Sunday, August 28, 2016

Canton Arts District Weather Report: CLOUDY

Canton Arts District Weather Report: CLOUDY

By Tom Wachunas

   “Snarky Art and Journey Studios have some news to share….We are moving to the cloud! After years at both Second April Galerie and 431 4th St NW, Snarky Art and Journey Studios announce they are moving! We have tried using our beautiful corner space as an art gallery with a classroom and yoga studio, as working studio spaces, and as a fashion boutique with unique wearables. We've shown you beautiful art and one-of-a-kind fashions. We've thrown parties, offered classes, organized community projects and held lovely art exhibitions and fundraisers. But in the end, we find our walls and racks full... but our pockets...not so much. "  - from Su Nimon, Journey Studios

   I was originally going to title this entry “Journey’s End,” but thought it a bit too pessimistic. The recent buzz in the arts community about Su Nimon (Journey Studios) and Judi Krew (Snarky Art) closing up shop at the end of September does indeed mean the cessation of business in their location for nearly the past three years - a particularly elegant physical space within the “Canton Arts District” at the corner of 4th Street and McKinley Avenue NW.  But it also signals a forward look, a beginning of their respective endeavors to continue making their art accessible to the public online, and hopefully profitable enough to sustain their creative practices in the long term. And after all, what seriously active artist doesn’t want to find a consistently dependable venue where worthy work can be properly presented, viewed, and yes, purchased?

   I’ll sorely miss Journey Studios and Snarky Art. Sue Nimon and Judi  Krew have been an important and unique entity in our midst, and I wish for both women better days ahead as they artfully weave their web presence. 
   That said, Canton and “thriving art gallery scene” are far from synonymous. A number of factors – some arguably insurmountable for the foreseeable future – work against making the downtown corridor a viable location for establishing real art galleries. High on the list is the sobering fact that too few people venture into the heart of downtown specifically to view, much less buy, fine art on a regular basis. (As it stands now, there’s actually only one space that could be rightly called an art gallery in the truest sense of the word – Ikon Images on 5th Street NW – though I’ve no idea how well the gallery is doing these days.) Those who do explore the “Canton Arts District” will encounter, for the most part, bazaar or boutique-style offerings heavy on crafts, some interesting collectibles, and utilitarian tchotchkes -  fancy snack bars, so to speak, but not much in the way of a gourmet feasts. And frankly, I’m still not convinced that the demographic and geographic potential for developing sustainable art galleries even exists in Canton’s cultural DNA. Someone please prove me wrong! 

   If there’s an overarching local perspective on the idea of sustainable “retail art” establishments in the Canton Arts District, perhaps it has been best indicated in a recent Repository article by Dan Kane, reporting on ArtsinStark’s management of the former Second April Galerie, now called Avenue Arts. Here’s an excerpt  (click here for the full article -  ):
        Almost all of the artists have stayed," said Tricia Ostertag, ArtsinStark's First Friday and Canton Arts District coordinator who now also is running Avenue Arts. "We have 14 resident artists who pay rent, and 20 additional commission artists." Three artist studios, which rent for $175 to $225 a month, are available.
    Ostertag made clear her desire to shift Avenue Arts from a fine-arts gallery to an arts marketplace. "We're moving from $600 paintings on the wall to more of a place for gifts and functional items. "We want to be a place where you'd buy a scarf or a T-shirt or a piece of pottery or jewelry," she said. Boutiques on the second floor are devoted to handmade soaps and crocheted hats, scarves and bags.

    At the end of the day, it seems that more and more artists, for better or worse, are necessarily embracing the reality of web marketing to keep their art “out there.” Will brick-and-mortar galleries ultimately give way to online viewing and shopping?  Meanwhile I wait, looking forward to my first sighting of an Amazon drone-drop of a pesky $600 painting or sculpture. Thanks to “the cloud,” someday soon it could be raining fine art on a front yard near you.

   TOP PHOTO: Su Nimon (left) and Judi Krew

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