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December Issue 2005

A View from Down Under
The Arty Party

by Judith McGrath

On t'other side of my island continent, a shining city offers a bi-annual art fair. Just about every fine art gallery in this broad brown land spends big bucks to rent a stall, package and transport art works to the venue, and send a staff member together with one of their stable artists to the spectacular. The reputation of this art fair is known far and wide and draws savvy art appreciators and collectors from around the nation and abroad. Any artist who has their work shown there is considered either a sure thing or an emerging talent to be watched by the world.

The majority of this country's population is located on the east coast so it's easy for them to access the fair but it's difficult and extremely expensive for those of us on the western side of the continent to attend. In response to this situation, my town attempted to attract a similar audience to our own Art Fair during the 'off' years. After repeated efforts the event failed, as few connoisseurs were tempted to make the trip west. Not to be deterred, the locals borrowed a different idea from afar and a more insular and self-absorbed alternative was planned.

This year saw the inauguration of a new state-wide art extravaganza. It declared the four-week period from mid October to mid November (springtime Down Under) to be a celebration of art and craft practitioners who live, and produce their work, in the West. It was requested that during this time period galleries exhibit only works by local artists, art/craft practitioners open their studios to the public on weekends, major corporations display their art collections in building foyers, and retail shops provide window space for installation work. It was a fantastic idea.

The team of organizers, led by a highly efficient out-of-towner, did a great job contacting all the right officials in the art, business, financial, and political circles. Grants were secured, market researchers found a snappy name for the project and the obligatory mission statement was penned; one that stressed the importance of the visual arts in society and how it impacts on both the cultural and economic vitality of the wider community. It was well promoted within the art community and scores of practitioners lined up to be a part of the month long event. They were on a roll! Posters and pamphlets were printed and distributed to all participants, a website was designed, the event's official launch was scheduled and it was attended by all the art, business, financial, and political big wigs. At the gala evening it was stated that 'over 2000 artists and more then 200 venues' were committed to participate in the inaugural month long celebration of Art. Ta da! Job done! Congratulations all around.

Then reality hit. The pamphlets had to be at the printer months prior to the event's commencement so when they were published and distributed they were virtually redundant. Some participants registered too late to be included in the pamphlet while some planned events that were listed never came to fruition. The website was put on-line behind schedule and not updated weekly as anticipated. Other then the back slapping opening night, scant was seen in print or heard on the airwaves about the ongoing celebration.

The four weeks have come and gone. Although I knew about the project from its birth (I sit on the periphery of the art circle) few others knew of it before, during or after the event. I believe there was some publicity in mid October but I must have missed that addition of the newspaper. I read reviews of art exhibitions during the month but none mentioned if the show being discussed was part of the project or not. (Most commercial galleries are booked years in advance and many had the designated time slot already locked in with an interstate artist.) I did see in my weekly community newspaper that a local artist had her studio open to the public on the weekend. Unfortunately the issue came out after the fact.

When I first spoke to the organizers, I was told the purpose of the project was primarily to attract attention to, and inform the public at large about, the visual arts; to break down the barrier between Artist and Appreciator; to showcase the diversity of creative talent that is practiced in the cities, country towns and regional areas in this State. The object was to demonstrate to all and sundry, but mostly to the uninitiated, that fine art is more then just expensive items displayed in fancy galleries or sold for big bucks at well-publicised auctions; that craft involves the controlled manipulation of different media into many forms that can be functional or purely decorative; that visual artists are ordinary working people, often with families to support, and their output is an important part of our culture and life style. It was a great concept but they were preaching to the converted. The project saw organizers take giant steps within their own bureaucracy while the wider community took only a few baby steps toward understanding art and artists.
The lesson that needs to be learned at the close of this project is how it celebrated 'organization' more then art. The concept was to collect a group of artists and take them toward the single goal of getting their art out to the public. But the organizers were so involved with 'collecting' they lost sight of the end zone. They failed to achieve their initial aim, which was to 'attract attention and inform the public'. Although the project did showcase the diversity of talent, more thanks go to the individual artists who did it themselves then the organizers who couldn't draw a conclusion, much less paint a picture of reality, or carve a swathe through hyperbole.

All too often, professional organizers get their rewards at the start of a project instead of the end. If they had to wait for a calculation of outcomes before counting their income, perhaps they would do more to maintain a continued interest in an event while it is current. I suppose the bit that really rankles is when the final report on this project is delivered to the powers-that-be it will be so rosy even those without hay fever will find their eyes watering.

Judith McGrath lives in Kalamunda, Western Australia, 25 minutes east of Perth. She received a BA in Fine Art and History from the University of Western Australia. McGrath lectured in Art History and Visual Literacy at various colleges around the Perth area, and was an art reviewer for The Sunday Times and The Western Review both published in the Perth area. McGrath is currently a freelance writer and reviewer for various art magazines in Australia. She also co-ordinates the web site Art Seen in Western Australia found at (www.artseeninwa.com).


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