In honor of Pride Month, ArtsUnited celebrates the work of LGBT artists at the second annual United & Proud art show, which is on display from now until July 6 at The Pride Center in Wilton Manors.

Since 1999, ArtsUnited has been a mainstay for local LGBT arts and culture.  According to their website, the nonprofit is dedicated to “[using] the arts to break down historical barriers preventing lesbians and gays from contributing fully and openly to the cultural, social and economic success of South Florida.”

Peter Meyerhoefer, President of ArtsUnited, discussed what visitors can expect at United & Proud:  “As a diverse community, we produce diverse art.”  He added that “people are amazed by the quality. We are not a juried organization so we have people of all talent levels.  But when we present a show, the quality is very high.  Many of our members show in commercial galleries throughout Florida and the country.”

On June 14, the public gathered for an artist reception where awards were presented to the following works:  Best of Show—Alfred Phillips’ painting Service Alley; Best Painting—Robert Saunders’ Thinking Back; Best Photography—Paul Domenick’s Footprints; Best 3D—Angel Giraldo’s stoneware piece Taino Soy #9; and Best Mixed Print—Gerard Delaney’s The Price of Popularity. Award recipients have been invited to display their work at Art Basel 2012.

The judges also recognized Frank Crowley’s mixed media Liquid Nostalgia, Gregory Little’s painting As I am, and Ken Merrifield’s photograph Gay Pride I.

Other intriguing works include the metallic cityscape of Francisco Sheuat’s Urban Consumption; Jose E. Arce Jr.’s pop art reminiscent Reptilian Fairy and Punky; and Hildana Ciser’s depiction of two figures entwined in Tango.

Board Member Jane Kreinberg’s memorable photographs are also featured in the show.  Here Comes the Brides showcases two brides in white dresses with their mouths open in mid-yell, holding up their bouquets in exultation.  Cypress Serenity is a meditative study of cypress trees.

Kreinberg noted how she first became involved with ArtsUnited:  “When I moved to Fort Lauderdale three years ago, I had never exhibited any of my art. One of the board members saw my photographs and strongly encouraged me to start showing them. So I joined ArtsUnited, started showing my work, and have never looked back. I've gotten to know many of the member artists, who are very supportive of each other, which I love. I became a board member in January of 2011, because I wanted to support the organization that has supported me.”

This kind of support is even more vital when one considers Board Member John Coppola’s comments about the current state of LGBT artists in the mainstream art world:  “There have been very few museum exhibitions that collectively surveyed LGBT artists, [in] the way [that]…museums have looked at women or black artists. Shows of individual gay and lesbian artists, such as Rauschenberg or Ellsworth Kelly, have usually been presented without context, and often provoked controversy, most notably, Mapplethorpe in the 1990s.”

However,  Coppola also observed recent progress:  “On a positive note, the New York Board of Regents just chartered the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the first of its kind.”

But what is gay art?

“There is a perception about what art by the LGBT community should represent,” said  Meyerhoefer.  “In 2007, I had a Pride show for Compass Community Center in Lake Worth. A reporter thought ‘it would be gay art.’  I said ‘No it is art by gay artists.’ The second issue is does [identifying as a gay artist] help or hurt your career. In putting shows together, I have met resistance from artists that didn’t want to be labeled as ‘gay.’ They wanted their art to stand on its own, which I agree with. But there are collectors whose art collection is based on supporting LGBT artists. Just like a collector may only collect photographs or work by street artists or by Cuban artists.”

Meyerhoefer added that members “[want] opportunities [to] show their work in a non LGBT venue.”  ArtsUnited is currently searching out these venues.

When asked about how artists and art enthusiasts can participate with the organization,  Kreinberg urged them to visit “[the ArtsUnited] website. Download a membership application. Check out our upcoming events and members’ art.  Sign up for [their] email list. Volunteer to help out at events.”

As with many nonprofits, help is always needed.

“We rely on volunteers,” said Meyerhoefer.  “[and] we are branching out from just the Fort Lauderdale area… We are seeing more funding coming back to the arts, which will allow us to produce more events.”

Non-LGBT artists and art enthusiasts are also encouraged to get involved.

In fact, Meyerhoefer estimated that “about 20 percent of [their] membership is from the [non-] LGBT community.”

Kreinberg reaffirmed that ArtsUnited reaches out to everyone interested in the arts: “LGBT, gay-friendly, artists, art lovers. All are welcome.”

United & Proud Art Show
On display from June 9 – July 6, 2012
All work is for sale
The Pride Center
2040 North Dixie Highway
Wilton Manors, FL