Art is in Bloom at Smith-Gilbert Gardens
Nature has been an inspiration to artists of all stripes and ages working in a wide range of media since the beginning of time. Richard Smith and Robert Gilbert were avid arts enthusiasts who believed in supporting artists and craftspeople. They demonstrated that through an extensive contemporary collection that includes more than thirty sculptures, many of which are displayed throughout the Gardens as permanent installations.
The team at Smith-Gilbert Gardens and the City of Kennesaw is committed to preserving the arts legacy Smith and Gilbert left behind and elevating the Garden’s commitment to the arts. Giving space to new and emerging artists, in a variety of ways, the Art Blooms spring exhibit was born. Now in its third year, Art Blooms takes place in the Gardens from April 1st until May 31st and offers a variety of opportunities to experience the arts in nature.
Surround yourself with art and spring blooms
Each year’s exhibit has brought something new to the Gardens. Alongside the permanent collection, local and regional artists’ work brings a vibrant arts presence throughout SGG. In addition to the sculptures, activities are offered on-site for visitors of all ages. These activities include demonstrations or performances every Saturday for the duration of Art Blooms and new for 2023, a public engagement by the featured artists. Check the Smith-Gilbert Gardens calendar in the spring for when specific artists will be demonstrating or offering additional activities.
Last year’s exhibit included featured artist, Allen Peterson, whose “Iron Beehive” sculpture was showcased in Knowlton Meadow. Honeybees are a recurring theme in his artistic creations, which is in keeping with SGG’s pollinator garden and conservation work. He also collaborated with young artists from Labelle Elementary School in Marietta. Labelle’s third-grade students had a class on conservation presented by Garden Manager Lisa Bartlett and Guest Experience Manager Vanita Keswani. Their class was followed by a relief sculpture lesson by Peterson. In a unique collaboration, Peterson collected the student’s artwork and fabricated a set of lantana sculptures to exhibit in the Gardens. Each one of the three lantana sculptures housed a student relief in its petals. When Art Blooms concluded, Labelle Elementary permanently exhibited the lantanas at their school. Not only did the artist in residency program (made possible with Cobb County Schools Fine Art Department) provide an interactive educational component to the exhibit, it contributed to a permanent art inventory. The Gardens hope to continue this pilot program for more schools in the community.
“The volunteers have been an essential part of bringing life to the Art Blooms event and their work creates an added dimension to the experience.”
During Art Blooms art installations will be highlighted in a special way. Under the direction of Lisa Bartlett, the Garden’s volunteers planted over 20,000 daffodil bulbs in patterns designed to highlight sculptures throughout the garden. Their hard work will be on full, brilliant display as a living, natural art installation that embodies the connections between art and nature. “The volunteers have been an essential part of bringing life to the Art Blooms exhibit and their work creates an added dimension to the experience,” said Bartlett. “These are types of experiences that would not be possible without our SGG volunteers.”
Smith-Gilbert Gardens actively partners with the city of Kennesaw, Kennesaw State University, and other like-minded organizations. Sponsorship support from Cobb EMC Foundation, Georgia Council for the Arts, Cobb Travel and Tourism, Cobb County Schools, Fine Arts Dept, and the Kennesaw Art & Culture Commission is fueling the event’s growth. Vanita Keswani, SGG’s Guest Experience Manager and art enthusiast, was emphatic when she said, “Support from these organizations, in conjunction with support from individual donors and members, makes exhibits like this possible and enables SGG to offer something new and exciting each year for public enjoyment. Expanding our base of supporters enables us to grow exhibits like this beyond our Garden to locations all around Kennesaw.”
Art Is Everywhere
“Art is everywhere, isn’t it?” This insightful observation from Keswani’s daughter makes a person stop and think about how we interact with art and design every day. Consider the desk and chair where you may be sitting now; smartphone products with their intuitive design that are all too familiar; or the clothes you chose to wear today. Did you drink your coffee from a hand-thrown ceramic mug or a sleek, stainless steel travel cup? Take a fresh look at the labels on the products you have purchased. There is an artist and designer behind all of it. Imagine a world without them (shudder).
Art defines culture, expresses feelings, can make the mundane beautiful, and inspire us to see the world in new and different ways. Robert Gilbert and Richard Smith knew this and surrounded themselves with art in the form of paintings, crafts, sculpture, and the gardens themselves. Their sculpture collection is incorporated into the Garden’s landscape and invites visitors to pause, contemplate, appreciate, and experience art in ways even they may not have imagined.
“We want to expand someone’s concept and their experience and their willingness to engage with the arts in different, accessible ways, and the garden is a really welcoming place to experience that.”
Keswani said, “An essential part of our mission, not just at SGG but as arts advocates more broadly, is this: We don’t want the four, white walls of a gallery to be understood as the only place where you can experience art. We want to expand someone’s concept and their experience and their willingness to engage with the arts in different, accessible ways, and the garden is a really welcoming place to experience that.”
This idea is foundational to the mission of Smith-Gilbert’s commitment to the arts and to education. During Art Blooms, new sculptures created by young and emerging artists will be installed throughout the Gardens and will remain in place through December.
SGG’s request for proposals went to artists, arts organizations, and educational institutions. Many of the submissions come from a partnership with Kennesaw State University’s Master Craftsman Program overseen by Page Burch, Master Craftsman Program Coordinator. The program offers an important mix of creative arts education, in particular welding, balanced with the business side of art. Keswani added that artmaking can do two things, provide a paycheck for your subsistence, and deliver a “paycheck for your soul.” Of course, achieving both is ideal and Burch expands his students’ understanding of that balance.
Muses and Money
Burch explained there are two kinds of artists: “gallery artists” make their living with their art, but few artists achieve that level of artistic success especially right out of college. Then there are artists who may make a living through arts-based jobs, such as graphic designers, school art teachers, and video game animators, but it is not likely they are creating art that is the manifestation of their passion, like sculpture.
Burch takes his Master Craftsman students through the process of listening to a client, creating a proposal, securing a contract, making the art, and delivering it and overseeing installation to earn a commission. He teaches the business of art, which is an often-overlooked aspect of being a working artist.
The partnership with SGG’s Art Blooms exhibit presents the perfect opportunity to engage Burch’s KSU students in the business of art through live, practical experience. KSU students have officially participated in Art Blooms for two years. Prior to that, the Garden conducted an experimental run of the process in 2020 that resulted in a leaf-form bicycle rack that is still in use.
Each year his students receive a general overview of the garden, including a tour to learn about its philosophy, plantings, history, and buildings. The students, properly inspired, created proposals for what they believe will be an appropriate representative sculpture for SGG. Keswani said, “We have challenged them to create art that visually communicates these concepts to the public, art that is a manifestation of those messages through metal fabricated design. But, unlike last year, this year’s theme is more specific, focusing on conservation and pollinators.”
Burch explained his role is to be a guide and advisor to his students through the process, but not an influence on their creative expression. It is at this crossroads that the students will balance their personal creative muses with the reality of producing a commissioned work on a deadline that fulfills the client’s vision.
A Growing Arts Experience
Art Blooms is in its third year and brings together young and emerging artists, k-12 school participation, engagement with performing artists and visual artists, the city of Kennesaw, and Kennesaw State University. Although only in its third year, Art Blooms has gained a following, and Keswani sees an exciting future for the event, potentially growing into a city-wide arts experience.
“Over time, we hope the city-wide installation of art and blooms becomes part of what Kennesaw and Smith-Gilbert Gardens are known for,” said Keswani.
She also envisions growing partnerships with the KSU Theater Department, local professional theaters, and high school performing arts programs with a goal for Art Blooms to have live theatre productions at the garden. Keswani said, “We want to put arts of all kinds on equal footing with the beautiful garden surroundings we are known for and provide guests with a fully engaging arts experience in this incredible natural setting.”
Exhibits, except for 2020 due to the pandemic closure, have helped spur attendance, which has increased by 56% since 2019. Membership revenue has increased 35% overall for the year. The Gardens would like to see a broader range of artists from local to regional to national and beyond. The Gardens and the City of Kennesaw as an opportunity to build an arts destination and be known for the arts. This creates a higher quality of life for the community. Kennesaw has a botanical garden right here that many neighboring cities cannot claim. We want to expand our reach and awareness of the cultural asset right here, both as a garden and as an arts venue.”