I meet a lot of artists. Every day I meet a new one. No joke, I met one three minutes before I typed the first sentence of this piece. The artists I meet come in all shapes and sizes—musicians, painters, poets, graphic designers, street artists, photographers, movie makers, fashion designers, sculptors, and writers, to name a few. If you can think of a profession in the creative field, I guarantee you somebody in this town has a passion for it. San Luis Obispo is literally splitting at the seams with creative individuals. Some of them are able to live off their creative efforts. Others have found niches that consistently supplement their income. The majority, unfortunately, have yet to find a suitable venue in which to showcase their talent. Why?
The answer, sadly and simply put, is that we have some weaknesses within our local art community. Don’t worry, we have some strengths, too. I intend to focus on the weaknesses with as much optimism as possible. However, some of the things weakening our art community are very frustrating and I’m not sure if I can avoid an aneurism while thinking about them. However, I do have some ideas about how those weaknesses could be corrected.
One major weakness is the cost to participate in the SLO County Open Studios Tour, one of the largest art events in the county. ARTS Obispo has hosted this event for ten years. I’ve personally participated three times, including the very first year of the event. The Open Studios Tour could be one of the best opportunities for artists/crafters in this town. The problem is the $130 entry fee for the artist. With 280-plus artists participating, ARTS Obispo should have no trouble covering the tour catalog cost, which is in the $11,000 range, according to the FAQ on their site. Not to mention the revenue generated by the sale of the catalogs to the tour patrons. My solution: Drop the fee to $50 and charge less for the catalog. It would give more artists an opportunity.
Another disheartening thing I’ve noticed is the lack of city participation. I was in Long Beach not very long ago and was pleased to see that a lot of the electrical boxes—those eyesores so common to our urban landscape—were artistically enhanced by local artists. I’ve also seen this done in San Diego. Let’s get on board, SLO! I can list 20 artists off the top of my head who would be thrilled to do this, probably for free, with their own materials just for the sake of getting their art out there as well as beautifying our streets.
And have you noticed the staggering amount of empty wall space in this town? There are blank walls everywhere. I’m not talking about public walls; I’m talking about the wall space in your doctor’s office, the place you work, where you get your hair done, etc. If those walls aren’t blank then they have a few unoriginal, uninspiring generic art pieces hanging. If you own a retail shop, restaurant, hair salon, or have an office of any sort there is no reason you can’t display original artwork by a local artist. Believe me, there is no lack of creative individuals eager to get their work seen.
Oh, and artists, don’t think you’re getting off that easy. You’re lazy. You want things handed to you and expect people to be in awe at your genius. I have so many ideas for you that it makes my head hurt. What hurts my head worse is that you don’t implement them. I can’t count the number of artists I meet who don’t have a business card or a website. Before anyone treats you as a professional, you have to start acting like a professional. If we want to strengthen SLO’s art community, we need to show people that we take our art careers seriously.
Of course, not everyone is guilty. There are some amazing strengths within our art community to be recognized. Some artists/designers have banded together and are hosting shows in their houses or studios. There are retail shops that have invited artists to do “live paintings” at events they’ve hosted in their stores. Bands have combined funds to put on their own shows. Or they just set up guerrilla-style in a field and invite everyone they know. Fashion designers are hosting “stitch and bitch” parties. A select few hair salons, restaurants, and coffee shops have given up their wall space to allow artists to display their creations. I would personally like to thank all of you who are keeping art alive in this town. Your example is an inspiration. ∆
Jeff Claassen is owner of the Claassen Gallery in downtown SLO (1118 Morro St.). Send him comments via Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org.