When Jen Charboneau and Bernard McNerney met as ESL teachers in South Korea, they had no idea that they would someday finish a 12,000-mile trip to promote community-driven art through pop-up events across the United States. But that’s exactly what they’re about to do – wrap up their three and a half month-long pop-up art project, Alley Art, with a final exhibition at Bushwick’s very own The Living Gallery this weekend.
Originally crowd-funded through Kickstarter, Jen and Bernie describe the aim of the Alley Art project: “To encourage people to get creative together, beyond the typical gallery scene.” Jen, originally from Minneapolis, developed the idea for the project after leaving the ESL teaching program abroad. Jen told Bushwick Daily that she’s been “trying to survive as an artist and traveling around a lot [since graduating from college in 2008]…I’ve been doing a lot of small art things – busking art on the streets, small shows in different countries, trying to do the whole artist thing.” Through her international travels, including pop-up art events in Australia, she realized that it was time to bring her ideas of community involvement back to the States – in a big way.
She didn’t want to do it all alone though, so Jen reached out to fellow avid traveler, Bernard – or “Bernie” as he introduced himself to me with an Irish twang – to join the project. Bernie eagerly accepted, realizing that the 9-to-5 job he’d fallen into wasn’t what he wanted at the moment. “I want to see more of America. I want to travel again,” he described.
The aim was to be as approachable as possible. Their best icebreaker proved to be a painted, empty frame; when someone walks by, they ask, “Do you want to take a photo in our frame?”
After a couple months of planning, the two hit the road on May 23rd, and they’ve had an event almost every weekend since, each in a different city. They’ve stopped in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Santa Fe, Moab, Las Vegas, Long Beach, San Francisco, Portland, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, and, finally, will make their 14th and final stop in Bushwick. While the final exhibition will take place in a gallery, the previous pop-up events have typically been “community spaces that aren’t gallery-themed…Places that are higher foot traffic or community-oriented spaces,” they told me. It’s a simple set-up – just a table with a few blank canvases, paint, and brushes.
Their offer of free painting has received no’s in some cities, but Bernie estimates that the crowds have ranged from 25 to 100 people at each event. (San Francisco has been the biggest thus far.)
They asked participants to sign a log, and have collected 650 signatures thus far. And that doesn’t include Bushwick.
When they first set out, they knew that their final exhibition would be in NYC but they hadn’t decided on exactly where. Bernie told us, “People on the road kept telling us about Williamsburg and Bushwick!” Jen elaborated, “A lot of artists that we spoke to [on the tour] had worked [in Bushwick] or mentioned art collectives there, and just generally living in that area.” When they discovered The Living Gallery it was “a perfect fit…They embrace community involvement with the arts,” Jen explained.
But this isn’t the end of Alley Art. Jen clearly stated, “It’s definitely a project that is not completed after this tour…This is the first step.” They hope to stop in cities that are not known for their arts communities in the future, but they’ll take more time with those. “To step into a community that doesn’t have any arts or community bond?…If there’s no appreciation, that’s a massive step for the first tour. But this is the first…Ideally I’d love to go into neighborhoods where community is lacking in [art] events.” Jen hopes that for future tours, they might actually stay in each city for longer, doing several events throughout the course of a month, instead of just one.
Or, perhaps expand it overseas.
Together, American communities have created almost 30 original pieces of art and these pieces will be displayed in Bushwick at the final show at The Living Gallery. New Yorkers will create the last two pieces of art for the collection.
Catch the final exhibition (and participate in some painting) at The Living Gallery this Friday through Sunday, September 12-14! Make sure to RSVP via FB!