How do you bring an art culture to a community with none?

April 18 |
Post Bills
Photo by moriza. Used under Creative Commons license.
Kaci asks:

We are moving into a community that's beautiful and awesome and safe — but bland. People are more interested in the high school swim team than the art class. I loooove art, but after eating and breathing nursing for the last 7 years I'm a little out of the loop.

Which brings me to my question: how do you bring an art culture to a community with none?

It's a great question, and one Ariel and I both have a lot of thoughts brewing about. But as we scheme our future posts on, we'll ask y'all: what ideas do moving-and-shaking Homies have to add culture to cities not exactly teeming with art happenings?

  1. Well, one idea is to organize a school fundraiser art auction. Since you mention the swim team and art class I'm going off the assumption that you have kids in school – or at least know a number of people who do.

    My elementary school used to get local artists to team up with each grade level and help the classes make big art projects that were then auctioned off to make money for the school. Some of our projects included 1)a huge painting of flowers made out of students' finger prints, 2) a school mascot shaped mail box, 3) a mosaic of the school mascot, and 3) bathroom sets (shower curtain, bath mat, trash can) where the artist sketched the design and the students essentially did a paint by numbers.

    What was cool about it is that it not only encouraged parents to get into the idea of original art for their homes, but it also really got the kids into it. My parents bought our first and second grade projects and I loved pointing out my finger prints on the flower painting and my stripe of the rainbow on the shower curtain. It can also get local artists more exposure.

    When we did it, the auction was two fold. The actual live auction was for the big, class made events. But there was also a silent auction for more traditional fundraiser items like donated tickets, gift baskets, and the like. This part of the auction would be a great place to put in theatre tickets, or passes to gallery openings or anything like that. You might be willing to pay $40 for theatre tickets when the money is going to your child's school even if you'd never think about going otherwise. And once there, you might enjoy yourself enough to want to go back!

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    • Wow… sounds like you went to a school similar to mine! Every year, the school had a fundraising function that included dinner, music, and live & silent auctions. Every grade, Pre-K through 12th, contributed a class project. Bidding was fierce on those! One year, my parents and the parents of several friends banded together to get our class project: candlesticks, serving cutlery, and all kinds of kitchen stuff that we'd wrapped with beaded wire. Cool stuff!

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    • The high school I went to used to have a *fabulous* art program, although I've heard (very unfortunately) that it's gone downhill since I graduated four years ago. In addition to offering art classes as part of the curriculum, art classes were offered over the summer in a camp that the school put on. Every year in May, the school put on a huge art show. Various people (I'm not sure who; I was never clear on that) would judge the work of the high school art students. There were various categories, the biggest ones being Best in Show and the portfolio awards. It ended up being a huge deal in our community and the surrounding communities. They also put on a traveling art show – students would submit work, and the best was chosen by the same judges who judged the art show. Different businesses paid to have the artwork displayed in their buildings, and the money went towards setting up art scholarships for students at the school. It ended up being so popular that the traveling art show was featured several times at the state house in Boston. Various contests and projects came up that exposed our artwork to the community; one project I remember specifically was that students were asked to take pictures of various fixtures/buildings/parks in town and create artwork based on it. The top ten were chosen to be featured on greeting cards that were sold at the town hall.

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  2. Check in with the local library. Not only are they probably interested in expanding the community's horizons, but they would have space available to hold poetry readings, documentary viewings, and local art shows. They also would be great advertisers since a number of people look to libraries for free or cheap entertainment.

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    • this is a great idea! I love this. I loved the first one too but in don't have kids I just notice a lot of peoples fancy car stickers regarding their kids sports.

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  3. I wish I knew the answer to this. I live in the middle of Georgia, and find myself getting so frustrated with my community's bland redneck sensibility that I often make the hour plus trek to Atlanta on the weekends just to feel comfortable and immerse myself in the art culture there.

    In the town where I live, there is a small smattering of artists who struggle to be seen, heard, and stay afloat. Sadly, many of the locals equate "art" with spraying the image of your favorite Nascar driver on a t-shirt at the local flea market.

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  4. Are there areas in your town which are underused/not used? A lot of the time, people are just waiting for a space to emerge to spark their artistic spirits! I found the 'Renew Newcastle' project to be really exciting in the way it just keeps growing on itself. http://renewnewcastle.org/about

    (Trust me when I say that Newcastle wasn't the most happening place 10 years ago)

    Check out projects like this and see whether there are any parallels with your town. Maybe there is am empty shopfront where you could chat to the owner about just leaving some random found object inside with mysterious signage. Maybe there are some parks which are just itching for you to do some guerrilla gardening and throw lots of colourful seeds around in the dead of night. Make that town awesome!

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  5. The small town I'm from is pretty artsy, especially these days, but there have been some awesome projects that happened to encourage that over the years. There were workshops held at the school where an artist or craftsperson came in and did some teaching. I think one was birdhouses. There were contests for kids to design the fire hydrants and then paint them. There have been some awesome weekend workshops where materials were donated (metal scraps, wood, vinyl, paint, you name it and they had it) and experts were hired (welder, wood worker, vinyl decal guy, painter) and then people signed up for the weekend to build a bench. They paid a fee and could use the know-how of anyone there, work together, etc. The benches were auctioned off at the end. You can donate the money to whatever works for you, but it's the application of practical knowledge to something that is actually artistic. The town bought some of the benches to use for public benches. I've heard of it being done with lights too or tables or chairs. You might be surprised how many people want to learn a skill but just don't have the knowledge of how to go about it. Having art offered helps a lot.

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  6. I think this is a really interesting topic of discussion since no two communities are the same. Incorporating more art and promoting art within the community is something I have had a bit of experience where I live and here are a few tips from my personal experience…

    1. Get Involved: Does your community have an Art Council? Most cities do, figure out when their meetings are, how to join and start attending them. This is the fastest way to bring in fresh and unusual ideas into a community. While not everyone may be accepting of these ideas, it is important to go through channels like there to be a chance of incorporating new ideas into a community. Also, does you town have any form of a Art or Natural History Museum? If so figure out if they have docent programs and become involved with these. As a docent for my local art museum I gave over 400 hours of tours to school children who would not have ever had the chance to visit an art gallery during their school years if it were not for a summer day care trip.

    2. Do some research and attend events: Does your community have first Friday events? Art walks? Craft fairs? If so attend these to see what hidden artists are hiding our in your community. Also check around on Etsy to see if there are any local artists promoting themselves on there as well in case you want to organize some form of a show.

    3. Do NOT judge: I think this might be the hardest thing for all of is, but it's important to remember that art is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone's work or attitude towards buyers is going to match your taste, but that does not mean you should be rude to them. Where I live there's one particular "famous" artist whose ego is bigger than my house and body of work in my opinion is sub-par at best, but this doesn't mean that I go out and tell people he's a jerk and to not buy his work. It means that when I run into him at community events where he's usually spinning far fetched tales about all of the great community programs he has supposedly been involved with through the years, I hold my tongue and do not call him out publicly about telling these lies. It would do no good to publicly tear down someone else who is making promoting the arts (even though their motivation for doing so is different than mine) .

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    • I have found some of my favorite local artists through Etsy. Look not just for your particular area but also folk art and key words associated with your area… ie, I found a new New Mexico favorite when searching for "bosque".

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  7. To be honest, I'm having trouble imagining a community with absolutely ZERO art culture… even when I have been to places that aren't particularly overtly art friendly, there seems to be an element of it somewhere. So I would suggest trying to sniff out what already exists and collaborate; bring up the ideas in this post, offer articles and such on community art events other cities are doing, etc. Put in requests at your library, local university, or other community organizations to have artists come lecture or do a on-the-spot piece like a mural in a community building.

    As was mentioned, I think organizing some kind of structured fundraiser, arts crawl or show works well. When someone like yourself steps up to do the number crunching, permit-getting, etc, you alleviate much of the roadblocks keeping your local closet-artists in hiding :)

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  8. You could check if there are any drama groups or performance poetry/spoken word groups near you, and invite them (maybe together with the school or library) to perform in your town. Most of them will be thrilled to be asked provided there are some ticket sales, and maybe your local council can cover the cost of their travel? My group (NZ-based) performed in a small town recently and people were so excited that we came and that they got to go out to something "cultural" :) It was loads of fun too!

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  9. research about community beautification grants. This is what my neighborhood did. we received a small grant then together built a 24" retaining wall, planted indigenous plants and painted a community sign. It was a great way to meet people, it looks beautiful and a wonderful way to show some neighborhood pride.

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  10. Another thought… Perhaps talk with a local church or Vol Fire Dept about hosting a "Coffee House". Advertise for acoustic musicians and serve coffee and tea with a few snacks. Charge a small fee and perhaps split it 50/50 with the host and the musician. It is a win/win for all and a great way to hear local musicians.

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  11. I come from a similarly bland little suburb, and have just started a "Second Sunday" program at a locally-owned coffeehouse. We've invited a couple local artists to display their work and have a pseudo-opening on the second Sunday morning of every month: meet and greet, snacks, art sale, what-have-you. It's amazing how many artists have come out of the woodwork to ask how they can be a part of this program! So far, we're scheduled to show both amateur and semi-professional artists in a multitude of mediums- painting, charcoal drawing, sculpture, and photography, and the applications keep coming! We're only in month 2, but I'm really impressed at the way it's taking off. It's kind of like the quote from "Field of Dreams" — If you start it, they will come!

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  12. I'm chiming in a bit late, but oh well. I live in Vancouver, WA, which is basically an ugly suburb of Portland, OR. :) People never think of Vancouver for the art scene, they immediately think of Portland.

    My sister is a painter, and has gotten really involved in the Vancouver art community. (I can brag because she's my sis, right? She's totes president of the arts council/non-profit organization, painter, holds a full-time job – oh, and she's got 4 kids.) Some things I've noticed that have caused the Vancouver arts community to blossom:

    – Teaching art classes. Parents love to drop their kids off for a few hours, and kids are a sneaky way to introduce art into the parents' lives.

    – Working with local shops. Most of the art spaces are NOT galleries, they are coffee shops, libraries, farmers markets etc.

    – Looking for fresh faces. A few months back there was an art show that asked only for new artists.

    – Make it distinct. Sure, maybe you borrow some great ideas from your nearby art havens (except ours is called First Friday). But a local art community is most emphatically Local Community. You've gotta love where you are – if you only look over at Big Sister City and drool over how great it is over there, you're going to be pretty darn dissatisfied with what you've got.

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  13. I live in a small midwestern city. It has a somewhat active art community, but mostly in the Country-club-set-who-give-donations kind of way. This year, a couple started a program called Art Gumbo. I think this type of program is active elsewhere, but this was the first time I had heard of it. They solicit applications from local artists, then have a quarterly soup dinner where people pay $10 and review the applications. Then everyone votes on the one they like, and the one with the most votes gets a grant of the profits from the dinner. I think the grants are small, around $400, but that can really help a small-scale local artist. Then yearly, they have an art show of the work they've sponsored.

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