Friday, September 23, 2011

A love letter to the Fayetteville Underground


Having a studio outside my home had always been a goal of mine, an expensive dream that would most likely remain impossible. Having a studio meant that I could close the door on my daily life and go to work like the rest of the world. It would be a place dedicated to the making of art, a place where messy dreams come to life and where drips of paint on the floor and walls were welcomed. A place for patrons to check in and see works in progress and develop a relationship with me as an artist. This is what I had wanted for so long and this is what I got. In April 2009 I moved into a small studio at the Fayetteville Underground in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Fayetteville Underground was just forming at the time, taking the basement of a mostly vacant bank building on the somewhat empty downtown square. It was a big experiment, an idea to have four galleries and fifteen working artist studios and a classroom. A dream to make Fayetteville an arts destination and help to boost the economy and desirability of the town.

When I initially signed my lease I thought of it also as a personal experiment. I was a little concerned that the other studio mates might be a distraction or that I would feel nervous working in a group environment. I would be giving up the windows of my attic studio and it also meant I would be changing my schedule and how I worked as an artist. I had been the type of painter that would roll out of bed at three in the morning to paint and I worried if working in this more formal environment with the more regular hours would hinder my creativity. It took a long time to get used to the sounds of the building, the manufactured air and the remnants of bankers and their offices. I'd also be lying if I didn't mention that it took time to get used to my fellow studio mates comings and goings, music and moods.

To top off the studio experience there were the four galleries to fill and regular hours to keep and the whole act of helping to create what has now become one of the premier arts organizations in the state of Arkansas. When I look back and remember how The Underground was when it started and how far it has come over the last two and a half years it is astonishing. Being a part of the Fayetteville Underground has been one of the greatest adventures and accomplishments of my life.

I have been able to work with some of the most amazing people and my studio mates have become my family. We celebrate together and we share our sorrows too. We talk about our big ideas as well as our tangents that quickly burn out. We have supported each other through the thick and the thin. Many of us had studios before the underground as well as gallery representation, but we didn't have this team of fellow artists behind us and we didn't know what we could achieve as a collective body. We have brought local, national and international artists and their exhibitions to Fayetteville. The underground artists consistently create and install quality exhibitions month after month.

I believe I have done some of my best work of my career during my time at the Fayetteville Underground. I think it has to do with the freedom and excitement that comes from working around other like minded artists. Our work improves as we are not working in a vacuum and have a built in audience that arrives each month during our First Thursday artist receptions. It is reassuring to know that someone will see our work, even if it is just a piece in progress in our studios. And that brings me back to First Thursday. I remember the first few and then suddenly the crowds! Suddenly it just took off and we were hosting 1000 people at the Underground a month! It was a thrill to feel the swell of people and to absorb their support and enthusiasm for the art we were providing them. Suddenly the empty square started filling up with new businesses and the empty bank building wasn't so empty anymore. We were starting to accomplish our goals as an organization and people were starting to take notice.

This did not happen over night and it was not easy, it took many meetings and much organization to create what the Fayetteville Underground has become. The Underground is about one thing and one thing only, and that is art. When rumors were flying about our lost lease we kept working, we kept doing what we do best, to bring the best in visual art to the city of Fayetteville. We kept having our studios open. our First Thursday receptions and we kept smiling (most of the time). We kept sharing our experiences of what the Fayetteville Underground has meant to us or what great show we were bringing next, or our next big body of work in progress.

My studio is my haven, my safe place in this world. Where I can float away into my art and bring forth new ideas to share with the public and my fellow artists. The family I have made there is special to me and we believe strongly in the value of what we do. This is our life and our livelihood. We will have to be out of our current building by January 15th and we have been a nervous wreck as a group ever since we found out this sad news, but we are a united group and we hope to find a new home for our studios and galleries.

Our lives have been deeply touched by all those whose talent, skill, and generosity has helped to create the Underground. I am not the same person or artist I was when I signed my lease in 2009 and I can't wait to see what this next incarnation of the Fayetteville Underground brings not only to the artists but to Fayetteville. 

Viva la Underground!

In other news: My exhibition Sometimes I love you and other stories closes on October 1. So please go see it at the Vault Gallery at the Fayetteville Underground before it does. Gallery hours are W-F 12-7 and Saturday 10-5. I am grateful for the support this exhibition has received!

I am also having a special sale of the color paintings in my studio. All of these works are half price until September 30th! Learn more about that here. If you have any questions about my sale please email me at megancha@gmail.com.

4 comments:

  1. Great piece, Megan. I know with your enthusiasm behind it, the FU will go on to something greater.

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  2. Ah yes, "Viva la Underground!...from the heart, Jan

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  3. Well done Megan. What a fabulous experience!
    I hope you find new premises soon. No need to hope for the future of the FU collective - you will survive no matter what ☺ as you seem so connected and on a wonderful shared path.

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