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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ On Sept. 26 a new art gallery opened complete with a COVID-19 aware reception for its first exhibit. The art gallery world has been hit hard by the pandemic, where social distancing and indoor spaces limit how many people can attend. Many art galleries no longer hold receptions for the exhibits, and a number of the smaller galleries have been forced to close altogether.

The new art gallery is located at 23352 West Highway 27, Suite 80 in a small strip mall in High Springs. Jessica Caldas, owner of Good News Arts, is taking a different approach to the traditional reception, and staged the event in the parking lot in front of the store. Inside viewing of the exhibits was limited to only six people at a time. All guests were required to wear a mask and practice social distancing. This outdoor/indoor event featured three outside tents with live music, live art making for the children, and refreshments for people to enjoy while waiting to see the inaugural exhibition.

Caldas is a Puerto Rican American, Florida and Georgia based artist, advocate, and activist. Her work deals with connecting personal and community narratives to larger themes and social issues. Originally based in Atlanta where her artistic work is well known, she says she has always wanted to open a gallery that would offer not only art and a place for artists to sell their work, but also offer a community arts center, a place for artists to work and a place for community groups to meet. Caldas moved to High Springs with her husband, Brian Bates, who is from the area and owns Head Waters restaurant in the same plaza.

While Caldas had not planned on opening a gallery in the midst of a pandemic, when the space became available, the couple realized it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Good News Arts will provide space for local, regional, and national artists to show challenging and engaging work tied to relevant contemporary issues.

“Artists will be chosen by the power of their practice and message, rather than the commercial viability of their work,” said Caldas.

Outside of curated exhibitions, Good News Arts will also be an open space for community members to present work via additional exhibitions, musical performances, spoken word, events, and whatever else serves the community’s needs. Caldas also wants to partner with local schools, libraries, nonprofits, and other community organizations to broaden their impact and serve the community better. She also is planning classes and workshops taught by local artists for anyone that would like to learn a particular art form

“Good News Arts is meant to be both a gallery and education space for the arts with justice at its heart,” said Caldas. “We will collaborate with artists to provide community space for creative and cultural output while working towards a more just and equitable society.”

In her advocacy work, Caldas has spent time lobbying for policy at the local level in Georgia and spent time with the YWCA Georgia Women's Policy Institute at the 2016 general assembly to assure the passage of the Rape Kit Bill and in 2016 to stop HB 51 in 2017, a bill that would have harmed the safety of sexual assault survivors on college campuses.

Caldas received her Masters of Fine Arts degree at Georgia State University in 2019 and received her BFA in printmaking from the University of Georgia in 2012. She taught at Georgia State University as an adjunct professor and Chastain Arts Center as a drawing instructor.

“In the first show I wanted to show off the incredible talent and work of the many artists I hope to collaborate with during the initial programming for the space,” said Cadas. “Many of the artists I'll be choosing to work with at Good News Arts imagine a world that is different from our own, a future that is better, or they challenge our present.”

Caldas says that many of the artists she admires draw heavily from past lives, experiences, and histories to inform their work and the creative spaces they imagine. While the first show was large with multiple artists represented, Cadas plans that future shows will focus on either a single artist with a large body of work or a small group on a similar theme.

Due to COVID-19 she also set up a virtual gallery on her website www.goodnewsarts.com where visitors can tour the gallery and view all the art, along with bios for each artist and prices for the purchase of the art. The gallery will not receive profits from the artists by taking a commission, but instead will enable artists to keep all of their sales, while providing information for donations to nonprofits and charitable organizations if the artist chooses to do so.

The first show will run until Nov. 14 and the gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m. or by appointment. Future shows, classes and workshops will be posted on the goodnewsarts.com website.

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