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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

AVA Gallery Opens Exhibition from Veteran Artist Joan Feierabend

The upcoming AVA Gallery exhibit from artist Joan Feierabend supports 50 years of art accessible to the Upper Valley community.

Joan Feierabend at AVA (2).jpg
Courtesy of Samantha Eckert

On Friday, Oct. 6, local veteran artist Joan Feierabend’s exhibition “Multitudes” will open at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon in tandem with the ongoing celebration of AVA’s 50th anniversary.

Born out of a Norwich barn by inspired artists in 1973, the nonprofit Alliance for the Visual Arts is now a downtown jewel near Colburn Park. Built at the site of a former denim overalls factory, AVA has since grown into a thriving institution, spotlighting active artist studios, inclusive educational programming and local exhibitions.

As many as three to 10 artists’ works are shown at a time at AVA, dispersed among the four designated gallery spaces. AVA also allows artists to sign up and pay dues as a part of a membership to be featured in an additional  “Members’ Gallery” specifically for showcasing the work of AVA members. Solo exhibition applicants submit proposals that are selectively juried by AVA committees.

AVA executive director Shari Boraz characterized AVA as a “community center” at heart, with the Members’ Gallery playing a crucial role in its mission to provide opportunities for artists to showcase their art in the Upper Valley. Boraz emphasized the necessity of this goal in considering the recent impact of COVID-19 on both patrons and artists.

“Post COVID, it became readily apparent that people really, really craved community,” Boraz explained. “Our mission will always [revolve] around art education, art exhibitions and community programming.”

To this end, AVA’s extensive youth and community programming seeks to bring everyone through its doors. Beth McGee ’84, a teacher at AVA, lauded this vision. McGee noted AVA as a “refreshing place to teach,” unrestricted by state standards and an exhilarating site for young participants to produce art with professional artists.

Beyond the gallery area, the upper level of AVA’s building features artists’ studios available for rent and teaching classrooms, and an entirely separate building is dedicated to pottery, stone-carving and woodworking.

“A lot of people who don’t know AVA … think that it’s a museum that you pay a fee to come [to],” AVA’s Exhibition Manager Samantha Eckert said. 

On the contrary, Eckert stressed how the gallery is a free and open space that frequently hosts programs like artist talks and panel discussions beyond its diversity of classes and rotating exhibits. Feierabend’s solo exhibition is the most recent among the curation of displays that AVA maintains as part of its commitment to maximizing the quantity of represented artists. 

Feierabend was initially reluctant to accept this solo exhibition; as she elaborated, she rarely accepts offers for exhibitions. In honor of her 80th birthday this past year, Fiereabend decided to take on this solo exhibition and approach it by composing a painting every day for a year, allowing her to tap into a creative wellspring in herself.

In the spirit of AVA’s mission for accessible art, Feierabend will be running a compelling experiment through her upcoming exhibition. The experiment is a reprisal of an initiative first introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, in which visitors will be invited to name their price to purchase any of her displayed works, whose proceeds will be donated back to AVA.

Feierabend was interested in fostering and restoring to visual art a subjective visceral response to works genuinely predicated on individual taste — unmediated by prescriptive standards imposed by “learned” academic culture.

“It’s important to me that people have the ability to choose and then take it; so there’s no big fuss about it. Just ‘I like this one’ and then ‘take it, it’s yours,’” Feierabend said. “There’s something really elegant about that for me.”

This spontaneous quality is reflected in Feierabend’s own creative process of the past 21 years, which has been guided by “dowsing”: a practice involving the use of a pendulum for decision-making that she described was fueled by her desire to remove her ego from the equation. She expressed that, as a result, this method has led her to unearth new symbols and modes of painting unlike anything she had been taught in art school. 

“What happened was a very geometrical, very outer-space-planetary-atmospheric magnetism,” Feierabend said.

As a result of pondering about the interconnectedness of everything living in the world, Feierabend was compelled to narrow her thematic focus “from the macrocosm to the microcosm” in conversation with the larger concept of “Multitudes,” inspired by the line “I contain multitudes” in Walt Whitman’s poem “Leaves of Grass.”

AVA currently faces the challenges of marketing itself in the social media age, as well as recruiting the talent of underrepresented artists, though it showed resilience through and a buoyant emergence from COVID-19, according to Eckert. 

She partially credited its success through the pandemic to the known faces who keep returning to AVA.

“I know that our constituency base is comprised of people who are really dedicated to supporting AVA, which is a wonderful thing,” Eckert said. “Because our exhibition series is so robust, with changing exhibits about once a month, I see the same faces coming to our receptions, which feels so nice, like family.”

“Multitudes” will be on display from Oct. 6 through Nov. 4 at the Linda Roesch Visual Arts Gallery at AVA. The opening reception will be held Friday, Oct. 6 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a talk by the artist at 6 p.m.

Correction Appended (Oct. 9, 12:19 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Beth McGee was a former teacher at AVA. The article has been updated to reflect that McGee is a current teacher at AVA.