a look back
This morning I listened to a great TED Radio piece about the wisdom of breaking rules, which appealed to my inner anarchist. It’s in that vein that I decided to take a look back not merely on one year, as rules dictate, but on two years! I’m choosing as a reference point January, 2011, because that was the month Teton ArtLab opened the Factory Studios and ushered in a new wave of enthusiasm for local, contemporary visual art.
Factory Studios open studio nights attract a surprisingly diverse audience — old-school artists from the 70s, 20-something snowboarders, wealthy collectors, interior designers, plus the core art crowd who attend most art events. It was crazy! There was some kind of magic juju going on that people could feel but maybe not identify.
I want to venture a two-part hypotheses about what happened. One, contemporary art made by local artists — formerly perhaps only appreciated by its makers and their friends, and perhaps seen as fringe or even quaint by collectors — finally earned a bit of mainstream cache. Boom. Mix’d Media started up at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The Art Association did its Jackson Rising show. The Pink Garter started having art exhibits (not to mention playing host to Culture Front events.) Asymbol kills it at their recent sale and open studio. Mini independent art fairs pop up all over.
Even after the Factory closed and re-emerged as Big Haus, the energy behind the shift didn’t stop.
My other thought is that artists stepped up their game. Or more accurately, a whole swath of Jackson artists started to mature in their practice around the same time. Having studio space helped that. Having a place to interact with one another also helped. But something more alchemical occurred too. A critical mass of disciplined, talented artists took leaps in their practices which amounted to a sort of group leap that generated an electric current through the valley. It’s like they all got together and said, “Okay, everyone, let’s go out and kill it!”
For his show at the Pink Garter, Ben Roth talked about having put in his 10,000 hours. Abbie Miller took her work to a new level and was rewarded with a solo show at the Nicolaysen and a forthcoming exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. Aaron Wallis (who did a residency at a print shop in Oakland last year) continued to prove with his Street Bible prints that Jackson doesn’t just want pictures of mountains. Suzanne Morlock and Susan Thulin showed at Tayloe Piggott Gallery; Suzanne also showed at the Charles Schulz museum and taught a workshop at San Francisco’s craft museum. Mike Tierney spray painted at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Mikey Parillo sold out his entire show of new work. Mark Dunstan went to art school in London. Jenny Dowd curated and showed in a stellar exhibit at the Art Association and has dedicated herself full time to her art. Bronwyn Minton started working in LARGE form, taking her sculpture to new heights. Todd Kosharek sold numerous gorgeous paintings out of his house, and showed at the Art Association. Travis Walker wowed us all with his RV paintings which Todd called the best new work in Jackson. Camille Davis‘s portraits get more gorgeous every year. Kelly Halpin has produced so many drawings I’m sure even she has trouble keeping track – all of them crazy with ingenuity and skill. And in the more traditional Jackson fields of wildlife and western art, September Vhay, Amy Ringholz, and Kathryn Turner saw their careers do triple flips!
These are just some of the examples I can think of from the past two years. (I’m sure I’m leaving out people I shouldn’t so please chime in!) The icing on the cake is that the more individual artists push themselves in their own disciplines – and produce amazing work as a result – the more inspiration for all artists.
When I asked Travis Walker what he thought about the ArtLab’s influence on all this, he said the Lab’s studio projects are, “by far, the main influence we have on the art market here.”
When artists have affordable studio space – surprise surprise – they make more art.
“We raise over $100,000 a year for our studio projects and around $70,000 of that is from the artists themselves,” Walker said. “The remaining funds come mostly from grants, with a small amount from art sales, classes, and printing fees.”
One day, the town of Jackson is going to join Jackson area collectors and mainstream art organizations and wake up to how central artists are to a thriving arts economy. Invest in our artists and, hey, wow, we get a lot of groundbreaking, exciting, innovative, and dare I say commercially successful art.
While we’re waiting on that, maybe you’d like to tell me what you think about my tipping point hypotheses?
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