The Art Department gets rolling

Growth + Development

FACES by Kelly Bruey
Since it opened in January, you might have wondered what's up with the Art Department storefront on Congress Street. We spoke with Natalie Conn, one of the directors behind Creative Trails' newest and most visible venture, about the progressive arts organization's present and future.

THERE ARE A LOT OF ORGANIZATIONAL NAMES BEHIND THE ART DEPARTMENT — WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM ALL? (laughs) I'm part of Creative Trails, which is a non-profit that supports adults with disabilities to lead more independent and fulfilling lives. In 2010, they wanted to expand their programming, so my co-worker Liz (Mortati) started running a fine arts satellite program (Open Studio, formerly Studio 225) for people who are really motivated to make art projects and take it to a more professional level. Around the same time, I started the multimedia/video program (Shoot Media Project). Liz was in the State Theatre building and I ran my program above Otto's Pizza. We were doing okay in those spaces but no one knew about them. We really wanted a better, street-level location.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO NOW THAT YOU'RE IN THERE? Now we have a gallery space on one side, and we're going to have a screening space on the media side once we get a projector. The dream is to have it be a screening space, a music venue, and an even bigger gallery.

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT THE PROCESS IS FOR THE ARTISTS TO MAKE AN EXHIBIT? HOW DOES THAT COME ABOUT? It starts with a big brainstorm with the participants. We've worked with these guys for almost two years now so we know what they're interested in and working on. "Portraits" is the next one, so a lot of them have been making celebrity portraits. They're really influenced by celebrities. We're also going to make a video animation with talking heads.

EACH EXHIBIT IS KIND OF FREE FORM? Exactly. I think our role — Liz's especially — is to help people develop their work and really focus on finishing stuff. You know, like with anyone, (the idea is) just trying to explore other ways of making things. Last month we borrowed some DVD players and made an exquisite-corpse installation in the window. In the past they've done a lot of embroidering, fabric art, sculpture. Silkscreenings are a big seller.

FACES by Abbott Philson
THE ARTWORK IS FOR SALE? Yes. The artists get 70 percent and the rest goes back into the program.

HOW FAR ALONG IS THE MUSIC VENUE SIDE OF THINGS? We've done two shows now, and we like doing them mid-month. We also have a First Friday band called the Furry Ambers that's part of the Creative Trails program (run by Eric Schwan of folk band Hersey State) who play songs the participants wrote. Touring bands are really exciting too . . . as long as they're okay being paid with donations. That's the best we can do right now.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO DO WITH THE ART DEPARTMENT THAT YOU AREN'T ABLE TO YET? The whole goal is to have the participants become more intertwined with the community, so the more events the better. We also have open submissions and encourage people to pitch us ideas.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Eric Schwan, Creative Trails
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