Before I talked to Chad Alligood, the hot young curator from Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, I thought “locavore” was a term used by the likes of Whole Foods associates to talk up their locally-sourced fresh vegetable selection. Alligood gave a talk on Wednesday April 6, at the Herron School of Art and Design. His use of the aforementioned neologism really perked my ears in our phone conversation on the afternoon of April 1 (First Friday).
Alligood’s the curator from the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art responsible for the 2014 exhibition “The State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” the museum’s largest show to date. Crystal Bridges Museum of Art is located in Bentonville, Arkansas, and is the brainchild of Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton who funded the museum.
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The curating for this particular exhibition was a bit unusual, if not unprecedented. Driving around the country with Crystal Bridges’ former president Don Bacigalupi, Alligood visited 1,000 artists’ studios, logging 100,000 miles. They pulled their selection down to works by 102 artists. The exhibit ran from Sept. 14, 2014 – Jan.19, 2015 and drew in 170,000 visitors.
So what is the “State of American Art Now”? And does Alligood’s experience have any bearing on the arts scene in central Indiana? His use of the word “locavore” might have touched on an answer, at least tangentially. I had asked Alligood if the thinking behind this particular show, which sought to showcase the work of under-appreciated artists throughout the US, was akin that of the American Regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton. He was the artist who painted the Indiana Murals visible on the IU Bloomington campus, who had posed a challenge to New York dominance of the art world in the 1930s.
“I think it’s rooted in a similar ideology of understanding that America is broad and deep in respect to its visual culture but here’s how it’s different,” said Alligood. “The term ‘regionalist’ has been applied to those artists and it still retains the air of an epithet; something that is derogatory… And here I think … we can take a page from the contemporary locavore movement which finds its power in the term local as a sign of prestige and exclusivity as opposed to regional which is seen as somehow lesser than the mainstream. So if we can flip the script in the art world and understand the local as a legitimate and powerful place from which you can watch an important and vital critique and way of working we’d all be better off and the exhibition bears that out.”
Groups like the Harrison Center, the Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers’ Association, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and Big Car Collective are doing exactly that. This isn’t of course, an exhaustive list. But you don’t have to be an arts nonprofit to be engaged with your community, to be a “locavore,” as it were.
Hell, you don’t even have to be an artist. You can buy art locally (as well as your vegetables). You can plant a community garden wherever you live. You can volunteer your time at one of a thousand civic-minded organizations in this city. The small patch of ground beneath your feet, after all, is the world we all live in.