Welcome visiting curator Laura Ritchie

This fall 2019 residency season, McColl Center welcomes noted arts professional and community leader Laura Ritchie as visiting curator.

Co-founder and former director of The Carrack, a zero-commission community art space in Durham, Ritchie (pictured above, far right) has a long history of championing emerging artists and broadening access to the arts in North Carolina communities.

While at McColl Center, Ritchie will mentor the fall 2019 artists-in-residence and curate the New Works / Alumni Four exhibition. We sat down with her to discuss her role and get a preview of what’s ahead.

McColl Center (MC): What excites you about your role as McColl Center’s visiting curator, and how do you think the artists (and you) will benefit from the collaboration?

Laura Ritchie (LR): I’m passionate about connecting artists with the resources they need to thrive, advocating for those resources, and restructuring institutional dynamics so that resources are more accessible and equitably distributed.

McColl Center has given me an opportunity to connect with a new community in Charlotte, a fantastic cohort of artists-in-residence, and several alumni artists through the curation of New Works / Alumni Four.

McColl Center’s collaborative spirit is a good fit with my own.

I hope that, as visiting curator, I am able to build and strengthen bridges that deepen our collective commitment to the transformative power of the arts. 

MC: How did you select artists for New Works / Alumni Four? What’s your curatorial focus for the show?

LR: It was so exciting to sift through the list of McColl Center alumni! The quality and range of the work that has been produced by the artists who have been in residence here is truly stunning and it made this job very challenging, in the best way.

I started by forming a list of artists whose work resonates with my academic and professional interests at the intersection of arts, community, and social justice. Izel Vargas, Zoë Charlton, and Lori Larusso each make very different work but they are all engaged in a conversation about home. Where is home? Who defines it? Who gets to keep it? What does it mean? I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions as I watch my own community in Durham shift in the process of gentrification. 

Izel’s story is about the immigrant experience, about chasing after a dream from which you’ve been excluded or exiled, and the process of building a new world while being bound by one that doesn’t serve you. References to religion and popular culture combine with architectural elements to form this fantasy space that feels as difficult to enter as it does to leave.

As a white woman, I saw a lot of myself in Lori’s work. To me, it reads as a call to action (often explicitly so, via her artwork titles) to subvert the passivity and gendered expectations embedded in domestic spaces. Her work also made me laugh. There’s a powerful element of irony and satire throughout.

Zoë is a force, as are her pieces. I was immediately struck by her monumental wall collages that combine nature with the human body, like the one she created for our exhibition. The narratives about race, class, and colonization that inform her practice resonate with my own ongoing reckoning with Southern identity. 

There’s something playful and sinister, and extremely skillful, in the visual language of New Works / Alumni Four. 

The artists create this cheery veneer of pink houses (Izel), paper dolls (Zoë), and ice cream cones (Lori) and then immediately shatter, soil, obscure, and abandon it. Their works hold a sort of thrilling tension that is both visually delicious and deeply effective as a critical tool in reframing the elusive concept of the “American dream” from multiple perspectives. 

MC: What kinds of wisdom or guidance might you share with the artists-in-residence during your tenure here?

I really appreciate McColl Center’s investment in each artist’s well-being in terms of the resources and flexibility that come with the residency. I also value the focus on community engagement and encourage the artists to take advantage of the built-in opportunities to meet the public, and to then use that as a platform to form their own lasting relationships.

McColl Center provides a structure that encourages risk-taking and experimentation, particularly with media and scale.

I’m excited to see how that impacts their practice during their tenure. As a North Carolina native with a lot of pride in my complicated state, I also hope the visiting artists will find an affinity with this place that makes them want to return in the future.

That’s my advice to any artist: invest in yourself and your practice, make yourself available to new audiences, take big risks, and be in relationship with your community. 

Meet visiting curator Laura Ritchie, and the fall 2019 artists-in-residence, at our Open House on Thursday, September, 12, 2019 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Image: Visiting curator Laura Ritchie (far right) with the fall 2019 artists-in-residence at McColl Center, August 2019.