Murals may be the first image that you think for street art. In fact, the fast-growing art form comes in loads of different shapes and media. Graffiti, poster, sticker, wood blocking, mosaic, yarn bombing, moss art… Artists tried to combine graffiti with architecture, land, plants, cars, and more. Clare Vickery, Founder, and Director of Grace Arts Center, Inc paired street art with the marine industry. We talked with Clare about Creative Districts of Fort Lauderdale and traditional murals one year ago. Amid pandemic, legislative cuts, and other challenges, she was able to produce innovative design form and engage with the Broward community. We met with Clare virtually and spent some time talking about the process and impact of the initiative. Is there any difference compared to walls and who might be interested in sponsoring such projects? Read the interview to find out and send us a message if you want to be involved in Street Art Regatta.
Clare, what is actually a Street Art Regatta (StAR)?
Street Art thrives because it has a visceral connection to the ‘street’ with origins in historic hip hop and contemporary pop culture in America. A ‘Regatta’ is a competitive race with a storied Venetian context involving elite events, extreme athleticism, and the grandeur of traditional boating. Bringing together street art and the marine industries in a visual display of expressive art on the water was the basis for the Street Art Regatta (StAR).
StAR is an opportunity for young athletes in the smallest racing class of sailboats, the Optimist series, to use tactics that might otherwise be sanctioned during the sailing competition to maneuver or ‘choreograph’ painted sails of massive human feet to make it appear as if the sailboats dance. StAR artists had one directive – paint as if the ocean surface were a floor for human movement.
Footage from Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal Waterway captured by Heritage Films OCD Productions. Music: “Radio” by Brimstone127 Produced by Doug Infinite.
The outcome was a dance battle on the Intracoastal as each boat captain advanced in four teams of two managed gleefully by Lauderdale Yacht Club Sailing Foundation professional instructors. Eight artists and eight young sailors – along with their families and supporters – created an art exhibit of epic proportions on November 16 during a late sunny afternoon in Fort Lauderdale.
What was the inspiration behind this project?
One of the inspirations for the project was the work done by American Artist, Melissa McGill, who orchestrated sails of all sizes painted in many shades of red in Venice, Italy in 2019. The “Red Regatta” celebrated the ancient city’s legacy of design, innovation, and the arts featuring crimson Venetian colors.
StAR was also influenced by memories of festive regatta competition events from my youth where university students from the art, design, and engineering schools joined with rowing athletes and the community to decorate boats and race them on the river. Innovation and creativity were combined to build boats from basic materials and cultural gatherings were planned around the city.
Grace Arts has joined with other individuals, businesses, and organizations to sponsor Street Art festivals creating multi-city tours of street artists and muralists transforming city blocks into walkable galleries in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties since 2017. StAR takes the popularity of mural-making a step farther as artists create works that move with the wind and create ‘performance art’ through the participation of athletic sailors.
Did you have any major funds to support the project?
A Florida Division of Cultural Affairs General Programming Support grant funded a small part of the StAR. Funding for vetted state cultural grants were cut statewide by the Legislature (even before the Pandemic) but that grant was critical for StAR’s first phase which included eight artists instead of the thirty (30) planned.
The Lauderdale Yacht Club Sailing Foundation provided boats and competitive sailing coaches to guide sailors to choreograph rather than race their repurposed painted sails donated by North Sails (an international sail manufacturer based in Fort Lauderdale). A local filmmaker and a documentarian of the street art community covered the November launch at a reduced cost. Grace Arts matched every dollar from the grant and donated the Director’s time as did several volunteers from the Sailing Foundation.
As always, I am curious about the artist selection process. What were the criteria?
StAR could provide an opportunity for street artists, mostly self-taught talent, to collaborate with conventionally trained artists in the process of designing the next series of sails planned this year. In November, two artists were gallery artists – not street artists at all. These two female painters enjoyed the challenge to paint sails and found the sail texture to be as good as a traditional canvas! StAR’s first phase included all local painters except one street artist from New York (by way of Chile) who traveled to Fort Lauderdale in route to a large mural installation in Wynwood. The New York artist, known as El_Cekis, was especially masterful in covering an entire warehouse with neon jungle growth in 2017 in the MASS district and I wanted to see what he would do with a figurative mural challenge on a sail!
The list of November StAR artists is Suzanne Scherer, Laura Tan, Orla, Remote, Surge, Stefano Alcantara, Hiero, and El_Cekis (local muralist Bill Savarese’s sail could not be sailed due to a sailor who came down with Covid 19); Hiero, an African American artist, collaborated with Remote and Cekis convened with Surge on two sails.
Did artists have to have particular skills or extra patience to work on this project?
The figurative painting experience was helpful. But two StAR artists enlisted the help of other figurative painters from within the group for final ‘touches’ to create needed perspective and impact for their pieces. I was determined that there would be artists of Color and that there must be women on the artist team. Of the eight artists, three were women (Suzanne, Laura and Orla). Each sail took about 1-2 days. I provided little oversight to the artists and yet all the sails worked together on the water. Next time I will work more on continuity of color and other detailing but the single-guiding principle for the first phase was to paint large human feet as if they are dancing on the water and use the sail canvas as a place for the water to splash!
StAR can invest in land and water-based installations to create opportunities for self-taught and university-trained painters to display their artistry and offer experiences for people to enjoy visual art of all types. The project will support community conversations about design, history, and preservation principles unique to South Florida. After all Fort Lauderdale is called “Venice of America” and Grace Arts sponsored a series of design arts conversations and innovation events in 2017-2019 across South Florida.
How many artworks did you produce in total?
Eight sails were painted on both sides. Each side is unique and different so a total of sixteen images were exhibited on the water as part of StAR’s first event.
Do you plan on continuing this experience in the next few years?
We are working right now on an exhibition for the eight sails with other artworks from participating local artists – and a new group of visiting StAR painters for a new set of sails to benefit a variety of causes this year. More details to follow in February. We also plan to share a one-off art projection on a very tall sail including three-dimensional movement upon the sail’s surface on the New River in 2021.
We are in conversations for StAR to become an annual event with land and water events, installations day and night in several counties to benefit several charitable missions, and platforms that support a series of design and conservation initiatives like the Venetian project mentioned earlier.
Developing community outreach is also critical to StAR. We can include arts and sailing experiences for underserved young adults who could potentially become leaders in these fields with this initial exposure or simply enjoy the arts and sailing with their families and friends. StAR additions are being developed.
2020 was a year of surprises. Did you face any challenges due to Covid-19?
The original “Outsider Art” concept exhibit to build upon success from decades of working with Miami’s Purvis Young and other self-taught artists funded by the state grant was to be partially indoors and outdoors. It was planned to coincide with the experimental painted sails, theatrical performances, and community conversations exploring South Florida arts and humanities. The program support grant was written in 2019 when the impacts of an international pandemic could not have been known.
Despite the pandemic and legislative cuts, StAR was able to move forward outdoors and with limited audiences on the water. Capturing the beauty of the first ‘exhibit’ of painted sails and the athletic capacity of sailors maneuvering the images on the water as if they were choreographed formations, was an unexpected hit with the community. Creating performances with actual dancers with the edited video and is being planned for Miami Art Week 2021. We have to pivot, pivot and pivot again much like a dancer moving across the stage during a performance to create art in a pandemic and for a post-pandemic Florida but StAR gives us a lot of hope.
What will happen next with the sails, after the exhibition?
In addition to using the video from the pilot launch in November 2020 for a new dance-theater piece to be shared in late 2021, we are working now to prepare a few more sails for an April event on the water with the original eight (8) sails. We are reviewing a pool of national artists for this second set of sails. The April event will coincide with a fundraiser for a winter StAR to organize a conservation program developed in conjunction with a local small business with a social enterprise, 26North. StAR is also building a platform to engage merited students adjusting to scholastic challenges through local juvenile justice organizations.
How many people did the November pilot serve and how many people are involved in the April event planned?
Eight artists and eight sailors and their families were involved directly in the project in November totaling approximately one hundred individuals and their friends or one thousand including the attending members of the Lauderdale Yacht Club on November 16. The videos have not been released and articles and press releases are scheduled for February 21. Initially, limited posts on Facebook and Instagram reached about 800 people and publishing in the statewide cultural digital newsletter and arts advocacy website estimates an additional ten thousand people reached in the first quarter of 2021 without an official launch. The official launch of StAR will be April, 29 2021 by invite only to the Lauderdale Yacht Club which will be live streamed on various social media platforms. StAR is going to be instrumental in assisting arts advocacy statewide in Florida as cultural organizations demonstrate their community impact during COVID and beyond. Legislators and the Governor’s office are even more critical than ever to understand the connections of the arts to marine industries, economic development, and community revitalization.
Thank you, Clare, for walking us through this journey and generously providing us your time and photographs!
Images from the first Street Art Regatta film adapted to photographs by Vickery and Armando Colls.