Q&A with Sarah Gavlak

New Wave Art Wknd’s founder, Sarah Gavlak, discusses pivoting the celebrated event’s third iteration, hope and creativity during uncertain times, and more

New Wave Art Wknd is in the business of elevating voices. Forged with the idea to foster inclusion, diversity, equity, and dialogue, the annual art event puts artists from marginalized communities at the same proverbial tables as Palm Beach collectors and philanthropists. After a year marked by a global pandemic and sociopolitical revolutions in the United States and beyond, offering women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ communities an opportunity to showcase their art inspired by struggle and triumph is more important than ever.

New Wave’s platform took on a new life with an artist-in-residence program this summer, which will continue with New York–based, mixed-media, interdisciplinary artist Estelle Maisonett’s residency in Rosemary Square beginning November 30. Through striking found object paintings, Maisonett will delve into race, sexual orientation, gender expression, and economic status.

Thelma Golden, Beth Rudin DeWoody, and Ann Tenenbaum speak at Patrons of the Future, New Wave Art Wknd 2019 Public Panel Discussion.

This year’s New Wave Art Wknd event will be held December 4-6 and will take on a hybrid look to accommodate important “Art as Activism: The Fight for Equality” conversations while keeping people safe amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Featuring a plethora of VIP experiences including exclusive studio visits (like Maisonett’s resident art space) and virtual collection tours with the art world’s renowned collectors, as well as publicly accessible artist panel discussions, this year’s event will provide the creative outlet people have craved in a world flipped upside down.

PBI recently caught up with New Wave Art Wknd’s founder, Sarah Gavlak, to discuss pivoting the celebrated event’s third iteration, finding hope and creativity during uncertain times, building community, and the pioneering artist-in-residence program.

Sarah Gavlak
Image courtesy of New Wave and GAVLAK Los Angeles/Palm Beach. Photography by Weston Wells.

PBI: What was is like putting New Wave Art Wknd together with this year’s challenges in mind?

Gavlak: Last year’s New Wave Art Wknd was such a success that we had people saying they wanted to be on the limited VIP list (VIP guests help support the artist-in-residence program and bring in the artists and curators for our panel discussions) for months after the 2019 event.

Then the pandemic hit. It’s been really hard because of COVID and the state of the world. The general consensus from my advisory board has been: “You have to do something to keep [the movement] going. There is great momentum and people are engaged, so let’s keep it going in some way.”

How did the approach to the Wknd change?

We came up with a hybrid idea. We will host virtual collection tours for VIPs with world-renowned collectors, like Valeria Napoleone in London who has built an unbelievable collection of women artists, and Arthur Lewis, an incredible Los Angeles–based collector with an impressive collection of works by BIPOC artists.

We will also host artists from all over for virtual panel discussions, and no one needs to be in harm’s way. It’s allowed us to expand our reach. We’re still planning on a few in-person, socially distanced outdoor events in Palm Beach. We’re adapting for the sake of keeping the dialogue going. Our mission of promoting inclusion, diversity, social justice, and immigration is important during this historical political moment, and having the voices of women artists, artists of color, BIPOC artists, and the LGBTQ+ artists out there is more important than ever.

New Wave and Gavlak Gallery are known for giving artists from marginalized communities a platform to express their personal and communal trials and triumphs. Do you think that this year’s virtual landscape will help enhance accessibility to these artists?

I hope so. On the one hand, we have some of the most incredible philanthropists in Palm Beach, but we also have to be careful about the message we’re sending about exclusivity or class. It’s a very delicate balance. We seat artists who have fled their countries and whose inspired works have been in the Whitney Biennial next to collectors/philanthropists at the same table to start important conversations about the art they admire.

The public programming—like accessible livestream panel discussions—is very important to me. That will extend beyond The Wknd will offer opportunities for us to engage with larger audiences throughout the year.

Guests at the New Wave Art Wknd 2019 VIP Dinner at the home of Amy and John Phelan.

As you alluded to, putting artists at the same tables as local philanthropists opens up dialogue and humanizes many of the issues people are experiencing at a distance from us. That’s a beautiful thing.  

It’s one thing to buy an artist. It’s another to really be able to empathize with and understand their struggles in a noncommercial way. It’s not about a piece going up in value, but rather supporting those who haven’t benefited from privilege in the art world. If New Wave can guide philanthropy and collecting in a way that makes an impact and brings the entire community equality, that makes me very happy.

What are some of your takeaways from New Wave’s inaugural artist-in-residence this summer with Renzo Ortega

I couldn’t have asked for a better artist. Renzo was so enthusiastic, and his work on the struggles and triumphs of immigration is completely on-message with the mission of New Wave. He really engaged in social media and posting images, films, and music that he composed while he was down in Florida. He was inspired by the landscape and he went down to the ocean every day to think about the immigrants who’d crossed oceans to get here, as well as those who hadn’t willingly done so. It was really impactful and poignant for him and he made work about it. His work is so moving.

This year, art has become a public sanctuary. People have gravitated toward it as an oasis of hope and creativity through the pandemic and sociocultural revolutions. Art is a greater form of expression, communication, and connection than ever.

I think that’s correct. There’s a humanity in art, whether it’s dance, music, film, or poetry. Often, some of the greatest work has been made in times of great struggle. I’m excited to see what comes out of this for the artists and what the conversations will look like. I think people do gravitate toward artists as the hearts and souls of our culture.

Note: Renzo Ortega will fly back down for one of a socially distanced outdoor celebration of his mural in Rosemary Square, Untitled Migrant Familia of America. New Wave Art Wknd’s next residencies will feature Estelle Maisonett, November 30 to January 8; Joiri Minaya, February 15 to March 31; and Asser Saint-Val during the summer of 2021.

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