Breaking Down Walls

Base Cooperative Gallery celebrates the Age of Obama

As Barack Obama prepares to become America’s 44th president on Jan. 20, there are many who see something of themselves in his progressive, time-for-a-change victory against the ruinous Republican status quo.

Those include visual artists working on the fringes, showing in urban co-op galleries with limited hours or in coffee houses and group shows at alternative spaces. Their work is sometimes politicized and sometimes offbeat in choice of subject matter and media, so they often find themselves a long way from the mainstream.

“How many times have we felt we’re not being heard, just an isolated part of a minority while the majority represents people you have a strong disagreement within the way that they think,” asks Tom Weast, director of Over-the Rhine’s 17-year-old Base Cooperative Gallery at 1225 Main St.

But now he feels enfranchised. And that’s especially exciting in Hamilton County, Weast says, since it went Democratic for the first time since 1964 and helped carry crucial Ohio for Obama.

“For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel I’m in the minority about the way the country is being handled,” he says. “Being a visual artist and seeing this new energy emerging, I want to tap into it. You can’t help but be affected by what’s around you. It was so powerful, you couldn’t think of anything else.”

Under Weast’s leadership, Base has announced a group show to open on Jan. 30, shortly into the first 100 days of the Obama administration. It will also tap into what is sure to be a key component of Obama’s policies — green consciousness.

Called Recycle Political: Celebrating a New President, its stated goal is “New Voices. New Country. New President. New Art.” The hope, Weast explains, is to receive submissions that reuse, in a creative way, political-campaign material — yard signs, political buttons, posters, bumper stickers, U.S. mail, e-mail, phone messages, TV and radio ads, newspaper advertisements … you name it.

For logistical reasons, Base is encouraging applicants to first submit slides, jpegs, videos, recordings, etc., of the work for consideration. (There is no application fee.) It wants to receive all submissions by Jan. 24; the show will run from Jan. 30 through Feb. 22. The opening-night reception, part of Final Friday in Over-the-Rhine, is 6-10 p.m. Regular hours are noon-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

By the way, all political persuasions are welcome, and work can relate positively or negatively to John McCain and Sarah Palin too. Actually, artists can use any material they want — the recycling theme is just a strong suggestion.

“I wanted to use the debris — the stuff people normally throw in the garbage after a campaign is over,” Weast says. “I wanted to find a way to turn it into something that extends itself. There’s all this good material you can use.”

While it’s assumed most of the submissions will be from this area, Base is open to work from anywhere and anyone. (One teacher has already asked Weast if students can submit as a class project.) Artists can sell their work, with Base getting a 20 percent cut. (For most shows, the gallery’s commission is 40 percent.)

The heart of the show, as the title makes clear, is in celebrating Obama.

“Being a co-op gallery, and out of the mainstream, you couldn’t help but get excited about his success,” Weast says. “He presented himself as a person who wanted to relate to the mainstream, and people could see he was a gifted person who didn’t want to be confined by any barriers or walls in front of him. You think that the same thing might apply for alternative arts.

“He’s made people think about dropping the barrier in all aspects of life, and to rethink how to connect with others.”

Base started in 1992, about the same time that Main Street was exploding as an arts/entertainment/nightlife district. The area was attracting artists looking for low-rent, high-creativity studio and gallery space. While Main Street has had its problems since then, Base has held on. But it’s been a struggle.

Weast says it should have about 20 members — paying $35 a month and volunteering time to operate the place and mount shows — to be healthy. It currently has just nine. To remain viable, the gallery has thematic and invitational shows as well as exhibits and appearances by guest artists. For instance, the Japanese-born avant-garde percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani did a performance there during a tour.

The gallery relies on a grant from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation to offset expenses and mount shows.

“We want to generate some excitement to get people to look at art in Cincinnati,” Weast says. “We want people to come into an art gallery even if they’re not already art patrons. We want to break down a wall.”

He hopes, in the Age of Obama, more people are willing to do that.

RECYCLE POLITICAL opens at Base Cooperative Gallery on Jan. 30. The best way to submit work, due by Jan. 24, is via e-mail to [email protected] or by mail to Base Cooperative Gallery, 1225 Main St., Cincinnati 45202.

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