From A Wasteland to The Wastelanders: Yeiser Art Center's New Exhibit Features Eclectic Local Art

Jul 6, 2020

After being closed for over four months, Paducah's Yeiser Art Center has reopened with a show highlighting their commitment to local and regional art and their new 'Keep Paducah Creative' mission. Executive director of the Yeiser Art Center, Lexie Johnson, speaks with Tracy Ross about their upcoming Wastelanders exhibit.

The Yeiser's featured Wastelander exhibit highlights local artists who affectionately refer to themselves as "wastelanders" in reference to an interview in which an artist referred to Paducah as a "wasteland" while discussing the artist relocation program. "[The artists] took something that was sort of meant in a derogatory way and just made it their own. I think they have been working to get here together as a group forever. I especially love that," Johnson says. 

The Paducah Wastelanders Summer Show is bold, eclectic, and engaging. It is reflective of the current, challenging times while still upholding core creative values. The Wastelanders are a ten-member group of independent regional artists who believe exhibiting local artist work is a community responsibility. They have made their artist exhibitions available to the public twice a year for the last fourteen years, making them a part of the fabric of Paducah's creative art community.

"[A Wastelanders'] exhibit was the first exhibition that I attended when I was looking at moving to this area, so they have a special place in my heart," Johnson explains. I think their work could be talked about as outsider art or folk art. A lot of these artists are really accomplished. They have such an interesting style as a group. Their work is very different from each other, but somehow, it all works together. Sometimes when there are these kinds of group shows, it's hard to see connections with the work. It doesn't necessarily always make sense when it's together. But with the Wastelanders, there's just something about their aesthetic, while being different and using different mediums, it still all works together. I think it's a special thing that they have."

Along with the Yeiser Art Center, the Wastelanders champion the region's strength in local and regional art. With this exhibition, both are supporting what it means to stay creative in hard times. Art is an integral part of the human experience. It builds connection and community, and it is needed now more than ever. To ensure the safety of the gallery staff, artists, and patrons alike, extra safety measures will be in place during business hours. 

"We're asking that people wear masks when they come in the gallery, and we're asking that everyone social distance when they're inside the gallery," Johnson says. "Of course, we have hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes available if anyone needs those items. We're being really cautious and disinfecting doorknobs and pens and any surfaces that people would commonly touch a lot. We did that kind of thing anyway, but certainly not as much before as we are now. We're a lot more aware of it now."

Although foot traffic has been relatively low while people get used to businesses being reopened, Johnson is hopeful for the Yeiser's future and ready to look towards new ways of visual, audial, and other performative art consumption.

"I don't think that things will ever be the same. Because of what we do, our programming is very dependent on in-person contact. When we have receptions, special events, artist talks, educational programming -- that is getting people in the gallery to do those kinds of things. I don't think that we'll ever look at it in the same way. I think that it will take a long time to go back to any type of normalcy or where we were before (if it even goes go back). I think it's just going to be a changed world."

"I think that's true for a lot of the arts organizations in our area," Johnson adds. "The theatre, the symphony, performing arts -- those are all dependent on a lot of people in one place. We'll have a lot of new challenges, as does everyone, but I think we're especially susceptible in that way. We're trying to figure out new ways to get patrons access to what we're doing, new ways of fundraising -- all of that is changing very quickly."

For more information on the Yeiser Art Center, including current exhibitions and how to become a member of the gallery, visit their website or Facebook. More information can be found on the Paducah Wastelanders here