Art from the Heart: In Your Own Back Yard

by Edie Weinstein

artyard reception
Photo credit: Facebook

Jill Kearney is the ‘heartistic’ Executive Director of ArtYard, a Frenchtown venue into which she has poured her love and talent. She describes the site which draws people worldwide.
“It has four components: a gallery space for art installation, a theater for performance and film, a residency to serve as an incubator for artistic work, and a program to foster creative collaboration between communities that don’t normally intersect. I am a great believer in the transformative power of building things in concert with others.  I have been doing it for many years and it is a great joy.”
artyardA Community Gathering Place
Kearney is delighted that “The community has been wonderfully welcoming.  I didn’t know if there would be interest in such a place but I know I selfishly wished there were a cultural third space— not your office and not your home— where I might encounter neighbors and strangers and unsettling, beautiful and unexpected ideas.  And since there wasn’t one, we set about to create it.  And I use the term we, because we are a group of people, and we are all critical to the process. The idea developed out of discussions with our managing director Geraldine Dougherty and Elsa Mora, who is our artistic director.”
Art is For Everyone
She defines art as “a way of seeing, interpreting and reckoning with the human adventure. It is not an object to be acquired but a language for being, or what the critic Kenneth Burke characterized as “Equipment for living.” (Burke was referring to literature but I am applying it here to all the arts.)
Kearney was born into an artist’s life as she explains, “My father was a sculptor and my mother ran an art center which my parents founded and operated in Chicago for 60 years. I walked there after school and waited for a ride home and did my homework there, watching the artists and students come and go while my father welded or cast bronze or made custom jewelry for people who were getting married. In the summers, we drove to Provincetown, Massachusetts in a van with a trailer loaded with his welding equipment, and I spent every summer of my childhood surrounded by artists, writers, and bohemians. Our neighbors were Robert Motherwell, Norman Mailer and a host of artists you never heard of. The ethos of Provincetown was not particularly interested in fame or success. it was more about doing the work and gaining respect of artists and the community.  It was a place where the fishermen came to the openings.  This is a value I hold dear in a time where everything on earth, even the meaning of art has been commodified.”
She finds art to be transformative and healing. “Art offers a sense of communion with other sensibilities, living or no longer living –grappling with the conundrum of being mortal and human.  To quote an artist I revere, Peter Schumann, founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater, “Art soothes pain! Art wakes up sleepers! “And critically, it is a bridge between disparate groups in a fragmented divisive time. When you think of how certain forms of music have created common ground between populations that don’t normally intermingle you begin to see the potential.”
And Everyone is An Artist
There are those who believe they are not artistic. Kearney’s response is encouraging. “That is like saying they don’t have hair, or toes, or kidneys. Creativity is a basic human instrument.  You might not have exercised it, but you have it.”
She claims it is something that can be cultivated. “It starts with cultivating boredom.  If you are always looking for entertainment, you can’t be still enough to see the world. You can’t notice how many shades of green there are. It starts with observing the world quietly and honestly and making space for the ideas that emerge.”
Kearney finds that The Muse speak her often, “My husband says I have a new idea every day. But sometimes I have to tell those ideas to leave me alone. “
She is all for encouraging young artists, as she shares her own family history. “I come from a family of modest means. We never bought new clothes but we always had abundant art supplies and we went to every museum on earth. But if you can’t go to museums there are books.  When our kids were, young I bought a lot of second-hand art books and propped them open around the house opened to certain pages I loved.  And instead of using newsprint I bought cheap canvases on Dick Blick (a great art supply resource) and had them paint on things that would last. I was a little relentless about this because I knew that the best art comes out of that time before children become self-conscious: it just streams out of them. Now I have a lot of masterpieces in my house. And two of our three daughters are artists.
Feeding the Need for Beauty
Kearney and her team welcome visitors to explore the diverse exhibitions they sponsor. “The current show is called Bedlam and Balance, and there are eight artists— all women, from Albania, Serbia, Cuba, Guatemala, Nova Scotia, Iran, and Korea— whose work address issues of instability and stability— how do they find equilibrium after the ground has shifted? One of the pieces is what appears to be a large glass anchor. It is the work of Carly Butler. I love it because for me it articulates how even the things that anchor us are fragile.
Before this show we had an interactive installation by the artist Bruno Billio: it was a maze of mirrored pillars that challenged you to see things from many perspectives. And Elsa Mora (our artistic director) and I installed a collaborative work about an experience I had years ago, when an entire flock of starlings died suddenly overhead in my yard.
Collaboration is very important to ArtYard. We held a workshop where we invited members of the community to help us build paper images to populate the inner landscape of a human brain, and we showed the work (a giant brain that you could peer inside) at the screening of the film Life, Animated, a film about autism and art.  We have a theater where we are holding a series of film events, including a screening of Oscar-nominated short films, and we have had several screenings curated by Bill Horberg, and independent producer (Milk, Lars and the Real Girl, Cold Mountain, the Kite Runner) who invites filmmakers to come and speak about their work.
Upcoming programs include:
The premiere of an original 30-minute operetta written by a Frenchtown native named Richard McIntyre and sung by the local opera singers. A poetry series curated by Frenchtown native Stephanie Smith.  A residency program for visiting artists, and programs of collaborative art which we are in the process of developing. Construction of a permanent theater and gallery in the former Hatchery building at 13 Front Street.