GA GARDNER, GETTHRU in The Guardian Trinidad & Tobago

1 Sep

Helping T&T artists GETTHRU

Sunday, August 30, 2015
Curator and artist GA Gardner with artworks by Sarah Knights of T&T, Behzad Mahmoudpour of Iran, Judith Ganz of Germany and Beata Obst of Poland. Images courtesy

Lisa Allen-Agostini interviews T&T artist GA Gardner about his Internet-based arts collective GETTHRU

Q: Tell me about the name GETTHRU. Is it what it sounds like in T&T parlance?
A: “Get thru” is a really commonly used local term here in T&T, but I wanted to narrow this meaning and focus on art. How can one “get thru” via the arts? What are the options for a broader dialog? I wanted to play on this common term and define it in the context of fine arts. When I came back home a few years ago, after over 25 years working in the US, as a professor, artist, book publisher and educational consultant, I brought with me a commitment to art education, especially focused on contemporary art.

I wanted to continue to use art as a tool that can help educate and bridge economic gaps. I wanted to be involved with art activism in countries often under-serviced on the international stage, when it comes to art.  So I founded GETTHRU, a T&T-based non-profit arts organisation.

This organisation creates projects that serve to educate cultures through the arts. It uses art as a teaching tool. The organisation’s first project Thru Contemporary, for example, houses and maintains a permanent juried collection of contemporary fine arts. This project is a collaboration of global artists, writers and curators.

Our mission is to acquire and promote the artworks of prominent contemporary artists from all over the world and share their works with communities who often don’t get a variety of international contemporary art on their home soil. We provide access to these works and create programmes to educate and inform about the collection and its relationship to the local cultures.

In addition we are interested in publishing materials and reaching out to general communities. Through exhibitions we make the collection available to the general public and we are constantly building relationships with galleries, museums and arts spaces around the world to exhibit various complements of this growing collection.

Who are the T&T artists involved in the project and who does what in its organisational structure?
We are constantly reviewing works from artists who submit pieces from around the world, but I must admit that most of the artists I have been following for years, so it was not difficult to begin this selection process. As an artist, I have donated works to the organisation. Additionally we have works from other locals, Adele Todd and Sarah Knights.

We are open to new relationships with established and upcoming artists. I was at a local furniture store on the Avenue and while testing out a chair I looked up and saw the work of Sarah Knights. I liked her work at first sight and two days later was at her home to see more of her art. In the case of Adele Todd I had known her and followed her work for years.  It varies.  These local artists are included in the permanent collection, but are generally not involved in the management of the organisation.

What are the benefits of working as an arts collective, especially in the way you’ve set up GETTHRU as an online collective?
The benefit is access. By working together we are able to move together as one, we are unified in a central belief about art and its importance in influencing cultural and social change. Together the group is stronger. With this strength we have greater access to exhibition spaces globally, as well as funding and possibilities to educate through the arts.

Most of the works in the collection are represented by galleries and are well established but this effort does not take away from the access they have already created with their audience. It simply extends the reach of their message while providing examples that can serve to broaden the definition of art to viewers.

What are some of the goals you have for the organisation? And have you achieved any of them so far?
Beyond the goal to educate through the arts, I would like to be able to work more with local contemporary artists and to continue to build a collection that shakes up the mind of even the most creative person and challenges them to do more and take risks with their art. I would also like to do more in the way of publishing books and catalogs about the collection and do more outreach with the art schools here and abroad.

In addition, I’d like to create more programmes to teach contemporary forms of art in underserved communities. We are also open to partnering with businesses and other organisations to expand our reach and fulfill our mission.

We are on our way. About six months ago we got started with the first ongoing project, Thru Contemporary Arts. Today we have exhibited in Germany, St Croix, and here in T&T, with future exhibitions planned for France and the USA. Our collection is very diverse in medium, from photography to paintings and mixed media. We have contemporary artworks from France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, USA, Poland, Hong Kong, Iran and T&T.

What are your thoughts on the T&T contemporary arts scene? Who have you been watching—both in and out of your collective?
We are very talented here in T&T and setting our sights on contemporary art will help to enrich that area. Currently there are only a few collectors that are interested and few national grants available, so there are limited ways for the artists to make a living locally in the contemporary art scene.

Contemporary artists in other countries are often subsidised by the government through grants or stipends. In Berlin, Germany, for an example, contemporary artists survive on art grants and seldom create works for sale to the general public. This art is used to inform and educate or simply to create an experience for the public.

There are galleries and art spaces in T&T that are trying to promote and educate about the depth of contemporary art but without government interest or with limited access to grants, art collectors will determine the success of this movement in T&T and around the world.

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