ArtsATL > Art+Design > A new era for High Museum’s town-gown relationship? Ask WonderRoot

A new era for High Museum’s town-gown relationship? Ask WonderRoot

Is change afoot at Atlanta’s largest art institution?

Consider this: the High Museum of Art is working with WonderRoot (left), the community arts center in Reynoldstown, to produce a program of Atlanta artists during the final weekend of the High’s “Salvador Dali: The Late Work.” And the museum has agreed to participate in an artist professional development program being organized by WonderRoot Executive Director Chris Appleton.

Or this: High Director Michael Shapiro, who is not a regular on the gallery circuit, ducked into Rocio Rodriguez’s opening at Barbara Archer Gallery, spent time looking and had a conversation with the artist.

And perhaps most tellingly, this: Shapiro has recently met individually with a number of  people who run Atlanta arts organizations and expressed his interest in working to close the gap that has long existed between them.

High curators are active in the community, and many arts organizations have been sharing programming for a long time. It seems, however, that the High’s management, which has made an art of partnering with the likes of the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art, is unsure of how to proceed at home and not totally familiar with what’s going on. In these meetings, according to several local leaders, Shapiro expressed his willingness to learn and a desire for the museum to be more involved with the community.

It’s a long time coming, but no matter. “It was the first substantive conversation I’ve had with Michael since I arrived five years ago,” said Stuart Horodner (left), artistic director of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, “and I was happy to have been invited.”

Horodner characterized the meeting as productive and promising. He discussed ways that he has dovetailed his programming to be in dialogue with the High’s.

“I told him that I’ve championed his institution, and that he could help us enormously championing ours,” he said.

If these events signal “a culture shift that’s trickled up,” to quote Amy Miller, executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, they are cause for celebration. The High is in a position to bolster the legitimacy and visibility of smaller local institutions, a policy that would be mutually beneficial: Organizations like WonderRoot and The Contemporary are in the trenches serving audiences that the museum needs to broaden its own base and build the next generation of patrons and collectors.

“As the largest institution, the High can play a leadership role in moving the community forward,” said Andrea Barnwell, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. “It’s time to break the silos down.”

The meeting between Appleton, 28, and Shapiro was perhaps the most striking symbolically, and it may have produced the most concrete results. While discussing ways their two organizations could work together, Appleton suggested an event modeled on WonderRoot’s open mic night. He and High Museum staff will work together to select a roster from 50-plus proposals, which range from video and performance art to a puppet show, for the January 8 event.

Shapiro, who was away for the holidays and unavailable for comment, is scheduled to speak to ArtsCriticATL in January.

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