Recently, an article in The Tribune about “tiny homes” caught my attention because it was challenging the reader to think outside the (literal) box about housing.
There are laws and local ordinances that have not yet caught up with our urban evolution or adequately addressed the need for workforce housing in creative ways. The same principle applies in the art world.
We have access to materials and production methods now that didn’t exist 10 years ago and more artists producing than ever before, but there remains a shortage of available exhibition opportunities. Traditional art galleries are a difficult proposition due to the capricious nature of buyers, trends and the economy, yet they should not be the only venues that offer artists an avenue to exposure and commerce.
In New York, the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces challenged draconian laws that prohibited artwork shown on the street. Existing laws were based upon the philosophy that all artwork should be shown indoors at licensed bricks-and-mortar establishments.
Obviously, this business model was changing as co-ops and open studios bloomed, and the laws governing them needed to catch up. Frequently, law enforcement would “wink” at temporary public showings because they were embraced by the locals, but when artwork was forcibly removed from fences and street corners, the uproar produced by these locals produced a well-deserved legal upgrade. After lengthy negotiations by PPS, these art heroes eventually crafted and enacted ordinances that would become a model for other cities to host art markets in urban areas, thus opening up a wide range of opportunities for artists and expanding art commerce.
There remains an untapped source of exhibition space for artists in virtually all cities, towns and villages: vacant retail space. For many years, the “pop-up shop” has gained traction and popularity for temporary retailers including holiday merchandise and liquidations, but rarely for art installations or temporary gallery exhibits. In most urban areas, there is a glut of empty retail and industrial sites that could benefit by this re-utilization as well as the artists who would happily inhabit them.
In San Luis Obispo, a seasonal Art Walk showcases local artists in non-gallery settings and enjoys enthusiastic support. And there’s more. Expanding the concept of integrating art within the public purview addresses a broader vision that is embraced by several busy art mavericks.
Larry Le Brane is a glass artist whose whimsical three-dimensional sculptures have garnered praise and followers. He is a member of the Central Coast Sculptors Group that works with the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA). La Brane spearheads the “Phantom Project” series of events that offers a curated collection of artworks temporarily in underused spaces.
Phantom Projects are now holding their 14th event at Robert Hall Winery, and for that I offer my sincere congratulations for engaging a local business, motivating artists and promoting the event. I was allowed to review the more than 100 submissions vying for 25 spaces for this event, and I was impressed at the range of professional talent. Jurying and curating entries is an important first step to mount a dynamic exhibit, and while competition is a good thing, it also weeds out hobbyists. SLOMA also occupies a temporary location at 959 Higuera St. in downtown San Luis Obispo as a “pop-up gallery” and is currently working with property owners to use additional available vacant spaces.
The reasons to applaud the efforts of these individuals and groups goes beyond their simply thinking outside the proverbial box. These efforts are producing real results, both for artists and the venues they inhabit temporarily. The exposure for artists is critical, and the support of businesses is a strategy that is bringing them new business. This progressive thinking is in itself a model for integrating the arts into the public realm to produce cross exposure and commerce.
My advice to artists who are willing to expand beyond the walls of the traditional gallery is to join forces with these groups and participate in unexpected venues because it is a viable path to independent success. And to our local business and property owners and community leaders? Consider the fact that our Central Coast is known for its artistic roots. It drives tourism. Supporting this innovative approach could well mean a benefit to your bottom line while keeping that heritage alive.
Aug. 2 - 26
Tish Rogers: An Artist in Two Media. Paintings in acrylic, oil and tempera batik.
Allied Arts Association
1350 Main St., Cambria
Through Sept. 30
“Earth Fire Water” 26 works in including baskets, ceramics, steel, paper, and glass focus on the effects of catastrophic events.
San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
1010 Broad St., San Luis Obispo
Through Sept. 1
Phantom Project 14 — Juried exhibition by The Central Coast Sculptors Group showcasing every artistic discipline that will fit into this unique temporary venue.
Robert Hall Winery
3443 Mill Rd., Paso Robles