In the first instance, Julia Marsh, the new Curator of Community Engagement, had reached out and invited me to serve as a juror for the Pennsylvania Poetry Out Loud competition. Little did I expect that nearly eighty-five family members, friends, and teachers would show up in the community gallery on a Thursday evening to hear high school students recite poetry. What we witnessed was indeed inspiring as nine self-assured young women gave voice and life to twenty-four modern and contemporary poems. As an added treat to the evening’s program, visual artist Bruce Wall introduced his mixed-media installation on exhibit in the gallery—a visual riff on all twenty-six letters in the alphabet. Equally captivating, poet Marilyn Hazelton explored the art of loving and the love of art in three of her own poems. At the end of the evening, Whitehall Senior Gazal Jabir was chosen to represent the Lehigh Valley at the state competition in Harrisburg. Kudos to all who created a charming evening.
On Saturday morning, I was back at the museum to accompany Elaine Mehalakes, the new Vice President of Community Engagement, on a personalized tour. Mehalakes is responsible for the direction and scope of all curatorial and educational activities. A specialist in modern and contemporary prints, she also works with new media.
Elaine is just five weeks into her position, so you can imagine my delight when she accepted my invitation to lead this tour for a small group of Arts Council members. Titled “Curator’s Choice,” she selected for discussion two paintings, one print, and two sculptures that had visibly impressed her when she arrived on the job: Head of a Young Woman by John Singer Sargent (1878-80); Cotton Eater, woodblock print by Alison Saar (2014); Untitled, Gouache (1947) and Central Park Landscape, sculpture by Peter Grippe (1959-60); and Sound Sculptures, by Harry Bertoia (c. 1968-74)
In introducing each one, Mehalakes offered guests her insight about the work and encouragement to join the conversation. She also revealed a passion for lively discourse and an attraction to works that marked a new direction for the artist.
This was another memorable experience at the Allentown Art Museum, made all the more special by a convivial host and permission to speak up. (BTW, did you know the guards are allowed to “play” the sound sculptures for you if you ask them?)
We invite you all to join us for our other upcoming Arts Alive events: A Joyous Rehearsal on April 20th and Wood & Steel on June 20th. For more information and reservations, please visit our website.
by Randall Forte, Lehigh Valley Arts Council Executive Director