Project Atrium at MOCA celebrates 10 years with special exhibition

"Imagination Squared" at MOCA / Doug Eng

And MOCA Jacksonville marks the occasion by going back to the drawing board. Literally.

In 2010, artists Christina Foard and Dolf James conceived of Imagination Squared, an exhibition featuring works by local artists of all ages, walks of life and skill levels.The concept was a huge hit, attracting 5,000 visitors for its opening and inspiring the creation of Project Atrium, a 40-foot-tall gallery space showcasing site-specific and site-sensitive installations on the museum’s first floor.

The idea to revisit Imagination Squared was sparked by MOCA Executive Director Caitlín Doherty and Senior Curator Ylva Rouse who wanted to engage the public in expressing themselves through art during this unique period in time.

“With COVID, we really felt like the catharsis of making art would be an important opportunity for our community,” said Nan Kavanaugh, director of communications and marketing. “And I think the public’s response really confirmed that.”

A total of 663 pieces comprise Imagination Squared10 which opened in mid-April. The 10-inch x 10-inch wood tiles were distributed to local institutions including Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, the University of North Florida and Pine Castle. The museum also solicited contributions from the general public through social media and other channels with tiles provided free to participants.

Sophia Feagins is one of the artists. The 13-year-old said she’s been creating art since she could move her hands. And those hands were especially busy in 2020.

“This past year has been pretty difficult with the pandemic and being stuck at home and not being able to go to school or see your friends,” she added. “It’s just relaxing and satisfying to paint.” 

While Feagins and her family haven’t seen her piece yet, her mom Karen said she can’t wait. “Any time [Sophia] visits MOCA for the rest of her life, she knows she’s been part of an exhibit there,” she added. “Maybe it will make her think about what she creates in a different way.” 

Some works are obvious responses to COVID with subjects wearing masks or actual masks attached to the tile. My mixed media piece (as a novice, I’m still not quite comfortable calling it “art”) was no less subtle with hydrangeas arranged in a giant bottle of clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication I’ve taken for 15 years—though, never more so than in 2020. 

Other tiles speak to racism, politics, body image, police reform and love. There are flowers, sports team logos, self-portraits and lots of hearts. And cats. Baby Yoda and RGB even make an appearance (not together, unfortunately). The only thing more diverse than the art styles represented are the materials used to create the works—from feathers and blown glass to artificial turf and plastic doll hands. 

“The call was capturing the creative response to the times we’re living in, and I think we’re living in such a unique moment on so many levels,” Kavanaugh said. “The works were more of an emotional response than anything. They show it’s something our community really needed, and we wanted to show how the museum could operate as a resource while also celebrating the anniversary of Project Atrium.”

As for me (and my limited skills), it was a rare opportunity to share a glimpse into my personal experience with the relentless chaos of 2020 via my newly discovered love of art, which turned out to be a silver living I never saw coming. 

And knowing something I created in a corner of my kitchen hangs mere feet away from works by acclaimed artists like Louise Freshman Brown, Jeff Whipple, Erin Kendrick, Allison Watson and Enzo Torcoletti—on the walls of one of the premier contemporary art museums in Florida, no less—makes that silver lining more like platinum.

Imagination Squared10 will be on display through Aug. 8. The exhibition is free to view on the first floor.

About Kerry Speckman