MOBILE, Alabama — Bright blue skies and April sunshine greeted the launch of the Centre for the Living Arts’ nine-month “Memory Project” on Thursday morning.
Artists, news media, CLA board members and assorted representatives of the Mobile arts community gathered to see and hear plans for an ambitious schedule of visual art exhibits, film screenings, live music, public forums and conversations, plus classes and workshops for children and adults.
Programming will be held at Space 301, Room 1927, the Saenger Theatre and several off-site locations throughout Mobile.
“The Memory Project” is the first phase of a plan by the Centre for the Living Arts “to create a national model for community building through the arts,” according to a CLA news release.
The nine-month event will run April to December with a visual and performing arts program “that examines the various intersections of individual and collective memory in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere.”
Thursday also brought the launch of the new Centre for the Living Arts website:
The environment is the thematic focus for April. Upcoming “Memory Project” events will address home (May), history (June), celebration (July), culture (August), loss (September), music and fashion (October), food (November) and childhood (December).
Among the artists who attended Thursday’s media event was Alison Saar, a Los Angeles-based sculptor and printmaker, who created a four-part art installation that provides a platform for Mobile residents to recall, exchange and reflect on their personal memories about displacement and separation.
Titled “Displacement Recollection Exchange and Archive of Mobile,” the installation occupies more than 1,500 square feet of space in Room 1927.
“I was really thrilled to have access to this space,” Saar said. The artist said she is intrigued by the diversity of cultures in Mobile and in the histories of displaced people such as the Vietnamese community.
Her artwork is dominated by a large assemblage of trunks and suitcases topped by a seated fiberglass female figure tethered to an umbilical cord.
The piece is interactive and visitors are asked to leave tags with their personal connections and memories so the installation will grow and evolve.
The concept of memory “actually means a lot to me,” said Saar, who uses found objects and other items that enhance her artwork with what she described as “the wisdom in materials.”
Russell Goodloe, a retired Mobile orthodontist now acclaimed for his photography, talked about his “Senia Series,” six black-and-white portraits of Senia Nixon (1912-2005), an African-American artist who lived and worked for more than 60 years in Mobile. Senia’s original clay masks, along with text from her interview, round out the exhibit.
Atlanta-based artist Tracy Hicks and Elizabet Elliott of the Rumor Union discussed the design and implementation of a project to stimulate creativity and economic revitalization in blighted, historic inner-city neighborhoods around Mobile.
They are working in collaboration with Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses in Houston, on a structure inside Space 301 that will change over time as visitors interact with the work.
The piece likely to generate the most conversation is Xavier de Richemont’s immersive video installation, “Hokushima,” a large-scale piece replete with music. The work is dark, hypnotic and provocative, and plays out on three of the four walls of what used to be called the “tile room” at Space 301.
De Richemont, who lives in Paris, is internationally respected for his video installations for monuments and alfresco sites including the Chartres Annual Festival of Light. “Hokushima” represents the artist’s American debut.
Alabama native William Christenberry, who was unable to attend Thursday’s event, provided a selection of his photographs and sculptural works that reference the local architecture, landscape and culture of rural Hale County, where Christenberry spent part of his childhood.
Other participating artists are Mississippi-based photographer Birney Imes and Elayne Goodman, another Mississippian who gives life to old furniture and objects. Her works for the “Memory Project” complement to Imes’ “Whispering Pines” series.
Confirmed performing artists include: Ben Sollee, the classically trained, genre-bending cellist and singer-songwriter from Kentucky; New York-based actor Chaz Mena, who will bring his theater work, “Yo Solo,” to the Saenger Theatre; . Alabama singer/songwriter Kathryn Scheldt; Grammy award-winning country singer/songwriter Kathy Mattea; and the innovative dance ensemble Pilobolus.
CLA spokeswoman Chris Barraza also announced a concert with Aaron Neville and Keb’ Mo’ on Aug. 10 at the Saenger Theatre.
“The Memory Project” is being underwritten by the J.L. Bedsole Foundation, ThyssenKrupp Steel, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Alabama Power, the Crampton Trust and Regions, among others.
Mike Rogers, president of the Centre board, said the “Memory Project” has been in the works more than a year since the board hired Robert Sain as executive director.
“We hope this is something wonderful that will move our vision for Mobile forward and attract people here,” Rogers said during a news conference Thursday morning in Room 1927 adjacent to the Saenger Theatre.
Executive director Robert Sain said the many-faceted “Memory Project” represents “a lot of work by a lot of people.”
“We hope this really is part of a transformative vision for the CLA and the city of Mobile,” Sain said, “and that the CLA be a beacon for contemporary art in the Southeast. We want to really engage people in things that matter, in topics, issues and concerns of our time through . . . the visual and performing arts.”
Sain said he wants the Centre for the Living Arts, through events such as “The Memory Project,” to be “a convener, a place that can bring people together (in) a social intersection space for people throughout the city.”
A third goal is to be “a cultural . . . sparkplug for economic development in downtown Mobile.”
The Centre hopes to accomplish those objectives by inviting artistic talent — in this instance, artists from Paris, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Mississippi and Mobile. Sain sees the CLA as “a platform linking the world to Mobile and Mobile to the world.”
He also emphasized the role of education in “The Memory Project.”
Education, he said, “is the connective thread (in) everything that we do.”
Mobile artist Wayne McNeil is curator of education and community engagement for the Centre, which announced a schedule of film screenings, classes for children and adults, and public conversations, among other events.
Other aspects of the “Memory Project” include the Memory Lounge, a community resource center inside Space 301 where visitors and families can obtain support for dealing with social and cultural challenges such as dementia, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, with the goal of amplifying the artists and their connection to the community through memory.
The Whisper Project will document oral histories, personal and collective, about specific geographical locations around the city. The focus will be places and neighborhoods important to Mobilians.
These will be documented in a storytelling format in the aim of engaging the audience. Memories might range from personal anecdotes to historical stories of a place.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the Centre will offer a screening of Robert Mulligan’s Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck, as well as “Harper Lee: Hey, Boo,” Mary McDonagh Murphy’s PBS documentary about the author, her novel and the film.
Murphy, author of “Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” will lead a post-screening public conversation.
Read the Press-Register interview with Murphy at http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2012/03/southern_authors_harper_lee_ma.html.
“Memory Project” partners include Mobile Arts Council, the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum, Mobile Symphony Orchestra, the Downtown Mobile Alliance, Via Health, Fitness and Enrichment Center (United Way Senior Citizens Services), the Center for Generational Studies, Mobile Public Library, Mobile Opera, Mobile Museum of Art and the History Museum of Mobile.
With the opening of “The Memory Project,” Space 301 and Room 1927 will have new hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon until 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. The CLA also will begin charging admission: $5 for adults; $3 for students and seniors; free for children younger than 6.