In a ’60s-era black-and-white photograph on the Forward Arts Foundation website, a gaggle of handsome women with the tanned skin and unfussy grooming that suggests afternoons spent playing tennis, a high tolerance for dry martinis and broods of healthy, well-bred children pose for an unlikely portrait of the movers and shakers of Atlanta’s art scene.
We’re more familiar with the name-brand emblems of Atlanta’s arts patron landscape: John Wieland, Robert W. Woodruff, Margaret and Terry Stent, Anne Cox Chambers. It’s harder for our brains to compute largely anonymous women in pantsuits and Pappagallo as Atlanta’s original crowd-funders on a mission to support the city’s visual arts.
But when the history of Atlanta’s art scene is written, it may be the behind-the-scenes arts advocates of the Forward Arts Foundation who end up playing just as vital a role as the Cokes and Turners and big-money private donors.
For more than 50 years the women of the Forward Arts Foundation have offered up delicious chicken salad sandwiches at the Swan Coach House Restaurant and delightful hostess gifts at the Swan Coach House Gift Shop.
But despite those ladylike trappings, these surprisingly boundary-pushing Buckhead women have also demonstrated a commitment to cutting-edge art. Since their founding in 1965, the Forward Arts Foundation has used proceeds from the restaurant and the gift shop, an annual flea market and fashion show to offer financial support to Atlanta’s visual arts on their own campus, through the Swan Coach House Gallery and the annual Emerging Artist Award, which comes with a substantial monetary prize.
But the Forward Arts Foundation has also made a mark on the larger Atlanta arts landscape, raising money to support the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and the High Museum of Art, to which the women recently gave an 1888 sculpture by self-taught artist Henry Church Jr. to celebrate 50 years of supporting High acquisitions.
And now the Forward Arts Foundation is rebranding.
Quinoa has been introduced to the menu at the Swan Coach House restaurant. And if you’re looking for traditional smocked dresses at the gift shop, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The demand is no longer there.
Eager to stay current and compete with the growing number of arts organizations in Atlantathat offer grants, studio space and exhibition opportunities to local artists, Forward Arts Foundation has just renamed one of Atlanta’s most significant awards — its annual Emerging Artist Award — the Edge Award.
Though the name change suggests “cutting edge” and “edgy,” in fact the Edge Award is named in honor of longtime Forward Arts Foundation member and photographer Betty Edge and her attorney husband Bob Edge, chairman of the Loridans Foundation trustees, which supports small to mid-size arts organizations in metro Atlanta.
The Edges conceived of the annual Emerging Artist Award, which bestowed its first prize in 2000. It was their remedy for cuts in funding by the National Endowment for the Arts and a concern that quality artists would not stay in Atlanta if they didn’t have financial incentives to keep them from decamping to New York or Los Angeles.
“This group was founded on fighting for the arts that Atlanta didn’t have at the time,” says Swan Coach House Gallery co-chair Eileen Millard.
Artist Gregor Turk is the moderator who steered eight panelists of curators, critics and artists on studio visits to choose this year’s five Edge Award finalists. The winner of the $10,000 prize, which will be announced April 29, also receives a solo show at the Swan Coach House Gallery and a two-week stint at the Hambidge Center’s artist residency program in the North Georgia Mountains.
“Betty and Bob’s dedication to the arts in Atlanta is remarkable,” says Turk. “Naming the award after them is a perfect fit.”
But while these changes are afoot, the Forward Arts Foundation and the Swan Coach Gallery have remained steadfast in their mission to educate the community about contemporary art.
Part of the Forward Arts Foundation mission is supporting artists not just financially — with nearly $262,000 awarded to artists over the past 20 years — but symbolically, too. When 2017-2018 Emerging Artist Award winner Andrew Boatright exhibited an anatomically specific naked Jesus on the cross in his solo show at the Swan Coach House as part of his Emerging Artist Award exhibition, the women launched into spin mode.
“We had to do a lot of over-communicating,” says Millard, “and explain to people that this is meant to be a serious work of art and is not meant to be offensive.”
It’s a lesson the Forward Arts Foundation has articulated many times over the years, says Betty Edge. “Some of the members may not enjoy what’s hanging, but that’s what’s hanging,” she affirms in her gentle South Carolina drawl.
“That exhibition really helped us make a statement that we don’t censor work. And that we are serious about artists,” says Millard. “We care about artists. We want them to express themselves.”
Edge Award finalists
Working within the tradition of the grotesque and the gothic in the American South, painter and sculptor Ford creates work blending surrealism and realism to depict the people and landscape of the region in often apocalyptic terms. North Carolina-born Ford came to Atlanta to study at Georgia State University and has exhibited at Eyedrum Art Gallery, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center and Thomas Deans Gallery.
Atlanta College of Art graduate Jones has created kinetic, color-infused public murals inspired by the urban landscape that echo the energy and visual fracas of city life, as well as paintings and sculptures that tackle social issues including gun violence. His work has been featured at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Mammal Gallery. His public artwork for Clean Moto Carwash was called the Best Unexpected Public Artwork of 2018 by Atlanta magazine.
The bold colors and abstracted forms of Buenos Aires native Korol’s paintings are inspired by her childhood growing up in South America. Korol’s work explores the region’s legacy of class divisions, political unrest, but also its vibrancy and creativity as it continues to impact her life and work. Korol holds an MFA from Indiana University and is a visiting professor at Agnes Scott College.
Settles, who grew up in Blue Ridge, draws from personal experience to transform fleeting, evanescent moments into lasting ones in her paintings. Drawing on her own Vietnamese heritage and by depicting people of mixed-race and non-white origins in her work, she creates what she describes as “artwork filled with people who look like me.” She has exhibited at Mammal Gallery, the Zuckerman Museum of Art and Wish Gallery.
The multi-media artist, who has earned degrees at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign and the University of Northern Iowa, is a member of the artist collective Smoke School of Art. Sweet has worked as a performance and installation artist, painter and sculptor and often uses found and industrial materials including cement, wood and fabricated steel in his work.
‘Curtis Ames: Less Than More. 2018-19 Emerging Artist Award recipient, with finalists Robert Chamberlin, Krista Clark, Sonya Yong James, and Christina Price Washington. April 11-May 16. Opening reception 6-9 p.m. April 11. Artist talk 3 p.m. April 13. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-266-2636, 10am-4pm, www.swangallery.org
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