Constructed Identities, a Crusade for Art Brooklyn exhibition at Photoville
by Sara Macel, co-director of Crusade for Art Brooklyn
Back in early 2015 when Liz and I were conceiving of Crusade for Art Brooklyn, one of the dream events we thought would be a perfect partner to our mission to engage new audiences with photography was having a group show at Photoville, the annual outdoor festival organized by United Photo Industries in Brooklyn Bridge Park every September. Photoville was seen by 71,000 in 2014, and we couldn't think of a better way to make a splash and announce ourselves to our Brooklyn audience and to the photo world .
And so, early one morning just before the deadline for Photoville exhibition proposals, I submitted our proposal for Crusade for Art Brooklyn. Being a brand new non-profit, we knew we might be a long shot since the competition is fierce for this festival. Then, we got word back that Sam Barzilay and Laura Roumanos from UPI/Photoville wanted to get us on a video conference call. It sounded promising, but again, we didn't want to get our hopes up. In preparation, Liz and I called Jennifer. During that brainstorming session, the amazing-idea-machine that is Jennifer Schwartz, came up with the idea that we'd take instant Polaroid portraits of our audience and install those images in a mural to be made over the course of the festival in real time by all 10 members of our local chapter. It was the perfect combination of showcasing our members' work and interacting with our visitors that we needed. We also decided that the three of us would curate the show featuring the work of our 10 members: Liz Arenberg, Mia Berg, Nicholas Calcott, Sean Carroll, Maureen Drennan, Sara Fox, Sara Macel, Minta Maria, Tim Melideo, and Charlotte Strode. On the call, Sam and Laura couldn't be kinder or more excited about our ideas. I think it was about halfway through the call that Sam came right out and said "So, you're in." Somehow, I was able to wait until the call ended to jump around like a maniac in my studio. And then the real work began...
This was the first time I personally had ever helped curate a show and organize it from the written proposal to the finished exhibition. At times, it was overwhelming. But our member artists are really amazing and just when I thought there was no way I was going to be able to get all this done, we had a group meeting and everyone excitedly stepped up to take on tasks and jobs. As co-directors, Liz and I have these moments when we look around at these incredibly hard-working, talented folks and thank our lucky stars that we get to be part of Crusade for Art Brooklyn with them.
Carl from Luxlab made all of our prints. I spent two mornings in August hanging out in his studio. Seeing our prints in exhibition size was pretty great. GL mounted all the prints, and Sean helped us find foamcore for our mural wall. Installation day was hot and sweaty, but with half the team there, we were able to get the work up on the walls (first with magnets, then with velcro) relatively smoothly. I have to pass by the festival from the BQE on my way to teach photography at Kingsborough College, and it felt like leaving my child at daycare the next day when I drove by Photoville on my way to work.
At the opening party on Friday, Sept 11th, 2015, I stood outside our container/gallery watching my friends and strangers mingling among our prints and having their portraits taken for the mural. The WTC Tribute in Light shown over lower Manhattan, and I took a moment to take it all in. I was a beginning photo student at NYU on September 11, 2001. I had just started dating my boyfriend, and I don't often like to talk or think about that day. I almost left New York for good after that. But I stuck around. And I never gave up on New York or photography or that boyfriend. And in that moment, all of those things that I love were right there in the same place, and it filled me with pride. And that was all before the festival even started!
Over the next two weekends, our members took turns interacting with our visitors and taking their portraits and engaging with fellow artists and Photoville participants. What Laura and Sam and Dave have created with Photoville is a community in every sense of the word, and it felt great to be a part of it. We talked to visitors about our goals as a non-profit and about our ideas for upcoming events. People signed up for our mailing list, and other photographers asked when they could submit work to become members (in the future, we promise!) I got to see so many amazing artists I love and share our work with them: Anna Beeke, Jeff Jacobson, and Jennifer McClure to shamelessly namedrop a few. It was kind of cool to come back after a few days away and see the portraits we all made and how the mural started to, almost organically, take on the shape of the continental US.
But for me, the best moment was on my last shift on the last weekend when a group of 20-somethings came in to our gallery. I told them a bit about us and asked if I could take their portrait. Immediately, they assembled into perfect "band photo" poses. It was hilarious and perfect. I took their portrait twice because they were so fun. And then, one of them asked me if we could re-take it with them holding up a sign that said "Photoville", so I did. I gave her that Polaroid to keep. On their way out, one of them told me that our gallery was their favorite because "you interacted with us and made it fun." And that right there is what Crusade for Art Brooklyn is all about. Thank you, Brooklyn! And thank you Photoville!