1708 Gallery wins $20,000 grant from National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded 1708 Gallery a sizable grant to support the gallery’s InLight exhibit. How will the money be used, and what changes might come to InLight?

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded 1708 Gallery $20,000 to support the gallery’s annual InLight exhibit. The local gallery was one of 832 national nonprofits, among 1,509 eligible applicants, to receive a NEA Art Works grant.

Emily Smith, executive director of 1708 Gallery, said the “NEA is the gold-standard in grantmakers,” and its recognition of the local gallery’s exhibit “validates our efforts and validates our projects” on a national scale. “Just having that recognition is significant.”

More specifically, Smith said the $20,000 grant money “will give us funds that will allow us to grow certain parts of InLight.”

The exhibit began in 2008, when 1708 Gallery celebrated its 30th year of operations. Members of the gallery’s board debated how to celebrate the occasion. A few board members had attended Nuit Blanche (“white night”) in Paris, an annual light-based art exhibit spread across France’s capital. Wanting to celebrate the gallery’s 30th year with a public event, Smith recalled the decision to do a smaller, similar version of the Paris event in RVA.

The first InLight was held on Broad Street. Unfortunately, Mother Nature proved unsupportive at first. “It was almost like hurricane winds,” Smith said when the event began. But the weather eventually cleared, allowing the public to see several light-based works of art and performances. “People loved it and really responded to it.” 1708 decided to make InLight an annual event.

Smith suspects that one of the reasons the public was so infatuated with the event was that it was so accessible. “Our mission [at 1708] is to present new art, and often that art is challenging.” Contemporary art, she said, can be a bit intimidating for some audiences. “By installing [InLight] outside…it instantly becomes more accessible…and collapses any reservations that people may have.” As reservations crumble, attendance for InLight grows.

The annual outdoor exhibit, which Smith said costs over $50,000 to put on, welcomes around 4,500 people. “InLight has better attendance than gallery exhibits.”

1708 rotates the precise location of the annual event.1 Artists from across the country then submit proposals for their work to be included in the event, work often specific to the immediate geography of that year’s InLight location. A rotating juror (“someone who is well-known in the [contemporary arts] field,” Smith said) selects the work. For the 2012 exhibit, there were roughly 80 submissions, of which 21 were selected by Juror Melissa Ho, Assistant Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

“We have gotten more submissions each year,” Smith said, a fair number via word of mouth, indicating to her that previous artists featured in the exhibit have enjoyed their participation and share their experience to other artists.

As to how the gallery will use the NEA grant money, which amounts to nearly half of InLight’s $50,000 operation costs, Smith said 1708 is “still finessing the details.” But a use under explicit consideration is to curate existing light-based artwork for InLight, rather than relying solely on artists submitting proposals. “Inviting artists versus open call does imply a different kind of support,” Smith said. Namely, money to lure and entice artists to provide their work for the exhibit.

Smith said 1708 is also in the early planning stages to extend InLight for more than one night. However, she cautioned that no firm plans are in place to make InLight’s duration longer, complicated, in part, because “a lot of the [art work] is meant for one night” only.

Even with an exhibit that typically runs just a few hours from 7:00 PM to 12:00 AM, InLight has proven a success among Richmonders, and earned the recognition of one the art world’s leading benefactors.

The location and dates for the 2013 InLight exhibit will be announced early next year.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that InLight began in 2009. The exhibit premiered in 2008.

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  1. In 2009, InLight was put on at the Carpenter Theatre, followed by Shockoe Slip (2010), Tredegar (2011), and RVA’s Downtown Arts & Culture District (2012). 

photo of Jason Peters’ “Meandering Dynamics” from the 2012 InLight exhibit by Jami Carlton

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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