In 1986, a studio space was quickly renovated into a gallery to house a show entitled, Found Around the South, featuring artists from Georgia, New York, Mississippi, and Alabama. With widespread response to the show Anne Arrasmith and Peter Prinz realized that they had tapped into a real need in the community for a contemporary artist-run organization and Space One Eleven was born. The name, was chosen based on the address of the studio space used for the exhibit and although the organization has moved, the name, along with founding principles remain and today is Birmingham’s only organization of this kind.
In 1991, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant review panel member called SOE an “Outpost”. Since it is located in neither a rural nor a truly urban cultural center, this was an accurate description. This remains the same years later despite increased operating funds, increased regional and national recognition, and positive critical surveys.
An award winning, nationally recognized organization, Space One Eleven (SOE) was established to support visual artists and more than two decades later the exhibitions hosted by SOE have presented a variety of artistic styles and mediums and covered a wide range of contemporary issues. The very nature of the shows and the quality of the work presented has brought national acclaim to Space One Eleven from both the media and from funders across the country. Notable among this is continued funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The latter inducted SOE as the first southern member of its Visual Arts Initiative in 2002, an effort that recognizes small organizations with big impact on the visual arts world. The inclusion in this effort has further reinforced SOE’s role as Birmingham’s leader in the independent arts movement and expanded its reach to include highly acclaimed artists from across the country and across the globe. Along with notable international artists such as Chilean born Alfredo Jaar, Space One Eleven has worked with hundreds of Alabama born artists and those who have found their way to the Magic City from other locales.
The initial strategy of supporting local working artists, through exhibitions and the payment of artists’ fees, soon evolved to engaging these artists in community collaborations to extend the accessibility to and connection with art to the community as a whole.
By 1989, SOE had outgrown the studio in which it began and moved into larger facilities in a historic district of Birmingham. The artists of SOE renovated twin 100-year-old warehouses in the downtown loft district located near the largest public housing project in Alabama. SOE’s move to 2nd Avenue North brought curiosity from area youth about art and the studio’s activities. Realizing the opportunity to more tangibly connect art and the community, a state grant and vital community funding was secured and the City Center Art program was born. Soon thereafter the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as various local and national foundations, funded the program.
City Center Art, SOE’s flagship art education program, is targeted at disadvantaged youth in the Birmingham community. This program, held up as an exemplar by former NEA Chairman Bill Ivey in his testimony before Congress, consists of free after-school classes and a summer art camp offered to Birmingham’s low-income youth. Extensive activities in studio art—painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphics, and photography—taught by professional Birmingham artists as well as visiting artists from around the country shapes the program within a local cultural and historical context.
Uniting students from primarily low to moderate-income backgrounds with teaching artists within SOE’s studio, the CCA program encourages creativity, respectful collaboration, and commitment to community. An important example is the 1995 “Birmingham Urban Mural.” Standing 60’ tall and 150’ wide and located on the eastern façade of Boutwell Municipal Auditorium, it is a very large-scale public work of cast concrete panels and clay tiles.
Conceived by the 1989 original City Center participants as a way to beautify Birmingham’s metropolitan area, each of the 28,000 clay tiles are hand-made individual works of art. While this is the most visible example of CCA’s efforts, it is but one of many benefits produced by the program.
Many former students make up the professional roster of artist and artist assistants teaching classes at SOE, furthering SOE’s long-term engagement with students and artists. Paid teaching opportunities provide another way of making it fiscally viable for artists to remain in their home community, adding to Birmingham’s cultural fabric.
In 2008, the belief that access to art and culture is the cornerstone of a vibrant community and essential to the development of an educated citizenry was whole-heartedly embraced by others and afforded the opportunity for CCA expansion to meet the needs of even more Birmingham youth. In addition to the classes held onsite at Space One Eleven’s studio on 2nd Avenue North, donated space in Woodlawn, one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods truly brings art into the community with additional classes at this satellite space and serving as a pilot program for further replication.