Visual artist Morgan Hamilton writes about how Delaware's history trickles down to its art, politics, and people.
This article originally appeared on Creators.
As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Morgan Hamilton is a visual artist living in New Castle, DE. He's an adjunct professor at The University of Delaware, where he received his MFA, and the curatorial fellow at The Delaware Contemporary.
There are many things for which we can thank Delaware; one of the most important is equal representation in the United States Senate. John Dickenson and George Read fiercely advocated on behalf of the "small states" of the colonies (some of which never showed at the Constitutional Convention—I'm looking at you, Rhode Island) and demanded that the Senate have equal representation per state, not decided by population. That is important to understand, because it showcases Delaware's feature characteristic from its people and politics, to its art and culture, to its only Vice President: humble dispatch.
That trait is prevalent through the Delaware art scene; the artists I've met while at school, making work, or curating have had a distinct sense of making their work whether or not a national audience takes notice. It's a characteristic I have come to admire since moving to New Castle, DE, and one that I have annexed into my artistic identity and studio practice.
I am a performance, video, and installation artist who creates large-scale and enveloping alternate realities that are only slightly different from our own. I enjoy creating facsimile newspapers, websites, and online articles to support these virtual realities. My most recent project Let's Write A Bill! is a performance where my character Senator Kip Tunamelt instructs viewers on how to write a bill for Congress. I want to change people's minds and perspectives, not by yelling at them or accosting them with my work, but by gently reminding them to think for themselves. I do this by introducing my character as naïve, and as they participate in my performance, I challenge their perceptions. I won't change their mind then and there, but they'll take the thought home, and it'll grow.
I come from a military family and have grown up around the world. I joke that home is where my bed is. Moving to Delaware was no exception; I made my bed, set down roots, and met as many people as I could. A lot of them were artists based at the University of Delaware, but my contacts swiftly spread to artists working out of Wilmington and New Castle, many of them transplants and expats like I. I've seen so many tastes and materials exhibited in contemporary art spaces, downtown galleries, Museums, etc. The artistic community is diverse and reflects the odd placement of Delaware geographically as well as culturally. You can find anything from craft and fine arts in beach towns and wildlife down south to contemporary abstract and urban styles centered in Wilmington. Delaware is unique because it is the nexus of the North and the South; its artistic complexity reflects that.
Delaware is a small state, Wilmington is a small town, and unfortunately it's hard to find new and unique places to exhibit. The established artist scene can be cliquey and non-inclusive, even gossipy which can drive the new and emerging artists to art metropolises across the country. Though studio space is affordable and life in Delaware can be peaceful, if an artist isn't exhibiting or being represented by a gallery, it can be discouraging to her or his practice.
I have worked with The Delaware Contemporary as a curatorial fellow and I've gotten to meet a lot of great local artists. One of our directives is to feature local artists, but from a limited population, it's hard to keep steady stream of Delaware artists. The Delaware Contemporary has an ever-changing pool of artists due to its relationship with the University of Delaware and its resident studio artists, but it can be challenging to stay contemporary, up-to-date, and relevant in a high-speed art climate.
It's an ongoing challenge to keep artists in the state, who want to live and work in Delaware, but perhaps that's not as big an issue as it seems. After all, Delaware is the oldest state in the Union, and with their humble dispatch, they've gotten by just fine. Maybe Delaware is a place for people who want to slow down and get work done.
To learn more about Morgan Hamilton's work, visit his website.