New Transylvania Morlan Gallery director sees art as heart of community

For Anthony Mead, supporting local artists runs deeper than buying a few paintings.

Mead, who co-founded a community art studio in Michigan nine years ago, recently began as director of Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery — where he plans to showcase locally created works along with those from national and international artists.

“The local arts community has always been really important to me,” Mead said. “Some of our best work as human beings is done within a small community. That’s how things grow and develop and branch out.”

Mead, who grew up in rural southwest Michigan, earned his bachelor’s degree in printmaking at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. That’s where he co-founded Dinderbeck Studios, a community space providing equipment and facilities for artmaking. It’s also where he first got involved with exhibiting artists’ work.

Earlier this year, Mead earned his Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University in studio art and worked as a curatorial assistant for the Tempe Center for the Arts. He helped organize shows both in the gallery and at locations around town like City Hall, where he showcased local talent.

He moved to Lexington in August because his wife, artist Jessica Page, is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Kentucky. He was excited to learn about the Morlan job, which opened after longtime former director Andrea Fisher relocated out West. “It’s right in line with what it is that I want to be doing and have been doing for many years now,” Mead said.

Besides running Morlan Gallery, he teaches a Digital Design for Arts Administration course at UK and creates his own works, which run the gamut from printmaking to sculpture. Most recently he has been working on large wall murals using laser-cut stencils and a dry medium suspended in water that grows and decays on the walls. The works are inspired by how our historical relationship with fire has impacted ecology as well as our own physiology and psychology.

While Mead has yet to decide on themes for Morlan Gallery programming next term, he’s interested in spotlighting contemporary artists while incorporating themes like ecology of a changing planet, fact and fiction in the digital age, and art’s historical relationship with technology.

Mead additionally pointed out how he’d like to continue Morlan Gallery’s longstanding tradition of bringing in guest curators. “I by no means feel like my opinion is the only opinion out there in the world. I want to bring in diverse voices that can lend to different conversations.”

As for the Lexington arts community, Mead said it’s “rich and active” with packed exhibition openings where visitors are buying works. Plus, the city’s size helps up-and-coming artists get recognized by curators and gallery directors who often attend these shows. “There are established artists who have been here for a long time,” Mead said. “There are also emerging artists who are coming onto the scene all the time.”

Growing the local arts scene helps a town develop a sense of place and pride. “I very much believe that art is at the center of community,” Mead said.