Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Build an Art Community

Ever since I helped start the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk a few years ago, I have become passionate about trying to build and sustain a real and vibrant art community in downtown Fullerton.  It's not as easy as it may appear from the outside, but one thing I have learned so far is that it is indeed possible.  Here's some of what it takes:

1.) Venues and cooperation.  You need places for people to gather for the purpose of art.  Before the Art Walk started, these venues were Hibbleton (my gallery), PAS (my friends Brian and Kristy's gallery), and the Violet Hour (my friends Mike and Candace's studio).  We learned that, by coordinating our efforts, by having our monthly art openings on the same night, within walking distance from each other, we were able to expand our reach.  This was the guiding philosophy behind the art walk.  No one venue is enough on its own, but together we can make something amazing.

2.) Constant new art and artists.  One of the really stale and depressing things about older, more established art communities like Laguna is that galleries tend to show the same artists all the time.  After a couple visits, people start losing interest.  What we at Hibbleton, and the other venues, strive to do is to have a new exhibit with new artists each month.  This accomplishes a few things: 1.) It keeps things from getting stale. 2.) It provides many outlets for lots of local artists to show their work. 3.) It brings new people every month.  This is a fundamental, crucial part of the art walk: the art is always changing.

3.) The opposite of selfishness.  Perhaps the most important part of building an art community like the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk, and keeping it alive, is a willingness on the part of the organizers, artists, and venues to do things, to invest in things, that might not bring immediate financial reward.  This idea of working for something other than money is a hard concept for a lot of Americans to wrap their heads around, let alone actually do.  We are conditioned from a very young age in this country to think of work as something that translates to money.  But the truth is that there are actually other human values besides greed and self-interest that can be equally motivating: compassion, creativity, love, friendship, community.  It may surprise people to learn that neither I, nor any of the galley owners I know, actually turn a profit from our galleries.  We all have other jobs to pay the bills (I teach English).  What we are up to is (at heart) non-monetary.  Sure, it's nice if we sell enough stuff to make the rent, but deep down that's not why we do this.  We do this because we believe, and choose to act on, the idea that self-interest is not the only human value worth pursuing.

4.) Determination.  Because of the non-monetary nature of the endeavor, things can get hard, financially, emotionally, energy-wise.  To keep this community going, it takes people who simply will not give up.  As the old cliche goes: If you really want something, you will find a way to make it happen.  This means moving forward despite financial problems, despite disagreements, despite the occasional fatigue.  As with any worthwhile endeavor, there will come times when you want to throw your hands up and say, "Fuck this.  I'm done."  But the world is not changed by quitters.  The world is changed by courageous people who have a dream and never ever ever give up.

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