This Saturday, Canopy Studio will hold its annual fundraiser gala at the historic Normaltown home of Kevin Bates [see editor's note at the bottom of this page]. Admission includes food provided by chef Peter Dale of The National and local craft beer from Southern Brewing Company. There will be trapeze performances by company members in the backyard, a DJ providing tunes for an inevitable dance party and plenty of surprises throughout the night.
Canopy, an alternative arts and movement space, has served the Athens community since 2002. The trapeze and aerial performance studio is comprised of several programs offering classes for children and adults, including a repertory company and a program for children with special needs. Canopy’s annual outreach fundraiser gala is the mainstay of the fundraising efforts, as well as a night to celebrate the accomplishments of performers and staff members alike.
Following last year’s gala held at Creature Comforts Brewery, this year’s gala will return to its roots of being held in private homes. Homeowner and host Kevin Bates serves on Canopy's board, and through longtime personal ties with Birmingham, AL artist Amy Pleasant, has brought a special artistic element to this year’s gala.
Bates says, “As a board member, I’m excited to be part of creating an intimate opportunity to experience all the branches of Canopy at once. As a friend of these talented artists, I’m excited to see what happens as we bring their work together.”
A key element of the gala will be an outdoor sculptural installation by Pleasant called “Suspended.” The aptly titled installation is comprised of 20 or so painted wooden cloud cutouts of various sizes, and will serve as an environmental compliment to the night’s trapeze performance.
“Suspended” was Amy’s first sculptural installation, and it has had a long, transformative history. Initially created for the Birmingham Museum of Art where it lived in the sculpture garden from 2009–'11, the show has since traveled between Georgia and Alabama for nearly five years; Athens will be the show’s final resting place.
“I had started making wall drawings about a year before this project, and I was interested in how I could pull elements off the wall into the physical space and it still be about flatness,” Pleasant says. The wooden clouds are constructed as fitted cross sections that create no illusion of roundness, yet their quirky cuts suggest the light and playful qualities of fluffy white clouds all the same.
Pleasant, who is represented by the Jeff Bailey Gallery (NYC) and is an internationally exhibited artist, is best known for her minimalistic paintings, site-specific wall drawings and works on paper. Typically working on an open white or black background, Amy uses simple inky lines, figural outlines and silhouettes, and subtle washes of blues and grays to touch on themes of human relationships and the ephemerality of a moment.
“This was the first piece that I had made that did not include the ‘figure,’” says Pleasant. “It was more of a stage set where the viewer became the figure that interacted in this landscape of clouds as backdrop and props.” In this way, Amy's installation is perfectly set up to work in conjunction with the evening’s aerial art performances. Attendees and performers alike will stand in place for the figural component typically present in the artist’s 2D work, creating an entirely new, living layer of artistic meaning in the evening’s shared experience.
“Aerial dance in and of itself is performance art, and Athens really does recognize that aerial work is indeed art,” says Melissa Roberts, executive director of Canopy. Roberts says the community has responded with enthusiasm to the studio’s mission and creative performances over the years. Recently, the studio was awarded grants by the Athens Area Arts Council (AAAC), as well as the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC), which will help continue the studio’s growth.
Per tradition, the performances at the gala will feature both young and older performers to highlight the diversity of the studio and the impact performing has on the individuals. “The performances will speak for themselves,” says Roberts. “They are empowering, because anyone can access this kind of art—all ages and abilities. It just depends on how they choose to engage it in their own personal way.”
Canopy’s special needs program, in particular, relies on the efforts of outreach fundraising for support. Using aerial performance as a therapeutic form of creative and physical expression helps build more than just physical competency; it also benefits the cognitive and social well-being of the children.
"Jessie, one of the performers, is autistic and has performed with us at the gala every year," Roberts says. "We bring her back every year because it is truly impactful to see the progress and confidence she has gained through performing and learning aerials."
Trapeze and aerial performance, Roberts says, teaches skills that translate back into the community. “My friend Sandi Turner stated it well: The thing about this kind of performance art and physical work is that over the years that you do it, it gives you soft skills—it teaches you confidence, how to work with people and how to understand yourself… For children, you see that there are ways it helps you in the classroom; for adults, out in the community. But I think everybody has a positive experience that they can then use for the bigger picture.”
The fundraiser gala will be held this Saturday, Sept. 26 from 7:30–10 p.m. at 1045 Prince Ave. Tickets are $50 and can be reserved online through canopystudio.org. Suggested attire is festive black and white.
Canopy Studio’s fall repertory show will be held at the studio over three days, Friday, Oct. 24–Sunday, Oct. 26. Visit the website or call the studio at 706-549-8501 for more information.
To view more of Pleasant’s work, visit amypleasant.com. Alternatively, visit the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art, where her work will be exhibited in “The Figure 8,” curated by Katie Geha, through Thursday, Nov. 5.
Editor's note: The author of this post, Madeline Bates, is the niece of Kevin Bates, host of the Canopy gala. She is also Flagpole's arts intern, and in that role, she reports on happenings on the local arts scene.