There exists this tenuous relationship between God and man and nature. When they align, and harmony is achieved, the result can be wonderous beauty. If God is the greatest creator and the original artist, then Mother Nature is both his best work and a blank canvas. And because we are made in His image, nature can be a great source of inspiration for our own creativity.
In reality, all human artists need a little inspiration from time to time.
With that in mind, the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts is taking its newest exhibit out of doors. It’s being dubbed ‘Art in the Wild’, or more specifically ‘Connections’. It’s the local arts council’s unique attempt to piggyback upon and capitalize on the success of last year’s similar outdoor exhibit ‘A Fish Out of Water’. But what it really all boils down to is getting more people involved in art locally, and promoting the importance of local art.
Sharon Zook has been the president of the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts since 2014.
“Nature inspires – scientists, artists – it inspires so many different fields,” said Zook. “This exhibit is about nature being an inspiration, and her relationship with us. There’s always that duality between nature and humans. Nature can sometimes be brutal, in which case, humans can’t survive. Humans can be brutal, in which case, nature can’t survive. It’s a constant conflict.”
“We can also use art to reach people,” continued Zook. “Art is like a catalyst for change. It helps generate new ideas. It gives people voice, who don’t in other ways have voice. It’s engaging people and having them come out and look at things.”
As we speak, the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts is seeking artists for its ‘Connections’ exhibit, which will be staged along the Veterans’ Memorial walkway next to the dike for the Quittapahilla Creek, between Ninth and 12th streets on the north side of Lebanon, at the site of the former Meadowbank Playground/Park. While the exhibit hopes to attract local groups and families, it’s open to everyone – local artists, naturalists, professionals and non-professionals, schools, students and designers.
The exhibits will be on display at 12 sites along the walkway, for six months, from May 7 to October 31, and their creators will be expected to maintain their work, if necessary
“We’re not competing at all,” said Zook. “It’s the concept that through art, we can explore. It’s more about the community than it is competition. We want to ultimately affect change. It’s about the connections between humans and nature, between land and water. The human encounter. Whatever connections come to mind. It’s open to interpretation, We have a lot of creative people in this area. I’m anxious to see what people come up with.”
“In our public spaces, we can reach people who don’t normally go into public,” Zook continued. “It also offers artists an opportunity to share. This space is sort of underutilized. It used to be a vibrant green space. It used to be utilized as a park, but now there’s just some old asphalt and trees. When people are on the walkway, they can view the exhibits. It’s such a neat concept. It’s a way to move people through spaces.”
Informally, participating artists are being charged with the task of using settings and materials that are already naturally beautiful and make them even more beautiful. The exhibits will be three-dimensional and can be enhanced with existing materials like trees and plants, as well as the use of colors.
“I have all sorts of ideas,” said Zook. “I chose a variety of settings along the walkway. One setting has three trees close together, and you could suspend something like a weaving between them. Another setting is a slab area that faces traffic, which would lend itself to something made and set there. Another setting is right along the dike and something could be hung on the fence and suspended there. There’s also an uprooted tree that has fallen over, and it has created a space where someone could have something coming out from the roots. I tried to use a variety of spaces.”
“The waterway runs through an area that’s really in no man’s land,” Zook added. “We’re drawn to water, whether it’s a lake, a stream or the ocean. Water creates a common human connector. There are a lot of things that can be developed around waterways. What artists do is create new realities. They can distract attention away from things we don’t want to see, and they can bring attention to things we want to see.”
If the primary mission of the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts’ Connections exhibit is to promote local art and inspire local artists through nature, then its secondary goal is to bring attention to the current plight of Meadowbank Playground. All that remains of the once thriving northside park that straddles ‘The Quitty’ are a handful of unmaintained benches, an uncared-for walkway and plenty of trash and debris.
“We want people in our downtown, but part of that is getting them through our perimeters,” said Zook. “We want to hear from the community and what their visualizations of ‘Connections’ are. We’d like them to participate, and engage other people in the community. We particularly want to bring attention to spaces that are underappreciated and underutilized.”
“There are limits on how you can branch out with this exhibit,” added Zook. “It’s one of those types of exhibits that if the public enjoys it, we can do it every year and we can do it differently every year. It lends itself to being able to replicate it and expand upon. Every year we could just change the theme and open new sites, because we do have more area. Basically, I’m just doing my thing.”
The ‘Connections’ theme reflects the Lebanon Council on the Arts’ mission of ‘Where there is art, there is life, and we envision the arts for everyone’ perfectly. That approach certainly suggests the possible presence of untapped artistic potential within the local community.
“We’re small, but I think we get a lot of things done,” said Zook. “How vibrant are things? I don’t know how you measure that. How interested are people? That’s the question. If we’re going to develop artists, we have to value all stages. We’re here to serve the public and the community. We’re not a club. Our challenge is to engage more artists. I think we have to look at what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well.”
“Art is a response to change,” concluded Zook. “For it to be alive, it has to be constantly changing and reflect life. But it can also create reactions and perceptions. The mission for the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts is to serve as a conduit for all forms of art in the county.”
Encouragement can also be an effective form of inspiration.
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