Paul Handler is difficult to shoehorn. Despite possessing uncommon creativity, he subscribes to no single genre in his pursuits. It is rare, if not impossible, to find work that is attributed solely to his particular genius. Rather, Handler’s name has been made through his behind-the-scenes work in support of artistic co-conspirator Mara Sprafkin—until recently.
In 2014, Handler took the lead in organizing the New City Artist Exchange in which 17 local artists created limited edition work to share within the group. Though Sprafkin helped inspire the idea, local nonprofit New City Arts offered a home and administrative support for the project early in the planning process. At that point, Sprafkin took a backseat, and Handler, ahem, handled it from there. “Paul is pretty open for thinking outside the box,” noted Sprafkin. So, it is fitting that New City Arts’ Executive Director Maureen Brondyke managed certain project logistics, including the selection of boxes in which to package the artwork.
Since Handler was still largely unknown in the local arts community at the beginning, Brondyke also provided guidance and expertise in selecting the participating artists. While shaping and coordinating the Artist Exchange, however, Handler developed close relationships with other Charlottesville artists, and encouraged them to do the same. “The artist community in Charlottesville is pretty disparate. This is why it was important that all the participating artists were Charlottesville-based. This was really a chance for us to begin to connect with each other,” said Sprafkin.
The group of artists who piloted the project are Hannah Barefoot, Kendall Cox, Dean Dass, Amanda Finn, Stephanie Fishwick, Jessica Lee, Matt Leech, Victoria Long, Malena Magnolia, Joy Meyer, Matt Pamer, Pamela Pecchio, Katie Pennock, Laura Snyder, Ashley Walton and Sprafkin. Together, their works represent a diversity of tastes and local skills, including photography, painting, drawing, calligraphy, textile design and printmaking
“One of the most exciting things was that artists were at the center of it; they made and received artwork for and from each other, which resulted in new art and new friendships,” said Brondyke.
At an event in November, each artist received one set of work, containing a piece by each participant. One set was also donated to The Haven’s winter art auction to support the local day shelter, and another set will be archived by New City Arts. When Brondyke also offered to have New City Arts host an exhibit of the work from the Artist Exchange, Sprafkin said that she and Handler “decided it was important to let the community see some of the great and interesting artwork made by local artists. Many of the artists in the exchange don’t show regularly in Charlottesville but show elsewhere in the country and internationally.”
All 17 works will be on public display in January at the WVTF and Radio IQ Studio Gallery on Water Street. Individual works will be available for purchase at an opening reception on January 9 from 5-7pm. Sprafkin summed up the mutual satisfaction from the collaboration: “As Paul said, it was surprising to just see so much wonderful work. When you ask people to participate in something and it ends up happening, it is really amazing.”