The sights and streetscape of modern downtown Denison will soon be on full display in City Hall as the Denison Arts Council prepares to unveil its newest art exhibition. The exhibition will be the second to take place in the new Denison City Hall as a partnership between the council and the city under the new Art in the Hall program.
The new art exhibition will showcase pictures of current Denison, including photographs taken by amateur photographers using cellphones as a way to eliminate barriers and allow a new generation of artists to show their work.
“We were extremely pleased with the size of the response and with the quality of the submissions,” Denison Arts Council board member Linda Anderson said. “Since we’d not done a cellphone photography contest before, we weren’t sure what to anticipate.”
The exhibition will serve as a counterpoint to the first Art in the Hall exhibition, which started in September and focused on historic photos of Denison’s origins and past. In addition to the cellphone photographs, the exhibition will also include professional photographs curated by local artist Mary Karam.
“This celebrates our non-professional photographers along with our professionals without making much of a distinction,” Anderson said.
The decision to include cellphone art in the exhibit came about because of advances in mobile technology in recent years and the widespread access to smartphones. High-end camera equipment might be out of reach for many, but cellphone cameras have improved and a smartphone can take a quality photo, Anderson said.
The arts council received nearly 100 submitted photos for the cellphone photography portion of the exhibit and ultimately chose nine to be included. The photographers were given a $100 prize for each included photo, all of which will be donated to the city at the end of the exhibit to be included in Denison’s art collection.
The nine photographs include shots of Denison locales ranging from the Hotel Denison to Watson’s Drive-In and other shots of the city’s streetscape.
Stephanie Canaday was one of the photographers who was accepted into the exhibition with a cellphone photo of the interior of the Hotel Denison lobby. The picture came after Canaday was looking to get out of the cold while looking for interesting photo opportunities for the contest earlier this month.
“I kind of loved how nothing has seemed to change,” Canaday said. “Everything seemed like someone pushed the pause button years ago.”
Canaday said she worked with cellphone photography back in college, but this was the first time she submitted something professionally.
“When you are using a DSLR, you have to use a computer,” she said. “You end up with a great product, but it takes a lot of time.”
Karam has taught classes specifically on cellphone photography, including two in the months leading up to the exhibition. The classes attracted students of all skill levels ranging from professional photographers to hobbyists and newcomers, she said.
Cellphone photography has its own advantages over traditional equipment, Karam said. As an example, a thin cellphone can slip into spaces and is far more portable than even the lightest and smallest professional cameras, she said. There is also a wide variety of programs that can be downloaded to a phone to allow for quick alterations and enhancements to photographs without the need of outside equipment.
For her portion of the exhibit, Karam focused on curating professional photos of modern Denison, with 22 pieces made by seven different artists.
“They are all people who have done a lot of different events in downtown and just a lot of work in downtown Denison in general,” she said.
Many of the pieces in her portion of the exhibit focus on events and the district’s historic buildings, but Karam said Denison’s history as a railroad hub is also on display.
“Our events are always colorful and our buildings are beautiful and historic,” she said. “Sometimes they have gone through two or three uses, but they are still wonderful to shoot.”
Anderson said the arts council plans to donate at least one piece of art from each exhibit to the city’s collection. The first donated piece was a long canvas print of one of the elaborate bank vaults from City Hall’s past as a Bank of America branch. Following this exhibition, the nine cellphone pieces will be given as a second donation, Anderson said.
“To say we have an art collection (isn’t quite right),” Denison Director of Community Engagement Sunny Mackey said. “Saying we want to have an art collection is probably a more accurate way to put it.”
Mackey said the city’s existing collection mostly includes about six to eight photographs that were donated over the past 10 years. The new City Hall building has plenty of space that can be used to showcase local art, she said.
With the second display, Mackey said the art in City Hall will showcase a different side of Denison compared to the historic photos that currently line its walls.
“It is about seeing Denison from a different perspective,” she said. “We like that the whole city is getting involved with this.”
Mackey said the donated pieces will be displayed throughout City Hall, including its upper levels and meeting spaces, once the exhibition is completed.