What’s Cookin’ For UAFS? Bakery District home to new gallery space

What’s Cookin’ For UAFS? Bakery District home to new gallery space

Art is everywhere — on street corners, downtown business walls, along bike paths and nature trails. And now, in Fort Smith, it’s in The Bakery District, thanks to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Titled “The District Art Galleries by UAFS,” the new space is in a popular community hub that includes a book store, a coffee shop and events like yoga classes, trivia contests and post-concert parties with the Fort Smith Symphony.

“The university art gallery holds a significant permanent collection of modern and contemporary art with a rotation of temporary exhibits that showcase … artists of national and international renown,” Dr. Matthew Bailey, UAFS gallery director, begins the explanation. “Both the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions of the UAFS Gallery of Art & Design are displayed in the Windgate Art & Design building on campus.

“The gallery spaces at the Bakery now provide a somewhat trendy space to showcase emerging and established regional artists whose work demonstrates contemporary, innovative trends in the arts, which is what I aim to focus on and which is demonstrated in the inaugural exhibit.”

Showing in the first exhibition, “Process/Experience/Place,” which remains open through Sept. 18, are:

Mary Elkins, whose work with fiber, clay and other household objects is focused on memory, motherhood and family. She earned a BFA in ceramics from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 2008 and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in Craft/Material Studies in 2011. She has recently moved back to Arkansas and teaches adjunct at UAFS.

Jarrod Cluck, who also teaches at UAFS, works with locally collected native plants, waste and recovered iron objects. He uses prints and video to tell “the same old story of lost knowledge and rediscovery” except through the perspective of an Ozark natural. He graduated from UAFS in 2015 with a BA and the University of Hartford’s Nomad MFA program in 2020 with an MFA.

And Owen Buffington of Fayetteville is a mixed-media artist whose work explores the intersection of geography and the visual arts — in particular the role drawing plays in shaping how we describe, define and organize everyday spaces. His current fascinations include workplaces, nocturnal landscapes and haunted houses. He earned an MFA, with an emphasis in drawing, from the University of Arkansas in 2017, and has taught at universities, community art nonprofits and public schools.

“For a starting exhibit, three seemed like a good number as we experiment with what’s possible in the space,” Bailey says. “One of the exciting aspects about this space and working with local artists is the chance for direct collaboration between the artists and myself on how best to arrange and install the work — each artist’s very different in terms of materials and techniques — in such a varied space. Such curatorial artistic collaboration is also a contemporary trend in the arts, and we worked together as a group on-site as we planned and installed to both integrate the work with the space as well as highlight and connect the works to each other as they are spread throughout the various spaces in the district.

“The Bakery spaces are varied, which is what makes them interesting,” he goes on. “The available spaces for hanging/installing art run across a few rooms, each very different in terms of physical characteristics — which make them that much more engaging for different types of artistic practices and materials. However, the overall nature of the space is very industrial, with exposed brickwork, piping and steel girders that give more of a raw, gritty feel to the space that diverges from the look and feel of traditional museum spaces.”

Bailey says there is a definite trend in the art world toward “alternative art exhibition spaces.”

“Today more and more artists are seeking to install work outside the traditional ‘white cube’ art gallery in order to foster more community engagement with the arts in public spaces,” he says. “As the art world in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley grows exponentially — indeed probably as fast as anywhere in the country right now — artists in the region are especially interested in creating … community engagement. It seems to me to be one of the defining characteristics of artistic trends in our regions.”

In addition to offering opportunities to artists, Bailey says the nontraditional spaces invite new viewers, too.

“Exhibiting in these types of spaces tends to break down that … long-standing and deeply felt notion that art is some precious and sanctified thing that needs to be experienced in pristine spaces, and explained to us by arbiters of taste,” he says. “My effort, along with like-minded curators and artists like those showcased in this first exhibit, is to make art and its experience much more directly accessible, inviting and engaging by virtue of the exciting public space it is displayed in and the casual way visitors can encounter and explore these works.”

Finally, Bailey hopes to use the space as a learning center for UAFS students.

“As this program develops, I’d like to incorporate interested students as much as possible into the process of planning, curating, installing and overseeing the Bakery district galleries in order to develop these skills — for art students primarily, though not exclusively,” he says. “The UAFS Gallery and Departments of Art & Design will be developing a certificate program in art handling and museum practice; while hands-on experience can take place at Windgate to a degree, the Bakery will offer a forum in which students can be much more involved with the ins and outs of the exhibition process.”

Bailey is excited about the fall 2022 through spring 2023 on-campus offerings as well.

“Of note is the semester-long exhibit in the Windgate exhibition gallery running from Sept. 9 through Dec. 9, ‘Ron Jude: 12 Hz.’ Organized and sponsored by the Barry Lopez Foundation for Art & Environment located in Santa Fe, N.M., the exhibit will feature 20 large-scale, highly detailed black-and-white photographs of various geological formations, each image framed in ways that make their subjects waver between the representational and the abstract,” he says. “Accompanied by a continuously looping soundtrack orchestrated from the recording of natural sounds produced by the earth such as the movement of tectonic plates, the exhibition explores the larger elemental forces and energies that perpetually surround us.

“We,” he concludes about visual arts at UAFS, “have a lot going on!”



The District Art Galleries by UAFS

WHEN — Open during business hours

WHERE — The Bakery District, 70 S. Seventh St. in Fort Smith

COST — Free

INFO — uafs.edu/academics/colleges-and-schools/college-of-arts-and-sciences/departments/art-and-design.php

Categories: Family Friendly