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Athens Photo Project opens exhibition with focus on farms

APP artists Mary Schommer and Tammy McCauley spent an afternoon with Pete and Margie Shew of Shew’s Grassfed Beef, as part of the experiential learning component of APP’s new social enterprise, The Photo Co-op. (Photo by Erin LaBelle)

ATHENS, Ohio — The Athens Photo Project recently installed an exhibition at The Market on State, 1002 East State St.

The new exhibition, “Athens Farmers Market: The Hands That Feed Us,” features a body of work created through a partnership between the Athens Photo Project and the Athens Farmers Market.

The exhibition features work from 22 Athens Photo Project (APP) artists. The team of artists spent six weeks exploring and documenting many of the local farms and businesses that comprise the Athens Farmers Market.

The exhibition will be on view at The Market on State through April.

The exhibition celebrates the work of the local farmers and producers that make up the Athens Farmers Market, and illustrates the beauty of the market itself, according to an APP press release.

Athens Photo Project artist Joe Johnson photographs Paw Paw trees at Integration Acres as part of the training program preparing APP artists to work in The Photo Co-op, the nonprofit’s new social enterprise. (Photo by Erin LaBelle)

The Farmers Market is described as an important part of the Athens community since the early 1970s, connecting small local farms and producers directly with members of the community.

“It was the center of the community,” said Randy Lewis, an APP artist. “People came out to see each other, even farmers, they’d come off the fields to see each other. It’s becoming what it used to be. It’s a way to counteract the internet. A chance for connection and reconnection.”

The partnership between APP and the Farmers Market allowed APP artists to get an up-close look at the lives of local farmers. “I have learned farming isn’t as easy as it looks,” said Alissa Agresta, an APP artist. “There aren’t many family farms anymore. Those who stay to fight on are brave. It isn’t just about making money; it’s a legacy that they want to pass down to the next generation.”

This partnership provided APP artists with an opportunity to give back to their community. By making the artwork they produced during the project available to the farmers, APP artists have generated a set of images that local farmers can use to share their stories with the public and increase awareness about the work they do each day, APP officials said.

The Farmers Market exhibition was produced by artists participating in a new social enterprise program at APP, the APP Photo Co-op. The social enterprise aims to give APP artists the tools necessary to work as professional artists and empower advanced APP artists to become agents of change in their community, the APP officials said.

From left, APP artist Joe Johnson, volunteer Dionne Alston and APP artist Carolee Miller document life at Integration Acres during APP’s Athens Farmers Market project this fall. The project offered an experiential learning component of training for advanced APP artists who will work as photographers in the new APP social enterprise, The Photo Co-op. (Photo by Erin LaBelle)

The partnership with the Athens Farmers Market provided the artists in the Photo Co-op with valuable experience as they work to build a social enterprise that will provide similar services to clients throughout Southeastern Ohio, APP officials said. Start-up funds for the social enterprise are being provided by Buckeye Hills Regional Development Council and the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation.

The social enterprise is being developed in partnership with Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

Athens Photo Project is described as a community of artists dedicated to using photography as a tool for self-expression, personal growth and social change. APP was founded in 2000 by photographer and mental health advocate Elise Sanford in response to the marginalization and stigma she felt followed individuals into the community after the deinstitutionalization of state hospitals such as the Athens Mental Health Center (previously known as the Athens Asylum), APP officials said.

APP programs are provided in partnership with mental health and social service organizations to ensure all community members have the opportunity to experience the transformative power of the arts when they need it most, APP officials said.

Each year, more than 50 artists, photography instructors and volunteers join together to participate in APP’s 30-week adult photography program, which is offered as a component of regional mental health support and advocacy, APP officials said. These and other arts and mental health initiatives are hosted at APP’s Studio located at 434 W. Union St., Athens.

Farmer Ed Perkins at Sassafras Farms. (Photo by Debra Norton)

Turmeric from Green Edge Gardens at Athens Farmers Market. (Photo by Stephen Rounthwaite)

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