Name: Will K. Wilkins
Occupation: Executive Director, Real Art Ways
Location: Hartford, Connecticut
Real Art Ways is an art center for new ideas and new art that was started in 1975 by a group of visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers who got a space they could live and work in. When I came thirty-three years ago, Real Art Ways was in crisis. The people who worked here were disheartened; they had lost their space, and it was unclear whether the organization would survive or not. We were able to come through that crisis and build Real Art Ways back up. It’s evolved since then, but it’s always maintained a commitment to artists and to new ideas.
We use this space for art galleries and exhibitions that we organize, curate, promote, and present; we also produce public art projects. There are artist talks, a movie theater that shows new films seven days a week, concerts, literary festivals, and various other social events. As a contemporary art center, we present topics that are pertinent to the current moment through various kinds of creative expression. I make it a point to have Real Art Ways be a welcoming place for people of different economic and cultural backgrounds and ages. We want Real Art Ways to be a place where people feel comfortable.
Real Art Ways has a lot of support in the community and artistic accomplishments, so it’s a much more stable organization that will survive. We’ve been operating this space for decades, and we just recently bought the entire 83,000 square foot building. We’re planning a major expansion. We’ll be adding a performing arts space, and rooms for education and learning. That’s all taking place over the next couple of years.
I have a lot of notebooks in my briefcase. I use notebooks to make sure I keep track of different things, especially whenever we have a meeting and when I have programming ideas. I scribble down a lot of notes and numbers: things to remind me what we talk about. It’s easy to pick it up and find what we’ve done over the past several years with these. They come, and they go; I have stacks of them at home.
International Charging Port
Here is an international electric plug, just in case I travel somewhere, since other countries have different electrical systems. I last used it four or five years ago when I was on a Cuban music tour with a gentleman by the name of Ned Sublette, who is a musicologist who has done a lot of recording in Cuba. I visited various parts of the country, experiencing the roots of Cuban music, and several different manifestations of music today.
We travel a lot for work. Real Art Ways did a big exhibition about Puerto Rican art, which we presented here in Connecticut, and then brought to San Juan. We included artists from Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican artists living here and in other countries. It was the first exhibition of Puerto Rican Art that traveled from the mainland US to Puerto Rico.
I’ve also gone to Brazil for music festivals and the United States, including the Big Ears Festival, which is a wonderful annual festival about unusual music. During my travels, I’ve encountered a lot of different artists that we end up bringing here.
This is a newsletter for programming this fall by an organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is run by a friend of mine, who actually grew up in the Hartford area. Seeing artists who we’ve worked with here reach big points in their career is huge. Real Art Ways has presented a number of artists who received a prestigious grant called the MacArthur genius grant, which is put out by the MacArthur Foundation. Forty-three of the artists who have received this award have worked with us.
Here is a business card from a woman who is the Director of Programs and Exhibitions (Kalia Brooks) at NXTHVN in New Haven. I met her the weekend before last at an exhibition. They were showing the work of Saya Woolfalk, an artist whom we have commissioned work from, and have a nice relationship with. NXTHVN does interesting work oftentimes with artists of African American backgrounds, and since we know Saya, I was looking forward to seeing the opening of this exhibition.
I have a ton of stuff from other artists and Real Art Ways at home; often in piles on my bookshelves. It’s part of what I do; I am always looking for things that are new and fresh and exciting and invigorating.
Cecelia Puckhaber is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine
Header Image Courtesy of Cecelia Puckhaber