Guest work: McGuffey’s celebrates its emerging artists program

Kelly Doyle Oakes shared McGuffey’s Incubator Studio with four other local artists over the past year. Her painting “Chopsticks“ is part of the summer group show on exhibition through August 17. Photo: Adrienne Eichner Kelly Doyle Oakes shared McGuffey’s Incubator Studio with four other local artists over the past year. Her painting “Chopsticks“ is part of the summer group show on exhibition through August 17. Photo: Adrienne Eichner

What if there was a farm league for artists? This is one of the central questions raised by a new program for emerging artists at the McGuffey Art Center.

In the past, the only way for an artist to join the art cooperative was to participate in a juried application process for associate or renting membership. The primary difference between these two levels of members is a question of a single precious commodity: downtown studio space. Renting members get it; associate members don’t. With the launch of the Incubator Studio, there’s a new option that allows some artists to share a McGuffey studio for a year as they work to further develop their skills.

“We felt the need to offer a space to foster and mentor emerging artists who needed more studio time before applying for membership,” says Eileen French, a current renting member. “McGuffey is home to many established artists who have years of experience to share.”

Charlottesville-based artists Nina Burke, Brielle DuFlon, Deborah Rose Guterbock, Jeremiah Morris and Kelly Doyle Oakes were selected as the inaugural class of Incubator artists for 2014-15. They have spent the last year sharing a low cost studio space in McGuffey and, this month, their work is featured in the McGuffey Art Center’s Summer Group Show.

As the center approaches its 40th anniversary in October, it’s heartening to see it evolving and adapting to the current needs of the local arts community. Presently, there are approximately 140 artists who are McGuffey members, though only 45 or so are renting members. Many of the current artists have been members for years if not decades, so it can be quite competitive for artists looking to find a new space. The Incubator Studio begins to address the very real need for accessible resources and studios, as part of the McGuffey Art Center’s mission.

For the artists in the Incubator Studio, the low cost studio space (between $75 and $110 per month) and mentorship opportunities with other artists have already demonstrated the value of such a program. Many simply needed a place to focus on their art and develop new ideas, away from the stresses of daily life and its numerous commitments. Equally important though, they needed support, encouragement and guidance from fellow artists.

“I decided to apply to be in the Incubator because I really like the McGuffey Art Center and wanted to experience being an artist there,” says Oakes. By day, Oakes is an art teacher at the Covenant School and, during her time in the Incubator, she also volunteered to run a weekly figure drawing session. “I love working with other artists around me and interacting with the public when they come into your studio when you are working,” she says.

Guterbock finds value in the immersive environment. “As an art student, I was accustomed to working around other artists, critiquing each other and fueling a sort of collective creative energy,” she says. “After I graduated, I was left feeling alone with fewer opportunities to work towards creative goals.”

The Incubator Studio also provides a space to engage the broader McGuffey community. “[McGuffey artists] have all been encouraged to stop in and get to know [Incubator artists] and get a feel for how we could help them,” says French. Some of the established artists shared equipment and materials; others offered advice and expertise on what it takes to make a living as an artist.

“There are wonderful individuals [at McGuffey] who have a wealth of knowledge to share and are more than willing to help,” says Guterbock.

So, what’s next? The first Incubator class has already moved out of McGuffey, opening the studio space to a new round of artists who moved in at the beginning of July and will spend the next year working together with the McGuffey community.

And as for the outgoing Incubator residents, after their group show they will each move on to new studio spaces and continue their artistic practices a little wiser than before. Some will surely get called up to the major league at some point. “My goal is to work hard for the next six months and try to jury in to be a [McGuffey] member,” says Oakes.

The Summer Group Show featuring work from the Incubator Studio will remain on display at the McGuffey Art Center through August 17, with a First Fridays reception on August 7.