Bridging the Gap: How Artists in Tuscaloosa Engage with the Community

By: Sofia Lavidalie

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – On an average day Sydney Gruber can find herself doing anything from restoring old chess sets to making candles with beekeepers. As an alchemy artist, she harvests and restores old pieces of home décor. Every week, she gets another commission from a client wanting to bring new life to their clutter.

Gruber is a resident studio artist employed by the Kentuck Art Center. She is one of many people in Tuscaloosa who are working endlessly to engage public interest in the arts and bridge the gap between artists and the community.

The Kentuck Art Center in downtown Northport offers art nights on the first Thursday of each month along with openings, exhibits, art classes in local primary schools and other events.

Kentuck also hosts a yearly, nationally-recognized, two-day-long festival, which holds a lot of cultural significance in the Tuscaloosa area. This festival also has a significant economic impact. Each dollar spent at the festival, generates $12 in the community.

The iconic tree logo is displayed at the front of the Kentuck Art Center.

“We’re not a conventional gallery,” says Exa Skinner, Kentuck’s program manager. “[The festival was] the brainchild of Georgine Clark…[she] celebrated people who’d not been to art school and people who just created because that’s what they had to do.”

The University of Alabama’s School of Music is also engaging with the community to improve its outreach to the public.

“[This] upcoming year we’re actually going to be refocusing our efforts on marketing the School of Music to a broader population,” Trevor Pruitt, marketing support assistant at the UA School of Music said. “We really just want to get the word out that the School of Music has a lot to offer.”

The School of Music, which, in the past, has mainly focused on marketing to an older crowd, is currently focusing on younger listeners by offering instrumental music lessons for people of all ages. It also plans to offer more performances that appeal to broader audiences.

The School of Music interacts with other artists at the University of Alabama as well. They often collaborate with the band, opera, or other artistic programs on campus.

“Collaboration is a hugely important part of the School of Music,” Pruitt said. “The arts at this campus get overshadowed … that can hamper the art culture at times. [The musical culture is] an integral part of the culture here in Alabama.”

Overall, the process of bridging the gap between artists and the public is very much a communal effort. All facets of artistic work in Tuscaloosa are collaborating to help more people interact with artists in the community.

“Everyone cares,” says Gruber. “Everyone’s investing, everyone’s giving a part of themselves. Without everyone’s volunteering, it just wouldn’t be the same. The community keeps the wheel going.”

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