In the simplest terms, Aaron Levi Garvey is an arts professional. In more detailed terms, he is a writer, lecturer, consultant, and an independent curator of museums, galleries, and non-traditional spaces. In 2015, Garvey co-founded Long Road Projects (LRP) with his wife, Stevie Covart Garvey. The artist residency program and edition publishing house serves as a platform for artistic experimentation, community engagement, and education. Since its inception, LRP has hosted five resident artists, including: Lala Abaddon, Gamaliel Rodriguez, Tameka Norris, Joshua Short, and Paul Weiner. The foundation also recently announced the fall and winter 2017 residencies of Curtis Santiago and Sheida Soleimani.
Garvey is also the newest arts professional to be appointed to the Art in Public Places Committee, which consists of 11 Mayor-appointed volunteers. The Committee is composed of two members from the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville's Board of Directors, three arts professionals, and six community representatives. The Committee is responsible for commissioning artists and artworks for the Art in Public Places Program. They oversee the selection, placement, installation, and maintenance of art on City-owned public property.
In late 2014, Garvey was an evaluator on the review panel for Creative Capital’s 2015 visual arts grant. Since then, he has served as a visiting curator at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, a guest lecturer at the University of Florida, collaborating curator at Independent Curators International, and the curator of "We Are What We Eat," the inaugural contemporary art exhibition at the United Nations headquarters in New York, amongst other things. In fall 2017, Garvey will serve as the visiting curator at the University of Iowa.
Those in Jacksonville who are interested in seeing Garvey's work in person can do so with a weekend trip to New Orleans. Garvey curated "Ephemera Obscura,"which is on exhibit at the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans until October 1, 2017. The exhibition presents the work of artists who examine the relationships of objects, which hold importance beyond their physical form, to experiences of places and cultural identities. Artists submitted work that evoke their own sense of emotionality, sacredness, and personal connection to their cultures and beliefs through objects found and made.
10 Questions with Aaron Levi Garvey
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
I’m not sure that I necessarily have a routine, per se. Each of my curatorial projects start with a complete immersion and obsession of a topic or specific artists. It all begins with finding parallels on subjects that I am interested in. I then dive into my artist database, which I have built over the years, to find works or concepts that fit my idea.
After that, I reach out to various artists that I know, or whom I have been following for a while, and check out what they are working on. Typically that will result in scheduling studio visits. I must say though, studio visits are not always contingent on an exhibition, and vise versa. When traveling, I make a point to schedule studio visits with artists in the cities I travel to. For me, it is all about collecting information and images.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
So far, patience and the importance of relationship building are two of the biggest things that I have learned. Patience, because curating an exhibition for a museum or alternative space takes an immense amount of research, planning, and time. These things don’t just happen overnight. I have learned to curb my expectations and pace myself in my work. Relationship building, because it takes a significant amount of trust to conduct studio visits, mount exhibitions in museums, have institutions seek out my expertise, and to call in favors on short notice, if needed.
How do you define success in what you do?
There have been several impactful achievements in the last few months. These achievements include being awarded 501c3 status for our foundation LRP; curating the inaugural contemporary art exhibition at the United Nations headquarters in New York City; curating the season opening exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans; and helping found the Art For Thought foundation in New York with a few like minded colleagues.
My personal definitions of success have varying echelons. Each definition is related to the specifications of the project that I am working on. But overall, my general defined successes would be curating museum exhibitions, being published, receiving critical feedback and correspondence from my peers, meeting new artists, an exhibition opening on time, press about exhibitions I’ve worked on, invitations to be a visiting curator and lecturer for universities and institutions, studio visits with new artists, traveling for research, presenting artists to my community/network, connecting colleagues together, collaboration with institutions and colleagues, introducing contemporary art into new communities that would otherwise not have access or have been aware, making contemporary art accessible, etc. They all vary and are slightly different, but in my mind they are all successes and I’m incredibly grateful each and every time one is achieved.
How do you interpret your civic responsibility as a member of the Art in Public Places Committee? Additionally, how do you see your curatorial background assisting you to fulfill that responsibility?
I feel that my civic duty as an Arts Professional member of the APPC is to provide guidance and insight into the contemporary art world and industry best practices. I have experience working in institutions and with the public and private art sectors. Over the years, I have established an understanding for the orders of operations needed to mount exhibitions and build collections. I am also able to think strategically about the optimal long view outcome. Building collections is a marathon, not a sprint. Again, it takes patience and strategy to get the best works available and make sure that they will withstand the tests of time.
Relationship building plays a large role in your professional life as a curator and as the co-founder of Long Road Projects. What recommendations would you make to someone interested in forming broad and deep relationships, both with peers in Jacksonville and at large?
It takes years of continued correspondence, genuine interest in what others are doing, trust, and most of all, going beyond the boundaries of your respective zip code. You must be willing to attend events, visit the studios of others, participate in dialog, and be accepting of receiving and giving critical feedback. All of these things are an absolute must in the realm of relationship building.
How would you describe your approach to curating? Additionally, what are some of the most difficult things to communicate when working with artists and the institutions in which the art is exhibited?
I would have to say that my curatorial approach mostly revolves around accessibility and the transformation of spaces. The ephemerality of exhibitions and site-specific works are particularly fascinating to me. I love the notion of experiencing an exhibition in a specific time and place. I strive to create exhibitions that visitors will remember based on their experience of attending it and seeing it in person, and transcending the works in the exhibition beyond singular objects. That being said, a big part of that process is knowing and selecting artists whose work already achieves this type of impact.
Much of your recent curatorial work has been conducted outside of Jacksonville. What are three cultural institutions within a reasonable drive from Jacksonville that you'd recommend exploring as a weekend getaway? Additionally, what do you think are three cultural institutions that someone ought to make a point to visit within their lifetime?
I think it is an absolute must for anyone that is involved in the arts to get out of town at least once a month, even for an overnight or day trip. Within a 4-7 hour drive from Jacksonville, you can visit the Pèrez Art Museum Miami, the Atlanta Contemporary, and all three art museums in New Orleans (the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the New Orleans Museum of Art).
In one’s lifetime, I think that everyone needs to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, New Museum in New York City, and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in Los Angeles, within the United States. Internationally, I suggest the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Modern in London.
What are some of the triumphs and frustrations you've experienced as you formed and grow a 501c3?
It is a HUGE triumph to have brought five internationally recognized artists to Jacksonville and have them engage with our community, all within our first full year. These are artists that probably wouldn’t have visited Jacksonville otherwise have immersed themselves into the community and became a part of it, all with plans to return in the coming months. I would say that the biggest triumph was receiving our 501c3 designation. It was a wonderful and fulfilling moment to open that letter and see our status granted.
It is easy to get bogged down in the mire of wanting things to happen immediately or for attendance to be standing room only, but we are a young organization and as we grow so will our audience and community engagement. We are working to build something genuine and bigger than ourselves. There have already been many solid relationships and connections made between the artists that have conducted residencies and community members within Jacksonville. I anticipate that these connection will continue to develop and grow with the Foundation
You’ve spent a lot of time in artists’ studios. What have you observed? How are studio practices formative?
I’ve been in so many incredible studios over the years and seen so many fascinating practices. I feel very fortunate to have been invited into all of them. Everything from artists with 10-15 studio assistants on staff, to others who it’s just themselves and their discipline. There have been artists who requested that we have a meal together first before a studio visit and talking business, to visits that have gone beyond the studio walls and ended up in all day excursions to museums and galleries, as well as marathon visits with MFA candidates that ran until the early morning hours.
My one main observation from all of these visits is that I need to be flexible and willing to take in as much information as I possibly can. Each and every studio visit has been formative in this way. It is always a continued development process, whether it be personal, for exhibitions, or for newly formed relationships.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow the city's creative economy?
I would really love to see an independent white wall exhibition space that is beyond both of the institutional museums. One that brings internationally recognized artists on a regular basis, but also has an annual Open Call exhibition for local and regional artists that is curated by outside curators from other cities. Additionally, I would like to see a broader public discourse and regular dialog about contemporary art, including panel discussions on relevant topics in a critical and analytical capacity. Our community needs to participate in these types of discussions, not only to build an economy but also to build an awareness of the broader conversations that are happening outside of Jacksonville. The more informed our art community can be as a whole, the more successful the artists' studio practices will be and the economic impact will follow.