JORDYN RUSSELL – STAFF WRITER
The annual Stroll through the Arts Gala will be presented by Chautauqua Visual Arts and CVA Members from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22 at the Strohl Art Center. All proceeds from this event will benefit and provide scholarships for the CVA School of Art students.
The Gala will provide fellow art lovers with an opportunity to connect with one another, featuring works from previously displayed artists, alumni from the CVA School of Art and the CVA staff. The artwork being displayed in the auction is currently available for preview on the second floor of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center during regular business hours.
Guests who attend the Gala in person will have exclusive access to the live auction of experiences including an original artwork by artist Gavin Benjamin, Amphitheater performance tickets and more.
“We showed Gavin Benjamin last year, and people just absolutely loved his work,” said Judy Barie, the Susan and John Turben Director of CVA Galleries. “He graciously donated his piece ‘Heads of State, Stacey Abrams’ to the live auction this year.”
Benjamin has been part of the CVA family for five or six years now, he said. He will be the only artist whose work is up for bid at Thursday’s auction; the other artworks (30 in total), will be featured in the online auction.
“They have been very good to me. It’s an incredible place — I love what they do”, he said. “To be able to give back and support Chautauqua, Judy Barie and the galleries is something very important to me.”
In terms of the feeling he wants Chautauquans to leave with when they experience his piece, “Heads of State, Stacey Abrams,” Benjamin discussed the layers associated with connecting to a specific piece of art.
“There is the beautiful aspect, then there is the political aspect,” Benjamin said. “People will take away from it what they can take away from it.”
Benjamin’s “Heads of State” pieces “take inspiration from family and friends, honoring their lives and ancestry while marrying today’s culture with the past,” according to his website.
“My work reflects everything that I’m thinking. It includes everything that I love and everything that I’m challenged by,” Benjamin said in his artist statement. “It’s honest and curious and bright and thoughtful. And sometimes a little dark. It’s all of the things that made me want to be a professional artist in the first place.”
Reflecting on his artistic vision and what “Heads of State, Stacey Abrams,” means to him, Benjamin discussed systemic inequality in the U.S.
“My ‘Heads of State’ pieces are about the lack of Black wealth, about the lack of education in regard to this,” Benjamin said. “I hear it all of the time in America, people say, ‘Black people haven’t come far enough; if they work hard enough, they could get this, they could achieve this if they just work harder.’ The playing field hasn’t been level for us for hundreds of years. You start to wonder, how can we ever catch up?”
Stroll Through the Arts Gala Co-Chair Betsy Vance is enthusiastic about Benjamin’s artwork, as well as the other enticing events occurring the night of the Gala.
“We are striving to promote a community of art lovers,” Vance said. “We invite anyone from Chautauqua, or anywhere, to join us and enjoy an evening of art, music and some very delicious food in the galleries.”
Tickets for the Gala are currently for sale online and in person at the Strohl Art Center. Attendees who have not been vaccinated will be required to wear a mask during this event.
The Gala will begin in the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, where attendees can have an opportunity to explore the online auction items. The event will then move to the courtyard (if weather permits) where the live auction will begin.
The online auction will take place through Friday. Participants may bid in the online auction without a Gala ticket, although only ticket holders who attend the Gala Thursday are able to bid on live auction items. The online auction opened last Friday.
“The live auction will include experiences that people can bid on,” Vance said. “There are a lot of fun and interesting items being offered, such as an overnight adventure and cocktail party in Sarasota, Florida; a historical tour of the Athenaeum Hotel; a boat ride; concert tickets to amazing performers, such as Smokey Robinson, and much more.”
The Stroll Through the Arts Gala is limited to 100 tickets this year. Those planning to attend are encouraged to buy their tickets as soon as possible.