A Grand Retrospective: Macon Art eXplosion

A Grand Retrospective: Macon Art eXplosion

A Grand Retrospective: Macon Art eXplosion 3333 2500 Julia Rubens

In anticipation of announcing our new season, we’re doing a look back at some of our favorite events over the past season. Come back to The Grand’s website and social channels on July 15th to hear why “The Grand is a place for me” for 2022-2023!

The first annual Macon Art eXplosion (MAX) was, appropriately, a mishmash of ideas in itself. The staff had mused over several years about a grand festival to welcome people back to the space after the COVID-19 pandemic closed doors. We had often thought about types of programming that would make people feel more welcome at The Grand. We had discussed site-specific art and the need to show off all the amazing spaces hidden in the building. Finally, we talked about the balance between being a premiere presenting facility in Middle Georgia and our role in the community to push the arts and cultural scene forward in new directions. The culmination of all of the ideas ended up in the 1st Annual Macon Art eXplosion, a radically inclusive art & performance festival.

What if The Grand belonged to anyone who wanted to walk in, and what if you could find yourself in the middle of a concert, on a first date, or creating a painting instantly?

Supported by an On the Table mini-grant by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and the Knight Foundation, we made MAX happen with just $1000 in seed money. I was inspired by my past experience producing ensemble theatre at Fringe festivals, an aesthetic that embraces a quirky, DIY culture where anyone can participate. We wanted to open up The Grand as widely as possible for a weekend of art, and to encourage work that was risky or experimental. With that in mind, the festival was led and juried by a group of volunteers who were all practicing artists themselves, called the Artist Council. We allowed people to apply to the festival with any level of experience and with zero application fees – this was vital for it to be as inclusive as possible. Additionally, the process was vetted by a blind jury, so artists would be judged by their work samples rather than by their names. This led to a variety of submissions from high schoolers to professionals from other cities and even other countries.

We pretty much had one rule – nothing can be hung directly from the walls of our Artists could submit as many times as they would like for different projects across a couple different categories. One was Maker/Merchant Spaces, which were table and booth spaces to sell art and goods, like homemade ceramics, or do interactive cultural activities, like a chalk art demonstration. Another was Guerrilla Grand Spaces, a way to activate spaces around the facility with a mini-concert, gallery show, play, or interactive performance. We ended up with musical revues in dressing rooms and installations in stairwells.

And how did it go? Well, this video gives a clue about the dynamic nature of this event:

The weekend was joyous, between impromptu backstage tours and creators meeting one another for the first time. There were so many small interactions between people over art and culture, especially across peoples of difference. My favorite moment might have been when one woman walked in with shopping bags and iced coffee in tow, saying, “I LOVE Downtown Macon! I just decided to come down on a Sunday and walked into this! What am I going to see next?!”

By the numbers:

  • Over 40 participating artists
  • 12 members of the Artist Council
  • Over 375 attendees with a festival button (more if you include volunteers, artists, and those who managed to sneak in without a button!)
  • Eight attendees told volunteers or staff it was their first time at The Grand. Even more attendees told us it was the first time they had been back as adults since an elementary school field trip.
  • At least one artist made over $1000 in sales from the weekend
  • At least five artists made over $500 in sales from the weekend
  • At least three artists said it was the first time they had sold their work for pay
  • At least two artists said it was their first time leading a class or demonstration

We will have Macon Art eXplosion back this upcoming year! Create. Connect. Explore. To the MAX. Save your calendar for November 11-13th, 2022 – more information about artist submissions coming this summer.