Founded in 1975, Real Art Ways is one of the country's early alternative arts spaces. Real Art Ways presents and produces new and innovative work by emerging and established artists, and serves as a crucial connection for audiences and artists regionally, nationally and internationally. The organization has sustained itself through committed support for new ideas and disciplines, and has steadily built a diverse and unique audience that crosses lines of color, sexual orientation, economics and age.
Real Art Ways began when a group of visual artists and musicians took over a rambling upstairs space on Asylum Street in downtown Hartford. The founding members created a bare bones salon in which they lived, worked and presented the work of others. The idea of alternativity to the mainstream is central to Real Art Ways - the organization arose at a moment when alternative ideas were being explored (e.g. alternative foods, alternative medicines) and alternative institutions were being established (e.g. alternative newspapers, alternative schools, food co-ops, alternative health care programs).
Through the latter part of the decade and into the 1980s, Real Art Ways became a necessary venue for artists and performers to be seen and heard, with presentations in innovative music especially notable. Rapid commercial real estate development led to Real Art Ways losing three spaces in ten years. The final eviction in 1989 left Real Art Ways teetering on the edge of extinction, and the organization landed in a small space at 56 Arbor Street in the culturally mixed neighborhood of Parkville.
Under the new leadership of executive director Will K. Wilkins, Real Art Ways regrouped after the move to Parkville. Wilkins ushered in a second life to the organization by commissioning a series of vigorous public art projects, which have been placed in sites throughout the city. Real Art Ways obtained a 30-year lease on a large warehouse space, and began the development of a unique center for arts and culture. At the same time, Real Art Ways has been very involved in the Parkville neighborhood, and has participated in planning processes for a redesign of the central commercial district, and for neighborhood gateways. The Real Art Ways Cinema opened in the fall of 1996, showing first-run, independent films seven nights a week. The galleries were renovated and re-opened in June of 1999. The Real Room and Loading Dock Lounge were renovated and opened in November of 2002.
The quality and diversity of Real Art Ways' work have earned it repeated funding from national sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation as well as key local funders including United Technologies, Aetna, Travelers, Bank of America, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Hartford, the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and many more. Real Art Ways' projects have generated regional and national media coverage, including pieces in Art in America, ArtNews, ArtForum, National Public Radio, the New York Times, Associated Press, Sculpture, Details, the Source, and Rolling Stone.
In 2004, Real Art Ways organized and presented the landmark exhibition None of the Above: Contemporary Work by Puerto Rican Artists. The exhibition was shown at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in 2005, the first exhibition of contemporary Puerto Rican art organized off the island to be shown in Puerto Rico.
Building on the success of None of the Above, in the fall and winter of 2005-2006, Real Art Ways produced Faith, a multi-disciplinary project centered around an exhibition curated by artist James Hyde, and including work by Patty Chang, Mat Collishaw, Rachel Harrison, Nancy Haynes, Shirazeh Houshiary, Christopher Lucas, Josiah McElheney, Walid Ra'ad (The Atlas Group), Sabeen Raja, Archie Rand, Arlene Shechet, and Nari Ward. Real Art Ways collaborated with the Hartford Seminary, and presented nine films that addressed various aspects of faith, along with several live arts events, including concerts, poetry readings and performances.
In 2006-2007, the organization produced and presented POZA, a multidisciplinary project centered around an exhibition curated by art historian, critic and poet Marek Bartelik. POZA brought together work by artists, writers, filmmakers, and thinkers with direct and indirect ties to Poland. Taking as a point of departure specific national and cultural distinctions, which could be called "Polishness," the project offered an open-ended proposition that treated such distinctions as matters of choice and awareness, rather than linking them to a specific locality or place of birth. Featuring 31 visual artists, POZA also included literary events and an original film series, with 18 films and discussions guided by community leaders.
From October 4, 2008 through January 4, 2009, Real Art Ways presented Archaeology of Wonder. The exhibition explored the symbolic significance of archeology as a way of seeing the past. Archaeology of Wonder questioned the way we use artifacts and art to approach relationships to the past and evoked inescapable reactions in the mind of the viewer. Artists included Elia Alba, Tom Bogaert, Julia Brown, Brian Burkhardt, Harriett G. Caldwell, Chad Curtis, Valerie Garlick, Heather Hart, Jennifer Knaus, Simone Leigh, Brian Lund, Justin McAllister, Sally B. Moore, Julia Gail Oldham, Javier Piñon and Yuko Suzuki. Their art incorporated historical items and facts so as to stimulate a lasting and emotional response as viewers tried to decode the art's meaning.
Real Art Ways produced Rockstone and Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art, a multimedia exhibition that ran from November 14, 2009 through March 14, 2010. The name derives from the Jamaican dub-metal song "Rockstone and Bootheel" sung by Gibby. The phrase means "taking a journey. The exhibition was composed of many journeys that were all influenced by the social, political, and economic conditions of life in the West Indies. This high-energy "mash-up" included artists such as Heino Schmid, Ras Kassa, Ebony G. Patterson, Oneika Russell, Annalee Davis, Renee Cox and Jay Will. Rockstone and Bootheel was curated by Real Art Ways' Director of Visual Arts Kristina Newman-Scott, and Yona Backer.
Today, Real Art Ways is widely regarded as one of the country's outstanding contemporary art spaces, one that has a special link with its own community. Real Art Ways is currently celebrating its 35th year as Hartford's only alternative multidisciplinary arts organization. This anniversary also coincides with the 20 year anniversary of Executive Director, Will K. Wilkins. With films, concerts, performance, readings, exhibitions and a lounge where people gather before and after events, Real Art Ways is a unique meeting place for people of widely varying backgrounds to come together around art and ideas. – less–ZoomInfo