Norman Arts Council’s Cultural Connections Program Sets Sight on Central France

Norman Arts Council developed the Cultural Connections program in 2015 with the aim of furthering the bonds of Norman and its sister cities across the globe through cultural and art exchanges. In a global political climate that seems more intent on closing off borders than opening them up as technology erases those same barriers, that mission is as vital as ever in better understanding our neighbors all over the world through the universal language of art and creative expression.

The next cultural exchange — following a successful exchange between Norman and Arezzo, Italy — kicks off this May when artists Jason Cytacki, Ginna Dowling and Daren Kendall jet off to Clermont-Ferrand, France to exhibit works in the historical Chapelle de l’Oratoire during the city’s annual art festival Les Arts en Balade. The exhibition will open on May 19, 2017 at the Chapelle, 18 rue de l’Oratoire, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand and run through June 17, 2017.

Clermont-Ferrand-based artists Hervé Bréhier, Cecile Gambini and Anne Marie Rognon will, in turn, exhibit works from Friday, September 15 through Friday, November 11 at MAINSITE Contemporary Art, 122 E. Main, Norman as the second half of the exchange.

The three artists selected from dozens of applicants by a panel of stakeholders representing the Norman and Clermont-Ferrand arts and cultural interests all celebrate local life, community and neighborhood connections through varied mediums, approaches and perspectives.

Jason Cytacki — an assistant professor in painting at the University of Oklahoma — creates work that is very much based in the spaces he sees, encounters and lives in. His latest works document fragments of spaces — both inside and outside — that he encounters in everyday life, celebrating both the ways that snippets of our world are remarkably similar and remarkably different.

“Within my own work, I often attempt to portray something about American identity; these ideas are strengthened by visiting places different from my own home,” Cytacki said. “In this, I see what others experience, and how those experiences differ. It gives me a better understanding of who we are by attempting to see from the outside. I’m interested in the types of spaces we experience in a culture, and how these spaces contribute to a sense of identity.”

Ginna Dowling’s Clermont-Ferrand installation was built in part through her latest exhibition of works at MAINSITE Contemporary Art in February and March. By asking visitors to create symbols representing their hometown of Norman using torn paper, she developed a local language of sorts that she’ll transport to Clermont-Ferrand for them to see and experience.

“This body of work centers around an exploration of storytelling as a way to highlight and strengthen individual, philosophical, communal, societal and cultural connections between Norman and Clermont-Ferrand,” Dowling said. “With each new city and country I visit, the context of my stories have grown to represent a wonderfully diverse net of cultural connections that give me a depth of knowledge and experience to create that I could not otherwise achieve.”

Dowling hopes that art and exchanges like Cultural Connections can foster a deeper appreciation for differences and similarities, leaving us a better world.

“From my perspective, storytelling and visual art helps bridge gaps,” Dowling said. “The cultural connections we facilitate help create global links, and the arts can facilitate global tolerance, compassion and unity.”

Daren Kendall’s work is similarly culturally focused, with his work — a sculptural monument to be created on-site — exploring the ties between the United States and France.

“My work will focus specifically on ideas of freedom and democracy at the heart of each of our respective cultural identities,” Kendall said. “The monument I will construct will serve as a framework for the exchange of these ideas. I look forward to giving form to the conversations and ideas which emerge out of my day-to-day interaction with the people and places of the city.”

Cytacki, Dowling and Kendall will all give a talk exploring their experience in Clermont-Ferrand upon return from France later this year.