Here's some of what happened during First Friday in Raleigh

Bee Downtown is also on display at Visual Art Exchange this month in The Lab, a collaboration between local businesses and artists to grace businesses with beautiful hives.

Fierce talent and an abundance of activity is how one could describe Raleigh’s March First Friday Art Walk last week. The spotlight was on artists young and old, some at the start of a promising career and others at a pivotal point within it.

And the mayor stopped by, as did a few beekeepers.

Here’s recap of what went down:

Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s “State of the City” address at CAM Raleigh drew a crowd that filled the street-level exhibition area. After listing more than a dozen accolades the city has won, McFarlane discussed Dix Park, festivals and a recently completed local survey. She covered issues like traffic, rising housing costs and her efforts to repeal HB2. “I hope to repair this state’s reputation,” she said of the bill. “This is not us. This is not Raleigh.”

Durham-based Bee Downtown took over VAE’s “The Lab” with a flurry of color, educational materials and honey. Founded by a fourth-generation beekeeper, Bee Downtown partners with local businesses and artists to build, install and maintain beehives in urban areas. Their mission is to protect the species and educate locals about the bees’ importance to our ecosystem. The exhibit features 11 wooden hives painted in vibrant colors, each of which can house up to 70,000 bees. They will later be installed in Rocky Mount, downtown Durham, Centennial Campus, North Carolina Museum of Art and the AJ Fletcher Foundation.

The scene at VAE. Photo by Beth Mann.

The decorative hives do more than just create buzz for the young business. “The bees identify shapes and colors,” said founder and CEO Leigh-Kathryn Bonner. “So when the hives are different shapes, or have the company’s logo on the front, it helps the bees distinguish which one is their home. The art is for the bees.”

The hives will be on display at VAE all month, after which they will be installed in their new homes.

Next door at Local Color Gallery, a co-op of ten female artists, painter and art teacher Janie Johnson debuted her watercolor collection “Soul Colors.” The collection was a departure from her typical subject matter of flowers and natural scenery, featuring abstract works with bold color. Her work’s new direction is derived from her near-death experience last fall when she was hospitalized for three weeks with lung complications.

“Life is a Circus” by Janie Johnson. Photo by Alex Stewart.

“These abstracts, I don’t know where they came from,” Johnson said, pointing to her most vibrant pieces. “When I finally got the strength to go to the studio [after leaving the hospital], it just poured out of me. I’m not thinking about the product; I’m just thinking about the process and enjoying putting color down, living in the moment, forgetting I almost died. Just color.”

“Life is a Circus” is Johnson’s favorite, an abstract with angular lines, jagged edges and many shades of Johnson’s trademark blue. Flashes of red and yellow catch the eye, leading it across the M-shape line in the middle of the canvas. She’s almost sad to sell it, she said, because it is such a personal project, a piece that captures so much of her soul.

On Fayetteville Street, The Mahler’s new exhibit “Submerged” showcases the works of 12 young artists selected by gallery manager Jillian Ohl. Many of the artists, all in their mid-twenties, were Ohl’s peers at the NCSU College of Design, while others are friends of friends. The works included painting, print, sculpture and multimedia pieces. “A lot of these people are going to be really well known in the near future,” Ohl said.

Jillian Ohl is the curator of “Submerged,” and also works at the Mahler. She stands here with her artistic contribution to the show. Photo by Beth Mann.

23-year-old Dare Coulter’s submission to “Submerged,” a multimedia piece called “But They Didn’t Mean it Like That,” confronts an all-too-common problem of people being “unintentionally racist.” The three-part work includes two graphite renderings of old photos she saw on photo-sharing website Imgur. They showed a young black boy holding a chicken and another holding a goose. Someone on the site gave the photos a vaguely racist caption, and when confronted, the person said they “didn’t mean to be racist.”

“After a brief argument I realized no one ever ‘means’ it like that,” Coulter said. She addressed the awkwardness of being in that situation with a ceramic sculpture of a black girl with a goose sitting on her face. “The goose is a symbol of how terrible a surprise it is to find yourself in one of those moments — what it is like to find yourself suddenly being attacked by an angry goose that hadn’t seemed so vicious moments before,” she explained.

The lobby of Artspace hosted a site-specific installation called “Project Reject is Underway,” a collection of objects from the studios of Jeff Bell and Megan Sullivan. The two selected discarded pieces of wood, fabric and other bits and bobs, and arranged them across a shelf, on the floor, and hung from the ceiling and walls. It’s almost like walking through an artist’s mind while they create.

Click below for more images from First Friday by Beth Mann.

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