Ever since the conclusion of the four-week experiment of the gallery/community commons in a little-used corner of downtown, I have been inundated with questions, comments, and offers. Apparently, four weeks was too short of a time to remain in operation, but long enough to have made a positive and profound impact on the community. Questions remain unanswered to many, and though The HardWay was meant to only last a certain amount of time, many express the desire to see this continue and on a longer-term basis. The feasibility of an artist-run gallery/centre has been illustrated, but can it be sustainable?
There is discussion among local artists for the desire to create an artist-run centre in this community. It is the desire of local artists to be able to continue to market their work to the masses, and as a venue to showcase much of the creative talent that exists here, but to do so in a way that control of activities and curation of artwork remains in the hands of the artists involved. Involvement from artists would require voluntary efforts and the use of resources at their disposal, as well as the contributions of financial resources from each artist involved, much like a membership fee.
Many outside of this group of artists also express a willingness to become involved in the further continuation of such efforts as The HardWay. Although various offers of funding have been offered from municipal representatives, there is a reluctance from some local artists to receive such financing. The release of public funds, as stated in some of my other blogs, runs the risk of accusations from some in the community as a “waste of taxpayers money”, especially when we face some very tight times locally. As well, some artists fear that acceptance of such funding would come with restrictions that may result in loss of control over coordination of activities, creative expression by individual artists, or the censorship of artwork. This may be discouraging to the free expression of artists, as well as dictating responsibilities and duties that many artists are already well-capable of doing on their own accord.
This is not to say that financial contributions are not welcome. As had happened at The HardWay, the investment of a month’s rent at a downtown location did prove to have success, and the offer was most welcome from our sponsors. Through their private sponsorship, either through financial resources, or through efforts of the donations of services, the experiment was able to happen. Sponsorship allowed the artists to act to coordinate the events and workshops. In the future, sponsorship of programs and workshops, or offering services such as short-term rentals and advertisement or other services as needed at no cost to facilitate the venue and events would be considered, as long as the artists are able to retain control of curation, coordinate activities and events, and simply be able “to create art”. This must be done in a manner that would allow the artists to operate wholly independent of financing from outside sources so that it can become viable and sustainable over a period of time. It cannot maintain sustainability without creating its own permanence and financial independence in due time.
I should also mention that this initiative, if carried further, could also be utilized or perhaps be encouraged through an identifiable asset that already exists within this community that so desires to see its continuance: its youth. With the commencement of the school year for elementary, secondary, and postsecondary students, a companionship with these educational institutions or programs might be explored or encouraged. One thing noted during the four weeks at The HardWay was the success of Family Open Art Days which encouraged participation and appreciation in arts through personal exploration by youth with hands-on experience without formal instruction. Artists volunteered to be available during these events, not necessarily for instructional purposes, but to offer insight through personal experience and skills demonstrated. This created a demand for some artists to offer instruction of their skills, which could also become a marketable service provides by local artists involved, especially when attendees to these events expressed a desire to learn more about artistic processes. Also, some students may also be able to achieve experience of their own volunteering to assist in the facilitation of such events and programs at such a venue, also furthering their skills while learning and applying new ones.
I think it is safe to assume that the local artists previously involved in The HardWay would be very open to the idea of facilitating such an initiative again. It can be done in an efficient manner that is inclusive of local artists while showcasing their talents, encourages and exhibits local creative talent in the community, and can be a viable means of marketing individual artists’ work to the public through organized efforts. It can be done to achieve sustainability and independence, and offer to the community more than just “local art on local walls”.