Marketing an Impossible Dream?
By Tom Wachunas
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -Picasso
File this one under response to a response to a plea(se). I just finished reading Judi Krew’s Oct. 1 blog post (here’s the link – www.snarkyart.blogspot.com ), wherein she re-prints and then responds to an impassioned Sept. 29 facebook post from artist Tim Carmany (The Hub Gallery and Studios in downtown Canton). If you haven’t read Krew’s stirring response, please do so before proceeding here.
Her comments conjured my favorite scene from the 1989 fantasy-drama film, Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner, walking through his Iowa corn field, hears a disembodied voice whispering, “If you build it, he will come.” Long story short, Kostner plows his field and builds a baseball diamond in its place, which becomes a symbol of realized dreams and in the process saves him from bankruptcy via the paying customers who come to watch baseball games.
So let’s consider an analogy for a moment and think of the heart of downtown Canton as a once dowdy if not forbidding piece of real estate, transformed over the past decade into a destination we now call the Arts District. I imagine that the building process was initiated by a collective inspiration, voicing itself thus: “If you build it, they will come.” In this analogy, I understand the ‘they’ to include not only the proprietors and owners, curators, artists and related culture mavens who originally boarded the downtown renaissance train – pioneers all, who courageously forged a trail for others to follow - but also a responsive, “supportive” Canton public.
I do count myself among those artists who passionately believe that the making (and viewing) of art is as vital to a meaningful life as eating and breathing. I also fully understand that the market for local original art is a very tiny niche when seen in the larger context of the public’s discretionary spending on “luxuries” and “entertainment.” (By the way, if it hasn’t been apparent yet, my comments are predicated on my unwavering belief that art isn’t a luxury, but an indispensable cultural necessity.) We live in a society wrestling with a terribly frail economy amid intensely divided allegiances, and beleaguered with desperate cries for all manner of help, including financial. The ever-present call – indeed pressure - to prioritize our sympathies, discerning between needs and desires, can often bring us to a paralyzing compassion fatigue and complacency.
In this climate, is it reasonable to think that local gallery owners and artists, who have up to now been so admirably dedicated and tenacious in bringing substantial life to downtown, could continue to do so indefinitely without a consistent show of material support from the public? Just what is the shelf-life of dreams anyway?
So here’s where things remain at a dicey crossroads. However we might characterize the inspiring voice that fuels the evolution of arts sensibilities in our town, it is a voice which really never promised anyone, “If you build it, they will buy.” Arts District notwithstanding, it remains to be seen if Canton could become a cosmopolitan center of truly sustainable, thriving retail art businesses. And so far, the downtown First Fridays, even at their most joyously frenzied, are no guarantee of such a reality. We’re still largely in dream mode and may be teetering on a precipitous threshold: Buy art, or bye art.