Aaron Levi Garvey and Stevie Covart Garvey are the founders of Long Road Projects, a Jacksonville-based artist residency program and edition house. Their ongoing and active involvement in the Southeastern and national arts community can sometimes make them hard to pin down, but about two weeks ago, the three of us sat down for coffee, treats, and conversation, specifically about Long Road Projects (LRP): the ideology, mission and logistics therein.
LRP is new, and their first artist-in-residence — Lala Abaddon — is scheduled to arrive July 18, and while here, she will perform and film a 24-hour endurance performance. The footage is slated for her solo exhibition at Denver’s Knew Conscious Gallery.
Relevance, contemporary points-of-view and committed professional practices inform LRP. And the project has received interest from several artists whose work is gaining traction within the national and international art scene. This commitment and willingness to extend hospitality and financing is how dialogue is started and perpetuated, especially in scenes like Jacksonville’s, where critical and geographic isolation can lead to an insular and cannibalistic community.
Stevie explains the reason for a residency, saying, “Everybody wants to be a supernova — but that climate doesn’t exist anymore … those eras of the intermingling of wealth and poverty just aren’t occurring. The Internet has killed off the organic nature of bumping into somebody.” Thus, creating a physical space, where those natural intersections can occur, is a huge, important thing, even if it starts out humbly and modestly, as LRP has.
The hope is also that LRP will aid in creating cross-national conversations among artists. “I get a lot of questions [like]: ‘Why do this in Florida?’ and I respond that artists are artists because they want to make and do work, so a residency feeds into this, and, because of where we are [on the coast], we’re essentially offering them a working vacation, to step out of their everyday studio,” says Aaron.
“They get to come in under the radar,” he continues. “They don’t have to deal with putting up a major show in Jacksonville — just a lecture, a student group, pull an edition, create a new body of work and get to know the city and the Southeast a bit.”
It is an organic response to a wider cultural industry that can seem snobbish, intimidating and capricious (even to those participating in it). The goal is to promote a dialogue of relevance and concern, outside of an academic or institutional framework, and so encouraging organic relationships to occur. It also draws heavily on the professional and personal relationships that Aaron, in his position as a museum curator, has built over the course of the past decade. “For us, it’s just that conversations have turned into invitations,” he says.
Initially, LRP was designed as a nonprofit exhibition and print edition entity in order to build a contemporary art collection that would eventually be gifted to the city of Jacksonville. However, when offers of grant funding fell through or were offered conditionally, Stevie and Aaron Garvey reassessed their goals. They decided that starting out small and independent would afford LRP greater reach and impact, while steering clear of monetary and political pitfalls.
“We want to operate outside of those kinds of parameters, and an organization can’t do that when vindictive people threaten to cut funding. So, yeah, it is kind of a middle finger against that ‘don’t push it too far’ attitude here,” Stevie says evenly.
“It’s really a passion project,” says Aaron, who adds that he hopes the residency and project aspect of this can grow, but acknowledges that “this is a litmus test; we are not going to be a long-suffering space.” The couple points out that they aren’t “trust-fund kids” or coming from families who operate in the arts. “We both work full time,” says Stevie, “and it’s coming out of our personal savings.”
In selecting which artists to work with, Aaron says, “We’re riding that fine line between a great relationship [with the artist] who is professional enough to be relevant.” He then goes on to explain that collectability is an important factor, “ … We wouldn’t be responsible if we didn’t consider which artists and works have legs.”
Abaddon, the first resident artist, is a part of this not just because in the past year her career has taken off, but because she’s a good friend to the couple, too. They’ve watched her work grow and change from narratives that take external cues to those more personal and autobiographical.
“Her work crosses many mediums, though she is currently mostly using photography, pushing its limits and working in a way no other photographer is,” explains Aaron of the artist who physically weaves photographs together into complex geometric patterned tapestries that perch at the edge of psychological portraits. He then noted that during Armory Week, Abaddon had three concurrent shows — it seemed as if she was becoming “one of those emerging artists everyone is trying to get a piece of.”
For her residency project, the artist plans to create a three-dimensional woven piece — which is to say, it will exist in the round — over the course of 24 uninterrupted hours. While weaving herself into a “cocoon,” she’ll also film the action for her Denver exhibition, where a three-dimensional video hologram of the performance will be on display.
In conjunction with the performance, Abaddon and Long Road Projects will be releasing a screen-print varied edition of 50 prints, as a relic of her performance and her time in Jacksonville.
Of LRP and the artists with whom they’re partnering, the couple is emphatic that they (the artists) are doing due diligence and building impactful bodies of work. That these are artists operating in our times, not yet consigned to history, introducing them to Jacksonville can have a tangible impact, not just in terms of exporting Jacksonville artists, but importing big ideas.
“One thing we want to make clear is that these artists are not hobbyists, they’re deeply invested in their careers and trajectories … and that’s most exciting.”