Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts will host its First Friday Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m., July 3 in downtown Lebanon, unveiling its “Fish Out of Water” public art installation.
Fish Out of Water features the work of 19 artists and can be found along Veterans’ Memorial Walkway. It begins behind the Lebanon Community Library on 7th Street and runs along Hazel Dike to 12th Street, ending behind Boxie LLC. As part of First Friday, groups of musicians will provide entertainment; a musical group will be found in each of the four blocks along with walkway. The artists who contributed artwork for the installation have been invited to set up a table to display other artwork they may have for sale.
It will be the first First Friday event the organization has hosted since Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home COVID-19 pandemic order, and it will be held the day that Lebanon County moves to Gov. Wolf’s green phase. Organizers wish to remind those who attend First Friday to continue social distancing protocols.
“The exhibit brings awareness to our natural waterway and greenspace in the city as artists represent the theme of ‘Life is better when we create a place to grow,’” said Sharon Zook, Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts president.
She explained that Fish Out of Water is based on a similar exhibit that was held in a port city in Ohio about two years ago. “In Lebanon, we have good creativity, but we need to feature talent in ways that are affordable,” she explained, “Artists have a message, strive to create beauty and express their varying worlds through the language of imagery that non-artists appreciate. Because art unifies, removes barriers and begins a new narrative when experienced, diverse people enjoy art. We need public spaces with art to create a space that people can meet, and pass through to the other side — creating a somewhat fluid movement into new territory.
“Since moving water creates an enjoyable space universally, I started looking at the natural waterway in our city [Quittapahilla Creek] researching how it came to be as we know the area today in an effort to bring awareness to a valuable resource that seems somewhat ignored and at times violated our own behaviors.”
She said the three species of fish — sunny, trout, and bass — that serve as the “canvas” for the artwork are commonly found in Pennsylvania streams, and the local creeks are stocked with trout each spring.
“Camping out the night before fishing season was an annual highlight years ago, and boys especially crossed the right-of-passage by bringing home a stringer full of trout. Although fishing is not as large of a sport in Lebanon as it used to be, fish are important in the county. The varying size of fish gave artists choices in what size project they wanted to tackle,” Zook explained.
She said the arts council promoted the exhibit and invited artists to participate just before the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, we had artists committed for a number of the fish. When the shutdown hit, we still were looking for artists,” she explained, “As families shifted gears and were looking for projects to do with their kids, some of them found out about ‘Fish Out of Water’ and requested a fish. We also had teachers who had initially signed up for a fish as a class art project, who were not able to do so when classes switched to online learning. Those fish went to some artists on our waiting list.”
Zook said a variety of artists were involved in creating work for the installation, including an artist from France, Sandra Bigotti, who was visiting a friend in the U.S. and found herself hunkered in Lebanon for months after borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, she painted a fish for the exhibit.
“Several classes of artists from Splat Studio had a jump start because I was invited in mid-February to speak to their students about community art,” Zook said, “I took the first fish along and invited them to share their talents in creating art for the city. We spoke about the Quitty, and how our towns are connected through our natural resources, and art serves as a connection of the people sharing those resources.”
Yana, Eleanor and Leona Boddy worked together to create a piece entitled “Our Sweet City.” The sisters are home-schooled. Yana Boddy is a seventh grade student, who enjoys macarons, animals, and writing; one day, she hopes to write movie scripts. Eleanor Boddy is a fifth grade student, who enjoys soccer, baking, and electronics; she would like to be a cake decorator. Leona Boddy is a third grade student, who enjoys pink things, her family, and playing outside; she aspires to be a professional artist.
Professional artist Katie Trainer focuses on large-scale public art such as murals. “With public art you have the chance to make a bigger impact; art can change people’s lives,” she explained, “Downtown Lebanon is the perfect place for this installation — it’s a focal point in the area.”
Regarding the artwork for the installation she said the shape of the fish makes for a “fun, interesting piece.” On one side of her piece, which is entitled “Go with the Flow,” she created what she describes as a doodle depicting fish in a stream, and the other side features fingerpainting — the fingers are aligned to create a scale effect. Trainer also created YouTube videos of herself creating each side of the artwork.
She said she created her artwork for the installation during COVID-19. “My studio became my home, but I also did some window paintings. I was out and about, but not among people,” she explained.
Also an artist, Hope Kutenits said she started painting as a small child. “I was one of those kids who liked to draw,” she said, “But along the way I lost touch with my creativity. About 15-years ago, I was going through a rough patch and was trying to figure out who I was, and the art came out. Art helped me get through that time — it saved my life and gave my life meaning. I found that through sadness, you can share great things with art.”
She said her “Big City Dreams” piece depicts her hope for the community. “Our old-fashioned town has so much potential, but nobody wants to tap into those possibilities,” she said.
There are dandelion seeds scattered throughout the piece, which represent the seeds of change. “As a kid, you would make a wish on a dandelion in seed, and then blow on it to disperse the seeds, and your wish,” she explained.
On both sides of the artwork there is a child. On one side the child looks toward the city and is filled with hopes and dreams. Kutenits said on the other, the child is trapped in a city that doesn’t want to change. She said often uses broken mirror pieces in her artwork, and they’re also incorporated into this piece.
Zook said the arts council recently received a grant from the Foundation for Enhancing Communities to help fund projects that involve using art to bring hope to a community. Other funding is being provided by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She said funds from these two organizations will be used specifically for project-related costs. Additionally Snitz Creek Cabinet Shop has provided in-kind services for the art installation.
The installation will remain in place through September. For further information please visit Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts’ Facebook page.
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