Eveyone was warned. Expect the unexpected. Void to vision. This isn’t your mother’s gala. Celebrating the power of art. But none of the art enthusiasts who shelled out $150-$175 for tickets to last night’s URBAN DECAYDENCE fundraiser at UNIT A Contemporary Art Space in downtown Fort Myers could have anticipated an evening of performance art that kept them off guard and off balance from beginning to end.
Performance art is a term coined in the 1960s to refer to “happenings” that included poets, musicians and film makers in addition to visual artists. There are no rules or guidelines, with events ranging from amusing to disturbing, shocking or outright horrifying. But the common thread unifying all performance art pieces is simply that they’re memorable. By that standard, last night’s event was an unqualified success. Participants on both sides of the performance will be talking about URBAN DECAYDENCE for weeks and months to come.
The novelty started from the instant guests stepped inside UNIT A’s front door. Inside they found Marcus Jansen’s 7,000 square-foot warehouse gallery completely papered over from floor to ceiling with every one of Jansen’s colorful large scale post-apocalyptic urban landscapes obliterated from view. The tables were white; concrete floors colorless; ceiling interrupted only by white steel rafters that seemed to add to the atmosphere of abject sensory deprivation.
All around, messages scrawled on the paper coverings asked guests to imagine walls without art, a world without crayons, rainbows with no color. No lullabies to soothe crying babies. No music to assuage the savage beast. Nothing to taste; no aromas to savor; nothing upon which to feast the eyes.
And then she appeared, the mistress of ceremonies. No, not the Downtown Diva, but Dorothy of Oz, dressed in white blouse, blue skirt and matching bobby socks, sporting her trademark jet black gas mask. To Marcus Jansen’s pure amazement, she’d come to life from Creeping Obstacles in Kansas or The Final Walk to clue guests to what was about to unfold during each of the acts in the evening’s performance.
And so escorted by the incarnation of a subject from one of Jansen’s “Headless” paintings, Dorothy led a line of expressionless, white-clad servers into the main gallery carrying imaginary hors d’oeuvres while the band played silent tunes on equally illusory musical instruments.
With each ensuing Act, guests’ senses were slowly engaged. First with plain bread and water, then with successively more delightful, delectable and ultimately scrumptious treats provided by food sponsor M Waterfront Grille and dessert sponsor Norman Love Confections.
Wine replaced water thanks to spirit sponsor Michele Eddy.
And finally the Alliance for the Arts’ own Lydia Black could tolerate the visual wasteland no longer, and she went purposefully about the cavernous gallery ripping off the paper concealing Jansen’s artwork, bringing it suddenly and ceremoniously to visual life.
“It all came out of the mind of Pam Beckman,” credits former UNIT A Gallery Director Veron Ennis, who played a role in planning the event. The owner and driving force behind Fort Myers’ Bon Soiree, Beckman is passionate about creating unforgettable events and attends to every detail from menu crafting to lighting to ensure perfection. She was at her imaginative best for URBAN DECAYDENCE.
Compliments of Beckman and her event team, last night’s guests were given a palpable demonstration of the power of art by compelling them to experience what their lives would be like without its visual and intellectual presence. But as Lydia Black hastened to point out before introducing Downtown Diva Stepehanie Davis and arts benefactor Terry Tincher to host a live auction, the arts mean business both nationally and right here in Lee County.
“In 2010,” Black pointed out, “nonprofit arts and cultural organizations like ArtFest, Arts for ACT and the Alliance contributed more than $68 million to the local economy. Together, we were responsible for more than 2,000 jobs.” Although she didn’t belabor her point, the art exhibits, festivals and performances held by local nonprofits drew more than 520,000 people into Lee from neighboring counties, as well as from other states and countries.
Yes, art is a powerful economic driver. But more importantly, art enriches our lives. It energizes. It inspires. It encourages us to reach for more. That was the message of the performance art show that was URBAN DECADENCE.
The Alliance for the Arts proudly supports artists and arts organizations in our area as the state designated Local Arts Agency for Lee County. The Alliance’s 10-acre campus and galleries are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Both are located at 10091 McGregor Boulevard, just south of Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers. If you’re not already a member, join today.