Artists aim to save superfund site with Thomas Center exhibit


This work by Kate Barnes is among those by 18 artists to be featured in an exhibition opening Friday at the Thomas Center. The exhibit spotlights the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site in north Gainesville. (COURTESY OF THE THOMAS CENTER FOR THE ARTS)

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 5:45 p.m.

Eighteen artists have converged with one common goal in mind: save the Cabbot/Koppers site.

Facts

‘Region 4: Transformation Through Imagination’

What: Works by 18 artists conveying the history of and possibilities for the future of the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site in north Gainesville.
When: Opens 5 p.m. Friday with a reception, gallery talk, tour and video; gallery hours 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Where: Thomas Center for the Arts, 302 NE Sixth Ave.
Admission: Free
Info: 392-8532 or www.gvlculturalaffairs.org

The Cabbot/Koppers EPA Superfund site off North Main Street at Northwest 23rd Avenue is one of 68 superfund sites in Florida. As such, it has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as an abandoned hazardous waste site that is also in line for clean-up steps to ensure its long-term protection.

Now, the City of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department is shining an artistic light on the property with a new art exhibition titled “Region 4: Transformation Through Imagination.”

Opening Friday at the Thomas Center’s Main Gallery, the artworks in the exhibit will depict both the history of the site and the possible results of the restoration. In a way, the exhibition is the past and the future of the Cabot/Koppers site, says Mallory O’Connor, curator of the exhibition.

“The Cabot/Kopper site is a local example of a nationwide problem,” O’Connor says.

The exhibition’s title comes from the name of the science fiction film “District 9,” a 2009 movie about an alien race that befriends a government agent.

“‘Region 4’ kind of captured the idea of bureaucracy making things a little bit impersonal,” O’Connor says. “We wanted to personalize the issue.”

With a grant from the Florida State Department’s Division of Cultural Affairs and in collaboration with the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, O’Connor organized the show in an attempt to educate Gainesville residents of the facts surrounding the Cabbot/Koppers site.

Each of the artists participating in the exhibition paired up with a scientist with knowledge of issues associated with superfunds.

“It’s not just expressing wild rumors, but scientific data,” O’Connor says. “It’s an innovative idea to have artists and scientists work together to create something that’s true to science and true to feelings and emotions.”

Artist Margaret Tolbert is collaborating with cave diver Tom Morris to create a video that follows the Hogtown Creek from the Hogtown sinkhole up to Springstead Creek.

“At first, we were all about documenting how the Koppers site is a giant infection,” Tolbert says. “The farther up the creek you go, there’s less and less life and more and more very obvious poisoning.”

The movie, titled “Destination: Contamination,” is meant to be a celebration of water, she said.

“Someone once told me that art should be a healing experience,” Tolbert says. “Art is very good at bringing ideas out to people.”

The exhibition opens Friday with a reception from 5 to 6 p.m. followed by a gallery talk by O’Connor, a tour of the exhibition and a short video to be presented at the Thomas Center by the Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival.

Running through April 28, the exhibition will be available for viewing Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission to the Thomas Center, 302 NE Sixth Ave., is free.

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