Thursday, February 10, 2011

Means and Ends and Sharing the Love

It seems as if I see a new campaign on Kickstarter every couple of days, for everything from individual projects promoted by my friends to Robocop statues, people trying to finance getting their photo exhibits to the Smithsonian, the Monumental Kitty, cool book projects, just about anything you can think of. All worthy proects, I'm sure, some more worthy than others perhaps, depending on who you ask. My heart sinks a little every time I see a new one, in part because I don't have a red cent to donate to anybody's project. I barely have the werewithal to get my own work made and documented and promoted and shipped and exhibited. I keep asking myself, is this really the new paradigm? Are we all really supposed to walk around with our hands out, nickel and diming our peers and colleagues and Facebook friends in order to get our pet projects off the ground?

Please don't misunderstand - I'm not being critical of Kickstarter as a method for bankrolling artistic endeavors. I'm happy to see anybody make a success of it. I don't begrudge anybody whatever they can raise for their projects. But if this is the New Way We Get Things Done, I'm not sure I'm cut out for it. I've always considered it up to me to make things happen for myself. If there's a grant to apply for, I'm happy to do that and take my chances. I've found that the payoff for me is more or less equal to the effort and ambition I'm willing to put into promoting myself. If I had more of a killer instinct I'd be mining the contacts and maneuvering through the network with the smoothest of operators.

Now let me try to connect this thread with that tug I feel in my stomach every time I see another artist trying to get their personal project funded. There are a number of non-profit art centers in the Detroit area. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, there are the Detroit Artists Market, Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, Anton Art Center, Paint Creek Center for the Arts, The Scarab Club, Starkweather Arts Center, Ann Arbor Art Center, Woods Gallery in the Huntington Woods Library, Grosse Pointe Art Center, Downriver Council for the Arts, and I'm probably missing some. They all have different facilities and boards and exhibition directors and committees and goals and missions. Some have educational programs or offer scholarships or sponsor art fairs and other events in addition to their exhibitions. What they all have in common are hard working staff members and boards and volunteers who work long hours for low pay or nothing at all, to provide exhibition and sales opportunities for artists all over Michigan. The best of them have longevity and excellent track records and proud histories and a desire to keep showing and promoting the best work that they can find. They're doing this in the face of the same financial pressures felt by everyone in the region, and have to work constantly to raise the money it takes to keep buildings open and the galleries lit.

While I can't speak for all non-profits, I can say that with the exception of three gallery shows in the last two years that have had nominal entry fees to cover expenses, PCCA does not charge artists anything up front to review submissions or exhibit work. We take a commission on works sold, to pay the costs of mounting and lighting and promoting shows. We work hard to get your work seen by as many new eyes as possible. We earn every penny we take in commissions. Some shows sell better than others, but we've had a pretty decent track record in the last couple of years. We've shown a variety of work, from straightforward representational painting to a group ceramics show to amazing collages and sculptures to the current baffler by Chris Samuels and Ian Swanson. Everything gets the same energy and promotion and effort. I just had the privilege of discussing Chris and Ian's show with a group of area realtors and business professionals, and had fun watching them respond as I talked about what they were seeing. I love seeing the nickel drop.

Okay, bit of a tangent, but it's all in the service of my larger point. Here's my challenge: The next time you see an appeal on Kickstarter for your friend's cool art project or publication or a crazy Robot statue that some people think is really stupid and other people think is the coolest idea ever, consider writing a check to one of the many excellent non-profits in the area. Any one of them would be thrilled and delighted to receive a donation of any size. And stop in to see their shows. Hundreds of Detroit artists have gotten their starts with these organizations. Hundreds more will get their first exposure through them. Most of them have simple, no cost procedures for submitting your work for review by their exhibition committees, and would be happy to consider your work. They're all worth a little love and attention. I've made it easy for you. Go ahead, click on the links. See what they're all up to, and consider sending them a couple of bucks. They're at least as cool as a giant fictional Robot.

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