By Lana Sweeten-Shults of the Times Record News
Krispy Kreme may have glazed fans over with its Krispy Kreme Pop-Up Party downtown last August.
But another pop-up outfit will paint downtown red Saturday, and all from the belly of the landmark “Big Blue” building.
It’s called the Pop-Up Art Gallery.
The unconventional here-today-but-gone-tomorrow gallery is where 150 youth will showcase their creative prowess, from 3-6 p.m., as will Lincoln Center opera soprano Ashley Renee Watkins and New England Conservatory pianist Lewis Warren during a 7 p.m. concert.
The Pop-Up Art Gallery is the culmination of the summertime Teaching Artist Learning Lab, four weeks of artists teaching artists how to teach — a teaching boot camp, if you will.
The project, one of the first big projects of the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture (the same group behind the Art Bikes project showcased at the mall), is the brainchild of Margie Johnson Reese, who had undertaken a similar teaching-artists-to-teach concept in other places.
Reese, executive director of the alliance, said, “When I moved to Wichita Falls six months ago, it was really clear that the first thing we needed to do was find our artists. I thought about recruiting a team of artists and that they would need to have some training.”
These painters, sculptors, singers, actors and the like may be stupendous at their craft, but that doesn’t mean they can teach.
Educating them means they can share their skills and develop the next generation of artists, which in turn builds a strong arts community.
So Reese found eight locals to participate.
Then she found national master artists to come to Wichita Falls to sharpen those local artists’ teaching skills.
The local artists were contracted over four weeks to teach 150 youth, ages 5 to 17, in four or five locations in Wichita Falls.
Watkins is one of the national master artists who worked to create the first corps of “Teaching Artists” in Wichita Falls.
“Ashley’s on loan to us from the Lincoln Center,” Chance Harmon, local coach and mentor for the initiative, said of Watkins, an opera singer who is on the faculty at Lincoln Center.
“I also knew I needed to talk to people that had access to children. … I had a handful (of organizations willing to take a chance on this,” Reese said, such as the East Branch YMCA, MLK Center and Southside Youth Senter, to name a few.
Reese couldn’t say exactly what kind of art will be at Saturday’s gallery show, though Harmon said it’s likely you’ll see some art bikes. Teaching Artists weren’t told what kind of projects to undertake. But the team of eight are from different creative genres.
Harmon said mentors and organizers were vague on purpose — so the local artists would use their creativity and come up, on their own, with what their focus would be.
“I needed a range of disciplines. What we’ll showcase on Saturday is all of their works.”
Partnering group the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra joined the initiative a little late, symphony board president Katie Parkey said. But the organization had wanted, for a long time, to bring back 19-year-old pianist Lewis Warren. He had played for a symphony fundraiser previously and for Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Symphony Orchestra.
“He’s a fabulous pianist,” Parkey said.
When the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts & Culture suggested the symphony join in this initiative, they jumped on board.
Warren will join with Watkins for a sampler concert at 4 p.m. before launching into the 7 p.m. concert.
While a pop-up art gallery might seem as if it’s all just for fun, the ideas behind it are big.
Beyond just painting pretty pictures or being of service to youth in the community, this project is a first step in painting a pretty picture for the viability and economic sustainability of the arts.
“One goal is to keep our artists in the city — to stay in Wichita Falls and continue to be artists. The bigger goal is to contribute to the economy. And with children, we need to be investing in their creativity.”
This is just the first step, Chance said, in “trying to get a corps of artists that are sharing their skills.”
Reese said she wants this initial corps of eight to continue working in nonschool environments then expand so all this creativity is not just happening in the summer.
“Next summer, the ones we have trained will train another group.”
Reese added that the group did not want to pick a traditional gallery in which to showcase these artworks and chose, instead, downtown’s iconic “Big Blue” building. The building was the site of another art project, the “Blue Skies for Big Blue” photography project.
“We wanted people to see art happens everywhere and that kids are everywhere,” Reese said.