Art of the Ocean State's first place winner Bob Lavoie's painting, "Jennie Tire."

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Over the weekend, the Wickford Art Association (WAA) launched the Art of the Ocean State exhibit — which is their second in-gallery exhibit since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The annual exhibit includes nearly 90 works of art — from paintings to mixed media to 3-D sculptures — all inspired by the Ocean State, either specifically or abstractly.

“The idea is that the work that is curated is representative of the Ocean State,” WAA gallery director Catherine Gagnon explained. “Whether that’s a specific representation or more general and abstract, that’s up to the artists themselves.”

“We often will see certain landmarks represented, certain characters of the Ocean State,” she continued. “This year we had a tremendous number of landscape pieces and seascape pieces, and a lot of photography as well.”

The in-gallery exhibit officially launched on June 26 and will remain on display until July 19, while a virtual gallery also premiered online on June 30.

WAA received 127 submissions for the Art of the Ocean State, which the exhibit’s jurist, William Heydt, an artist from Newport, had to whittle down to 87. Seven pieces in the exhibit, chosen by Heydt, received awards.

Gagnon said Heydt not only chose the pieces based on their quality, but also those “most representative of the theme.”

Though the exhibit officially launched last Friday, WAA did not hold a traditional opening night celebration, due to COVID-19 social gathering restrictions.

Gagnon explained that she was unsure if WAA was supposed to be abiding by guidelines set out for retail, because the association has a retail license to sell artwork. Retail guidelines state that there can only be one person per 100 square feet, while the general indoor guidelines under phase three state that a maximum of 25 people can be indoors at the same time.

Nevertheless, a 25 person capacity limit wouldn’t be “adequate to hold an opening.” Currently, WAA is only allowing 15 people in at a time, out of safety precautions.

“We are currently not allowing more than 15 people in the gallery at any time,” she said. “So while we are open, we aren’t holding an opening reception.”

WAA is also taking measures to keep guests and volunteers safe, such as posting signage about wearing masks and remaining six feet apart, having stations with hand sanitizer and wipes, and cleaning all touched surfaces at the beginning, middle and end of each day.

The gallery was also rearranged so that Gagnon and others could more easily track the number of people coming in and leaving, in order to make sure no more than 15 people were in the gallery at once, including staff.

However, even under these unique conditions, WAA saw more than double the average amount of people coming to view the exhibit over the weekend to view artwork inspired by the Ocean State.

“On the best weekends, we normally see about 20 people per day,” Gagnon said. “Both days this weekend we were well over 50, so more than double.”

Gagnon said the association was making an effort to get the word out about the exhibit, using social media and advertising in traditional media. She also said that Cardi’s Furniture had been featuring WAA in their advertisements recently.

Another reason for the exhibit’s success, Gagnon said, was the effort WAA made to ensure the public that they were complying with the safety regulations.

“I think the more people learn about that, the more comfortable they feel about coming into your establishment,” she said.

Gagnon said it was “refreshing” to see so many people visit the gallery in-person.

“It’s refreshing that folks are getting back out and establishing a new normal in their lives, to make the visit and trust that we are taking the precautions necessary to keep them safe, as well as ourselves,” she said. “It’s refreshing to have that normalcy reestablished.”

However, she went on to say that some guests became “somewhat argumentative” when they were asked to wear masks.  

“I would be disingenuous to say we didn’t have any situations where we didn’t have 100 percent compliance,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of folks come to the gallery and be somewhat argumentative when asked to put a mask on. We’re handling it on a case-by-case basis, and unfortunately asked them to either comply or visit us at another time.”

“That’s an unfortunate situation we have to put our volunteers through, but we do feel that we have to be consistent in how we deal with that overall,” she continued.

But most people enjoyed visiting the gallery and had no problem following the guidelines.

“A lot of people who have come in and visited said this almost feels normal,” she said. “The fact that we can provide that kind of atmosphere for people to feel safe and secure, and enjoy the wonderful artwork that we have on display, is really a privilege.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, WAA has also made a commitment to post all or the majority of works from each show in a virtual gallery, which Gagnon said was a series of slideshows and web pages for the exhibit.

To view the virtual gallery for the Art of the Ocean State, visit https://wickfordart.org/art-of-the-ocean-state-4/.

The Wickford Art Association is located at 36 Beach Street and is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 401-294-6840 or visit www.wickfordart.org.

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