Talk About Art

-by eric martin 

How can you help bring more cultural life to your community? This is a question I have asked myself and discussed with my friends.

As a coffee shop owner with a gallery space in my business, I am especially interested in the arts and in a lively interest in culture in my community, but I am not alone.

For every one person who wishes out loud that there were more opportunities to show art and more places to see art there are ten people who would take advantages of these opportunities – if they existed. Small scale art events are just as good as large scale art events in my opinion.

Often a good little gallery show can be more stimulating than a vast museum collection. The focus of a smaller show can be more easily concentrated and cohesive than larger shows and can make for an intimate experience. In a gallery setting we can feel often that we are in the presence of the mind of the artist.

Small scale art shows, in a gallery, are as valid and relevant to our sense of cultural experience as larger shows. This is worth keeping in mind when contemplating how to best support, promote and participate in your local arts scene.

Recently in the Antelope Valley of California a community of artists have undertaken some very interesting arts projects. These projects, presented in unique contexts, have successfully created “traditional” cultural experiences in non-traditional contexts.

A group of artists consisting of painters, ceramic artists, and photographers put on a show and workshop based in one of the painter’s houses. The event was open to the public and served to draw in the community at large and to display the fact that people are doing the work of creativity in the Antelope Valley – in their homes and private lives, and they are willing to share that work.

Another project takes theatre into an unlikely space – a private garage. The Antelope Valley Thespians consist of a group of people dedicated to the idea of theatre as an essentially socially engaged medium which can happen anywhere there is a will.

 These are just two examples of small scale culture, where the arts are brought to life in a community of people who desire opportunities to engage in the arts.

Success, for these cultural events, is measured in the same general way that success is measured for any audience-based event. Did anyone come? Of course, the expectations and the specific threshold numbers are adjusted to the scale of the event and the size of the venue. But the challenge for a garage theatre or an art gallery is identical to that of a large playhouse or museum.

In a word, the challenge is communication.

People won’t attend events they don’t know about.

People won’t buy tickets to a show if they have not heard that there is a show going on.

Somehow the fact that these events exist must be communicated to those folks who might be interested in attending.

For a museum like the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art: Los Angeles) or the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art: New York City), the public already knows that the institutions exist. The challenge then becomes one of keeping people interested in what is happening now. In the case of smaller groups or galleries or smaller museums, the challenge is larger because there is less awareness that they exist at all.

These cultural purveyors are asking themselves the same question that opened this discussion: How can we help to support and promote the cultural life of our community?

In a way, we have already answered this question. As artists, we can just do things.

Put on a show. Gather a group and host a performance. Open our houses. Invite painters to show work at our businesses. Bring friends to our favorite galleries in our communities.

Talk.

Blog.

Write.

As we said, the small scale cultural events are as valid and relevant as large scale events. This is also true of how we can spread the word about cultural events in our communities.

Two, three or five more people at a gallery opening can make a real difference as to whether or not that show meets its goals for success.

In the end, culture is about the picture we keep in our heads that describes what kind of creatures we humans are, what kind of minds. So the ultimate cultural success lies in the act of communication, in sharing an idea.

For all of us who want to live in a culturally rich and culturally alive community, we can help to make that wish come true by making a simple effort to pass on the idea, pass on the word that an idea is on display at the gallery down the street, or blog about where to find this idea or that idea in a garage or coffee shop near you.

eric martin is a local writer of the antelope valley, slinging coffee at Sagebrush Cafe in the daylight hours.

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One thought on “Talk About Art

  1. It’s difficult to compare galleries to museums. Most galleries are for profit venues that rely on sales to ensure their existence. Some are non-profit, but most are relegated to commission based venues that aren’t interested in artistic pursuits. Museums, while non-profit, are highly political arenas with educational missions and boards that hold them accountable to financial ends.

    The important distinction here is that arts venues should always put weight on their artist interactions. What are arts institutions without artists? Artists bring vision, creativity, and innovation—not to mention drive in the unknown. The relationship with the artistic community will tell you a lot about a specific venue. When MOCA crumbled-the artists rallied—of course it remains to be seen what happens from the fallout. Will the phoenix rise?

    While it is easy to evaluate success solely by attendance numbers, the arts are not so simple or logical. In my experience, people abhor contemporary art. It’s new, different, not validated by history or encyclopedic museums. It’s a challenge. Some of the least attended museum shows are contemporary in nature-conceptual, not of the status quo. One of my favorite exhibitions was the Lawrence Weiner exhibition at MOCA. It was brilliant-and no one was there. The point is that sometimes it’s not attendance that makes a successful show-its content. If the content is good-the show is good.

    The issue is one of engagement. As museums and art institutions we have the responsibility to educate, to inform, not simply entertain. If it were simply about numbers it wouldn’t matter what we were saying. Even if one person attends a show, and is moved, or challenged, excited or involved, then we’ve done our job. It’s a difficult issue to accept, but if your goal is to encourage the arts rather than hock 200 artworks, it’s just part of doing what you love. At the museum, contemporary shows are our least attended, and yet the most appreciated. What part do you value? It’s also an issue of trusting the public to appreciate the unknown.

    Marketing is a huge component to spreading the word about art events in the area. Without a concerted effort, the awareness will not exist. Communication is unparalleled in exposure and attendance as well as understanding the needs of the community and how to better address them. There is a flow between planning events and marketing to a community. Marketing is not simply output, it’s input as well.

    The only way to sleep at night is to do the best that we can. It’s a greater struggle in the AV, but there are people who are trying and willing to make the effort. Eventually it will find its way to this area, but in the meantime it’s up to those of us who care to continue to believe in what we do.

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