By MATTHEW NASH
Artists crave opportunity more than anything else. We look for new places to show our work, new audiences for our ideas, new people to join the conversation. We look for bigger projects, a larger scope, and an audience to match our ambitions. We look for a thriving art community.
For the most part, New England has a strong a dedicated group of artists, curators, collectors and supporters. Our larger institutions are internationally respected, our colleges and universities are always challenging, and our artist community strives to compete with the major art centers. Each year our major institutions survey the state of the arts: The MFA features its Traveling Scholars, the DeCordova Annual challenges perceptions, and the ICA’s Foster Prize showcases a handful of artists in a high profile venue.
Maybe I’m staring at my stocking and worried about finding a lump of coal, because I cannot get past the mixed (and often negative) messages in the recent “Vital Signs” report by the Boston Foundation (pdf). It is also hard not to notice that the arts culture of Boston has been virtually absent in the weeks prior to, and during, Art Basel Miami Beach.
I’m not against the art fairs or the attention and money they bring to artists and galleries. Yet, the fact that our galleries (and collectors) must leave our city once a year for Miami, and that more and more commercial spaces are placing a larger emphasis on the fairs, how can one read this quote from the Boston Foundation report without flinching?
Imagine the ideal. An innovative sector that welcomes new ideas, new art, and organizations, and preserves the treasures of the past; a sector where organizations can grow, or end operations gracefully; a sector of resilient organizations with the resources to invest in ideas and programs that excite audiences and donors.
New England has always had a strong emphasis on academics and the creation of structures that support art without being bound to the market. Many artists here count on grants, institutional support and private funding to create work that does not easily sell. As a community that is proud of that history, the Boston Foundation has some tough news for us on that front as well.
Adjusted for 2004 dollars, the contributed income – the total of individual contributions, government and foundation grants for an arts and cultural organization – decreased 8% between 1999 and 2004.
As I have frequently stated in the past, one of the most vital aspects of a thriving arts scene is a strong and innovative collection of incubator spaces: venues that allow young artists to mature and established artists to experiment. While we have seen some advances in recent months on this front — Mobius has found a new home, and we have welcomed Ark to our community — we are still way behind. A quick comparision of alternative spaces in Boston in 1997 to now tells a chilling story. Where are our galleries and curators going to find fresh, engaging new work if we have no spaces for that work to grow? How can we expect to be a world-class city for art, with our spectacular new ICA and our expanding MFA, if artists are struggling to find places to show challenging new work?
Perhaps you’ve figured out that I’ve never really enjoyed the holidays: they remind me of all that I hope for in life. The knowledge that what I really want will never be under the tree inspires frustration, but also hope and motivation. Whichever genius invented New Year’s resolutions must have understood that the future can never be packaged as a gift and put under a tree. It must be made by hard work, dedication and honest intentions. My New Year’s resolution will be the same as it has been for the past decade: to work as hard as I can to help create a thriving arts scene in New England.
I hope that will be your resolution too.
Happy Holidays from Big RED & Shiny.