It was so weird to see so many people out downtown on Dexter Avenue at night. Everyone you talked to on Saturday night would, at some point, mention this incongruity and talk about how great it was to have so many people out on Dexter at night. It was like participating in some sort of mass hallucination, where everyone had to reassure everyone else that they were really seeing this.
By now we’re used to the Alley scene, even though it felt similarly strange a few years ago to see crowds of people wandering around over by the Renaissance at night. But still, Dexter? It’s always been a little hard to believe that change was possible there, the mayor’s vision and our collective hopes and dreams to the contrary … it’s just … Dexter? We have even been a little skeptical of the super-earnest Helicity efforts to get us all to think big about downtown, because they seemed a bit too much like the wide-eyed civic drawings of architecture students than the cold reality of multimillion dollar renovations backed by serious economic developers.
Dear reader, after Saturday night’s Denied and Underexposed art show at the Kress building, we began to believe. There were all these people – hundreds! – from all over town, from high school students giggling and looking cool and drinking coffee, to hipster-types grinning despite their affectations because there was an actual DJ spinning old school hip hop vinyl at an art show on Dexter Avenue, to a whole array of older folks staring anew at the inside of a building they probably thought they’d never enter again. And the artists – they were so happy! Everyone who showed art was thrilled to show you what they had on display, excited to talk to other artists (“Oh, you’re showing something too? Show me!”), and even though, of course, they hoped to sell something, it was widely understood that this wasn’t the point of the event.
We’d never been in the Kress building, though we’ve watched the video of what it might look like after the renovation (and you should too – it’s here). It’s a good artifact from the era of downtown department stores — and it’s a credit to all involved that they didn’t just let the place deteriorate to the point that it had to be demolished. It’s really cool that they saved it. The scale of the place is amazing. The exhibit hall was, basically, the first floor extending from Dexter all the way back to Monroe, the improbably high ceilings strung with very cool high-design-on-the-cheap chandeliers made of chickenwire and plastic wrap.
There were more than 160 works of art along both walls, with sculptures through the middle. Some guys were screenprinting T-shits for sale at the entrance – you could buy one for $15 fresh off the screen. The art itself ranged from weird to wonderful, some wearable, others barely comprehensible, some totally genius, others heartbreakingly banal – just like all art, incredibly diverse. When it costs ten bucks to enter your piece, you get the whole spectrum. Prices ranged from cheap to extravagant. We didn’t buy anything, but we hope that some people did.
Montgomery needs to keep growing its art and music scene, and we’re happy to see that Helicity is getting serious about moving the ball forward. Here’s an idea: Montgomery needs an art CSA. Sure, we’ve got some veggie shares available here in town (we get ours from Red Root Farm), and they keep us full of green goodness. But if we want to get serious about growing local artists, we should have an art CSA. We can’t take credit for this idea – we learned about it on a recent trip to Minneapolis. It turns out that a number of cities all over the country are creating art CSAs to grow local artists – you pay $300 for a share, and get three boxes of original, juried art. Check out this page to learn about the process and this page from the Springboard foundation. Artists get money and exposure and practice, collectors get art and the feeling of investing in the community, and everyone wins. Plus they have parties to distribute the CSA! With drinks! And talks by artists!
The bridge between urban development academia and practical public realities is being built. Even if we don’t go forward with an art CSA, we should at the very least have more events like Denied and Underexposed. Congratulations to the organizers for putting together a show that really made us feel like we live in a transforming and transformative community, for bringing out a diverse crowd on a Saturday night and for magically bringing Dexter back to life. Let’s hope it wasn’t just for that one night.
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.