Smoky Mountain News
By Hannah McLeod
For the first time in its 45-year history, the Haywood County Arts Council is celebrating Pride month with its ‘Living with Pride’ exhibit, a collaboration with Waynesville’s own Curatory Gallery.
“We want the arts council to be a safe place for people of all backgrounds and all ages. We hope that this exhibit illustrates that,” said Morgan Beryl, executive director for HCAC. “We feel it’s important that folks know that everyone is welcome at our gallery, to participate in our programs and events, and be part of our community.”
The exhibit officially opened June 3 during Waynesville’s monthly Art After Dark, and the small gallery was crowded with patrons throughout the opening reception. In addition to the art installed on gallery walls and shelves, artist Molly Herold shared her process in a live artist demonstration. Just outside the gallery doors, the Alex Krug Combo serenaded guests with original psychedelic dream folk music. The band’s intoxicating harmonies intrigued many passersby.
“We were so pleased with the turnout,” said Beryl. “We saw faces that we’ve never seen in our gallery before which is part of the reason that we did this exhibit, to bring in a new crowd and attract different types of people so that they know who we are.”
“As a transgender/non-binary artist living in the south, I find responsibility in promoting the work and message of queer artists within our community, as it is through direct involvement with the stories and visual representation of one’s inner truth where we find a gateway to understanding — and this is where radical change is made,” said McKinney.
When Beryl asked McKinney to curate the exhibit, McKinney began reaching out to queer artists around Western North Carolina. She also made a submission page where artists who heard about the exhibit could submit their work and be considered.
“I had a lot of artists that I reached out to, that I wanted to be a part of this that were nervous about coming and showing their work here,” said McKinney. “So it really reinforced that there’s still work to be done.”
There are seven artists participating in the exhibit with work ranging from pottery and sculpture to quilting, mixed media and painting. Many of the artists in the exhibit engage with their community through their artwork. Some are teachers, others therapists; all are from Western North Carolina or have resided here for several years and are part of the LGBTQ community.
McKinney not only works to bring artists like the ones in this exhibit together, she also serves her community by providing space, listening ears and ready conversation to anyone within or close to the LGBTQ community.
“I have kids, and I don’t want to go anywhere. I love Waynesville, so I want to make sure there’s enough for the youth, the kids from high school that I’ve met that have come into the gallery that are in shock, that didn’t think there would ever be a place for them here,” said McKinney. “So if you want to stop breaking up families and you want people to stay and live and work here, start businesses here, give them stuff like this.”
McKinney is most looking forward to what this exhibit can mean for the people that live here and need to see it. Because of the respect and experience the Haywood County Arts Council has in the community, she thinks this exhibit will serve as a bridge to connect more people, open more eyes and gain new allies.
“From the work, from the stories, from that trust between the arts council and myself and them allowing us to do this, and Morgan being firm. Through all of that, I think we will gain some more trust where there may have been a little bit more skepticism and doubt,” said McKinney.
The exhibit runs through June, but for those who are interested in going deeper, a “Meet the Makers” event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. June 30. The event will take place on the lawn of the Yellow House in Waynesville. Heavy appetizers and drinks will be served, and HART Theater’s Executive Director Steve Lloyd and Artistic Director Candice Dickinson will facilitate discussion with three artists — Western Carolina University’s Ceramics Associate Professor and HCAC artist member Heath Mae Erickson, HCAC artist member Jason Pierson and Asheville based musician Tina Collins.
“It’s an honor to be included in the ‘Living with Pride’ exhibit and the ‘Meet the Makers’ event,” said Pierson. “Us LGBTQ folks are valuable members of the WNC community, and it’s exciting to have this opportunity to showcase our artistic work.”
The discussion will be recorded live by WCU’s Travis Rountree and Sara Steiner for WCU’s LGBTQ audio library.
“As a representative from Sylva Pride and the WCU Jackson County LGBTQ Archive Collections, I see this event and these conversations as important in continuing collaborations with the LGBTQ community groups in the area,” said Rountree. “These events truly help LGBTQ community members to know that we exist and are here for them.
Attendees at the Meet the Makers event can also participate in a community pottery-making effort — Pride Pots: Community Conversations.
“This exhibit is helping to foster different forms of art than are traditionally what you’ve seen here, and will reach more communities,” said McKinney.
The ‘Living with Pride’ exhibit will run through June 26. The Haywood Handmade Gallery is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit haywoodarts.org.