A Conversation with Eric Gaard on CAM Connections

The new dinner series at Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum offers visitors a chance to experience art on a deeper level
by Addie Ladner

“I feel both lucky and privileged to be able to form a relationship with the artists I work with every day,” says Eric Gaard of Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum. “But I thought, how could I create the kind of connection I feel with our artists, for our community?” That’s how CAM Connections was born: one part experiential art, another part dinner, drinks, and good conversation, it’s an opportunity for museum supporters and fans to engage directly with artists and get a private tour of their work. 

The first CAM Connections event was held in August with photographers Alun Be and Kennedi Carter. The next one will be in November, when photographer Mikael Owunna will discuss his new work and host a 30-minute screening of the film Obi Mbu (The Primordial House): An Igbo Creation Myth, which he co-directed with Dr. Marques Redd. It touches on African mythology and the links between myths, the universe, and spirituality. John Upsal, the owner of SPREAD Catering, will serve a curated menu inspired by Owunna’s Nigerian and Swedish heritage. “The first Connections dinner we did was so successful and we can’t wait for this one,” says Gaard. “It’s a different conversation, getting to hear the artists talk about their work in a personal way, a much deeper and free way, over a meal.” We caught up with Gaard to learn more about CAM Connections below. 

What inspired these CAM Connections dinners?

They were inspired by a series of conversations with visitors and artists over the last several years. I am very privileged to have a personal connection with each artist that comes through here. Working with them, I have insight into their stories. That connection over some time is what inspired these dinners. I thought, how is it possible to recreate these connections in ways there’s a personal connection between our community and the artists?

Can you tell us what’s involved in the Connections dinners? 

The evening starts with the cocktail hour as sort of our icebreaker. The artists introduce themselves, then we do a private tour, then guests can sit down with the artists at dinner for an ongoing conversation.

How was the first one with Kennedi Carter?

It was really successful. People just loved talking to her one on one, and talking to each other, too. It’s a different, more intimate conversation. Getting to hear the artists talk about their work in a personal way, a much deeper, open, and free way, fosters this connection.

Tell us about November’s Connections with Mikael Owunna and Dr. Marques Redd. 

Mikael is a photographer out of Pittsburgh with both a Nigerian, Swedish, and American background. He studied engineering at Duke University, but is a well-established photographer with such cool work. I’ve enjoyed following him and heard he was working on this interpretive dance film on African mythology, linking the myths to the universe positively and spiritually, and I wanted to be able to show it here. In addition to the showing of his images, we will do a 30-minute film screening of that film, Obi Mbu (The Primordial House): An Igbo Creation Myth, which he co-directed with Dr. Marques Redd. They’ll talk about their experience as African American men in this unique period. It’s going to be both interesting and fun and a rare opportunity to sit down with both of these artists 

And what about the dinner part?

It’s catered by Spread John Upsal at SPREAD, who is so creative with his menus. This one will be inspired by Mikael’s Swedish and Nigerian heritage and I can’t wait.

And it’s sit down? I feel that at sit-down dinners, the conversation is always better.

Yes, these conversations become relaxed and deep with the artists engaging, the good food, and wine. And inside the museum, it’s special. 

I saw Clarence Hayward will be in in the spring? Exciting!

Yes! In March, Clarence will reveal all new work at CAM and we are pumped. That dinner will be on March 20. 

Catch CAM Connections No. 2 with Mikael Owunna and Dr. Marques Redd on Nov. 14 at 5 p.m.; From $300; 409 W. Martin Street; camraleigh.org