"For me, 'Pronouns' was inspired by a need in our society to grow," says Jewel Hayes, co-curator of the new exhibit on show this month at Fenix Arts in Fayetteville. "I believe everyone has both masculine and feminine energies in a unique balance. By expressing myself freely and breaking commonly held gender roles, I hope to make people feel more free to express themselves. It has taken many generations fighting and dying for the freedom to express oneself honestly for this show to come together."
"My desire to know myself works well with my desire to find ways that bring those individuals or groups on the fringes in society together doing art projects, in an inclusive environment," adds co-curator Pat Hennon. "Fenix Arts has provided that support. Our show focuses on the trans community having access to a gallery group show, being seen and heard from their place of struggle and accomplishment."
As the Northwest Arkansas trans arts community marks a new, higher profile with this exhibit, titled "Pronouns," so too does Fenix Arts unveil its new gallery space, literally perched higher above Fayetteville.
"When we learned that Fenix would need to find a new home, we looked at several commercial spaces, some in Fayetteville and some in Springdale, and we came to the conclusion that we, as a brand new nonprofit, simply could not afford to lease one of these spaces," says Laurie Foster, chairwoman of the nonprofit's board. "A friend suggested that we contact Jessica DeBari at Mount Sequoyah and see if they might have a suitable space. A week later, the board of directors toured the Millar Lodge space, and with the opportunities for collaboration at the Mount Sequoyah Center and the artists already in studio spaces there and the reasonable lease rate, we were very excited and encouraged."
Much was gained, Foster says, although some benefits of the downtown location were lost.
"Being able to work with Mount Sequoyah and other entities using the Mount Sequoyah spaces is a huge benefit," Foster says. "The beautiful outdoor spaces and scheduled activities are also a bonus to us. At the previous location we were very limited on outdoor space. In these pandemic times, outdoor spaces allow greater possibilities for community gatherings.
"We have lost square footage with this move," she adds. "We have also lost the options that multiple rooms allowed for different exhibits at the same time. At this point, we have one large gallery space as well as a small multi-purpose room, [but] we do have plans (as funding allows) to build movable walls that would allow us to configure the space to better suit the needs of each exhibit.
"So far this year has been a bit of a scramble to find space, renovate a bunkhouse into a gallery, and move in," Foster admits. But "we are looking forward to more collaborative arts events on the hill so that Mount Sequoyah and Fenix become an arts destination in Northwest Arkansas."
Hayes and Hennon have their own hopes for the "Pronouns" exhibit.
"I hope viewers come away with a little more comfortability in expressing themselves and knowing that no one has to be the perfect man or the perfect woman, just perfectly themselves," says Hayes.
"For those attending this show, my wish is that they come away from this event saying they gained understanding about gender expression," says Hennon. "How knowing who one is, is an act of freedom. For me, freedom belongs to everyone."
WHEN — Through June 26; hours are 3-7 p.m. Friday and noon-7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE — Fenix Arts, 150 N. Skyline Drive, Millar Lodge, Fayetteville
COST — Free
INFO — Email [email protected]
FYI — An opening reception is set for 5 to 7 p.m. May 7, with a panel discussion at 6 p.m. May 8, both at the gallery.