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April 12, 2012

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The stars of AVA's 4 Bridges Arts Festival are the artists. But just as movie stars have producers, directors and screenwriters (not to mention a small army of little-known helpers from stunt coordinators and composers to key grips and best boys), the artists of 4 Bridges owe their place in the festival to some behind-the-scenes talents.

In one hectic weekend last December, three jurors examined 2,600 images of art from 650 artists. Each artist submitted four images of their work and one shot of an exhibit booth from a previous festival. After two days of viewing, voting, discussing and sometimes advocating for their personal preferences, the jury reached a verdict and the festival’s final lineup of 170 artists was set.

According to Laura Linz, AVA’s new 4 Bridges director, the flavor of the festival is determined by the judges’ choices. And with new judges every year, 4 Bridges is never the same.

“No three people would ever pick the same show,” she said. “The flavor of the show begins with the jury selection before they ever even sit down. Their whole background is going to affect it.”

This year’s judges include a journalist, an artist and a museum director.

Sylvie Fortin is an independent curator, art historian, critic and editor, who has worked internationally since 1991. She is editor-in-chief of Art Papers, a highly regarded magazine published in Atlanta. “She is right there with what is going on. That is her job, to be aware of the trends and styles,” said Linz.

Amy Pleasant is a painter based in Birmingham. She has had solo and group shows in galleries around the country, and her work is in several museum collections. As a working artist, “she has to keep herself growing or she won’t have a job. She is constantly absorbing the world around her,” said Linz.

Daniel Stetson became the director of the Hunter Museum almost a year ago after leading the Polk Museum in Lakeland, Fla., for 15 years. “Even though he works for a museum and those pieces have been around a long time, he’s got to reinvent them all the time. If he doesn’t keep them fresh no one is going to come see them,” said Linz.

These unique and varied backgrounds are key to the ultimate character of this year’s 4 Bridges festival, Linz said. “The three of them coming together couldn’t help but create a really new and fresh show,” she said.

Sylvie Fortin

“There is a large number of people who never go to a museum but will go to an event like a festival,” said Sylvie Fortin. “We have a strong responsibility to present the highest quality of work, so people might feel empowered to buy some affordable but really great work.”

Fortin was not aiming at creating a specific effect in her selections, as she would in curating an exhibition.

“A festival is a very different thing,” she explained. “It wasn’t so much about putting our stamp on it as it was about teasing out the best work, presenting as broad a range of practices as possible. Contemporary art is more diverse than any time in history so it’s very important to share that diversity with the public.”

Choosing from the 650 artists who applied to show their work at 4 Bridges, Fortin said she was drawn to “the works that I could tell did not have any kind of compromise and that deal with contemporary issues ... that’s what excellent work is today. It’s not doing stuff that was done 50 years ago. It talks about what it is to be in the world today.”

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April 12, 2012

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