NEWPORT ART HOUSE
Tracy Jonsson is the Executive Director of Newport Art House, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the city’s growing contemporary arts scene. Combining her knowledge of arts administration, historic preservation, and public policy, she is providing a platform for the artists and performers of Newport to share their work in a way that seamlessly melds the old with the new, further enhancing the cultural landscape. Through exhibitions, events, and innovative programming, Newport Art House is teaming up with local organizations and non-profits who are eager to fulfill the same goals.
Most recently she launched NewPorch Live Sessions, a video series featuring a diverse array of local musicians in fundamentally Newport environments, like one of the gilded mansions at Salve Regina University, or the Miantonomi Park Memorial Tower. Tracy has big plans for this small state, and just a year into incorporation Newport Art House is already making quite a splash.
What inspired you to launch Newport Art House?
Newport Art House (NAH) was launched from a love of Newport itself. The place is teeming with young creatives looking for gainful avenues to create awesome music, visual art, and experimental experiences, but the city and fellow non-profit organizations do not have the necessary combination of resources, interest, or mission to support contemporary art projects. So we decided to take things into our own hands and create an organization that specifically focuses on projects that nurture, showcase, and promote the contemporary arts.
You must have quite a support system! Who have you worked with in the past, and who do you plan to work with in the future?
We've developed a few ways to gauge support for NAH. Our most important value is engagement. If artists in Newport are not reaching out, aren't showing up to events, or showing interest in our programming we're doing something wrong. As such, we ask our artist community to help us in return. Bands will help by providing music at events (that support recording their friends participating in the NewPorch Live Session Project, for example); We run on the creativity, resourcefulness and kindness of our local artists, and on the fiscal contributions of those who care to keep this community stable and vibrant. These entities include the Rhode Island Council for the Arts, Empire Tea and Coffee, Church Community Housing, Fab Newport, and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. With a staff of one (me) we often reach out to community members to help beyond the day to day operations, which currently are managed by myself mainly.
What were you doing before NAH and how do you integrate / load-balance with your other creative outlets?
I'm a maker, crafter, and musician, so serve as a conduit for ideas related to these. It's been awesome to get phone calls from people asking me if I can teach a class, for example, and be able to refer someone from the NAH network. I worked with a very good life coach named Sean O'Connor and focused that work on effectively balancing my personal artistic practice, my NAH work, and the work I have to take on to bail the boat where there might be leaks. It's not easy and I've had to make some sacrifices, but it's worth it. I studied historic preservation and went into museum and historical research work locally after school. The culture locally somewhat prioritized experience over innovation so I knew I wouldn't be in a leadership position in one of the established cultural institutions for a very long time. Career-wise there has been no better way to learn about programming, fund-raising, grand writing, and other intricacies of non-profits better than simply starting one. Career wise I'm on track; I'm in a leadership position where I'm learning at light speed. It's DIY at its best.
NewPorch Live is one of your more recent, and seemingly more primary programs. Tell me about it! What can we expect next?
The NewPorch Live Sessions is a music-video recording project capturing local acts on porches throughout Newport. We are embarking on episode three, which will feature Icky Woods (aka David Passafiume, who is in his own right an important local arts advocate and organizer). The first two sessions were of Townman Charged and The Z-Boys, and was just launched on August 5th! The point of the sessions is to help finance these expertly produced music videos by Rich Ferri, another local talent, that in turn is used by artists to promote their music, to give venues in Newport that regularly host (and pay) the bands something to share, and to create content that furthers our efforts of diversifying and putting hairline cracks in the monolithic image of Newport as an anchor adorned town welcoming yachties only. Be on the look out for locations you haven't heard of in town, and performances outside of your cover-band satured pre-conceptions, We're excited to show a different side of Newport.
What about your additional programming? I'm excited to hear what's in the pipeline!
We just entered our second fiscal year which is super exciting. We are organizing BAFL (Brunch Art and Flea) market which will be held locally every second Sunday August - December. Project Beta will come back late winter 2017 and we're brainstorming about how to incorporate a literal exchange, i.e. facilitating Newport artists to residencies in other places as well as receiving artists from other places to pollinate and inspire cross culturally. We are sticking to these three activities for the time being so we can start focusing our energies on creating a permanent artist residency in Newport. NAH's goal is to have property secured towards these means by 2020. There is not a single open process, non-profit run artist residency in Newport today, and it's much needed!
The Z-Boys - Watch the NewPorch Live Session
What's the long term goal for NAH?
The long term goal is to own a mixed use artist residency building that has studio space, a community exhibit space, music recording and performance capabilities, and housing units at least one of which will host a rotating short term residency. Ideally the space will have some sort of cafe style restaurant where people can gather, eat, and tap away at their computers as well. We have a few defunct school buildings in Newport who would be ideal for just such a center, but it might realistically be an incremental process from simply housing onwards.
What is your favorite thing about being a part of Newport's growing creative community?
The absolute best part of being part of the artist community in Newport is being able to participate in growing the most inclusive, supportive, and talented group of people I've met so far. Unlike the communities in New York City, for example, where everything from rent to competition fosters a culture that necessitates commercialization, heavy self-promotion, and a shoving-aside-fellow-artists mentality, the Newport artist community is small, tightly knit, and committed. It's like a little Plymouth Rock sometimes; we have to stick together to get through the lean times and to create the nurturing and open community value we intrinsically need as creative beings, and the supporting ambiance necessary to replenish those who's life purpose it is to give of themselves. As an organizer I do my part by creating outlets for expression, to push boundaries, and for projecting a future vision where there is a place in Newport for all to experience the magic.
Photos by Rich Ferri