Taking Flight: Ongoing exhibits at Locust Projects

By Mia Opalka


Before Wynwood was synonymous with the arts, three local artists – Westen Charles, Elizabeth Withstandley, and Cooper – got together and started an alternative space where their peers could create work without having to deal with the pressures of producing art for a commercial gallery. Ten years later, Locust Projects has grown from a grassroots, artist-run space to an official non-profit organization that is making an impact for artists in Miami and around the globe. For many in the local arts community, Locust Projects is seen as a pioneer space in Wynwood that helped draw other galleries to the area. It’s on most art enthusiasts’ list of spots to check out every Second Saturday of the month for the Wynwood Art Walk, and typically proves to have shows that push the boundaries of contemporary art.

Locust Project’s Director Claire Breukel, is the driving force behind the space’s recent growth. Breukel hails from South Africa and started her career in the arts completely by accident. She studied photography at the University of Cape Town.

After working as a curator for the Cape Town Month of Photography Biennial, she was asked to work for other arts-based organizations in South Africa. She eventually took on an internship at the Rubell Family Collection, which in turn opened the doors for her last position as Director of Exhibitions at The ArtCenter on Lincoln Road. Now she is at Locust Projects working on furthering the non-profit’s cause of establishing a space for artists to experiment with new ideas and inspirations. Locust was granted its 501(c) 3 status in 2002 and upon receiving the Andy Warhol Foundation Grant in 2006, hired Breukel as the organizations first full-time director. “Alternative spaces differentiate themselves from commercial galleries by offering artists time and space”, says Breukel. “My vision as a director is that the space is not personality run, and that we continue to keep the (founding) artists involved, as well as our Board of Directors. Our number one goal is to provide a service for artists”, Breukel adds, “and part of making that happen is to professionalize the administrative side of the organization.” The partnership extends even to Locust Project’s Board of Directors, who also donate time and services in addition to membership dues. “Our Board of Directors is composed of collectors, doctors, lawyers, accountants – and they all work for us by donating their professional services as well as their time”, says Breukel.

Locusts Projects serves artists by offering grant and residency programs that are site-specific. On the day of my interview with Breukel, Locust’s current grant winner, experimental filmmaker Clifton Childree, was busy hammering and sawing away at his installation, Dream-Cum-Tru, a nightmarish, carnival-themed world composed of found objects. Childree is the recipient of Locust Project’s first annual Hilger Artist Project Award, a grant created by Breukel with backing from Austrian dealer and collector Ernst Hilger. The prize includes a cash award and the opportunity for the artist to create an installation inside Locust Project’s main space. Childree creates his vaudeville-stylized world mainly with material found weekly on the City of Miami’s Bulk Trash pick up schedule. “I’m always amazed at what people throw out”, says Childree. “This carnival of found objects has taken on another meaning because it’s decomposing”, he explains. The glossy, candy-apple colors of a traditional carnival are replaced with dark, dusty objects, and seeing the work in progress is like walking through a roller coaster graveyard. Childree’s exhibit opens on September 13th and will run until Halloween Night, October 31st.

Recently, Locust Projects has partnered with local art collectors Dan and Kathryn Mikesell, founders of The Fountainhead Residency in Morningside, to provide living space for out-of-town artists working with Locust Projects. The Fountainhead Residency provides space for artists to live and work outside of their regular routine. Although the Fountainhead Residency is open to working artists from all parts of the globe, they do give priority to artists who are scheduled to work on installations or exhibits at Locust Projects. The collaboration came about in very organic way.

“We have always respected the work that Locust Projects does”, says Kathryn Mikesell, “and one of their biggest issues was not having an adequate space where artists can truly live”. “ The Fountainhead Residency gives visiting artists a great place where they can meet local artists, so it makes the residency more of a community arts program”, Breukel adds. The residency is a 50’s style ranch house in Morningside, which is perfect for visiting artists so that they stay close to Wynwood and the Design District. The vision for the residency was to provide working artists an escape from their everyday. “We wanted to give artists the opportunity to come to a completely new location and possibly find new inspiration in their surroundings”, explains Mikesell. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how hard the life of an artist can be. They have to continually create because its part of their nature, so the residency is a way of us providing a place for artists to break free and try something new that is outside of their regular environment, and in turn we hope it can act as a catalyst for them to try new things or finish existing projects in a new and fresh environment”, she adds.
Another mission of the residency program is to give artists a natural and more personal way to break into a new market. “As collectors, the pieces we love the most are the ones where we’ve met the artists personally, and where we’ve had the opportunity to talk to them about the work”, says Mikesell. “Galleries can be intimidating for a lot of people, and a collector may be keener on making a purchase if the setting is more causal and personal”. The Mikesells are also currently working on converting a building in Little Haiti into affordable artist’s studios. Studios will start at 500 square feet for $275 per month including utilities. The building will also include an indoor/outdoor common space and a 1,000 square foot co-op gallery for artist-run events and exhibits.

Upcoming shows for Locust Projects include Clifton Childree’s Dream-Cum-Tru, as well as the annual Smash and Grab Fall Fundraiser exhibit, which proves time and again how dedicated the local arts community is to supporting the space – every year artists donate their work for auction in benefit of the space. Later this year, Locust plans on unveiling a 10-year anniversary exhibition titled Inevitable Continuum, curated by Breukel and Gean Moreno. Rather than show work from past exhibiting artists, Locust Projects asked one artist from each year to choose a current favorite artist to participate. The idea is for past alumni to give their peers the same opportunity they had, which in turn creates a new platform for viewing work by domestic and international emerging talent. The exhibit will feature work from a variety of media including sculpture, drawing, painting, murals, and digital media, and is set to open on November 8th and run through Art Basel until the end of December.

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