Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A town where the arts thrive

On any given day, if you stop and listen carefully, you might hear the sound of two village art faeries chattering and scheming as they plot their next “scathingly brilliant idea.”

“It’s so spontaneous,” said Corrine Bayraktaroglu describing the synergistic energy she shares with fellow Yellow Springs Arts Council member and art faerie Nancy Mellon. With their playful, nurturing enthusiasm, Bayraktaroglu and Mellon feed off of each other’s creativity — and sentences. “We think of it as doing art mischief —” said Mellon, “and we’re using Yellow Springs as our gallery,” finished Bayraktaroglu.

Although they act like sisters or at least long-time friends, the two women have only known each other since moving to town — Bayraktaroglu with her husband in 2002 and Mellon with her husband and two sons in 2003.

Their first collaborative effort in June 2006, the ChamberPot Gallery, brought them international attention. The idea of displaying original artwork from local artists in the town’s public restrooms (housed in the reconstructed train station along with the Chamber of Commerce) positioned Yellow Springs as an art town no matter where you sat. In June 2008, the two artists knit “poo-like” invitations to the 3rd Friday Fling in the Springs to welcome the work of the third Loo with a View exhibit — “Beasts in the Bathroom.”

Earlier this year, their work with the Knit Knot Tree brought them international fame once again. What started as a very small and simple hand-knit “sleeve” on an otherwise nondescript tree in downtown YS soon grew into a multi-colored, multi-limbed, pedestrian-stopping “tree sweater,” extending as high as 14 feet, sporting pockets, pictures, presents, and poems — all community contributions. When the “sweater” came off on Arbor Day (April 25), the two women looked around for an appropriate place to bestow the handiwork. Slowly, one by one, the previously lowly parking signs on Dayton Street transformed into a fanciful fashion statement.

“One man came up to us and said, ‘Oh, you’re putting knitting on that!’” Bayraktaroglu recalled when they were transforming a signpost. “I pretended to sprinkle faerie dust on him and told him, ‘But you don’t see me!!’ He laughed and said he loved what we were doing.”

“That’s what we love the most,” said Mellon, “the interaction with people.”

Mellon described the confusion that sometimes happens when visitors come to town. “They’ll talk to store owners and ask, ‘Where’s the art? I thought this was an art town.’ A lot of little art towns will have gallery after gallery — we don’t look like that. We’re a town where the whole town is the art.”

In addition to being members of the YSAC, both women are part of a little-known collective called JAFAGirls — “Just Another Flippin’ Artist,” explained Bayraktaroglu in her Northern England accent. Artwork from all the JAFAGirls, including local jewelry and multimedia artist, Talitha Greene, can be viewed at their website, http://jafagirlart.blogspot.com.

“A big part of what we do is because of our love for Yellow Springs and supporting the artists here,” said Mellon, who is encouraged by the community’s creative use of nontraditional space. “The Little Art Theatre changes its art show every month!!” she exclaimed. “It’s an art show! The same with HaHa Pizza! How many towns can say their pizza place changes their art every month?”

“People are seeing all these efforts going on and taking it upon themselves to do things,” said Bayraktaroglu. “Like Eric Wolf starting the Ning network.”

“Nings are a form of online social networking,” said Wolf, an internationally-known storyteller who created The Artists of Yellow Springs Ning (http://ysarts.ning.com) as a directory for local artists. Users create a network for free in exchange for the network hosting ads on the site.

“I’m inviting all artists in the village, whether amateur or professional, to sign up and have an official presence as a member of the arts community,” said Wolf. “The ning is a way to organize our web presence online and geographically anchor us to each other and to Yellow Springs.”

Anyone can read the site and see what artists in town are up to but in order to be listed or leave comments you have to sign up. On Wolf’s page on the ning, for example, visitors to the site can subscribe to receive notices of future storytelling events for children and adults in Yellow Springs and the Miami Valley.

“The ning is about artists in town talking to each other,” explained Mellon, “while the YSAC blog (http://ysarts.blogspot.com) is about us talking with the world, saying, ‘This is who we are, come see us.’”

“That kind of networking is priceless,” said dancer, choreographer, and ning member Emily Rose Elliott who could have used the ning when she moved to Yellow Springs in 2006 with her husband and daughter.

“There’s a lot of stuff happening in Yellow Springs,” said Elliott, “but there’s also a feeling that people already know about it, so there’s no need to get the information out there. But new people like me — we don’t know.”

Although it took her a year to get sufficiently connected, Elliott, who teaches creative exploration classes for children of all ages, is thrilled to be a part of the village’s many dance opportunities.

“There are two spring dance concerts in Yellow Springs every year,” explained Elliott. “Antioch has an annual Spring Concert and Jill Becker, dance professor, is in charge of that. The other dance event is Valerie Blackwell-Truitt’s Community Dance Concert. I performed in that last year and I’ll be choreographing and performing in the one next year. There’s also Janet Mueller who is creating this belly dance phenomenon with her Egyptian Breeze Belly Dancers.”

Another group that is making its mark is Soul Fire Tribe which performed at the 3rd Friday Flings this summer. “Their leader is Jeff Reich and they are fire poi spinners,” said Elliott. Fire poi has evolved from a traditional Maori martial art into a performance art that combines, fire, dance, and juggling.

Yet another group to emerge this summer is OMEC Improv Dance Group which stands for Onsite Movement Explorations Collective. Wolf’s wife, Marybeth, and Jill Becker have collaborated with other local dancers to perform routine improvisational dance at various locations in the village. “We want to show people we are dancing all year, not just at the spring concerts,” said Elliott, an OMEC member.

Bayraktaroglu, Mellon, Wolf, and Elliott all agree that the increase in networking opportunities will facilitate future collaborations.

“There is such a large proportion of artists in Yellow Springs, there just wasn’t a way to bring them together, even among their own craft,” explained Elliott. “Now there’s a movement to bring them together and have more of a focus.” This broader definition of the arts is reflected in YSAC which now holds monthly open session meetings in their new art space at 108 Dayton Street, second floor. Artists of all mediums are welcome to attend and become members.

For the art faeries who bring so much love to the village, the Knit Knot Tree gave some of that love back in early spring when the two women were summoned to its side for that most magical of moments — a wedding.

“It was pouring outside,” explained Mellon. “The couple didn’t have anybody to take photographs so Corrine ended up being a quasi photographer while I held the umbrella over her. They had a pastor and their friends and they got married in the rain. We both cried.”

Like a runaway ball of yarn, the magic keeps unraveling. The art faeries laughed as they described their experience of meeting a woman who moved to Yellow Springs because she saw the story on the internet about the Knit Knot Tree.

“She told us, ‘The kind of place that lets people do that —’” said Bayraktaroglu, “‘is the kind of place I want to live!’” they shouted in unison.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.