If you’re going to do anything in New London, no matter how ambitious or weighty, it helps to have a sense of humor. And as focused as Marquee Gallery owner Clint Slowik is about his downtown business, the name also includes a tongue-in-cheek nod to some hardship that preceded the gallery’s opening.
Marquee. In truth, there was supposed to be an actual marquee here, at 74 State Street. One had hung on the building for years, a notable landmark of a canopy that marked the location of the longtime former occupant, Mallove’s Jewelers. Slowik thought it would be a great feature for his art gallery, a visual megaphone to beckon visitors.
Then the marquee collapsed in February 2015 and instead of repairing it, the building’s owners removed it. Gone was the built-in billboard.
Disappointed but undeterred, Slowik pressed forward with his vision and turned the event into a plus: the old double-entendre.
Today, the commercial gallery space shows little outward signs of the bumps and bruises it encountered en route to opening. It currently represents a dozen artists of various styles, mediums, and subjects. The artists range from local to international and are in a variety of stages in their careers as well.
And as with many of downtown New London businesses, Marquee surprises with its spaciousness. To stroll past the front windows is to miss the impact. Walk inside, and the gallery space opens up, wider than it seems from the sidewalk and far deeper.
It boasts about 1,500 square feet of “showroom” space out front, plus an additional room in back for lessons and work space – the back room, renovated in 2016, also hosts the New London Art Student League, a nonprofit organization focused on traditional style art workshops and more, free of charge – a basement used for storage, and upstairs space.
Marquee has hosted three international artists shows, eight community and charitable-oriented showings, six local to national solo artists exhibitions, and nine group exhibitions featuring its represented artists and guest curating groups.
Among the shows and exhibitions for 2019, Marquee plans to host a group event that highlights various individuals and the ways they harness art to deal with personal trauma. Included will be a retrospective exhibition of celebrated artist Nina Chung, who took her life in 2018.
Chung was primarily a photographer who moved to New London from Brooklyn, New York. Her time here was very short and very intense, Slowik said, and she touched a number of people.
“She would lay it all out there within moments of meeting you,” Slowik said. “It was endearing for some, intimidating for others.”
One of Chung’s friends in New London wanted to honor Chung’s work and legacy and invited other artists who are dealing with trauma or inner demons to participate in the show. There’s still such a stigma surrounding mental illness that Chung’s friend doesn’t even like to use the term, Slowik said.
The exhibition will include art from those who worked with Chung as well as a few who never met her but who were inspired by her story. It will introduce the means by which the various artists use the arts or creative endeavors to deal with and cope with their personal traumas and demons.
“They’ll also likely be kind of intense,” Slowik said.
And that’s the point.
The organizer intends to produce a thought-provoking event Slowik said, adding that the art will bring viewers into that space many don’t see from the outside.
“On the surface, you put your best face forward, while internally it’s very frustrating, very uncomfortable. … He wants to do this in a beautiful, creative means, but in a way that’s perhaps unsettling.”
The retrospective is scheduled for April. Follow the gallery on Facebook for updated information about the opening reception and related events and activities.
Marquee Gallery has also showcased member artwork from nonprofits like Vista Life Innovations and Horses Healing Humans to raise awareness and funds for those causes.
In addition to Wednesday night workshops with the New London Student Art League, Slowik said Marquee would like to branch out to redevelop programs and workshops that benefit and enrich the community. He envisions working with youth from distressed communities or veterans, the elderly, those affected by domestic violence, those overcoming addiction and other deep and compelling challenges, all at “an elevated level” that would be “educational, and therapeutic,” with an element of joy.
Beyond that, Slowik said he’d love to help establish an arts council for the downtown New London area, a neutral organization that would bring all art organizations together. He’s been working with Casey Moran, the executive director of Spark Makerspace, city officials, and the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition to develop a proposal.
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