Curator Tosha Grantham’s biggest single show to date took over 10 years to develop. Featuring 112 objects by 18 artists occupying 4,500 square feet, “Darkroom” was a collection of photography and new media from South Africa’s period of apartheid. But it wasn’t size and scope that gave Grantham satisfaction.
“I was talking to someone outside the show, and one of the guards came out and was fanning herself and practically crying,” Grantham said in a recent interview. “Something she saw moved her that much. I feel like my job is done when people feel that connected.”
Grantham, who was appointed as curator at Second Street Gallery in 2013, said she likes to visit her exhibits anonymously, to take a seat and see how visitors from all demographics respond. “Different people bring different things to the viewing,” she said. “Watching people step up, stand back, take it in, and walk away helps me figure out how to do it next.”
This holistic perspective informs Grantham’s mission for Second Street. “I’d like to encourage people in the belief that this is a space to learn about art,” she said, suggesting that “those people who may feel intimidated by the lightbox presentation” of typical museums could approach the gallery as a place to gather information, no background knowledge necessary.
For September’s exhibit, “Re-Material” by Mary Ann Strandell, Grantham incorporated borrowed furniture. The installation lent itself to the integration of fine art and everyday objects, echoing the invitation the curator hopes to extend to those “people who peek into our window” as they walk down Water Street.
“Accessibly is something I’ve considered in addition to making sure we have exciting art for people who’ve supported Second Street traditionally,” she said. “I want to make choices to encourage new audiences to come by.”
The first such event will be an after school drawing and bookmaking session for children led by Warren Craghead on October 16. The event dovetails with “You Are Surrounded,” featuring work by Cynthia Henebry, Heide Trepanier, Sarah Boyts Yoder, and Craghead, all of whom are parents.
“We’re looking at the idea of how artists who also have young families negotiate their practice,” Grantham said. “By doing so, we are questioning or problem-atizing how artists make choices. I often hear artists say they had to choose [between family and full-time art] and get a real job. Why is art not a real job?”
During the Virginia Film Festival, Second Street will offer “Digital Media Gallery,” a show with work by UVA filmmaker Kevin Everson, Light House Studio youth filmmakers, and UVA intermediate and advanced cinematography students.
In December, Panamanian artist Arturo Lindsay’s “Portraits of Yemaya” will spotlight a series of portraits of the ocean and coastal communities whose lives center on it, and in February, Yeni Mao’s “The Conqueror” will bring Hollywood representations of Genghis Khan to life through video sculpture and letterpress.
Building on established relationships allows Grantham to “fan out into new directions.” In addition to a co-curatorial project with 1708 Gallery in Richmond, she plans to link local conversations with global themes. “Season 42 will be devoted to ideas of sustainability,” she said, and Season 43 will be devoted to fair trade, art markets, and other fair market economies.
“This is how we’re thinking of the season, but also contemporary art and social practice and life in general,” she said.
It’s a common misperception, she said, that art happens on the fringes. “It’s very other and special, but it’s also very central. In real life, it’s more of a ‘both and’ rather than ‘either or.’ Professionally it’s been my real life for a long time, so I’d like to share that.”
“You Are Surrounded,” Grantham’s second show as curator, will be on display through November 1.