lowering the perceptual barriers of art collection. Having a website, marketing oneself online, and exhibiting at galleries and traditional venues is great, but to broaden our audience and gain potential collectors we need to think past the norm. Art is still shrouded in mystery, especially for people who are very much removed from the art world. Programming in non traditional venues like schools, community centers, military bases, rehabilitation centers, etc. would deconstruct barriers. The programming, such as artist talks, panel discussions, and workshops could focus on development of ideas, the process of art making, and the role and responsibility of art/artists. These events could foster personal connection, enabling art collection to become more of a transaction and interaction between artist and audience rather than the exclusive, pressure filled environments of auctions or gallery openings. 

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