It is an eventuality nearly as certain as death: artists end up in New York City.
Most art events outside of Kings and New York counties (save for fairs and biennials) are like trees that fall in a forest. Alright, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit. Art critics seem to enjoy detailing the downfall of NYC to make way for the nebulous dominance of the internet. However, Art critics also enjoy being contrary just for kicks. Be assured, New York is still the fulcrum on which the art world turns and the final resting place for most talented artists.
Many MFA grads seem to quickly jettison themselves toward the Big Apple the moment the thesis exhibit is taken down. With hopes of Chelsea representation and a relatively livable wage, New York dreams are difficult to resist. The rolling exodus of Florida artists to a New York Promised Land is a major reason our scene may seem comparatively stunted.
The pro/con list for artists to move to New York admittedly sags heavy on the pro side. Its easier to get paid as an artist in New York. Artists are likely to get paid more in New York. Granted, it is difficult to garner attention in a city saturated with artists. However, the only thing more difficult than getting attention as an artist living in New York, is getting New York’s attention living elsewhere.
I had intended this article to be a convincing argument filled with reasons to call Tampa Bay’s art scene home. The fact is, I could hardly come up with any beyond “It’s the right thing to do”.
Our art scene is small. To be clear, I don’t mean it’s small compared to the New York or LA art scene. Rather, it’s small compared to how large it should be. I realize the numbers of artists and galleries in the Bay area have leapt in recent years. However, the number of gallerists and artists relevant to the national contemporary art discourse has largely stagnated.
Don’t fret: it’s not our fault, this is just an economic reality. Minor art markets, such as ours, need to bow under commercial viability just to stay afloat. I like to think that any scene will make the best art that it can insofar as that it will sell. Unfortunately, in the Bay area, little sells beyond decorative substanceless work. Fortunately, there are artists and gallerists that are exceptions to this: they make and exhibit work without the hope of ever selling much or even any of it locally. These ‘exceptions’ are also the type of artists that generally tend to migrate to a market in which they’re no longer ‘exceptions’ i.e. New York. This pool of ‘exceptions’ is precisely the population we need to grow.
Further, an artist’s cultural value, like monetary value, is variable. Whereas a major arts center such as NYC may dilute the cultural value of each artist, a smaller center such as Tampa Bay would inflate it. That is to say, good artists are worth more to us because we don’t have as many of them. Perhaps the conclusion is obvious, but it is this: quality artists do more good here than in NYC.
However, my intention is not to chastise those that choose to move to New York. I understand your position: I haven’t decided to remain in Tampa Bay out of a sense of art-scene-virtue as much as the fact that I simply don’t want to move away from my awesome family.
Rather, for those with any sort of personal investment in our art scene: I’m only encouraging you to continue investing. I’m not saying that we need to get all ‘Desperation’ on these artists and gallerists, but it is in our best interest to keep them in town.