Drive down Center Road in Greensboro and it’s clear that things are happening at the Highland Center for the Arts. Brilliant festival flags fly in an exuberant row, expansive Bread and Puppet prints adorn one side of the building, red circle segments move in the breeze in a Judith Wrend kinetic sculpture.
Among these artworks and down the hill in the fields of the Wilson Farm, families are cross-country skiing, folks are snowshoeing. People are safely spread out, some moving, some pausing. Waves of neon pink and orange fabric in the field confirm that there is much more art there.
This winter, art is outdoors at Highland Center for the Arts. In a fitting but perhaps unexpected pairing, sculptures and installations are along a lovely, usually groomed, new 1.8-mile cross-country ski and snowshoe trail.
“Where Are We Going?” an open-air art journey launched earlier this month and will be in place through the winter. This combination of outdoor recreation and compelling art by 11 Vermont artists is open daily, dawn to dusk, with no admission fee. On weekends, the HCA Café is open with outdoor light lunch fare and warm drink with campfires and physically distanced seating.
“I love the idea of being outside and encountering this artwork in a farm field. To me, that’s so full of joy especially in a very hard year like we’ve had,” Keisha Luce, HCA executive director, said.
“Some is majestic, some is comical. We have a mix of fun and serious along the trail; it speaks to everyone’s tastes,” Luce said.
The idea for the outdoor gallery and ski and snowshoe trail from HCA’s success with its “Alice In Wonderland” trail last summer:
The HCA Gallery presented several indoor exhibitions in 2020, open on a reservations basis, but COVID-19 necessitated big changes in the center’s overall programming. The “Alice in Wonderland” Trail with story-inspired installations offered a creative outdoor experience for families and became very popular.
Recognizing that COVID-19 would continue to impact public gathering, the idea of offering more HCA outdoor art experiences grew, soon leading to a favorite Greensboro winter recreation.
Planning started with Luce working with Maya McCoy, who had come onboard at HCA for winter events. Luce broke her ankle, not on the trail, in late fall, so McCoy took on much of the legwork.
On a fast timeline, they reached out to artists and also their neighbors at the adjacent Wilson Farm, a working farm specializing in growing organic culinary and medicinal herbs. The HCA property and Wilson Farm had been under one ownership in the past. The beautiful Wilson fields offered space for an almost two-mile trail with gradual slopes and loops for shortcuts or to extend one’s adventure.
The vision for the outdoor gallery and trail was partly inspired by Storm King Arts Center in New York’s Hudson River Valley, with large scale contemporary art sited throughout its 500 acres.
Luce and McCoy had a terrific response from artists.
HCA has had a long relationship with Peter Schumann and Bread and Puppet Theater. They immediately joined in, bringing three thought provoking series to the project. Cast concrete pieces of “Lamentation Road” line the first curve of the trail. Four 10-by-10-foot banners of the 2018 “Handout Series” hang on the center building. At the far end of the trail, nine black-on-white painted “Domestic Resurrection Services” panels line the edge of the field.
Harlan Mack of Johnson brought steel sculptures, “Giraffe,” “Granilla” and “Bear Suit,” made of repurposed bike parts. Look closely at the bear and see derailleurs, chains, pedals, a witty gear suitcase and more.
The range of artwork is breathtaking. Thomas Douglas’s steel “Aloft,” sited on a crest of the hill, evokes a sense of soaring out into the sky. Cindy Blakeslee’s nest and egg “#182” waits to be discovered in the branches of a trailside tree. Christopher Curtis’ slender slate “Gnomon II” with glowing gold slash evokes a sense of timelessness, bringing to mind ancient monoliths as well as our yearning for returning sun.
Some works were created for the exhibition and trail including Brian Gluck’s Cedar Arch, like a gateway in the field.
The HCA theater set design team created pieces and collaborated with artists to develop installations.
“We have a full scene shop. We have an artistic staff that can build things,” McCoy said, noting that they created many large-scale colorful pieces, including the procession of “Festival Flags,” “Blue Bonfire” and vast “Clothesline.”
“Festival Flags” connects to England’s Glastonbury Festival, an annual music event, with banners throughout its grounds. HCA’s flags are a tribute to Glastonbury and art festivals around the world canceled because of COVID-19.
The theme of the show, “Where Are We Going?” relates to traveling the trail and experiencing the art and natural beauty along the way and more.
“What is the change we want to see in the world as we move forwards coming out of 2020? Also, Highland Center for the Arts and Wilson Farm are young organizations, still babies finding their way. This is an invitation to think about what we want,” McCoy said.