In the depths of Connecticut, sculpted along the hills of the Spring Hill Vineyards, is art. From the locally sourced pink granite seating of the amphitheater to the reclaimed wood of the barn, the Spring Hill Arts Gathering is creativity down to the last molecule. Not to mention the numerous mediums on display at the week-long festival: dance, music, sculpture, paintings, videos, even food made with love can be found smoking in a stall between the stages. The only requirement while there, be open minded.
As Stephanie Ingrassia, the founder of the Spring Hill Arts Gathering, said, her goal for the festival, “Was bringing different perspectives to our community, having meaningful conversations, being inclusive of all ideas, and ways of life. We’re fortunate enough to have the space and the means to do it.” As well as room for children to run around, the Spring Hill Arts Gathering, or SHAG as it is commonly referred to, opens up dialogue within families. Whether or not the cruelties of America or the corners of the world presented at the festival apply directly to the attendees should not dictate whether or not these discussions occur.
And that is the principle idea behind every SHAG exhibit. One in particular I want to mention is the “Systemic Impact: Process and Experimentation of (Formerly) Incarcerated Artists.” Presented by SHAG and the Art for Justice Fund, the exhibit showcases art from the perspective of cruelty. Curated by Dr. Nicole Fleetwood, the author of Making Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, and Jesse Crimes, the founder of the Right of Return fellowship, the show features nine distinct artists. Such as Mary Baxter—an audio and visual creator—and Asia Johnson—a performance artist and poet—together, they created a video on the narratives around mass incarceration. The showcase also included works from Mark Loughney’s “Prison Buddies” series, which is a compilation of humorous illustrations depicting prison relationships. For more information on some of the artists, follow the links below.
This past year’s festival was the second collaboration between the Art for Justice Fund and SHAG. While Ingrassia and her family have been long-time supporters of the fund, the opportunity to bring the two together seemed too perfect for her community. “We’re a fairly white, upper-middle class community. So to have the perspective of people who struggle with these issues everyday. Yeah, I want to do a lot more of that,” said Ingrassia when asked if she’d continue the educational experience into the next year.
While the festival is diverse in every sense of the word, the attendants, at least on the day that I attended, were not. Yes, there were numerous networking opportunities for the artists, between themselves and museum directors and curators, etc. etc. However, the audience reminded me of a Vineyard Wines ad. In the following years of this festival, I hope SHAG offers various transportation options like busses from New York City and neighboring school systems. This is an incredible opportunity to explore ideas and witness the depths of American society, however it’s limited to people with access to a car.
Or, as Dr. Fleetwood put it, “I think that as long as people have been held in captivity, they have been making art. So, captive art, or art made in prisons and other forms of captivity, there is nothing new about it. But I do think we’re at a critical moment where there is more attention being paid to some of these issues. Art is a really great way [of] bringing various constituents around some of these issues.” The more people that can witness this issue, the closer we come as a society to change.
Additionally, the greater the artist community around social issues, the greater the outreach. Matthew Whitaker, a blind musician, performed at this year’s SHAG festival. He described the experience as, “Really fun. I had a great time. The audience was great. I was grateful for everything, you know. And like, that was one of the things that someone was telling me, it’s almost like a family reunion cause everyone is hanging out. It’s positive vibes.”
Whitaker released his third album, Connections, last Friday, August 13. While you listen to it anywhere now, perhaps you can see him perform it live at next year’s SHAG. Will you be there?