For Macon’s bicentennial, McEachern Art Center highlights Muscogee (Creek) history with contemporary art  

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In 2023, the city of Macon, incorporated in 1823, celebrates its bicentennial year with a campaign called Macon200. Mercer University plays a role in the celebration through its rich arts and culture offerings this fall with several performances and exhibitions partnered with Macon200.

MACON – McEachern Art Center (the MAC) will open a new gallery featuring artists Randy Kemp (Euchee/Muscogee/Choctaw) and Bobby C. Martin (Muscogee) highlighting the Indigenous heritage of the Central Georgia region called “From Ocmulgee to Okmulgee.” The show will open on Sept. 14 to coincide with Macon’s Ocmulgee Indigenous Celebration and the new downtown Firestarters Festival with a reception and artist talk beginning at 5 p.m.

“From Ocmulgee to Okmulgee” references the connection between the Ocmulgee River in Georgia and the town of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. 

The Ocmulgee River runs through Macon and is part of the ancestral homelands occupied by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for thousands of years, most notably at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park. This area is particularly special in 2023 as it looks to become Georgia’s first National Park. Okmulgee, Oklahoma, is the capital of the Muscogee Nation government today, after the Muscogee people were forcibly removed from their lands in present-day Georgia and Alabama by the United States government.

The show highlights this history with documentation on the back wall of the gallery indicating the removal routes Muscogee citizens were forced to travel to Oklahoma, and the unjust treaties signed that created the pretext for the migration. The exhibit also reflects the contemporary work of artists Martin and Kemp, both citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, upon their homecoming to their ancestral lands. 

“It’s been an honor to create a show that ties into Macon’s history,” noted Johnny Cohen, director of the MAC. “We look forward to transforming the MAC with expressions of the diverse works of both Martin and Kemp, and to bring them to Macon to strengthen their ties here.”

Bobby C. Martin is an artist/educator/facilitator who works out of his Martin Mountain Studio near West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma. His work uses family photographs and other documents to reflect snapshots of his ancestors through countless re-imaginings as monumental paintings or tiny etchings, as drawings or installations and video projects.

Randy Kemp is a multidisciplinary artist based in Arizona. His body of work includes mixed media, found objects, painting, printmaking, film, theatre, storytelling and flute performance. Kemp’s work includes both traditional tribal life and contemporary works concerning American Indian issues, themes and views. 

Cohen also explained that this show is the first to use the back gallery as a social lounge, which VIP attendees of the Firestarters Festival will have access to during the first week of the exhibit. The gallery will show “PROOF: From the Archive of ABSOLUTE COLOR” simultaneously with “From Ocmulgee to Okmulgee” and Cohen hopes to continue to utilize the back gallery for special projects.

The opening on Sept. 14 will include a reception with an artist talk from both featured artists. This event will kick off the Firestarters Festival weekend of events, funded by the Downtown Challenge 2.0 grant. Funding for these grants is made possible by the Peyton Anderson Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The rest of the festival takes place at The Grand Opera House, with film screenings of Indigenous filmmakers Thursday evening-Saturday morning culminating in the Indigo Girls performing a benefit concert for Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative on Saturday night. The Mercer community can use the code OCMULGEE for a free single movie screening ticket.

The show will be on display until Nov. 18. The MAC is located at 332 2nd Street, Macon. Admission is free and open to the public during gallery hours, 4-8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday. Media and educators may access the gallery outside of normal hours by appointment.