Art in the Atrium: ‘Never give up’ spirit of late founder helps exhibition during COVID crisis

Guide to 2020 Art in the Atrium exhibition, which went virtual during the pandemic.
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By Marion Filler

It was on, then it was off, then it was on again.

The good news is that Art in the Atrium is back. Though not quite like before. COVID-19 has required some adjustments.

Yes, Dream with Your Eyes Wide Open, as this year’s exhibition is called, is on display throughout the Morris County Administration and Records Building at 10 Court St., Morristown. But the only way you can see it — for now — is online.

Charles and Victoria Craig, founders of Art in the Atrium Inc. A Feb. 5, 2019, memorial art show will honor Viki, who died in December 2018.
Charles and Victoria Craig, founders of Art in the Atrium Inc. Viki died in December 2018.

A happy ending was not a foregone conclusion. In December 2018, the devastating loss of Viki Craig, who founded this regional showcase of black talent with husband Charles Craig 28 years ago, was compounded by concerns of court officials that artworks in a building with courtrooms might call into question the judiciary’s impartiality.

It could have been the end of Art in the Atrium. Efforts by Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church, the Craig family, and many fans, saved the show.

One year later, it got the go-ahead, and the stage was set for a re-opening.

Patrons visiting Art in the Atrium, January 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The Craigs had a wonderful vision to bring fine African American art to the community, and the community supports that vision. I think it is a great tribute to Viki,” said Dr. Lynn Siebert, director of arts participation and communication for the nonprofit Morris Arts, which manages exhibitions in the county building.

There were conditions, however. Sexually explicit imagery and nudity, political opinions, religious symbols, violent images, racially insensitive images, and disparagement of historically marginalized groups were prohibited.

Artists were put off. Directors opted to accept the restrictions rather than terminate the exhibit. The curators did their thing, and the result is approximately 225 paintings, prints, sculptures, and a new category of fabric art, which fill the five-floor atrium with color.

Everything is displayed at artintheatrium.org/shop, making the work easy to see and purchase.

‘Basquiat,’ a fabric art piece by Bisa Butler, on exhibit at Art in the Atrium.

The new format’s success has been demonstrated by near-record first-week sales of $20,000. Proceeds go to the Oliphant/Murray Scholarship Fund, which has given more than $25,000 in college scholarships to college students majoring in Fine Arts.

“Our opening reception was supposed to be on March 20,” said Lauren Craig, daughter of Viki and Charles Craig and a trustee of Art in the Atrium Inc., a nonprofit.

“We were there between March 10 and March 15 hanging the work, and then the news started coming out and it was getting scary.”

The pandemic had not yet closed everything, but signs were ominous. “Our events usually have between 300- and 400 people coming to the opening, and this was going to be extra special because we were coming back to the Courthouse and dedicating a plaque to my mom, so we knew it would be big.”

Ever optimistic, Art in the Atrium trustees hope for a closing reception on May 15. In the meantime, the show can be savored online.

“We always had the idea,” Lauren Craig said, “so this pushed us to try it.”

Sixty artists are featured, and according to Lauren, all are comfortable with continuing the show until at least July 1, 2020.

Lauren Craig, emcee at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Lauren Craig, emcee at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The Freeholders and staff enjoy it and really want the public to enjoy it as well. So, we are trying to hold out until shelter-in-place orders are lifted.”

She is sure that Viki Craig is watching.

“We learned from her that you land on your feet and just figure it out. It’s very much like her never-give-up attitude that we can still be successful in the middle of a pandemic, ” said her daughter.

“She would be tickled pink right now, and so thankful to the public and the Freeholders for honoring her with the plaque. One day we would like to celebrate that.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. So happy to learn that this wonderful show will continue, as the Craig family of Franklin Corners, carry out the traditions of art creation and recognition of the artists in Morristown and beyond. .

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