One of the people who has stepped up to create more opportunities for artists in the upcoming months is New Orleans based painter Lillian Aguinaga. Over the last few weeks she has curated two art shows, one of which, Part One: Cancelled Work, opened last Friday. The show exhibits a curated collection of pre-pandemic work from openings that were cancelled during 2020. We had the pleasure of discussing her experience as a creative during this time and upcoming second show Part Two: COVID19 Responses opening Friday May 8th.
Hi Lillian! Thanks for chatting with us. As a creative, I can only imagine how difficult this time has been for you. How has COVID-19 specifically affected your art business - and can you talk about how you have seen it affect your New Orleans community as well?
The community took a BIG hit. One major thing is Jazz Fest was cancelled, which was huge. Tourism drives the economy here in New Orleans. The majority of people I know are unable to work because most of their jobs are related to the tourism industry, my partner included (artists, musicians, service industry, hospitality workers, sex workers, tarot readers, burlesque dancers, small business owners, street performers, any kind of gig work - you name it). There is also a lot of film industry here that were laid off. We’re all intertwined so if I’m not making money, I can’t buy their services and they can’t go to that person’s gig and then they can’t buy my art. Ya know? Loss of income and just about everyone being “under” can create a serious lack of motivation.
Luckily, I’m seeing people in the community adapting and coming together to support one another. It’s actually been a joy to watch some of my friends bloom during this. I’ve also been busier than I expected with commissions and buyers wanting to support.
Can you tell us a little more about the motivations behind these virtually curated art shows?
There are a few goals with the Virtual Art Exhibitions. The main goals are to help motivate artists, give them online visibility, and give artists the sense of community and support that they need right now. It’s all about boosting the artists.
Initially, Part One was not going to be as big of production. I had just planned on sharing artwork from artists in order to build interest, then having those same artists create work as a response to the pandemic to be shown as the main exhibition. After realizing how that narrowed down the artists too much, I decided to make the distinction between Part One (pre-pandemic work) and Part Two (work created since the pandemic began) and not require artists to participate in both.
A friend/colleague of mine who I’ve known since college days, Killian Williams-Morantine, contacted me about helping with the technical side (website and organization). He actually had a concept of creating a website for artists to show their work and have guest curators that he’d been wanting to actualize. This gave him the boost that he needed, so he developed VisualArtVault.com, which is one of the sites you can view the exhibition on. He began helping me and we both received interest from artists outside of New Orleans.
Originally, I restricted it to New Orleans because I saw grants and aid in other cities but a seriously lack of them here, which can really demotivate artists. I was also doing this all by myself and I didn’t want to take on more than I could handle, risking the quality of the exhibition. After I saw the response by artists outside of New Orleans, I started thinking, ‘Why am I limiting this when other strong artists want to participate? They may also need help.’ Then, Killian and I bounced the idea around for split second and agreed, 'Fuck borders. Let’s open it up and see what happens.'
I’m really glad we did! There wasn’t a particular location that had artists show more interest, but we have artists from my hood in New Orleans to California to Pakistan to Australia. It’s pretty cool.
Now that Part One has shown, I’ve actually been contacted about curating other virtual exhibitions. There’s a potential for another that would involved teaming up with a local group to not only benefit the artists, but also raise awareness to a major issue. I can’t say too much about it, but I’m hoping it will work out.