Harvester Arts Changes Perspective, Minds With Residency Program
If you’ve driven by the Harvester Arts gallery on North Washington lately, you may have noticed something different about the building. There’s a new mural there, painted by North Carolina-based artist James Marshall, who also goes by the name Dalek.
Two of the gallery’s founders, Kristin Beal and Kate Van Steenhuyse, say the mural is part of the organization’s larger mission, which is to connect the local visual arts community with artists from other cities.
Beal says that the most direct way in which this happens is through Harvester’s residency program.
“They stay for two weeks at a time and make new work while they’re here,” she says. “Then we partner them with local artists who make work in response once they’ve left.”
This program, she adds, benefits both the local and national artistic communities.
“It connects our local art scene to other communities around the country,” Beal says. “By networking with the local artists and the resident artist, then it connects our artists to other communities around the country.”
Beal says Harvester, which was founded in 2013, has already grown beyond what she, Van Steenhuyse and their partner Ryan Gates expected.
“We wanted to make Wichita an arts destination,” Beal says. “We imagined that it would take a long time to do that. We’ve been really fortunate and had really great artists accept our invitations to come here. They love this community and it’s happened pretty quickly.”
Van Steenhuyse adds that from early on, Harvester wanted to be more than just a place where people would go to view art. It would instead be a launching pad for ideas that would blossom once people walked out the doors and back into the larger community.
“Our goals are to increase critical dialogue around the arts and the community and to get people actively engaged in the creative process,” she says. “And, hopefully, in creating [for] themselves. If people can understand how an idea gets from Point A to Point B, then that gives them a creative agency, and they say, ‘Oh, I could do that’ or, ‘I could do something like that.’ That agency, that energy, spills out into all parts of life.”
Harvester’s residency program, Van Steenhuyse says, helps the gallery meet its goals by connecting local artists and community members with living art makers whose presence can add new meaning to the arts experience.
“They stay here for a chunk of time so they can give the community a chance to interact and see museum-level quality work,” she says. “But, also, get to know the person that’s making that work. So, it’s not just seeing this shiny finished product, but you get a chance to be introduced to the ideas, the process and the person who had done that. I think a lot of times, maybe there’s a disconnect [between artists] and the ‘regular people.’ ‘I’m not creative. I don’t know how that happens.’ So, we try to offer a chance for the public to get to hang out with our artists and chat about what they do and what their ideas are.”
Beal says that the residency program and the aim of making art more accessible to the public both bolster the local community’s sense of self.
“We have a great arts community here,” she says. “We have really quality artists working here. But anyone who’s from here knows that Wichita also suffers from this inferiority complex. Like, somehow if you’re local, then you don’t measure up nationwide. The artists that are coming in here, and seeing the work that local artists do, are reinforcing [to Wichita artists] that we really do have a really great, strong arts community in this town and it’s only going to get better.”
That the gallery would bring arts into the community itself makes the gallery’s location all the more striking. Harvester sits next to a hair salon, near several drinking establishments and across the street from a restaurant. For Van Steenhuyse, the gallery’s location was ideal.
“We were excited to be in Old Town as an arts organization,” she says. “There are wonderful things happening on Commerce Street, but we were excited to help extend that energy into this part of town. If [people] are just walking to lunch or bar-hopping, they [might see us and say], ‘Oh, what’s this?’ There’s something new happening. I think, too, that Old Town is expanding and the attention that Old Town is getting is changing, and there’s definitely more happening here than just bar-hopping.”
Having Marshall’s mural now gracing the front of the building, she adds, makes the mission of bringing art out of the gallery and into the larger world a reality.
“I don’t know how many cars pass by here every day but it’s got to be thousands,” she says. “If they can even see a glimpse of this great, colorful, different thing, maybe that can take their brains to a different place. That’s really what’s exciting, for us, with this piece and I think with public art in general. It just gets people to look at their environment in a new way.”
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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