Aaron Levi Garvey is a force of nature. He’s served as an independent curator at major art institutions across the country, regularly writes and lectures about contemporary art culture, and currently serves as Guest Curator for the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Garvey chatted with EU Jacksonville Newspaper about his passion for museums, his family, the arts, and his plans for the future.
Let’s start with a brief background. Where’d you grow up, what’s your alma mater, and who are the most influential people in your life? Who is Aaron Levi Garvey?
I was born and raised in New York, then moved to Florida for High School and my graduate degree is from the University of Kentucky. Some of the most influential people in my life are of course my wife and daughter who are my driving forces to keep improving and moving forward to make a better world, my great-grandparents Sol and Sylvia Marx who came through Ellis Island and were heavily involved in raising me, but also a few close colleagues, friends and mentors that I hold in high esteem and often go to for guidance.
You’re extremely active in the museum community: independent curator, museum professional, lecturer, arts consultant and more. What are some of the most interesting places you’ve curated? Which accomplishments fill you with the most pride?
I have been very fortunate in my career to work with so many talented artists, curators, writers, and collectors. Each exhibition has had its own prideful elements. I’m not sure that I can narrow down singular accomplishments, but a few that come to mind are curating the inaugural art exhibition at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in late 2016, founding my own arts foundation with my wife, commissioning new works by Jonah Bokaer, Chiharu Shiota, Rashaad Newsome, Gamaliel Rodriguez, co-curating the Atlanta Biennial, curating an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans and being a visiting lecturer numerous universities around the country.
What exactly is a Guest Curator and why does a museum hire one?
A guest curator is typically an independent curator that is unaffiliated with the hiring institution and works on an exhibition for the institution on a limited basis. It can either be for multiple projects or one singular project. Museums will hire outside curators if they feel that there is a curator that they want to work with, or if that curator has an expertise that the museum is looking for and doesn’t have the capacity to include them in a full-time position.
What brought you to The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens? What value do you believe you bring to the institution?
Curators Holly Keris and Nelda Damiano approached me last year with an inquiry about possibly working together on an exhibition for Fall 2018. Of course, I was immediately interested and we sat down shortly thereafter and talked about all things art and exhibitions. The Cummer is really the best art museum in Jacksonville and is such an asset to the community. I am really excited about the hiring of Dr. Adam Levine, he’s going to grow that museum by leaps and bounds, he’s razor sharp and the leader it deserves to have at the helm.
What do you love about The Cummer most? What have been your biggest or most unexpected challenges?
I really love the museum’s openness to collaboration, trust and willingness to take chances with their exhibition and public programs. The Cummer is hosting concerts in the gardens, album release parties, and lectures by visiting professionals, community collaborations with regional artists, etc. I don’t really see other institutions opening their doors this way and thinking outside the box with public programs. If anything, other institutions are actually closing off their programs and denying these types of community building events and collaborations.
Where in Jacksonville did you settle and what do you love about the First Coast?
We own a home in Riverside. My wife was born and raised in Riverside at St. Vincent’s and now so is our daughter. I am a transplant and have moved in and out of Jacksonville about three or so times.
You were influential in bringing Carlos Rolón’s Lost in Paradise exhibit to The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. What do you love about this artist and why is his work perfect for Jacksonville?
I’ve always admired him as an artist and his work; I appreciate the nuanced ways in which he addresses social and political issues. I felt that he was perfect for the museum because of his material usage, which compliments the classical motifs found in the Cummer’s collection, and the tie that Jacksonville has with Puerto Rico. Rolón often references his lineal ties to his Puerto Rican roots.
Tell us about the Long Roads Project. What is your mission and what has it accomplished so far?
Long Road Projects is a foundation that my wife and I founded together when we moved to Jacksonville in early 2016. We saw that the city needed an outlet for importing artists and community building, so we just took the leap and put together an organization to do so. To date, we have hosted something like 18 artists in 20 months, published 10-12 editions, mounted 6 exhibitions. We introduce every artist that we bring to Jacksonville to many community members and artists through strategic partnerships and studio visits. We want to work to build community through contemporary art and foster new relationships that can grow beyond the confines of Jacksonville. We have also fostered long-standing relationships with the two major art colleges in the city, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) and Jacksonville University as a way of exposing students to internationally recognized artists visiting their very own city. Our collaborators Dustin Harewood, Mark Creegan, Patrick Miko, Lily Kuonen, Jim Benedict, Becca Levy, and Lynn Lewis are gems and are really doing amazing things in this city, they have been the most integral part of our partnerships with these universities and helping with our desire to bring more art to the students of Jacksonville.
Why are the arts so important to you?
I knew pretty early on that I was never going to be an outfielder for the Yankees, so art was my fallback plan. Truth be told – I live, eat, sleep and breathe art. When I was a child, my parents never told me “no” when it came to asking to go to museums or wanting art books and supplies, it has always been a part of my day-to-day life. I get to work with the most interesting and enlightened people in the world, have conversations about conceptual art and theory, and get to look at beautiful works of art all day. Why would I want to do anything else with my life?
What’s something about yourself most people don’t know?
I love Skydiving. I collect vintage baseball photography.
What’s next for Aaron Levi Garvey?
Right now I am working with a foundation in New York and guiding them through the incorporation process and application for 501c3 status. Once that is granted we will continue our work with the United Nations and mount more exhibitions that align with the 17 Global Sustainable Goals. I have a forthcoming group exhibition in Los Angeles in September 2019, in which I will be including two artists from Jacksonville, we have more artists coming to visit through Long Road, trips to Miami and New York for the fairs and meetings and a few other exhibitions in the works around the country.