It's certain that the way we interact with art shows for the remainder of the year is going to be significantly different. Gone are mortar shows for the foreseeable future. Quarantine has spurred a lot of motion into the digital space for the creative realms - ranging from a rise of virtual exhibits through galleries and independent creators.
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.
(Lillian Aguinaga, Return to Stars. 12” x 12”. $325.)
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?
I was terrified at first because things did slow down significantly even with online sales. I didn’t know if the annual joint-show where I depend on income was going to happen at all. Still don’t. I was also very excited about being a showing artist at one of my favorite music micro-fests, Mutants of the Monster, but that has since been postponed and seems to be up in the air for now. Plus, all the markets that I planned on doing during this busy season got cancelled.
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.
(Emily Schumacher, Halted.Tintype. 5” x 7”. NFS.)
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.
Once things started getting pretty serious here in New Orleans and the stay-at-home mandate began (mid March), everything came to a major halt. Art shows, gigs, and markets were automatically cancelled with no real end date in site. Many of my fellow artists became unmotivated, my self included. The one thing that got me painting was a fast approaching submission deadline. I actually didn’t even get in, but it just felt so good to get paint on canvas. So i figured an online show with a deadline might help other artists.
There are also phenomenal artists out there that aren’t super active on social media and now have nowhere to show their work. Giving them a platform to show will increase their chances of it being seen and selling.
Another goal is to show viewers how much we, as artists, are effected. It’s a glimpse inside the artists' minds as they deal with the before and now (pre-pandemic and current) through their work.
( Justin Meyers, Cross of Mutilation Art. Acrylic paint. 16" x 16". $1100.)
I know the overwhelming responses from outside the New Orleans community assisted with casting a wider net for the second show. Would you mind telling me a little bit more about extending this from a one-time show to a second (and potentially even more)?
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.
(Kevin Comarda. Brand Ambassador. 12” x 12”. Paint & paper collage on birch plywood. $200.)
One of the things that has been so exciting is seeing people holding more space for each other in the artistic communities and finding ways to keep active, generate visibility and hopefully income during this difficult time. What advice do you have for other people inspired by your events to do their own?
Holding space for other artists is huge! I don’t know how many times I’ve started following artists after seeing artists that I follow share others’ work. The art world can be highly competitive, but I appreciate artists that help each other. So click that share button in your stories, tell your fellow artists about the opportunities versus holding them to yourself, reach out to artists, comment on their posts. Commenting and reaching out is something I had to train myself to do, only because I felt like a dweeb or I was shy, but artists LOVE to hear good things about their work. It all creates a stronger network and helps boost online visibility for other artists and yourself.
(Jacquelyn LeVan, Chalk. Graphite Pencil and Gouache. 24” x 18"
How can people participate in these virtual art shows (as an exhibitor or a viewer)?
Viewers have multiple ways to see the shows. It will be visible on our Facebook event , my website, Visual Art Vault, Facebook Page, and in a highlight on Instagram. All will be shareable.
Both shows will be visible for all of May.
(Drew Meeuwes, Untitled. Oil on Canvas. 2" x 3". $600.)
Other advice to artists during this difficult times? (It's been great to continue to cultivate a variety of helpful tips and support from creatives by creatives)
I’ll say something that a dear friend told me recently that’s resonated with me the most: Be gentle with yourself.
As artists, we are emotional sponges and have been soaking up more than we’re used to. It’s okay not to be able to create right now. It’s okay if what you create right now sucks. It’s okay if you soar, too - don’t feel like there’s anything wrong if you’re doing well. Nobody that's real is going to hate. This shit is HEAVY, so being nice to ourselves and giving each other support is the best we can do right now.
Special thanks to Lillian Aguinaga for curating these virtual shows and speaking a bit more about them. Make sure to check out both exhibits for the entirety of May via the Facebook event , website, Visual Art Vault & Facebook Page. Our goal during this time is to highlight creatives and curators who are trying to increase visibility for artists during this difficult time. If you know of someone who is making these things happen, kindly email us at firstname.lastname@example.org