Sarah Schmidt has evolved both as a curator and an artist since launching the recurring event, which is designed to establish an animation foothold in the Midwest

Animation, much like comic book art, sometimes doesn’t get its due respect in the fine art world, with some hewing to the archaic idea that works frequently associated with children couldn’t have anything to offer a more mature audience.

Even while enrolled at CCAD, Sarah Schmidt experienced this divide. Studying animation, she was often the lone person in her department who would attend fine art critique nights, occasionally ending an animation group meeting early in order to make the evening events.

“And I felt like I was always the only animation person there,” said Schmidt, who founded the animation show Malt Adult in 2016 as a way to introduce a larger local audience to the form; the event celebrates its third anniversary with a free screening at Gateway Film Center on Saturday, Dec. 7. “On those critique nights, one person brings a piece and then everybody talks about it, and so I did that with a piece of animation I was working on (a short that depicted a puppy and a kitten fighting aliens in outer space), eventually, and that was weird because people were definitely like, ‘How do we even talk about this?’”

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While still a scrappy, self-funded venture (Schmidt intends to apply for grants in 2020), Malt Adult has increased its profile steadily, attracting shorts from nationally known animators while continuing to highlight work being done here in town. For the anniversary screening, Malt Adult will show four shorts that have been submitted for Oscar consideration, with the animations broken up into four blocks that start light and gradually progress into potentially traumatic subjects such as pedophilia and eating disorders. Other shorts are more surreal (a trippy work Schmidt described as including poodles and puzzle pieces) or playful (one that relives a person’s life from the point of view of all the insects they’ve killed), and all highlight the range and depth of the form, which is well-established in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and gradually finding footing here.

“There’s really nothing like [Malt Adult] in the Midwest,” said Schmidt, who has also taken the event on the road for packed screenings in New York and LA but remains adamant about staying and growing the scene locally. “I have friends who’ve moved [to those cities] from Columbus who said, ‘You need to move here and do this.’ And in my head I’m like, ‘You already have all of these resources.’ … It made me think about it, but also happy to do it here because even though attendance might not be insane, it feels more impactful.”

Malt Adult has also fueled an evolution within Schmidt, growing the sense of possibility she sees within the form as she’s been exposed to wildly different animated shorts.

Referencing her college-era kittens v. aliens short, she said, “I made something where I was like, ‘Hopefully Cartoon Network thinks this is cute!’” Now she’s embracing the form as a means to work through more deeply personal issues.

“My style has changed, as well as the content,” said Schmidt, who has been experimenting with stop-motion paper animation. “It’s more personal, and my style is just loosening up.”

Schmidt’s decision to work with physical collage rather than animating on her laptop is partially driven by a desire to keep a degree of distance between work and art. With a laptop open, Schmidt said she’s always one or two clicks away from her email, which isn’t as much of an issue while cutting and pasting paper. Besides, with the more personal direction of the storytelling, she appreciates having a more direct connection between the artwork and her hands.

Even in a curatorial role, Schmidt has continued to stretch herself, increasingly looking to shorts that can upend audience expectations, as well as her own.

“I know even when I think of [animation], I struggle to think beyond narrative work, which is what we’re all pretty much used to,” she said. “My challenge the past handful of these screenings has been to break that mold in my head and add more of these experimental works that are less narrative and maybe harder to chew on, but which can also put you in a really weird headspace, digging up emotions you wouldn’t expect to have dug up by animation, which I find is really valuable.”