Purrrformance Piece

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Picture 6

by Donna Fleischer

Rhonda Lieberman is breaking down barriers between art and humanitarianism with her Cats-in-Residence Program at Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT. Originally part of the greater exhibit The Cat Show at White Columns Gallery in New York, the Cats-in-Residence Program is part performance piece, part interactive exhibit and part cat adoption program.

For the latest iteration of the exhibit, rescue cats were carefully chosen from Connecticut Cat Connection and placed in a kitty playground, a large netted circle filled with food, toys and obstacle courses. Architects Gia Wolff, John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan designed the habitat. Other artists contributed sculptures on which the cats can play. The netting surrounding the structure is double bound to make climbing easier for the cats, and a variety of structures allow for additional exploration.

Viewers can stand outside and observe the cats or enter the playground to spend time with them. Participants who bond with a particular cat can adopt him or her. In 2013, during the first run of the exhibit, 25 cats were successfully adopted.

This integration of art and rescue is meant to address animal overpopulation in urban areas. Lieberman gives the public a space where they can comfortably interact with rescue animals, outside of the cage-lined facilities where most strays are kept. In Lieberman’s own experience, a positive environment can make all the difference when people are deciding whether or not to adopt. In her writing about the exhibit, she comments, “I’ve always been passionate about animal rescue, and this was one way I thought I could use my ‘skills’ to help more cats than I could on a one-by-one basis. Plus there’s something magical about hanging out with cats anywhere. They’re aesthetic and fun; so an art space is a perfect fit.”

So far, four cats have already been adopted from the Real Art Ways exhibit. The remaining tabby-, calico-, and tiger-coated domestic and American shorthairs generally sleep, play, observe or avoid Georgi, a particularly feisty cat ruling over the netted play space. A handout on cat etiquette reminds visitors to behave respectfully, and only nine individuals are permitted in the enclosure at one time. A volunteer attendant stands by ready to answer questions and to facilitate adoptions.

After the exhibit closes on December 7 at Real Art Ways, it will travel to 356 Mission in Los Angeles.


Image Credit: Photos by Steve Laschever.

Donna Fleischer is a contributing writer on the arts in Connecticut for Art New England, an independent writer and copy editor, and an award-winning poet.


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