EYE TO EYE Photographs and Projects Mary Beth Meehan

Annye Pitts-Wiley, 2018. Fernando, 2015.

(July 2021 UPDATE: A series of exhibition related programming is now available here, waterfire.org/eyetoeye-programming)

WaterFire Providence presents EYE TO EYE Photographs and Projects Mary Beth Meehan at the WaterFire Arts Center (WFAC), an exhibition of work from all four of Meehan’s most recent in-depth projects – from Brockton, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island, to Newnan, Georgia, to her newest project and book on Silicon Valley, California. A collaborative installation, ANNYE RAYE PITTS: WITNESS an installation by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley and Mary Beth Meehan will be on display in the Visitor Center Gallery. This exhibition will be at the WFAC from Wednesday, June 30 – Sunday, August 22, 2021. There will be an artist reception, open to the public, on Thursday, July 15, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Hours below.)

The exhibition is made possible in part by the support of BankNewport.

Mary Beth Meehan is an independent photographer, writer, and educator, who has spent more than twenty years embedding herself in communities across the United States. Beginning in her native New England, and continuing in the Midwest, the American South, and Silicon Valley, her work, which combines image, text, and large-scale public installation, stems from her belief in a collaborative process that should function in and for the communities it reflects. Co-opting the scale of celebrity and advertising, Meehan’s portrait banners activate public spaces and spark conversations among and about the people who inhabit them. 

“I’m so honored and grateful that WaterFire has brought my past three projects in American cities together under their roof, including a new collaboration with Jonathan Pitts-Wiley. It feels like a homecoming and also a meditation on how the work has grown and what might happen next. I can’t wait for the celebration to unfold. With much gratitude, WaterFire!” said Mary Beth Meehan.

Mary Beth was included in the 2015 – 2016 NetWorks Rhode Island catalog and this exhibition continues WaterFire Providence’s partnership with NetWorks RI Executive Producer Joseph A. Chazan, M.D. WaterFire Providence and the WaterFire Arts Center are committed to highlighting the work of Rhode Island based artists and showcasing their work locally in an effort to tell the story of the impact of their work both here in Rhode Island and nationally. 

In Fall of 2017, Mary Beth was invited to hold an artist’s residency with the Stanford Arts Initiative and Stanford’s Department of Communications, to study Silicon Valley as a human community. During her time there, Meehan and Stanford Professor Fred Turner produced “Seeing Silicon Valley: Life inside a Fraying America,” to understand, and visualize, what life was like for the millions of residents of that mythic landscape who don’t make the news. Photographs and stories from the Silicon Valley project are collected in the new book Seeing Silicon Valley published in 2021 by the University of Chicago Press. Seeing Silicon Valley will be available for purchase in the store at the WaterFire Arts Center in partnership with Symposium Books.

“Mary Beth Meehan’s concern over the past two decades has been to help us truly see the humanity and individuality of our richly diverse communities. The WaterFire Arts Center is pleased to present work from all four of Meehan’s in-depth community portrait projects” says Barnaby Evans, creative director and co-CEO of WaterFire Providence, “In this time of a much needed re-examination of our society’s failure to assure equity and justice for all, we hope these portraits can contribute to this important on-going conversation. The WaterFire Arts Center will be producing a series of talks and community discussions that will extend and amplify the ethos and impact of Mary Beth Meehan’s photographs and projects.” 

Rich with public and personal history that offers a look into the past and serves as timely commentary on the present, ANNYE RAYE PITTS: WITNESS is an over seven decade chronicle of American life through the eyes of the late Annye Raye Pitts, a community activist, educator, and singer who, in 1959, left the oppression of her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, to seek freedom and opportunity for herself and her children in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Created by acclaimed photographer Mary Beth Meehan and Ms. Pitts’ grandson, photographer and storyteller Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, ANNYE RAYE PITTS: WITNESS explores a captivating swath of American history through the eyes, words, and personal effects of a daughter of the Great Migration. This exhibition centers around the thoughts, meditations, and critical observations of a woman who both embraced and challenged American realities and the notion of the American Dream.

“Beyond being a fashionable and active member of her community, my grandmother was an engaged historian, documentarian and citizen. It has been such an honor and a pleasure to work with Mary Beth in using these artifacts and personal effects to celebrate my grandmother’s incredible journey from Alabama to Rhode Island.” said Jonathan Pitts-Wiley.

A special thanks to Art at Watson, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, iolabs, and Sign Design.

EYE TO EYE Photographs and Projects Mary Beth Meehan will run June 30 – August 22, 2021 The exhibit is free for all, donations encouraged. The WaterFire Arts Center hours are: Wednesday – Sunday, 10:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m, Thursday 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Please note the WFAC will be closed Sunday, July 4, 2021.

About the author

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Over the last 10+ years, alongside some incredible co-workers and volunteers, I've worked to build the organization that WaterFire Providence is today. As Director of Creative Services, my team and I work on visual communications, graphic design, the visitor experience, merchandising as well as project management for programming at the WaterFire Arts Center. Being a part of the 'Rhode Island' experience for tens of thousands of people is incredible and I have an intense pride in place for both Downtown Providence and the Valley neighborhood.

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