SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. —This year has been full of uncertainties and losses for everyone, including the South County Art Association, which saw several exhibits and events, including their annual Pottery and Art holiday sale, canceled or re-tooled to fit with social distancing protocols during the pandemic. However, the show still goes on for the association’s oldest tradition, as its 93rd Annual Members’ Exhibit will run through Oct. 31.
The exhibit features 96 pieces submitted by members in a wide variety of media, according to Exhibitions Director Jason Fong.
“Each member was invited to bring one piece and we exhibit everything that was submitted, so all of our members who wanted to were able to put one piece in the show,” Fong said. “It’s a variety of media: There’s paintings, drawings, ceramics, pottery, sculptures, mixed media work, collages, photography. Pretty much it encompasses everything our members do.”
Unlike most exhibitions, the Members’ Exhibit is non-juried, so all submitted pieces make it into the gallery. To Fong, this represents a chance to experiment more with different styles and forms that they might not try in a juried exhibit.
“It’s an opportunity for the artists to show off work without considering what a juror might think of it, so basically it’s an opportunity to show things that they wouldn’t maybe submit to a juried show,” Fong said.
While the pieces aren’t juried into the show, a juror is brought in to evaluate the pieces and award cash prizes to their top choices as well as honorable mentions.
“This is the show where we give out a number of awards that have been building up historically over the years,” Fong said. “A lot of them were started by members who have money to fund these awards over the years, so we have awards in each media. We have best photography, best pottery, best oil or acrylic painting, so there’s 10 different cash awards and we have three honorable mentions.”
Usually the Members’ Exhibit opening coincides with an annual Members’ Dinner, where the juror announces their picks and evaluates the pieces. However, due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, the SCAA was unable to host the dinner this year, instead opting for a virtual video with the juror, which Fong said should be posted to their website later this week.
“It’s always good for the artists to get feedback from a juror and see why they chose different things – so in this case why the juror chose the particular pieces for the awards – so we’ll be posting the awards on our website so anyone will be able to see that,” Fong said.
As for planning the event this year, Fong said one of the biggest hurdles wasn’t COVID-19 itself, but rather the financial impact the pandemic has had on the institution along with many other galleries, small businesses and families.
“It’s mostly sort of a budgetary thing, we’re trying to save money,” Fong said. “Having been closed for many months, we lost a bit of income there, so we were trying to save money by doing less mailings and printing.”
The impact of that can be seen in the amount of pieces in the exhibit. While last year’s exhibit featured 148 pieces, this year’s will be a 96-piece show.
“It’s all high-quality work, but I think because the pandemic is messing with our normal ways of operating that maybe some of the artists kind of fell through the cracks a little bit,” Fong said.
While they may have less pieces than last year, Fong said the gallery is actually seeing slightly more guests than normal.
“I don’t know if it’s due to the pandemic or not, but visitation to the gallery has not declined,” Fong said. “In fact, our sales, my perception of our sales from the gallery and the gift shop since the few shows we’ve been open for this year has actually been up. In fact I sold one piece from this show before it even opened.”
As for the show itself, Fong describes it as “very colorful,” noting a variety of different media, themes and tones to the pieces. Some reference current events, such as the pandemic and fights for social justice, though most are a mixed bag of subjects and styles, from classic portraits of animals, fruit and still life to abstract forms.
“I think the quality is extraordinarily high. I think everyone brought their best work and I’m very pleased about that,” Fong said. “The other thing that always strikes me about this show, like I said, is the artists are able to bring pretty much whatever they want and we’re going to show it, creates a show with a lot of variety, not just in terms of subject matter but style.”
The 93rd Annual Members’ Exhibit runs through Oct. 31 at the SCAA’s main Helm House gallery at 2587 Kingstown Road in Kingston. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., with this Saturday also featuring a one-day Pottery and Art holiday sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside behind the Helm House.
For more information, visit their website, southcountyart.org.