A little more than a week ago I was asked by The New Times to write an opinion piece on the strengths and weaknesses of the San Luis Obispo art community. It was an honor to be asked. It was written on pretty short notice and I was told that “opinion” pieces usually run in the 800 word range. Once I started writing I realized 800 words was kind of a tease and not enough for all the ideas I wanted to touch upon. I think I ended up with something in the 950 range. True to artistic behavior I wrote the majority of the piece in the middle of the night and early morning finally emailing off my column by 7am. The arts editor wanted the piece by 8-9am, so I was a little early. And very sleepy. Nonetheless it was completed. Later that night I realized there was one thing I wanted to change that I thought was very important about the Open Studio’s Tour, but alas, it was too late. That is where having a blog comes in handy because I can post the article here with my additions that did not make it to print. So, you can read the officially published article by picking up this weeks New Times or checking it out online at http://www.newtimesslo.com/commentary/2191/all-aboard-the-art-train/. Or just stay put and read the updated version right here. Naturally, I could expand on this to the length of a short novel, but I’ll spare you for now. Enjoy.
“All Aboard The Art Train”
I meet a lot of artists. Every day I meet a new one. No joke, a mere three minutes ago I met one before I even typed the first sentence of this piece. The artists I meet come in all shapes and sizes. Musicians, painters, poets, graphic designers, street artists, photographers, movie makers, fashion designers, sculptors and writers, to name a few. If you can think of any profession in the creative field I guarantee you somebody in this town has a passion for it. San Luis Obispo is literally splitting at the seams with creative individuals. Some of them are able to live off their creative efforts. Others have found niches that consistently supplement their income. The majority, unfortunately, have yet to find a suitable venue in which to showcase their talent. Why?
The answer, sadly and simply put, is that we have some weaknesses within our local art community. Don’t worry, we have some strengths too. I intend to focus on the weaknesses with as much optimism as possible. However, some of the things weakening our art community are very frustrating to me and I’m not sure if I can restrain from giving myself an aneurism by thinking about it with so much intensity. But alas, I come equipped with a plethora of ideas and solutions that could transform our weaknesses into something greater. Something solid. Something that everybody involved in our art community could be proud of.
One major weakness that needs addressing is the cost to participate in the SLO County Open Studios Tour, which is probably the largest art event in the county. The SLO Arts Council has hosted this event for ten years now. I’ve personally participated three times including the very first year they put it on. The Open Studios Tour could be one of the best opportunities an artist/crafter in this town has access to. The problem is the $130 entry fee for the artist. With two hundred and eighty plus artists participating the Arts Council should have no trouble covering the tour catalog cost, which is in the $11,000 range, according to the FAQ on their site. Not to mention all the revenue generated by the sale of the catalogs to the tour patrons (I should also mention that the catalog has plenty of ads which only bring in more money for the council). My solution, if the true agenda of the Arts Council is to help promote art in our community, is this: drop the entry fee to $50 and save $11,000 by eliminating the catalog altogether. All the info from the catalog could easily be posted on their site for anybody to download for free. And without printing a paper catalog they would be doing the environment a favor.
Another disheartening thing I’ve noticed is the lack of city participation. I was in Long Beach not very long ago and was pleased to see that a lot of the electrical boxes, those eyesores so common to our urban landscape, were artistically enhanced by local artists. I’ve also seen this done in San Diego. Let’s get onboard SLO! I can personally list twenty artists off the top of my head that would be thrilled to do this and would probably do it for free with their own materials just for the sake of getting their art out there as well as providing beautification to our streets. If it’s no cost to the city I see no reason a project like this can’t be done.
Also, have you noticed the staggering amount of empty wall space in this town? There are blank walls everywhere. And I’m not talking about public walls. I’m talking about the wall space in your doctor’s office, the place you work, where you get your hair done, etc. If those walls aren’t blank then they probably have a few unoriginal, uninspiring generic art pieces hanging. If you own a retail shop, restaurant, hair salon, or have an office of any sort there is no reason you can’t display original artwork by a local artist. Believe me, there is no lack of creative individuals eager to get their work seen.
Oh, and artists, don’t think you’re getting off that easy. You’re lazy. You want things handed to you and expect people to be in awe at what a genius you are. I have so many ideas for you that it makes my head hurt. What hurts my head worse is that you don’t implement them. I can’t count the number of artists I meet that don’t have a business card or a website. Before anybody treats you like a professional you’re going to have to start acting like a professional. If we want to strengthen SLO’s art community, which will benefit all of us, then we need to show people that we take our art careers seriously.
Of course, not everybody is guilty. Despite all of what I mentioned above there are some amazing strengths within our art community that need to be recognized. Some artists/designers have banded together and are hosting shows in their houses or studios. There are retail shops that have invited artists to do “live paintings” at events they’ve hosted in their stores. Bands have combined funds to rent spaces and put on their own shows. Or they just set up guerrilla style in a field and invite everybody they know. Fashion designers are hosting “stitch and bitch” parties. A select few hair salons, restaurants, and coffee shops have given up their wall space to allow artists to display their creations. I would personally like to thank all of you that are keeping art alive in this town. Your example is an inspiration to others.