Jamestown Transforms with Island-Wide Art Exhibit

The Outdoor Arts Experience takes over the island through October

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You can think of the Jamestown Outdoor Arts Experience as a scavenger hunt. Ten different sites are scattered across the island. Locations are tied to major landmarks, like Godena Farm, the Jamestown Museum, and the Jamestown Philomenian Library. But instead of party favors or chests of gold, your scavenger hunt leads you to art.

“We have tried to cover the entire island,” says Maureen Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown Arts Center (JAC), which is organizing the event. “You could visit all of [the sites] in one day, or you could spread it all out.”

If you’ve never heard of the Outdoor Arts Experience, it’s because this is the first one. The staff at JAC has mulled over the idea of an ambitious public exhibition since its earliest years, but it always stalled out. In 2018, the idea started to get traction; JAC would put together an open-air exhibit to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

“It’s a fairly monumental undertaking,” says Molly Dickinson, who oversees membership and special projects for JAC and serves as project manager for the Art Experience. They put out a national call for artists, and the selection committee received over 100 submissions for installation artwork.

Notably, the selection committee wasn’t made up of academics or acclaimed local sculptors, but of regular members of the community, and each submission was anonymous. Of the 10 artists selected, six are based in Rhode Island. Each work is original, and none of them existed when they were first proposed.

“Every piece is being made specifically for the exhibition,” says Dickinson. “I can’t think of a single one that will simply be picked up and plopped down.” While many works will be avant-garde and challenging to the average viewer, none are overwhelmingly large, and no cranes or special vehicles were required to install them. “I would say that the scale of the installations is modest – a more human scale.”

Under normal circumstances, JAC is an epicenter of visual creativity, and students sign up for a wide range of classes with experienced instructors. The pandemic forced the art center to develop online classes instead, and long-planned gallery shows had to go virtual as well. The Outdoor Arts Experience followed suit; organizers had hoped to provide creative opportunities for visitors, as well as artist visits to local schools; the lockdown frustrated those plans for months. At the moment, the only certainty is the series of installations, but Coleman hints at future surprises – opportunities to commit “random acts of art.”

As for the grand tour: Visitors can browse the website for locations and artist biographies. The works are wide-ranging: Ana FloresPoetry of the Wild looks like an antique writing desk, and visitors are invited to scribble their thoughts into an attached notebook. Drew Klotz’s Super Nova is an abstract, 15-foot sculpture made of steel and aluminum, which shifts with the wind. Sandy Sorlien’s Marbelle is a rowboat encrusted in marbles.

To see the fruits of these labors, you can drive from one location to the next, all of which are ADA accessible. On a sunny day, Coleman recommends riding a bicycle along Jamestown’s bucolic roads and viewing all 10 sites.

The Outdoor Arts Experience will continue through October, and JAC staff is grateful for the lucky timing; the grand opening happened to coincide with Phase 2 of Rhode Island’s “reopening,” and the isolated displays are about as socially distanced as an art exhibit gets. Even in our divided times, the experience manages to bring people together.

“It strengthens our partnerships,” says Dickinson. “It’s our gift to the community.”