Even though Jason Montgomery has been painting since grade school, he was intimidated by the thought of putting his work out in the open.
“I needed the encouragement,” he said.
Then one day last year, he was invited to exhibit his work at an Ars Decorus show. For the first time, he had a space to share his hard work and engage with an audience.
“It was awesome,” he said. “My mom even came in from Illinois and surprised me at the show.”
This is what Ars Decorus is about—giving up-and-coming, local artists of all mediums the chance to collaborate, encourage and promote one another.
It all started with Jaymz Carter.
“I was doing event promotion and got bored,” Carter said. “I wanted to use my promoting skills for something with more value—something with more substance. Me, I can’t even draw a stick man, but I wanted to help those artists that are more underground. Looking around galleries downtown, it’s nothing but pink fish and lighthouses, but Pensacola’s art scene is a lot cooler than people think it is.”
Ars Decorus (Latin for “Beautiful Art”) is more of a movement than a group, Carter said. But it does involve the efforts of local artists and art lovers, and the number of folks involved continues to grow.
“We meet people through Facebook and colleges,” explained Allison Winschief, who studied studio art at the University of West Florida. “There are a lot of artists who are doing what they love, but they don’t show their work in galleries. Starving artists are a real thing.”
Michael Greene is lucky enough to make a living off of his abstract paintings.
“I’m not going to lie, there are some days I eat Ramen noodles,” he said with a laugh.
For him, Ars Decorus is a way to network with other like-minded people.
“It’s a building block to a greater art community,” he said. “I care about Pensacola. If we get a strong base of artists working together, we can create something good for this city. There are at least 180 artists in this city just simmering beneath the surface.”
“Just meeting other artists was a huge benefit to me,” Montgomery added.
Phillip Makeslan has a very familiar artist story. As a photographer, he pays his bills doing freelance, corporate work. Being a part of Ars Decorus allows him to shake up his routine.
“I wanted to do something out of the ordinary,” he said.
The first Ars Decorus show was held at Dolce Vita. It wasn’t a typical art exhibit. With live DJs and an afterparty, it was an art show for people who might not go to art shows.
“When someone comes to an Ars Decorus show, we want people to feel like they stumbled upon something cool,” Carter said.
As Winschief pointed out, art shows can be intimidating. However, that’s not the case with this group.
“I want the middle-aged woman from Cantonment, the sophisticates, hipsters, the punk rockers, and the old couple in suits to come and have a good time,” Greene said.
For their next event on April 25, Ars Decorus plans to be bigger and better, with art exploding from every end including live music and DJs, a full bar, hors d’oeuvres and an appearance from David Blanton, a local improv poet.
But most importantly, the art shows are a way for artists to connect with the public.
“It can be so heartbreaking to be an artist sometimes,” Greene said. “Art is autobiographical. You’re revealing yourself. But you have to have someone out there encouraging you. Just within Ars Decorus, I know our art is affecting each other at least.
“It’s a way to support art,” he added. “If you’re an artist, you have to create. It’s almost an obligation. That’s why I create. But there are not a lot of artists who can self-promote.”
The pieces represented by the artists of Ars Decorus “run the whole gamut of art expression,” Winschief said.
“Michael’s pieces are raw in nature—he makes a mess look beautiful. Jason’s lines are the cleanest that you’ve ever seen. Jacob [Gray] puts together collage pieces. I’m doing ink work. It’s all completely different,” she said.
Joining Ars Decorus is pretty simple. There is a vetting process, Carter said, but what the group looks for is hard work, not necessarily subject matter.
“We’d like to showcase serious artists who are putting time into their crafts,” he said.
As Ars Decorus grows and evolves, Carter said he’s open to bringing exhibits to venues all over Pensacola and possibly create a permanent gallery space.
“We can take over any spot,” he said. “We’re coming to a street corner near you.”
While it would be nice for every artist to sell out at an Ars Decorus show, the main goal is simply to break through barriers and share the work and talents of lesser-known artists.
“We’ve figured out there was a voice that needed to be heard,” Winschief said.
“It symbiosis,” Greene added. “The community needs art, and art needs the community. We need each other.”
ARS DECORUS PRESENTS: REBIRTH
WHEN: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 25 (after party begins at 10:30 p.m.)
WHERE: 309 S. Reus St.
DETAILS: facebook.com/ArsDecorus or email firstname.lastname@example.org