What Does Louisville’s Visual Art Community Want?
When it was announced back in April that Aaron Yarmuth was buying LEO Weekly, I received a few queries about our future plans. All offered suggestions on how the publication could better serve the visual art community (my favorite was to have LEO only cover art). Which started me thinking – when it comes to local visual art, what do we want, dream about, wish we could make happen? And what do we appreciate and are grateful that we have?
After I sent those questions out far and wide around Louisville Metro, I received a cornucopia of ideas from local artists, gallerists and other art professionals. As evident by the abundance of lengthy responses, we are a greedy bunch (in a good way), with thoughts just waiting for action. Unfortunately, only a portion of the concepts could be published here.
As far as what we appreciate, the overwhelming consensus is “each other.” Tiffany Ackerman, artist and gallery manager for Flame Run, sums it up nicely: “The best thing about visual art in Louisville is that it truly is a community of artists and enthusiasts who support each other. We are all working towards the same goal, showcasing Louisville as an important cultural city that is proud of our local artists and independent thinkers.”
Now on to what we want.
Arts entrepreneur Gill Holland, artist Keith Auerbach and artist Patrick Donley are all proponents of an art ambassador in Louisville.
“Louisville artists could benefit from an ambassador program and a home away from home in the arts capital of the USA -- New York City,” says Holland. “The ambassador program could make grants to send artists to NYC … for certain periods of time to meet industry professionals, show off their portfolios and see what the hard-core business side of the art world is like (and I believe several would get discovered by the national collectors). A small gallery in NYC that showcased Louisville artists would be a great tie-in to this by introducing Louisville artists to the NYC audience … We could of course also showcase bourbon and local music in an overall branding initiative. I believe that with sponsors and sales, this gallery would come close to breaking even financially so would not need much, if any, subsidy.”
Auerbach has thought at length about what an art concierge could do for the art community. “I think Louisville needs a full time position of an art concierge whose duties would include being the repository of all local art knowledge and keeping the public informed, … host a series of competitions … (and) being the art ambassador for Louisville both regionally and nationally. This job would mean keeping all informed about our art activities but also conveying the idea that Louisville is becoming an art destination.”
Donley says, “What I fantasize about (is) Louisville with an artists’ representative. I would love to see someone step forward who is interested in rep-ing artists like a Hollywood agent reps actors. This person would work on a commission basis and their focus would be on getting exhibits nationally for the artists and developing a collector base, nationwide. Most artists suck at this part of the business, myself included.”
Visual art festival
Many people, including Auerbach, believe we need some type of showcase for visual art. “I would like to see Louisville host an annual visual art festival that is a mix of the Spoletto Festival, the Idea Fest and the New Orleans Jazz Festival,” he states. “This would include exhibitions, lectures sales and events that would make Louisville an art destination.”
Steven Skaggs, a professor of design at U of L’s Hite Art Institute, says, “I think the Louisville area needs an annual or biennial national showcase for its design and fine art excellence. A national meeting and simultaneous shows at galleries (think a visual Humana Festival) would do the trick. Maybe tie in with Idea Festival or Forecastle. We have so much creativity here – probably more designers and artists per 1000 population than anywhere in the country – but we often just talk to ourselves. VisuaLouisville? The Louisville Art and Design Forum?”
“Art fairs have become a huge sector, a primary driving force actually, for the art world globally,” says Daniel Pfalzgraf, director of the Green Building Gallery. “Louisville galleries and artists need to participate in more both here and elsewhere (Chicago, New York, Miami, etc.) in order to expand the exposure of our artists outside of our region. The Louisville Visual Art Festival had a good run spearheaded by Paul Paletti, but is no more (luckily he still manages the Photo Biennial, so all is not lost). What would be great is if we could utilize a major event already in place – The St. James Art Fair … It would be ideal if they were to allow galleries to participate which could help raise (or add another) level of sophistication to the event.”
“In my opinion, (what we need are) more opportunities for local artists to have their work shown,” exclaims artist Kathy Loomis. This statement, said in various ways by many people, is a call for more exhibition space and shows.
“The Louisville Visual Art Association now has very limited space compared to the Water Tower,” she feels. “The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft seems to be focusing on the national scene instead of on regional artists (and) local galleries have been hurt by the recession. I would love to see things like a juried show (like the Water Tower Annual, which LVAA used to sponsor) or a show for artist members of KMAC (they had such shows in the past, but not recently). When the Speed reopens I would like to see them do an annual or biennial show for local artists, similar to the Mid-States Art Exhibitions in Evansville. U of L could seek out more local artists for shows at the Cressman and Hite galleries, not just those affiliated with the school of art.”
Flame Run’s Ackerman says she wishes “Louisville had more opportunities for new artists to show their work, and many exhibit spaces (that) not only welcome fresh new work but also have a dedication to embracing the next tide of great artists. I want graduating students to know that they don’t need to necessarily head to New York or Chicago to seek opportunity. Louisville is a city of great art, a supportive community, and many things are possible for them here.”
Pfalzgraf agrees with that. “It would be good to see one or two strong alternative art spaces that give young artists opportunities to show their work that they may not get from commercial galleries so they can build up their exhibition history. For a while there were at least a few of art collectives that filled that role to an extent and put together one night exhibits in various locations around town, but they’ve been pretty quiet lately. Art Sanctuary is a group that I could see excelling in that role. They’ve made a transition from a transient collective to getting a brick and mortar home that they’re renovating.”
Artist Teri Dryden feels “we have more artists than opportunities to show work. LVAA used to have an open juried exhibit. Now and again, Kaviar Forge and Gallery has one. It might be nice for LVAA to bring something like that back. Perhaps KMAC could do something for Louisville artists. What I don’t like about the scene here is the expectation to give work away! Artists are asked repeatedly to donate art without anything in return. It compromises the few galleries we have, it shows little regard for the artist who is trying to make a living and it propitiates the idea that art is not a legitimate occupation. Louisville needs to support the galleries!”
Gallery owner Tim Faulkner has a slightly different take on the subject. “As all of us know, the power of art is most effective when it is a shared experience,” he states. “One of the strengths of the Louisville art community is the abundance of venues for artists to be able to accomplish this feat. The ability to share each unique vision has grown significantly in the last few years, which is evident with the amount of new gallery spaces and, just as importantly, artist curated shows that have popped up throughout the city. That being said, these solo exhibitions and pop up shows are only truly successful when the city attends and supports these particular endeavors. Louisville as a city prides itself in its local flavor, and we must remember that it also must be applied to our visual arts community.”
While we’re discussing exhibition space, let’s change the antiquated gallery rules, says artist Jeral Tidwell. “I like this line of thinking – what’s good, what sucks, and how do we fix it? First of all, Louisville has an amazing art community. I am lucky enough to travel all over the world and still I am more blown away with art right here in Louisville than almost anywhere.”
“Unfortunately most local artists are still dealing with the age old cliche struggle between artists and galleries so they have to go elsewhere to sell art. Most of the galleries and shops here are still operating under the 50/50 regime … Reasonable galleries are working on a 60/40 or even 70/30 split with the artist retaining the lion’s share … With social media as ingrained into daily life and people becoming more and more comfortable buying art online, most artists do not need galleries. The only reason most people want (not need) to show in galleries is because it feels nice to see your hard work actually on display in a space.”
While we’re at it, let’s make more spaces for artists to live and work. “Other large cities have a history of successful subsidized urban housing/studio space for artists,” artist Susan Gorsen states. “To my knowledge nobody has been able to get that off the ground here. It seems like there’s an opportunity for this in some old warehouse/manufacturing buildings west of the I-64 Ninth St. overpass ramp, an area every municipal design-consulting firm has highlighted for nearly three decades. Unfortunately, one reason all the … loft condos in that area aren’t filled is the lack of essential amenities. Grocery store, drugstore, … cheap simple coffee shop, (are) places artists can actually afford and ‘regular’ people enjoy because of the mix of artists.”
“Louisville visual artists, art professionals and arts venues will benefit from a renewed commitment to collaboration,” states Public Art Administrator Sarah Lindgren. “Examples of collaborative efforts might include a comprehensive census of artists and arts organizations, a new and improved central resource for promoting events and commission opportunities, and a compilation of best practices that represents artists’ rights and responsibilities. Collaboration heightens public awareness of Louisville’s visual arts richness, an accompanying array of benefits, and thus limitless possibilities.”
Scott Erbes and Steven Bowling of the Speed Art Museum agree, stating, “The Louisville arts community … need to continue to foster additional and expand current partnerships, collaborations and communications with one another (as well as) to create opportunities/infrastructure to attract more artists … to live and work in Louisville as well as create a supportive environment for those already here.”
“In my observations I find that many of Louisville’s visual arts institutions remain very insulated in their programming -- either exhibitions that reach outside the limits of the community, or within -- rarely a mix of both,” explains artist Bryce Hudson. “An underlining theme generally relating to the city of Louisville as well as its art scene is the abundance, support and success of grassroots efforts. I have come to enjoy the collaboration between outside entities that many of these smaller grassroots organizations bring to the city and its artists.”
Coverage and criticism
“It is important that all media do more for the artists and the galleries in this city because art is something all people can relate to in one way or another,” gallery owner Jane Morgan says. “Seeing artists’ pieces in the paper and listing all the events brings people out and creates an excitement that is good for the artists and galleries, … helps promote the city as well (and) helps keep us, the small business, open!”
Gallerist Margaret Archambault believes, “Our arts community and the artists within it need to see themselves as the asset that they are. Thinking critically about the future cannot happen without thinking creatively. Although many small art focused publications have come and gone, the attempt to critically review visual art shows still needs to happen. Simply listing upcoming shows doesn’t cover the needs of the general public to begin to develop and understanding as to the importance that the art community provides.”
“What our city needs are informed critics who do not simply promote the local art scene but are active participants in regional and global contemporary art discourses,” states Yasmeen Siddiqui, U of L’s Interim Critical and Curatorial Studies Program Head and Gallery Director. “At this juncture in Louisville’s visual arts landscape, with a critical mass of institutions and initiatives underway, what is fundamental and essential and easier said than realized is the presence of a free space for critical reception. This would be the indicia of a mature arts scene.”
“The working conditions for the emergence of analytical, critical voices have to change,” she continues. “This city’s artists and arts institutions, its cultural leaders and patrons must set a tone that embraces frank, informed, and well-articulated ideas. On the flip side, critics must have a command of art history, critical theory and contemporary art practices that are currently, profoundly multi-disciplinary and trans-cultural. At the heart of this matter, is the fact that all parties involved need to be dedicated to the creation and expression of knowledge.”
Theo Edmonds, co-founder of I.D.E.A.S. 40203, reminds us that, “According to US Census Data, more than 30% of Louisville’s population is not white. This number will grow in the coming years. And yet, our visual art scene, boards of directors, funding sources and audiences (with the exception of some educational programming) are mostly all white. It is a huge failure of vision if art (and artist) remain confined to just one primary cultural group and could never go beyond this context. This means that we must actively connect art to the lives and realities of all Louisville’s residents, whatever their race or socio-economic class. Right now as a city and in this regard, we fall short. And, to our own detriment, we aren’t doing enough to bridge this gap.”
What drew the most comments in this informal survey concerned art collecting. Artist Peggy Sue Howard got right to the point: “Louisville needs more collectors. Our region is so rich in diverse outstanding talent, we all need to become collectors. We need more activities and events for collectors. We need symposiums on how to collect. We need to form collector groups get together and talk about collecting. We need to spread the word that living with art makes a well lived life.”
Gallery owner Paul Paletti echoes those sentiments. “We have a very vibrant visual arts community, with free access to galleries and reasonable admission costs to museums. We know that people enjoy what they see when they visit the galleries, but they need to own artworks, and bring the art into their lives ... It changes your life and your environment when you live with artworks you love. And this can be done on any budget.”
“I think it continues to be difficult for artists to make a living as artists in Louisville,” says artist and teacher Skylar Smith. “This is for a number of reasons, but I think one is the small pool of art collectors. This can make artists competitive with each other, instead of a sense collectivism and that the pie is big enough for everyone. Opportunities that are welcoming to all -- not a select, elite few -- for people to experience art in various styles and media, and learn that you don’t need to be a millionaire to collect and support artists.”
“What would help the community would be (if) the people of Louisville would support the artist’s efforts,” a belief artist/former gallery owner Julius Friedman has stated for a long time. “Until Louisville promotes tourism and out-of-town (people) come here to buy and attend Louisville art, I do not see how an artist can survive making a living and working here. It would be nice that the Speed (Art Museum) started collecting Kentucky artists early to contemporary. Some artists are in others museums but not locally!”
Long-time gallerist Chuck Swanson believes “Louisville is blessed with plenty of talented and industrious artists. The cost of making art -- living and studio space -- is generally decent and artists put a lot more energy into supporting each other than in bickering and back stabbing. That said, very few Louisvillians outside the art community seem to want to put much effort into understanding and supporting visual art. There is a handful of adventurous world class collectors but it’s wrong and unrealistic to expect those folks to step up the plate every time. And the drop off from that group to people who have the money, but not the inclination to purchase art, is tremendous … A thriving art scene requires a working cycle of good work being produced, good spaces to show the work (dialogue with the public), a critical dialogue with art writers and professionals, and enough financial support from a broad range of collectors for artists to live. That seemed to be happening about ten years ago, but not now.”
But wait, there’s more
• More local funding/grants/tax incentives/financial support
• Education on the business of being an artist/professional development
• More public art
• Visual art in K-12 school curriculum
• More visual art in the Fund for