Change is a-coming.
And it could be the swift kick in the pants that Fort Worth’s gallery scene has needed.
For decades, the number of galleries devoted to adventurous, contemporary, mostly local (at least regional) art has stagnated at about a handful. About 10 years ago in the Cultural District –– home to three world-class museums: the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth –– a new, roomy player arrived, but the Fort Worth Community Arts Center turned out to be pretty populist more than anything else.
But that may be fixin to change.
The 62-year-old FWCAC is now under new leadership. Jonathan Levy, who studied sculpture at the Pratt Institute, worked as a salesman for various galleries, and directed nonprofits in other cities, said in an interview that he plans to bring juried shows, large art festivals, and national and international artists to the FWCAC. Why? Because, he said, the FWCAC’s space is underutilized and the quality of work shown there needs to be elevated.
Jay Wilkinson, a Fort Worth artist and co-founder of Art Tooth, a local artist collective, said having more resources and quality shows at the FWCAC iscrucial.
“My motivation and inspiration, as an artist, have always come from the community,” he said. “I would love to see more outreach to artists. There’s never enough opportunity for artists, especially emerging ones, to show, be a juror, or just communicate with other artists.”
Lauren Childs, owner of the newish gallery Fort Works Art near the Cultural District, said she is excited to see what Levy brings to the art community. “We need good, fresh blood,” she said. “Bringing someone from out of state is helpful because they have fresh eyes.”
Levy said the FWCAC building will continue to serve the public as a rental space, but along with raising the quality of work on display, he also wants to provide workshops and events that give local artists access to legal, financial, and marketing advice.
Many in the art community worry that the FWCAC may be under threat from a large nearby project, the $450 million Fort Worth Multipurpose Arena, which is eating up land and public resources. Levy said raising the FWCAC’s profile and bringing greater foot traffic are the best ways to ensure the FWCAC will remain a viable gallery space for decades to come.
“I’d like to bring in a wider variety of artists,” he added. “There have been a lot of repeat artists. When people aren’t going anymore because they’ve seen the same artists over and over, it’s not serving the community.”
Levy points to a show he helped organize at Gallery House in New York City last year as an example of how art can engage the public now. Masks of Courage: Defying True Identity featured real-life incidents in which women were disfigured after sulfuric acid was thrown on them. The show included photos of the scarred women, who largely reside in Colombia, India, and Pakistan. The exhibit also raised funds for a nonprofit that works to support victims of acid attacks. Having a broad-based show that engages artists, galleries, and an outside nonprofit tied to a theme creates synergy, Levy said.
Karen Wiley, president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth, the 80-year-old nonprofit that manages the FWCAC, said she hired Levy because his past “collaborations with other nonprofit organizations and his sales experience” made him a good candidate.
“As an organization,” she continued, “we continue to grow and to evolve with the changing environment of our community. Fort Worth Community Arts Center is committed to serving our artists and enriching the lives of our patrons through the arts. Jonathan [Levy] brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Hosting workshops geared toward local artists is another integral part of Levy’s vision. An upcoming FWCAC program dubbed Art Aid Expo will provide a wide array of resources for artists in Fort Worth.
“There will be … accountants, attorneys, social media experts, and website designers,” he said. “The idea is to provide different types of services that artists need to sustain their lives through their art. Knowing how to take advantage of certain tax deductions or form a [Limited Liability Corporation] is huge. I’m trying to get this together in July.”
And FWCAC’s mission will continue to go beyond the confines of its walls. Levy plans to make extensive use of ART7, the FWCAC’s satellite gallery on Crockett Street in the West 7th Street corridor, “a beautiful space,” he said.
Levy plans to use the posh gallery, itself a collaboration with the West 7th development, as a venue to feature winners from best-in-show contests and juried calls for artists. Levy is helping organize Crockett Creates, an art fair, on April 15 on Crockett. Last year, the event (dubbed PARTy on Crockett) drew more than 3,000 people, Levy said.
Levy also acknowledged that he is replacing a veteran FWCAC gallery manager who had built close relationships with local artists over the past 12 years. Gaining the trust of past supporters won’t be easy, he said, but he feels he’s up to the challenge.
“Some people are going to feel they liked the way things were,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been handed a torch, and the torch is heavy. There are a lot of repairs and renovations that need to happen with this building. I’m aware of the sense of urgency. We need shows that people will take note of. I have to deliver results.”