Jennifer Turnbull and Liza Goodell believe artmaking is a birthright, and can be used to build unity in marginalized communities. They also believe art can serve as a form of protest.
Turnbull and Goodell are co-directors of Spiral Q, a nationally recognized creative movement that centers the working class, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA folks, and others fighting for justice and equality. For over 25 years, Spiral Q has been dedicated to artivism — a portmanteau for “art” and “activism.” Now, for the first time, their unique creations are on display in a fine art museum.
“Spiral Q: The Parade” features the organization’s puppets and other artwork at Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park just outside Trenton, N.J. Some of the exhibit’s signature pieces take stances on social issues such as calls to defund immigration enforcement agencies and support transgender rights.
Grounds For Sculpture may not seem like a conventional space for a Spiral Q exhibit.
“We work with neighbors, we work with activists, and we work with youth facilitating neighborhood projects to lift up the issues that are important,” Turnbull said.
Spiral Q hosts art events and workshops in accessible spaces where communities come together to create puppets.The organization leads parades and protests on city streets using art created by people advocating for change.
Kathleen Greene, chief audience officer at the museum, acknowledges that GFS is predominantly white and is located in a predominantly Black community. She explains that the grounds are fenced off and have a high ticket price to ensure sustainability, which is a reality that cannot be changed.
However, the museum is actively working to expand its audiences and make its exhibitions accessible to people from neighboring cities such as Trenton, she said.
New Jersey’s capital city is starved for economic opportunities and nearly a third of all residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Through its partnership with Spiral Q, Grounds For Sculpture is embarking on a new initiative to diversify its audience and diversify how people see themselves represented in the museum.
“It’s kind of about being socially responsive to what’s happening in the world, and to no longer be a bystander,” Greene said. “I fully believe that cultural institutions cannot be neutral.”
Though this is its first foray at a space like Grounds For Sculpture, Spiral Q doesn’t want to lose the intention behind its work.
“Within the exhibition, we’re still pushing the paradigm — this is not fine art,” Turnbull said. “This is not pristine and must go behind the glass where no one [can] touch it. That’s just not what the art is because it is accessible. It is for the people by the people.”
Turnbull and Goodell said many of the issues depicted through their installation at GFS are perennial societal problems.
“The collection as a whole is depressingly so reflective of how these issues continue to affect people, and we continue to move forward in a lot of ways, but all of these issues still remain,” Goodell said.
Greene said GFS is facing some pushback because of the exhibit.
“We, of course, sadly have had a handful of people who have shared their dislike of what we’re presenting. But we have had more people who are celebrating it and who are grateful,” Greene said.
On July 29, Spiral Q will lead a parade beginning at Farmingdale Park in Hamilton. The event starts at 11 a.m. and is free to the public. The demonstration, a collaboration with Artworks Trenton, will feature puppets, banners, and protest signs created by community members.
‘Spiral Q: The Parade’ is on display at Grounds For Sculpture until January 2024.
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