While Southside Gallery director Will Cook never considered himself an artist, he has always loved art.
Working as the director for the past 17 years, Cook uses his gallery to promote both local and regional artists. Many of the artists he showcases are from Mississippi. On the Southside Gallery’s website, he shares all artists who the gallery has featured.
Cook personally selects each artist that gets to exhibit work in the gallery. Currently, Andrew Blanchard and Charlie Buckley –– classmates of Cook’s from when they all attended the University of Mississippi together –– are currently on display in the Southside Gallery.
However, Cook said he does not play favorites with artists displayed in his gallery.
“I love all the art that comes through, but because we knew each other and our careers grew with each other, both Drew and Charlie have a special place for me,” Cook said.
Cook feels he has a bond with all the artists he displays, not just Blanchard and Buckley. Carlyle Wolfe and William Dunlap are other notable artists who have been featured at the gallery.
According to Cook, Dunlap –– who has art on display on the second floor of the gallery –– has done a lot to help his gallery stay open.
Southside Gallery experienced troubles like many other local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cook.
“Right as spring break ended and the reports about COVID came out, nobody came to the gallery. Everyone was scared and unsure what the long-term effects were,” Cook said. “I had to find ways to showcase art in a time of chaos.”
As a result, he came up with other ways to showcase exhibits. He allowed people to come by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, but soon, he had to close because of lockdown restrictions.
“My gallery is not considered essential, so when the lockdowns came, the gallery was also closed,” Cook said. “I wish my work was considered essential, but I understand.”
While he was unable to show the work of the local artist or sell paintings, Cook did find ways to show off art. After trying different ideas, he decided to use the entrance window as his solution and have drive-by shows.
Cook thinks art is essential for a place like Oxford, but visual art has yet to catch up to literature.
“For a while, visual art took the back seat to literature, but over the past years, visual arts has really started to grow,” Cook said.
He is unsure if visual arts will ever catch up to literature, but remains hopeful and optimistic. Cook says there are many famous painters from the city. Artists such as Theora Hamblet and Carlyle Wolfe rival the great writers.
“It’s hard to compare the two,” Cooks said. “The two arts are so different it is just going to take more time and exposure for growth.”
Art is and will always be a part of Cook’s life. He grew up loving art and now has spent years working in the industry. Cook said he is doing what he loves and interacting with people who share the same interest as him. He believes art is crucial for everything.
“It is really important for our culture and civilization,” Cook said. “It may not be for everyone, but I think if art were not here, our lives would be a lot emptier.”