Cara Leepson, the executive director of Redux Contemporary Art Center, laughs when we refer to the upcoming Creative Corridors: The Annual Studio Artist Exhibition collection as "her baby." But regardless of how you say it, Leepson is the one who created Creative Corridors, a collection of work from Redux's resident artists based around a certain theme or prompt.
When Leepson started at Redux as executive director three years ago, it was one of the first projects she launched. The idea was to shine the spotlight on the artists who have studio space at Redux, showcasing their collective work in the front gallery.
"Initially I wanted to it to be a medium-specific, focused show for the studio artists," Leepson said. "So the first year that I was here in the spring of 2018, we did photography. It was all our photographers and that was really beautiful."
In the second year, Leepson made some changes, allowing different forms of art into the exhibit and centering it around a theme.
"There wasn't really a specific prompt the first year," she said, "and then the next year, I thought we would start having a different prompt that artists would be asked to respond to, whether it's in their work already or whether they wanted to create something new. So last year, we talked about how your surroundings influence the work that you make. It could be Redux, it could be Charleston, or it could be your home life. There are a lot of different ways to consider your environment."
Leepson swears that she created this year's prompt back in January, but it sure does sound like something that the last three months could have spawned. For the 2020 version of Creative Corridors, she asked more than 20 Redux resident artists to consider the power of art and its ability to send messages, rally communities, and advocate for many different causes.
- Karson Photography
On Redux's website, the exhibit description reads, "Throughout history, art has served as a conduit for social change as seen in installations, murals, performances, signage, videos, and sound. Art has a persuasive nature, declaring impactful statements, dictated by the artist, to address issues and encourage community engagement and activism."
That sure does sound like a commentary on our turbulent times, when a pandemic is still raging as protesters demanding the end of systemic racism are still marching in the streets.
It helps to remember, though, that just because things seem bad right now doesn't mean they weren't already bad back in January when Leepson began thinking about this.
"I was thinking about how everything was in turmoil at that point," she said. "But it's been really interesting to see the artists and the work that they've created in response to the way that times have changed in just a few short months. I was really interested in challenging the artists to think about art sending a message, generally speaking."
And while many of the pieces do reference things like the Black Lives Matter movement or the environmental destruction of the Lowcountry, not all of them are necessarily about social justice.
"I talked about it with the artists to help them workshop their way through it," Leepson said. "I told them, 'You can talk about systemic racism, or your reaction to our president or the elections or whatever. But also you can talk about how you want to advocate for avocados, or how you think that children should be able to have access to any toys they want, or that there's no TV allowed after dinner. Literally whatever you want the message to be, art is this tool and conduit to be able to have a discussion about an idea.'"
Despite that disclaimer, Leepson said she's been thrilled to see many of Redux's artists reaching beyond their comfort zones to address issues that are important to them.
"A lot of them went outside of their normal subject matter and gave me something really unique and interesting to display," she said. "There's Katie Libby, whose work is typically portraiture and Lowcountry landscapes, and she did several portraits, almost in collage format, of Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement."
Leepson is both excited and relieved that Creative Corridors is the first exhibit to be shown after Redux reopened on June 15.
"I definitely was a little worried that it wasn't going to happen," she said. "We had to cancel two shows and rework basically the whole summer. And I really wanted to give the artists this opportunity. The way we stay alive really is through our resident artists, so it's a really important show for us to have. I think that I would've felt like I wasn't honoring them or supporting them in the way that I should or that Redux should as an organization without having the show."
Redux is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and Fridays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. All visitors are required to wear masks.