WRITTEN BY Bek Mitchell-Kidd
Space One Eleven (SOE), a visual arts organization located in Birmingham, has been changing lives for almost three decades. Their mission is to provide professional opportunities for artists, create a forum for public understanding of contemporary art, and offer arts education to area youth and adults.
SOE believes that artists knit together the fabric of a community by elevating public discourse. Through strong cross-cultural, community-based arts programs, a forum for exchange is developed between artists and the public.
In the late 1980s the organization moved to the north side of Birmingham, neighboring with some of the poorest zip codes in the U.S. “So many artists and arts organizations have moved into ‘less desirable’ neighborhoods. Just like New York’s SoHo, there were many attempts here in Birmingham in the mid-1980s and early 1990s to create artist’s lofts, but they were overbuilt and many artists couldn’t afford them,” says Peter Prinz, Space One Eleven CEO and co-founder.
SOE quickly made friends with some of the youth living in the area. The kids were curious; when they learned SOE was an arts-based organization, they said they wanted to be artists too. SOE opened their doors, and with the community’s input, created projects that were relevant to the people who called the area home. The organization became a resident in the community. By beautifying the neighborhood, SOE made a commitment that is still being honored almost 30 years later.
“We’ve been doing creative placemaking ever since we moved downtown to 2nd Avenue North. As pioneers of the neighborhood, we were creative placemakers before the phrase existed,” says Cheryl Lewis, director of programs. “We bring diverse groups of people together around art, through our education, mentoring and visual arts programs. We host a wide range of contemporary art exhibitions in our galleries, and also in storefront windows in our building and other buildings downtown, bringing cultural opportunities to people who may not view art in a gallery setting.”
Programs include a children’s art education program, City Center Art, which originally served students in grades 2–8 before expanding to meet the needs of area high schoolers. “Organizations like Space One Eleven are essential to a healthy cultural fabric of any community, and we are thankful for donations from individuals who make it possible for children’s lives to be greatly impacted by our art experiences,” says Prinz.
Take Reginald, an eight year old who knows he is an artist. He attends after-school art classes at SOE every week. He recently met one of the exhibiting artists and was awestruck to meet a “real artist,” following him around and quizzing him about his art and art-making practice.
Reginald’s mom is grateful for SOE: “Thank you to everyone at Space One Eleven for all that you do for my son and all the other future artists. It really means a lot that Reginald has a safe and well-equipped environment to learn and grow while doing what he enjoys. You all are shaping the future, and that’s so amazing!”
Not to be forgotten, ARTfix! is SOE’s programming for adults. Offering a wide range of art classes and workshops, the adult program is dynamic and ever-changing to meet the needs of the resident artists and patrons. Menu options include figure drawing, art history, ceramics, printmaking and more. Lewis boasts, “We even have professional clay and 2D studios and can offer almost anything a budding or established artist can dream up.”
And there are big plans ahead in addition to the programs already offered. SOE teamed with Dr. Jessica Dallow, associate professor of art history at the University of Alabama, to develop a series of exhibitions highlighting female artists’ historic and current contributions to the arts. Rosie Gordon Wallace, executive director of Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator in Miami, will be one of the curators during the 18-month project. The new exhibitions will feature emerging and established artists of many different media, and will include public discussion panels to examine ideas including attitudes toward feminist art through the generations, shifts from feminist issues of the 1980s to broader societal issues of today, and an examination of artists as agents of change.
This Birmingham treasure is crucial to the community. Susan Colvin, SOE board president, sums up how the organization’s value cannot be overstated: “When Space One Eleven asked me to serve on their board, I was honored and thrilled. I am not an artist (not for lack of trying!), but art has always played a central role in my life, particularly contemporary art and how it speaks to the issues, joys and pains in our lives. In the South, and particularly here in Birmingham, we struggle every day to reconcile our history and our present. Contemporary art can articulate our evolution and teach us to see new solutions to old problems. I think that SOE plays a critical role in this process, both for artists, students and community members. As a small non-profit with an absolutely amazing staff, our board is a working board, tasked with supporting our staff and the mission of SOE. When we open an exhibit, offer a class or guide a young artist toward fulfilling a dream, I see the impact we have on so many lives. It makes me feel proud to have just a small part in supporting artists and the visual arts in my community.”
For more information on programming, upcoming exhibitions or to make a donation visit: spaceoneeleven.org