H.C. Porter (above left), the Artistic Dirctor for the inaugural Renaissance Fine Arts Fair in Ridgeland, Mississippi, May 30-31, 2009. Members Dale Rayburn and Mamie Joe (above, center and right) are working alongside H.C. to try and design a high-quality, artist-friendly environment for this new event.
IA:The three of you are well-known artists with many years on the art festival circuit. What prompted you to get involved in the management and promotion of a new art show?
HC: The three of us have laughed at how many years of experience we actually do have 37 for Dale Rayburn, 37 for Mamie Joe and 17 for me, H. C. Porter thats 91 years all together! I dont want to even think about how many times we have put up a booth no wonder my back always hurts!
Dale was showing at the first outdoor art show in which I ever participated, The Gum Tree Arts Festival in Tupelo, Miss. He was full of practical answers to my wide-ranging questions. I was 26 years old, an art school graduate with a painting and photography BFA. I had been a master printmaker for an artists studio in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for three years, and I was just beginning to find my own voice as an artist. With a gift of $500 from my father, I had returned home to Jackson, Mississippi, to start my own studio in my grandmothers basement. She charged me $25 a month to keep me honest.
Looking for income to pay my rent, I had an atist friend that was showing in a few juried art festivals (he now owns a Bumpers Drive-In in Boone, North Carolina, if not for the grace of God there go I). With his expert direction, a tent, and a trailer . . . the rest is history. For me, there was no going back. I loved doing art shows. I found collectors all over the country that soon became close friends and supporters of my growing body of work, just as Dale had said.
I think the simple answer to why we want to be involved in developing this new show, The Renaissance Fine Arts Festival, is because we are all native Mississippians. We recognize there is a need in this state for a high quality fine art venue. Mississippi is well-known for the talent we have produced in music: Elvis, B. B. King and literature: Faulkner and Eudora Welty and even visual artists: Walter Anderson and George Orr. Jackson is even the host of the International Ballet Competition (IBC). Every four years, dancers come from around the world to perform and compete here. Jackson had a wonderful arts festival in the 1970s with stellar leadership, but now the only arts venue is our Mississippi Museum of Art. It leaves little room for the community to gather around artists for important hands-on education and conversation that comes from a public, outdoor venue.
We also realize markets for artists do become saturated to some extent. A show in a vibrant, excited and wealthy new area can only be a great opportunity for all of us that make a living doing fine art shows.
IA: As artists, what special insight do you bring to the design and development of the show? What will you do differently, incorporate, or improve upon based on your own past experiences?
HC: As artists ourselves, we know what we expect from a venue, how we hope a show will look to best allow our work to reach the audience. The three of us will only have ourselves to blame for the bad booth spots, of which, as far as we can see, there are none. Yes, our fellow artists will be the final judges on that. Please be gentle. The show is being designed to allow ease and sales for the artists at every turn. We all have done shows that get it right and we all remember the ones that dont. I feel confident this is the start of a great show for many years to come.
IA: How long has it taken you from the idea of developing an new show to the actuality of mounting it? What were some of the biggest challenges along the way?
HC: The idea for this show has been in my head since before Hurricane Katrina wiped out the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in August of 2005. I say it that way because I had a show designed and funded for a debut in Jackson in October of 2005. In 2004, the show was in its planning stages. I was beginning to talk to artists and collect the sponsors needed to put together a show sort of like Old Town in Chicago. A historic neighborhood setting with a large broadway for artists to set up. It was in the hip area, as they liked to say, Van Gogh would have lived there if he was from Mississippi. Then, as things goMississippi was slammed with the worst natural disaster of our nations history. The neighborhood was destroyed and all our lives were put on hold. So, in essence, Hurricane Katrina was the biggest challenge to this show and it changed the focus of my life. Encouraged by collectors nationally and friends in Mississippi, I turned my focus to telling the story of what was happening in my home state using my artwork. The traveling exhibition Backyards and Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories was born. I, along with my partner, Karole Sessums, began to collect audio stories and images that have become a portrait of our fellow Mississippians during that first year after Katrina. We are honored through this nationally touring exhibition to bring still much needed attention to our recovering state.
Last summer, I received a call from a logistics man, Bob McFarland, with the idea of bringing a juried art show to a new upscale
shopping venue in Ridgeland, Mississippi, a suburb of our capitol city, Jackson. I was thrilled to have the support of Ridgelands Office of Tourism and this much celebrated new town center. It is gorgeous. Immediately, I was no longer seeing Old Town, but now Cherry Creek and Reston as shows we could emulate. I realize all you artists will hold us to this great claim, but remember Rome wasnt built in a day, but thats because Dale and Mamie werent on the job! We all know this will be the first Renaissance Fine Arts Fair, so there will be lots to learn. However, Dale and I feel confident Mamie Joe is the go to person for complaints!
IA: How is the changing economy affecting your plans?
HC: The question has been raised about the economy and its affects on our plans for the show. We are fortunate to have the ability to keep the booth fee low, $250, and a new Hyatt hotel is within walking distance. The area is doing well and can only be very fertile ground to plant a fine art festival seed. We have heard from several artists that you are watching your spending very carefully, you try one new show a year and you are giving this show that chance. Thank you.
IA: Is it hard to find a balance between attracting artists and implementing a financially viable show?
This show was not created to be a money-maker. The interest of the Ridgeland Office of Tourism and that of the Renaissance at Colony Parkway is to improve the quality of life for its community and bring interesting events to the area. We are to be all we can be as artists, making this an event to be talked about for its high quality artwork and easy accessibility to unique artists from around the country.
IA: How have your artist colleagues responded to news of your new show?
It has been a pleasure to have our fellow artists embrace our attempt to create a new show. They have shown us their confidence by applying to the show. We have been very pleased, except for the lack of glass artists applying we have only one. I guess not too many glass folks know Mamie Joeshe will have to work on that!
Thanks to everyone who has applied and we know this show will be a large part of your success on the road in 2009. Safe travels and dont forget to enjoy the view!
You can find about more about HC Porter and her work at HCPorter.com; Dales website is DaleRayburn.com, and Mamie Joes is MamieJoe.com. You can read about the Renaissance Fine Arts Fair online.