10 Things You Need to Know and Why You Shouldn’t Miss “Reinterpreting the Pioneer Exhibit” at Fort Lauderdale History Museum

Rick Jamm Interviews Clare Vickery, Exhibit Co-Curator and Director of Grace Arts Center (in Fort Lauderdale serving South Florida.)

  • What is the ‘Reinterpreting the Pioneer’ exhibit about?

It’s about the tag line really, we think of pioneers as ‘bold individuals’ versus people groups.  Often change comes from a ‘movement’ where people in groups are somewhat anonymous (because of resources or circumstances) yet the make an important impact positively over time in a community in which they find themselves marginalized.  The tag line is ‘How Outsiders create distinctive culture and community.’

The ‘Outsider Artist’ is a perfect lens to explore the notion of ‘pioneer’ especially in Florida where the state has a proud tradition of tough ‘pioneers’ who developed the state out of ‘jungle and swamps.’   Outsider Artists often begin their creative trek on the outside of conventional society or institutional knowledge. They have a dream, a talent, a drive but no ‘basis’ on which to operate because of a lack of resources, education, family structure, legal or social constraints (such as segregation) or handicap – which some might argue is an oxymoron when many of the great artists had autism or other spectrum mental disabilities.  They arrive at their art by pure drive – thus the original term that still is the heartbeat of Outsider Art – ‘art brut’ meaning ‘raw or rough’ art – a French term derived from the art of the asylums in and around Paris in 1948. Dubuffet’s writing on art brut was the subject of a noted program at the Art Club of Chicago in the early 1950s and from there the label ‘Outsider’ art was coined by Roger Cardinal.  A ‘star’ series of artists was then born!

The Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale capitalized on the growing fascination with Outsider Art in 1987 exhibition ‘A Separate Reality – Florida Eccentrics’ curator Karen Valdez for Executive Director, George Bolge. Many of the artists in that original exhibition, such as Purvis Young, have gone on to be national and international icons of the art genre. The Outsider Art Fair in New York and Paris are very successful and growing in popularity with all generations of art patrons.

Thirty years from the seminal Fort Lauderdale Outsider art exhibit, this exhibition’s artists are posthumously given tribute, but focuses on the living artists of merit professional y creating art despite ‘obstacles’ of being considered ‘Outsider.’ Often the term ‘self taught’ describes the bulk of the core artists, but some were either on the spectrum of autism, were painting during segregation, or had other major things to overcome.  Not that all artists, and all people in all professions have to be ‘overcomers’ at some point – but this particular category of artist is gaining a good deal of traction because of the appreciation of ‘raw’ talent found in these particular individuals.


  • What is being ‘created’ on site and in studio around the core exhibition which also features pop up exhibits by the living artists during the three-month period (beginning December 2 -4, 2016 – March 3-5, 2017)?

We have received a grant from the Broward County Cultural Council and assistance from the City of Fort Lauderdale among other sponsors, to prepare a very special installation that will be unveiled at the closing reception for the core exhibition the first weekend in March 2017. Starting in November 2016, we are pairing key Outsider talent (from the core exhibit) with institutionally trained Broward Artists to create a four-part installation with the support of noted historians, scholars and humanities writers.  Each part of the installation imagines the struggles and the mind-set of four people groups:  women, immigrant Blacks, native tribal, and migrating and immigrant Hispanics.  Each artist group will select a medium to explore the last – and next centennial impacts of these people groups – and importantly, the connection shared with the New River.

The final installation will be mobile and will be able to be used by other historic sites and organizations to begin discussions about preservation in Broward County.

  • Where is the exhibition, and what else is featured monthly as the artist groups create the four-part installation about historically important but lesser known people groups who made pioneering efforts in the community?

Here is the exhibit link for the Outsider Exhibition of approximately twenty (20) Outsider Artists, updated weekly with new press releases and activities including the four-part installation team, special guests and speakers Http://Tinyurl.com/GraceArtsFeature

The core exhibition is in the two first floor galleries of the Fort Lauderdale History Museum in the historic New River Inn at 231 SW 2nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida  33301

  • Speakers?

Yes, almost every week (towards the end of the week), we will have humanities scholars, writers, archivists, advocates, and storytellers share research specifically about the four people groups (and individuals lesser known within those groups) including narratives and folk ‘lore’ evenings (after work) and late afternoons (weekend).   These ‘labs’ and ‘conversational gatherings’ allow the working artists to share their work while scholars explore interesting historical facts with the public.  Light refreshments will be served and the information will be very interesting, likely to stimulate lots of questions and discussions.  Entry to most of the reception conversations is $10 p/p and supports historic preservation.

  • Storytellers?

Some of the best humanities scholars are also nationally recognized professional ‘storytellers.’ In the true tradition of ‘history,’ much of what we find in books and now online is based on personal recollections of individuals overtime.  History was passed down from generation to generation, through storytelling.  Some of Florida’s most recognized humanities scholars (with formal PhD’s) don’t shy away from describing their craft and gift of sharing history is partly due to learning how to be a ‘great storyteller.’

Four key speakers, who are very involved and notes statewide for their scholarly work and lectures are Dr. Paul George, Dr. Caren Neile, Gary Monroe and Carrie Sue Avyar.

  • Are there opportunities for art students and students in general to attend specific events for free and designed to benefit them?

Yes, we’ve developed a growing relationship with the magnet Advanced Placement Arts Program at Dillard School for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Because it’s the only magnet advanced placement visual and performing arts school in the Broward County School System, it was a great starting point to reach out to talented and professionally tracked arts students. Initial programs provided a platform for the students to set up pop-up exhibits (without charge) at the Fort Lauderdale History Museum along the New River during the City of Fort Lauderdale’s very well attended ‘Jazz Brunch’ series in the winter months.

The senior and junior class students’ artwork was very well received by the attending public who bought from the students. They in turn have offered to donate 10% of their sales back to the History Museum.  Through this program and online classroom teaching by noted artists this year, we hope to expand opportunities for Broward’s most talented students to attend events during this exhibition to interact with the artists and the general public as they exhibit their own work.


  • What are some interesting current happenings that are developing even before the Exhibition opens that people could get information on now in September?

One of our posthumous tributes to one of the few female Outsider Artists of merit in the early days of Outsider Art appreciation (80’s), if for musician, mother and self-taught painter, Reva Freedman. Her family’s collection and foundation contacted us earlier this year because she had left a treasure trove of beautiful work from the various phases of her art career. Her connection to Broward County’s cultural scene was strong and she received many Hortt competition awards and acknowledgements when the then Museum of Art of Fort Lauderdale had sponsored this annual art event. She performed all over the county with her orchestra she founded as she was a child prodigy and highly trained violinist. She began painting in her late 40’s while on vacation in Miami from New York and moved to South Florida in the late 70’s. Gary Monroe became an admirer of her work as he explored the nascent Outsider Art scene and is writing an article on her work for a national publication that will be released in late September 2016 prior to the exhibition opening. A private reception for the press, family and collectors will be held December 2, 2016 at the History Museum with a special presentation by Gary Monroe on the Florida Outsider Artist history and tradition of excellence. Space is very limited for the reception so those interested in collecting Reva’s work can make reservations by contacting 954.816.3324.  Gary Monroe’s books on Outsider Artists, including the Florida Highwaymen, and Reva’s artworks will be for sale to benefit in part children and adults on the autism spectrum here in Broward County.


  • Isanusi (Isa) Garcia Rodriguez, Miami City Ballet Principal Dancer turned Painter – tell us a little about what is happening right now with his career transformation as an Outsider Artist?

Isa is a great story on so many different levels. Born to Cuban parents who managed to become successful creative professionals in Cuba despite so many obstacles, Isa was a child prodigy dancer. He made his way to the United States for training at some of the top institutions and landed in Miami under the development of Miami City Ballet veteran artistic director, Edward Villella. For years he danced at the Miami City Ballet but suffered a devastating aneurysm in 2013 just as Villella was retiring. But for Isa’s extreme physical conditioning, he might not have survived. However, he had to learn to talk, walk and all of life’s basic activities all over again. He is still undergoing extensive therapy but can still strike ‘a pose’ with a gleeful smile, but the days of dancing were dashed.   So what did he do as he spent years slowly recovering? He returned to what he loved before dance – as a child he loved to paint and he took up painting as ‘therapy’ to learn to hold objects and create images that expressed his struggle to live and to relearn life. His initial series of paintings are of a dancer ‘on fire’ because of the pain of physical therapy.  His work was recently unveiled at the Hispanic American Cultural Center in Miami as part of the International Ballet Festival of Miami 2016.

Isa’s works explored vividly the many ‘poses’ of a ballet dancer in his characteristic quixotic manner; his work was selected as the annual festival poster by Creative Director, Pedro Pablo Pena. The artwork and poster were wildly received by the ballet community, attending press and ballet patrons at the reception August 27, 2016.  Many articles have already been written and more to come on Isa and his new life as a visual artist.

He also has a contract to prepare original choreography for an upcoming urban Shakespeare adaptation infused with Afro-Cuban and Hip-hop themes (which he finds easy to draw upon).  He’ll be working with Liberty City native and New York City based ballet dancers, Gentry George, who danced with Alvin Ailey and Harlem Dance Theater on a series of three pieces for the opening of ‘R&J Too’ in February 2017. Look for Isa’s artwork at the opening of the Pioneer Exhibition and for a summer ‘ballet boot camp’ discipline-building workshop for at-risk male youth in 2018.

  • Who are other Artists of note?

Interestingly, there is a (as he jokingly says) third-retirement, pastor-turned-sculptor, Bobby Welch, exhibiting at the History Museum.  He was President of the Southern Baptist Convention for many years.  He’ll be doing a pop-up of his rather large, folk art inspired sculptures in downtown Fort Lauderdale. He repurposes items he picks up that people have discarded to make figures and characters from his childhood hometown that are whimsical, charming, and winsome about a bygone era of small-town life. He’ll be hosting a luncheon and talk about ‘sculpture and scripture’ and how his faith inspires his artistic creations.

  • Tell me a little about Lisa Stone Arts and collaboration with Grace Arts FL?

Lisa Stone has a number of private collectors in the State of Florida. She specializes in Florida Outsider and contemporary art management.  She’s a curator for Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Naples Art Association, Keys History and Discovery Center, collaborations at Stetson University in Deland, and in community arts organization in Orlando. She recently completed an exhibition at the Miami International Airport gallery. Lisa Stone’s artists are notated on the core artists list with an asterisk. She has done numerous projects with writer and Outsider Artist advocate, Gary Monroe and several projects with Grace Arts FL.  Grace Arts FL has been creating exhibitions for artists to interact in the community effectively selling their work and enabling charitable arts programming since 2005. See link for more information on Grace Arts FL.

Rick Jamm

Journalist, publicist and indie music producer with a fervent passion for electric guitars and mixing desks !

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