This post is part 2 of 3 from the premiere Why Creative Unions blog series which focuses on the Creative Union’s 3 core values: inclusivity, expression, and community.
I was 8 years old when I entered my first art gallery. I can remember the white glare of the Miami sun beating down on my mother as we strolled down the infamous Lincoln Road mall on South Beach. We walked passed the Romero Britto gallery and I immediately stopped in my tracks. The bright, polka dotted, high contrasting patterns behind the windows were intoxicating to my 8 year old brain (What kid doesn’t like Romero Britto? Plus, he is a brilliant marketer). Without question, I walked right in. I remember feeling so small upon entering the gallery. As I scanned every painting hanging on the white walls, my eyes quickly focused on one thing: the red dots.
My confident little self walked right up to the stuffy gallerist and asked to speak to this Romero Britto. I was told the artist was not there, but that I could speak to the gallery manager. I then met a tall man in a suit who gleefully came up to me to say hello. Feeling starstruck, I said “Hi, I am Michelle, I am an artist. I make oil painting landscapes. What is the red sticker on the wall for?”
He explained that the artworks with red dots meant that they had been sold. After hearing that, you might as well have put the red dot sticker on my forehead because I was SOLD. Little did he know that this moment in time will inspire my entire life trajectory in a matter of 5 minutes. Right then and there, I fell in love with the idea of making art exhibitions for a living.
I do not remember the rest of my conversation with Britto’s gallery manager, but I do remember getting his business card and grabbing all the promotional materials about Britto’s famous art career I could carry, archiving them in plastic inserts in a binder and safely storing them in my art closet. Those promotional materials still sit in the same plastic inserts today as a souvenir of where I once came from, reminding me that from that moment on - I wanted to make art exhibitions for the rest of my life.
Since then, I have worn many hats as an arts professional. I achieved my dream of attending the top arts school in the country to get my BFA in General Fine Arts. Then I received my MFA in Curatorial Practice while curating professionally in traditional art galleries and public spaces. "But how did I go from curating traditional art exhibitions to curating exhibitions that tell love stories in and outside of that box?" Good question.
One day, I was installing one of those typical art exhibitions in a gallery in Baltimore. It was 3am as I was finishing up the last touches when I had an epiphany. I realized that the artists I was working with reflected neither myself nor the communities that surrounded the gallery. The artwork did not engage anyone beyond the typical art audience. I drank the art world koolaid, and could not figure out the answer to the most important question I learned to ask myself when creating exhibitions in graduate school: “In order to what?”.
While I love the infinite possibilities associated with the traditional white cube, I began to get bored with this model because I was unchallenged. I questioned, “Why is it that when I think of an “art exhibition”, I think of the following scenario?”
Stuffy receptionist secretly judging you for how basic you are
Static and conceptual artworks hung at centerline
Cold, grey cement floor
Repeat Art world folks only coming to the opening reception to preach to the choir
Wine and cheese
Boring panel discussions full of chin rubbing
The tastemakers who made the above scenario the dominant model of exhibition presentation have trained my brain to identify contemporary art through their anglo/white/western lens. This lens is what has shaped art HIStory, and has infiltrated the way I understand, define, and assign value to art.
With a longing to challenge the norms of curatorial practice found in mainstream arts institutions, I focused on expressing people’s stories through collaborative and inclusive community centered curatorial practice methods to co-create relevant art exhibitions about people’s lives. For example, I organized “Estamos Aquí (We Are Here)” a guerilla public art project that projected the portraits and stories about Baltimore’s Latino community leaders on the side of a building, and “CUTZ: Black Men in Focus”, a photography and video exhibition by artist Gracie Xavier that explored Black Male identity through the lens of the African American barbershop at Gallery CA in Baltimore, MD.
These exhibitions came to life when the people who helped make the exhibit possible were present and celebrating. More importantly, they brought disconnected people together around relevant social issues.
Then one day it hit me... I love love, and bringing people together, why not make exhibitions about those stories? Love stories matter too! Making exhibitions come alive through marriage ceremonies was a literal “marriage” of the two worlds I loved most: art + weddings. The perfect match.
Many arts professionals may argue that many people do not have access to art. While that is true in many cases (especially within the education system), I believe that art is in all of us and always around us. It’s the art that we live with on a daily basis: the blankets your mother and grandmother crocheted, the community garden your neighbors created, the photographs you take, the altars you make, the way you design your home, the way you dress, the rituals you participate in, and the events that you plan to celebrate life’s special moments.
We are inherently creative. Art is everywhere. Art tells our stories and helps shape the way we see ourselves and each other.
Why not express your truest self in the most unique way possible, even on your wedding day? With art, anything is possible.
-Michelle Ivette Gomez
Founder and Creative Director of Creative Unions Event Design LLC
Michelle Ivette Gomez is an arts professional with a love for romance and art, and a passion for bringing people together and telling stories through art. She received her MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art where she focused on co-creative curatorial practice and expanding traditional methods of exhibition presentation in collaboration with communities. As the Founder & Creative Director of Creative Unions Event Design LLC, the first event planning company dedicated to integrating contemporary art into life’s celebrations, she views marriage celebrations as specially curated art exhibitions that bring people together to celebrate and express unique love stories.