Conversation with and photograph by Tiffany Manning
If you’ve ever met Hope McMath, you were likely struck by her elegance, and her way with words. And if you spent some time talking to her, you might also have noticed her strength and her fighting spirit. She has this super hero energy about her, which is something I have always admired. She uses her voice for the greater good. She speaks for people who don’t yet have a platform and she is on a mission to bring the arts to all people.
A lot of people knew you as the director of the Cummer Museum, but now you’re the proprietor of the Yellow House. Tell us a little about this new endeavor.
The Yellow House is a place, but more importantly it’s a concept. It’s an idea in which the arts intersect with community building. The hope is that this is a place where creative expression can flourish, where empathy is inspired and where civic activism and engagement gets sparked. It’s really intended to not only be a place where great art hangs, but also be the jumping-off point for people to find meaning and to find one another.
How did you come up with the name Yellow House?
When I first decided to lease this building and began talking to the neighbors, people would ask “where are you setting up shop?” and when I described where, three or four people referred to the space as the Yellow House. The house wasn’t painted yellow, but apparently at some point in its history it had been. But, when folks in the neighborhood were calling it the Yellow House, it was a trigger for me because I have a yellow house that means a lot to me in Toledo. My grandfather had a yellow house for sixty-two years, and he was the most important man in my life, and at his house, our family would come from all over the country to gather. It was filled with an incredible amount of love and commitment to community and volunteerism. I became politically awake there, so when people started calling it the Yellow House, I felt the naming was inevitable. The name for me symbolically is very important, but then my husband (who is always a lot smarter than me) reminded me that when Van Gogh made his first leap to becoming a full time artist, it was in the South of France in a place called the Yellow House.
Where do you see the Jacksonville art scene heading and do you see any immediate needs that we can start tackling to grow the community?
The number of people who are actively making art, whether they are hanging out at Union or Cork or at their own kitchen table, keeps on growing, which is super exciting. When I left the Cummer, I thought I knew the artists in Jacksonville, but I realized how few I really knew. I would say the same is the case when you’re dealing with the performing arts. There are just so many people practicing performance arts. I still feel we have a shortage of venues in which those artists can do their thing. It’s exciting to see galleries popping up in non-traditional spaces, whether it’s The Space Gallery or Space 42 or Makerspace. You look at a theatre group like 5 and Dime that has found a permanent home in Downtown, and you have murals popping up all over the city. All of that is really thrilling. Obviously it’s important to have places where artists can produce their work and show their work, but I feel like we are a bit behind on cultivating the audiences for all of this. Whether it’s collectors for visual arts or ticket buyers for a play, or donors for dance programs (that are too few in our community). We do a really good job these days within the schools, and I think our bigger arts organizations are doing a pretty good job cultivating corporate donors and philanthropy in general to pay attention to the arts, but there’s a whole world in-between there.
Building audiences in the broadest sense is important. I think we’ve failed in building the kind of diversity in our arts community and in our support community to really make sure we have what we need to move forward. So when we get criticized for being too white or too singular in our approach, it’s not surprising. We typically only look at support for the arts always coming from a single sliver of the community and I just don’t think that needs to be the case. I think it’s important to have a real focus on diversity and representation and a focus on developing those who can support the arts, and then quality venues for it to all play out. The sweet spot is where all of those things connect, and that is where magic happens.