Even before the coronavirus came along, 2020 was an uncertain year for The Jasper Project. It started the year without a home, displaced when Tapp’s Arts Center ended its run on Columbia’s Main Street.
“We were entertaining two or three different possibilities of places to move to,” offers executive director Cindi Boiter, “and we hadn’t landed on one when COVID-19 hit.”
Starting as an arts magazine back in 2011, The Jasper Project grew over the years into a multidisciplinary arts facilitator that fosters collaboration and communication among South Carolina artists and patrons. One can find visual, literary and media art, dance artists and more in the projects created under the Jasper umbrella.
Like many arts organizations and businesses around the country, Jasper had to weather the storm as South Carolina shut down. That meant that the many Columbia artists who sell their art through the Project were in limbo, as well.
Boiter says that she and her board began trying to think of alternative ways to accomplish their goals.
“When it became apparent that we were not going to be able to meet one of our missions, which is to gather artists and patrons of different disciplines together to explore different possibilities or collaborations, we set out on several different projects to meet our mission,” she says.
One of those projects is Virtual Openings, in which they invited artists to show their work on their website, but the openings, which featured artists Patrick Parise, Bonnie Goldberg, Keith Tolen and Thomas Crouch were met with a lackluster response.
“They didn’t resonate the way our other projects did,” Boiter admits.
The prices of some of the larger paintings in the Virtual Openings series ran into the thousands, so Jasper decided to think smaller to get bigger results.
“We decided to go back to the Tiny Gallery series,” she says. “We started Tiny Gallery about a year and a half ago, and the premise is that we ask artists to create small pieces of art at small price points, for people who are beginning collectors or are on a budget.”
The series, managed by board member Christina Xan (an accomplished poet, playwright, photographer and adjunct professor of English at the University of South Carolina) started as a successful in-person event, meeting in small groups at Tapp’s on Saturday evenings. The new version is online, but the principle is the same.
“We encourage artists to have small pieces that are affordable,” Boiter says.
The first Tiny Gallery show began on June 22 and features the work of clay artist Vanessa Hewitt Devore, a fourth-generation artist whose father is glass worker Steve Hewitt, and whose mother is the renowned artist and educator Mana Hewitt.
Right now, seven of Devore’s bowls, vases and jars, featuring colorful birds and insects, are for sale on The Jasper Project site for $65 to $150.
Boiter says that the response to the series, and to Devore’s work, was immediate.
“It took off as soon as we started it,” she reports. “And we’ve already scheduled artists throughout 2020 into 2021, because it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to gather as a community. We want people to be able to gather the community virtually.”
Boiter adds that artists often enjoy the challenge of fitting their work within the Tiny Gallery parameters.
“For some artists it’s easy to do because they do small art anyway,” she says. “But for other artists, it stimulates their creative process and they end up with new work. It’s good for artists who are looking for a new challenge.”
Speaking of challenges, Boiter says that she’s proud of the way The Jasper Project board has responded to the uncertainty of 2020.
“We just leaned into it to be honest,” she offers. “We’re homeless now, we don’t know what’s going to happen, so we made plans to keep doing our work in a way that will help as many people as possible. We’re just trying to do things to help the community of artists at-large and people who love art, until we can all get back together again and shake each other’s hands and see each other’s art.”
Vanessa Hewitt Devore’s Virtual Tiny Gallery runs through July 6 at the-jasper-project.square.site/tiny-gallery.