Art is displayed in the ATHICA gallery for its 2021 Members' Showcase. (Courtesy/Sally Pay Williamson)

The Athens Institute for Contemporary Art (ATHICA) began hosting a reading and discussion group titled “Thinking About Art,” a free program for ATHICA members. The books are shipped to participants at no cost, and the reading group meets virtually over Zoom for discussion once a month.

“It allows people to stay at home but connect with other people around topics of vital importance in the arts these days,” said Lauren Fancher, director at ATHICA. “We’re really looking at works that examine issues related to equity, access [and] bias within the arts.”

“Thinking About Art” includes a reading list of both classic texts, as well as new voices. These texts were specifically chosen to highlight the arts’ connections with social issues after the tumultuous events of the past year, Fancher said.

“Like many art organizations, we had conversations around diversifying our participation and engaging in some self-education,” Fancher said. “And so, while this may not lend itself a most desirable outcome of diversification and participation, it will certainly help our community do some reflection and self-education.”

The group had its first discussion on Feb. 15, where they discussed the book “This Is What I Know About Art” by Kimberly Drew. Drew’s book focuses on the connection between art and protest.

Laithem Caldwell, the literature intern at ATHICA, facilitated the group’s first discussion. While doing so, they provided links and references to art that was referenced in the book to allow for a more interactive understanding of Drew’s novel. Caldwell then allowed for the audience to guide the conversation.

“I definitely felt like people were engaging,” Caldwell said. “We also get people who feel more comfortable listening to people talk about art. I respect that, and I think people really do take away a lot from just being able to listen.”

Fancher said that the Athens community has served as a strong support system for ATHICA, so it was important for her and her team to continue some form of community engagement even if in-person events are restricted.

Caldwell hopes that “Thinking About Art” will serve as an effective alternative to in-person events and provide a safe space for participants to engage in art discussions with their peers.

“I think that this is an opportunity for people to have a month to engage with art, or at least literature referencing art and discussing art,” Caldwell said. “And then coming together as a community and pulling it apart and talking about how it’s salient.”

Aside from simply being an artistic discussion space, Fancher also hopes that participants are able to reflect on the events of the past year and, and make connections between art and society as a way to engage in self-education and reflection.

“Because of so many things rising up that need to be reflected on in the past year, we do hope that it will help us all become more reflective, empathetic and proactive about who our community is and how we ensure that everyone feels comfortable in our community,” Fancher said.

Details on “Thinking About Art” — including the reading list, discussion schedule and registration deadlines — can be found on ATHICA’s website. The Zoom discussions will be held on the third Monday of each month until May. The next discussion will take place on March 15 and will center around Olivia Laing’s “Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency.”

Nimra Ahmad double majors in journalism and international affairs at the University of Georgia. She joined The Red & Black in Oct. 2020 and has worked as a contributor and culture editor. She particularly enjoys covering music, religion and UGA life.

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