The Athenaeum brings art and community building to Athens | Arts & Culture
Three stand-alone flat screens in a dark room showing synchronized video. The screens, which are the only source of light in the room, play a three-part narrative video on burnout.
This exhibit is “Dodge and Burn,” an artwork by Lisa Tan commissioned for the Athenaeum, the new gallery at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art.
Open to the public in September 2021, the Athenaeum is a contemporary art space located at 287 West Broad St., at the northwest end of the UGA campus.
The building itself includes a gallery room, a work space and a reading room for selected texts and albums that can be played on a record player.
Katie Geha, director of galleries at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, renovated the building after years of campaigning for the art school to have space downtown. Together with her colleagues Isabelle Wallace and Lindsey Reynolds, Geha attempted to design a space for the Athens community to meet and socialize around art.
“The hope is that people will come here and see it as a place to work or meet friends or play records,” Geha said. She hopes the Athenaeum will become a “centre of reflection and criticality”.
To contribute to the achievement of this mission, artists are invited to give lectures or present their work at the gallery. Each semester, Geha selects a work of art to feature in the gallery and introduces programming to complement it. This programming is created to encourage engagement with art.
For “Dodge and Burn”, Geha worked extensively with Tan to adapt the gallery space to his artistic vision. Most of the lighting in the room was blocked by heavy curtains and carpeting was installed to calm footsteps. Geha even had a subwoofer installed to improve the sound quality of the narration.
Tan’s exhibition will be on view until April 2. By housing Tan’s work at the Athenaeum, Geha has given people the opportunity to learn more about burnout and have a space to relieve theirs.
Although much of the programming is designed for art students, Geha emphasized that the Athenaeum is for Athens as a whole. Admission to the building is free and local residents are welcome.
“We want the community to feel like it’s a community place, that it’s not just a part of the university,” Geha said. “It’s as much for them as it is for our students.
In the spirit of community outreach, the Athenaeum runs a youth group for local children. The Athenaeum Youth Space, or YSA, is an internship program where local middle and high school students can develop some of the Athenaeum’s public programming.
When the group was presented with a small piece of land behind the Athenaeum, they came up with their current project: a community art garden where they can grow herbs and vegetables and hold Athenaeum events. The garden, from start to finish, will be designed by the group itself.
UGA graduate student and YSA facilitator Lisa Novak said the group has created an environment free of adult interference where young people can lead.
Novak said the members of the program taught her as much as she taught them. For her, the YSA is a “circular and messy space where everyone has a say”.
As for how the YSA and the Athenaeum itself will fit into Athens, Novak said “any community building takes time.”