HARRISONBURG — Courtney Erickson, 21, has collected trash every few weeks out of Blacks Run for more than a year.
Erickson, a senior at James Madison University majoring in studio art, has used plastic tarps discarded from a local lumber yard for various art projects. The tarps, she said, were used to wrap 2-by-4s that were shipped to the lumber yard.
“When they take them off, they just discard them in a dumpster, and they don’t put a top on it or anything so these get blown into Black’s Run creek,” Erickson said.
Her latest work, titled “Consumed,” is showing at the Arts Council of the Valley’s Smith House Galleries. Erickson created a “trash monster” out of the reclaimed tarps that covers the wall and spills onto the floor to the center of the room.
“That creek runs downtown, and nobody really gives it any attention,” she said. “I really want people to think about their overall consumption of products and what trash they make and how are they disposing of it.”
Erickson has also made reusable shopping bags out of the tarps as a way to repurpose the material as a functional piece. She handed out the bags at the farmers market and on campus. She plans to create a clothing line out of the tarp as well.
The trash monster spilling out all over the gallery room at Smith House Galleries is meant to represent trash being “uncontainable but contained at the same time,” she said.
Erickson’s piece is part of the gallery’s January exhibition by the Virginia Artists in the Marketplace, or VA-AIM.
The program was developed by John Ros, the director and curator of JMU’s Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art and founder of studioELL, an art education organization Ros brought with him to Harrisonburg from New York.
The program, a partnership between the Arts Council of the Valley, Larkin Arts, Spitzer Arts Center and studioELL, is open to artists of all ages.
Ros selected 11 artists to participate in the program, which began as a residency at the Arts Council over five Saturdays in June. Nine artists have their work on display in the exhibit.
The residency also included lectures and seminars centering on discussions to help artists break into the industry with resume-building workshops, marketing and branding skills, and networking opportunities.
“The lectures hit different points. One day is about artist CVs and statements, and the other day is websites and social media,” Ros said. “I’m there to prompt everything, but it is a conversation. The idea is that everybody is learning from each other and building this cohort and everybody is working together. You build your network.”
Ros said it’s important for aspiring artists to learn business and professional skills that typically aren’t taught in art schools.
“There’s so many artists who have no idea how to write a grant or apply for a residency,” he said. “I see a need. Artists really need to figure out how they are small-business owners and how they are thinking about themselves in that way.”
The 2018 program concludes with the exhibit at Smith House Galleries, which opened on Friday and will be on display until Jan. 26.
Joining Erickson in the show are fellow artists Mallory Burrell, Evan Wachter, Anikó Sáfrán, Korva, Logan MacKethan, Karen Robertson, Darcy William and Janet Lee Wright.
Sáfrán, a 49-year-old photographer and videographer, has been an artist for 12 years, but she applied for the VA-AIM program to learn more ways to improve.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to market myself as an artist,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of shows, but I learned a new way of hanging shows.”
Sáfrán earned bachelor degrees in photography and film from the University of Utah in 2011.
For the exhibit, Sáfrán created a 22-minute video called “A Meditation on Memory” that will play on loop in the gallery. Her work tends to address different perceptions of reality and memory, she said. In the video, Sáfrán is cutting lines into a ball of clay.
“As the lines are made, they also get erased and written over,” she said. “But it’s not an actual representation of reality; it’s just our perception of how things seem to be. I was working on another piece about memory, and I was just planning some ideas of memory and how I feel like they imprint on the brain with these lines and they connect to other things and are erased over time.”
Erickson, who also interned under Ros at Duke Hall Gallery, said the program has prepared her for the challenges artists face in the real world of professional art and how to survive as a solo artist the modern market.
“Not many of us sit back and think ‘You are literally running your own business but as yourself and marketing as yourself,’” she said, “and finding that balance of making time in the studio versus selling yourself in the business aspect.”
Erickson has shown her work in small shows in Harrisonburg, but the VA-AIM exhibit is her biggest venue yet.
“This was almost like a reward for us, of putting your art piece out there, what you have accomplished,” she said. “It’s a confidence boost.”
The 2019 VA-AIM program will begin in May.