Keep out? Not with the ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ project

Jun 12, 2017

via the Times Record News

Mom.

Apple pie.

White-picket fences.

They’re all symbols of the idyllic American life.

But the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture isn’t settling for a mere white picket fence. It’s adding some color to that American idealism and celebrating creative identity, creative freedom and individuality with its latest public art project.

The arts group behind the Art Bikes Project displayed during last year’s Hotter’N Hell and the pop-up art gallery at the iconic “Big Blue” building kicked off its latest public art project, called “Don’t Fence Me In,” at the June 1 After Hours Artwalk.

Event attendees could stop by and paint a picket expressing the “Don’t Fence Me In” theme. The pickets will be assembled into into a fence that will be installed with help from the Texas Department of Transportation as part of a temporary exhibit at the Nexus Art Park, which is at the median of Kell East and Kell West at Austin Street downtown.

The tentative unveiling date is July 15.

“We had more than 200 people participating and had over 80 pickets completed (at the Artwalk),” said Vanessa Alonzo, program coordinator with the alliance.

Not that those will be the only fence posts that will be part of the display, since the deadline for submissions is July 3.

Anyone can contribute a fence picket they might already have in hand or can stop by the alliance office to pick one up.

“We had three fence companies donate pickets. It’s been wonderful,” Alonzo said.

Organizations such as Paws for Greatness and Communities in Schools are participating in the public art project as a group.

“We’d love for whole families to do this together.”

Alonzo said the idea for “Don’t Fence Me In” is based on the song, which has been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Rogers. The lyrics convey that ideal of personal freedom: “Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above/Don’t fence me in.”

For an arts group such as the alliance, that idea of freedom translates to creativity and artistic freedom.

This fence project isn’t simply just an art exhibit.

“‘Don’t Fence Me In’ is the summer theme for our Teaching Artist Learning Lab,” Alonzo said.

In 2016, the alliance organized its first learning lab, which was four weeks of artists teaching artists how to teach – a sort-of teaching boot camp.

It involved national master artists coming to Wichita Falls to sharpen the teaching skills of eight local artists. Those local artists were contracted over four weeks to teach 150 youth, ages 5 to 17, at four locations in Wichita Falls.

The first corps of teaching artists this year are teaching the next group of artists.

The whole idea of this learning lab is to develop the next generation of artists, which in turn builds a stronger community, while also supporting local artists and the local economy. The hope is also to encourage local artists to stay in Wichita Falls and continue to be artists.

“Last year we had master teaching artists. We had one from the Lincoln Center and consultants from Dallas’ Big Thought. … six of them have returned,” Alonzo said.

The Teaching Artist Learning Lab has doubled in size and locations, with artists teaching youths at eight locations this summer.

Alonzo said “There are no limitations as to how many pickets we can accept,” and so the alliance is hoping to receive more submissions before that tentative July 15 “Don’t Fence Me In” debut.

“Don’t Fence Me In,” by the way, isn’t the only public art project to be unveiled this summer. The Wichita Falls Museum of Art at Midwestern State University will present its arts mural, being installed on the historic Zales building downtown, during the Art and Soul Festival June 24.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.