Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Opportunities for Local Artists

I know that a lot of local artists feel underrepresented by the larger institutions, but it seems to me that a lot of artists don't take advantage of the opportunities that are available. I have seen this happen time and time again in numerous art organizations throughout the city; it is not solely limited to the larger institutions. I have discussed this before here.

Some people don't participate because they feel that the opportunities offered are beneath them. They aren't interested in participating if they cannot hang their work in an upscale gallery or museum setting. It's as if they are waiting for someone to discover them and offer them that dream space or nationally-acclaimed exhibit in which to showcase their work. But how can anyone do so or even know that there are these amazing artists making this great work if no one sees it anywhere?! As artists, we have to promote ourselves - we cannot expect anyone to just stumble into us.

Others are disappointed with what little is offered, and I will openly admit that the institutions could do better, but we artists need to uphold our end as well by being involved, prompt, and professional. If we do not either take advantage of opportunities or make it known as to why we are not taking advantage of them, then fewer and fewer opportunities will be made available because the feedback is so poor or the interest just doesn't seem to be there.

Also, a lot of artists tend to forget that the institutions don't necessarily owe us anything. They don't have to showcase or support local art if that focus is not keeping with their goals and directives. Some of them, having been pressured by local artists to do so, have offered programs directed at promoting local artists, but as a result a lot of these programs feel like an afterthought created to appease the art community and win back its support. Some such programs are even geared more towards creating competition rather than fostering collaboration to bring about a thriving and vibrant art community. If an institution is not focused on local art, then local artists should not try to impose that focus upon it. Likewise, that institution should publicly acknowledge where its focus lies and not purport to support or exist as a major resource for local artists.

As long as local artists complain about what is offered without doing anything towards those opportunities, it will only further the rift between the local artists and the institutions. The local artists come across as whiny, demanding and difficult to work with, playing into the cycle in which they are excluded because the institutions don't want to try to work with them. It's one thing to complain - it's another to act. Don't get me wrong, criticizing the existing system is a great way to incite change, but only if you're willing to follow through. Bickering privately amongst friends and colleagues won't actually resolve anything.

Simply put, if the passion for local art is not there, on behalf of both the institutions and the local artists themselves, then we need to do more to foster it. We need to come together in a spirit of collaboration to incite change rather regarding ourselves in constant competition for the few things that are available. We need to take advantage of what is offered and work to better the opportunities available rather than merely complaining amongst ourselves about what we don't have.

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