some friends and I have had a lot of discussions on the state of the local arts scene lately, but I rarely post about that type of thing here, usually sticking to other visual art topics and local reviews. recently, however, something in particular struck me as more peculiar than usual, so I've decided to write a post on the issue.
without going into the minutia of all this, I'll attempt to preface things quickly... the visual art scene here in the Quad Cities is a bit fragmented. on one hand, you have a group of "young" (read: 20 to 39 year old) artists here that have recently graduated from rather strong art programs elsewhere in the country, and/or have lived in our large city art hotspots, and/or have a contemporary style of some sort. on the other hand, you have what I've sometimes referred to as the "old guard" here — artists who make work that either seems to be stuck in the 1970 modernism that revolves around pretty standard figure painting, or seems to be rooted even further back, to the formal concerns of the 1930s. these two worlds usually coexist well — hell, some of the former group's first collegiate professors are from the latter group (faculty at our local academic institutions of Augie, Ambrose, or Blackhawk). the problem has never been two different worlds of style butting heads, it's been the two different senses of what an art community is butting heads.
our local arts galleries offer annual calls for entry for show submissions, but aside from those opportunities, the actual "art world" — as in places to show work — is rather slim. it's because of this that some artists, including myself, have looked into obtaining raw spaces for short term rental leases (to no avail). call it some leftover fondness of the "chicago model" of having professional art shows in one's basement or call it a DIY ethic because of my punk rocker roots. either way, it's something i've seen as being tremendously important. we have to do our own shows, on our own terms, with our own money. we need curatorial independence. we need to bring fresh artists with fresh work to this stagnant scene that shows the same damn work over and over again. the well-known venues i speak of seem to have a tough time letting these younger, emerging artists in on what's going on in the art scene — what opportunities are arising, for example. so, at our luckiest, our scene has recent graduates that make good work making it in their basement, where it sits forever, never being shown. at our luckiest. the worst case scenario would have it that this next generation of artists flat out leaves for greener pastures - to a more nurturing, more exciting art scene of San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Seattle... you name it. yes, the brain drain... it doesn't only happen with young engineering students of the University of Iowa... it happens with our creative types as well.
SO... here we are, a scene that barely has any progressive art venues, very little post-University discourse (thank heavens for Figge lecture series), and is losing its future artists. And what do we do? Well... this brings me to the main point of my gripe. We build this:
feel free to read some articles that explain what this picture relates to:
(yes, the "matt" comments are mine).
Unlike other people who have made comments on newspaper articles involving this, i can't have a problem with the developer, the city grant money given to him, the $1 startup cost, or anything else in those realms because i'm naive to them. but i do have a major problem with the idea. That photo up there? that fucking Wysteria Lane horsehit that belongs north of 53rd street, inhabited by some architect that is sipping a Starbucks latte? That is what is supposedly — if i understand the articles correctly – meant to attract new artists to the quad cities, or to bring current local artists downtown, to a live & work space. and to boot, artists that not only make a living solely off of selling their own work, but make a great living off of selling their own work – enough to be able to afford mortgages on places that are anywhere from $129,000 to $159,000. my head fucking exploded when i read this. holy crap.
what we have here folks, is a severe gap in understanding as to what an artist wants from its community. i know there are local arts advisory councils and think tank-type groups, but it seems as though only one audience – out of many that make our art scene – is invited or is participating. very little communication makes for some rather angry talent, which in turn snowballs into further schism. not good.
apologies about the F-bombs. they're very rare here. allow me to sign off for the night with some more Antelope, from DC. perhaps some appropriate lyrics and stage candor: