When you're a child, it's an unspoken rule that the kid with the biggest Crayola box will be the most popular. Drawing is a ritual that is adored, and markers are called "Magic." But for most of us, the knowledge that drawing is fun becomes lost somewhere between elementary school art class and the ability to balance a checkbook.
Here's just the thing to help wake those dormant creative impulses — the second annual Nashville Neighborhood Big Draw, taking place Saturday, Oct. 9. The free drawing event was created to encourage interaction and drawing as a means of social exchange — in short, to have a good time while getting to know your neighbors. Participants are asked to bring their own paper, pencils, perhaps even crayons and Magic Markers. Most importantly, there is no competition, and drawers of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to participate.
The Neighborhood Big Draw will take place at three locations around the city: downtown at the Tennessee Art League, in Hillsboro Village at Zeitgeist Gallery, and in East Nashville at Billups Art Collective. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and according to event organizer Suzanne McDermott, there will be "a little instruction with a brief talk on the neighborhood history and architecture." After that, all participants will go off to draw their favorite nearby building. All drawings will be collected in the early afternoon, and everyone is invited back for an early evening reception and exhibit.
McDermott, a professional artist and art teacher, founded Drawing America in 2009 as a way to "promote drawing while building community throughout the U.S." The Neighborhood Big Draw is an event specifically designed to support this mission.
When speaking about the Neighborhood Big Draw project, McDermott is enthusiastic and thoughtful. Small details are driven by thorough examination — for example, the selection of buildings as the subject matter. McDermott says that the benefit of an architectural focus is quite layered. "The architecture of one's community is an immediate subject that everyone shares," she says, adding that "drawing our own houses and neighborhood buildings gives us a chance to actually see the places where we live most of our lives. Making a drawing gives us time to contemplate how and why pieces of our physical environment fit together. When we start considering ideas like those, we have opportunities to think about and understand history and to wonder how we might make our world work a little better."
McDermott's Drawing America is based on the Campaign for Drawing in the U.K., whose mission statement addresses "drawing as a means to help people see, think and take action." The campaign was started in 2000 by the Guild of St. George, a charity founded by 19th century English art critic and social thinker John Ruskin. Ruskin was a vocal defender of naturalism in art, and believed that drawing is a key to understanding and knowledge. Now, more than a century after his death, a community is galvanizing around drawing in a way that echoes Ruskin's values and ideas. "Fine art," he said, "is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together." (Though hardly a household name in these parts, Ruskin, whose writings were influential on the development of Christian Socialism, has a notable place in Middle Tennessee history: From 1894 to 1899, Dickson was home to The Ruskin Commonwealth Association, a utopian socialist colony which at its peak was home to 250 people.)
A community event like Nashville Neighborhood Big Draw puts creative practices to work in the real world, and embraces people who may not consider themselves artists. Developments in relational art and social engagement are at the forefront of the contemporary art movement, reflecting a shift toward a more accessible, less elitist definition of art. For many, the avant-garde is too academic and difficult to grasp, and the concept of an obscure art object that exists outside of society is becoming less relevant. New artists are using guerilla techniques, community involvement and political motives to push the art world away from gallery walls and into the public sphere.
Of course, communal art is nothing new — consider the quilting bee — but events like Nashville Neighborhood Big Draw certainly have an important place in the history of art, and their significance seems to be on the rise. Creative community events emphasize accessibility and shared human values, and can have real-world impact. "If neighbors can step outside and draw together for a little while," McDermott says, "imagine what else they might do together."
The Nashville Scene is an official sponsor of the Nashville Neighborhood Big Draw. The event is free, and no pre-registration is necessary. Just show up at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at any of these locations: Tennessee Art League (808 Broadway), Zeitgeist Gallery (1819 21st Ave. S.) or Billups Art Collective (1008-C Woodland St., in the alley behind Beyond the Edge sports bar). For information on the Neighborhood Big Draw, visit www.bigdrawnashville.org. And learn more about Drawing America at www.drawingamerica.org.
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