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Posted July 9, 2021 | By Julie Garisto, Special to Ocala Gazette

Appleton photo exhibition focuses on community participation

Smartphone cameras aren’t just for social media selfies. They allow us to unleash our inner artiste, to capture everything from expressive portraits to landscapes to dewdrops on leaves.

The ever-advancing technology of phone cameras empowers everyday photographers to experiment and tell stories through visual imagery – a resource tapped by The Appleton Museum of Art while coordinating its Mobile Photography Contest Exhibition over the past seven years.   

Since its first show in 2014, the Appleton’s annual photo exhibition provides free access to people of all ages. It’s one more example of a trend toward increased community engagement at fine-art museums.

According to the American Alliance of Museums, a museum’s engagement should convey “a center where people gather to meet and converse and an active, visible player in civic life, a haven, and a trusted incubator of change.”

In recent years, the Appleton, a campus of the College of Central Florida, has collaborated with the Magnolia Art Exchange and the Marion Cultural Alliance to enhance Ocala’s cultural presence. The museum has expanded its educational offerings and worked with the city and Magnolia to commission muralist Alex Brewer, known professionally as HENSE, to paint the side of Seminole Feed, which has since been painted over.

This year, an anonymous donor has sponsored the museum’s First Free Saturday, which allows free entry on the first Saturday of the month through December.

Victoria Billig, the Appleton’s assistant director, initiated the Appleton Museum Mobile Photography Exhibition— which she emphasizes is a collaborative endeavor.

“When I came to the Appleton, I was really personally interested in what was going on Instagram and how people were using mobile photography,” Billig said, adding that she was impressed with “how they were pushing the boundaries of creativity and what we think a cell phone photo could be.”

Inspired by a community-based ekphrastic exhibition at the Nova-Southeastern University Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale – where she used to work as an education associate – Billig noticed the excitement generated by artists of all skill levels and ages. The popularity of the show demonstrated to her the potential of a more open and accessible art exhibit.

“Every single photo that’s submitted gets printed and we put it on view, and that’s something that we’re really proud of,” Billig said, adding that other museums’ mobile photo contests print the winners only or display photos in a slideshow on a television screen.

This year’s all-inclusive phone-photo exhibition will be up from July 13 through Aug 8. Entries by all the participants will be hung throughout the exhibit space, and a winners wall will display enlarged prints taken by the winners of four categories: “Adventure,” “Horse & Hound,” “Black & White” and “Heroes.”

A total of 630 photos have been submitted by 170 participants to the museum. Their works will be exhibited in a 576-square-foot space in a “clothesline picture display.”

All of the entries will be judged by Tino Grana, curator of the gallery at World Equestrian Center Ocala. The professional photographer exhibits large-scale color and black-and-white photographs at the newly opened facility.

“Tino will be going through each of the four categories and picking two winners from each one,” Billig explained. “We asked him to take into consideration the category, so we’re looking for the best response to the prompt, but then we’re also looking for creativity and originality and thoughtfulness, and obviously artistic merit to some extent.”

That said, proven artistic skill or experience has never been a prerequisite to submit images to the Appleton’s mobile photo show.

“We tried to make it very approachable to everyone,” Billig added. “Everyone has a photo of their dog on their phone or someone in their life who inspires them, a hero, but then we also try to pick things that are a little more creatively stimulating such as the black-and-white category. In the past, we’ve done color and shape, and we’ve done abstract photos. So we always try to have something in there that maybe provokes a little more creativity.”

Appleton Museum of Art is located at 4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd. in Ocala. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sundays. Parking is free. For information, call 352-291-4455 or visit

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