The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

museumAs monolithic as the institution of the art museum can seem, its role in society and culture can, at times, be particularly ambiguous.  Sharpening the focus, an art museum’s relationship with the surrounding art community is often no clearer.  An excited  buzz recently flowed through much of St. Petersburg upon word of a new museum, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, set to open there in 2016.  Local artists, gallerists, art bloggers (including myself) seemed especially pleased with the news.  I wondered, though, if this stemmed from anything other than the excitement that accompanies new exhibits in a new venue and a potential positive economic impact on the arts.  

Really, it brought a larger question to mind.  The local arts community and nearby art museums seem to share a special relationship.  That said, does one actually exist based on some sort of cultural interchange and should it?  Do better/more museums somehow make a better local art scene?

So it might now become clear that the “trickle” in this article’s title is not an economic one (and certainly not a biological one – nasty!)  Rather, it refers to a flow of cultural value from art museums to local art makers.  I’ve given this idea quite a bit of thought in preparation to host the next #TwitterCrit.  I’ve since realized I’m not one of those quick-tongued critics that can form an unassailable opinion in the flash of a moment.  Thinking about this ‘Museum trickle down effect’ has, in honesty, only left me with more questions.  Still, maybe these questions in themselves are noteworthy points.

Why Trickle Down?

I initially made the assumption that art museums should somehow influence and, to a point, shape the local art community.  Really, if a local art community informed a museum’s practice, I would likely call that “trickle up“.  But why up?

Museums are generally thought of as centers of influence.  Consider the generally accepted pinnacle of an artist’s career is the museum retrospective.  Think about the MoMA’s role in defining the idea of Modernism.  Note museum architecture old and new.  Scrutinize museums bolstering of “cultural capital.”  During the twentieth century art museums have inhabited a role somewhere in between “taste maker” and “history writer.”

Believe me: I don’t want to address why or how museums are vested with this power.  Rather, does this model of Museum-as-taste-maker-slash-history-writer still work for us in the twenty-first century?  I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

In a Wikipedia world, art museums do feel a bit like a stack of  leather-bound encyclopedias.  That isn’t to say the institutions should adopt the elsewhere ubiquitous practices of populism and crowdsourcing.  I can only imagine how terrible administration-by-‘like’-and-‘retweet’ would be.  Still, there seems to be a certain sense of pluralism that is missing.  I’m not saying that everyone’s opinion should be included – we’d end up with a museum aesthetically similar to Pier 1.  What I am saying is there should be mechanism to undermine the institutions’ tendency toward a meta-narrative of art and its history.

I’m sorry: I’m not really offering any specific alternatives, and in the end this might be as much an issue to be taken up with institutional curation as the art museum itself.  To be fair, I did say that considering the issue “only left me with more questions.”  If you have any ideas, however, I’d love to see it as a comment below.

Should there be a Trickle?

Perhaps the most basic question on the topic is “Should there even be a trickle down effect?”  It may be that a creative interchange between local visual arts and art museums locally is not beneficial.  I doubt this also, but I feel like I should play devil’s advocate with myself.
There are well-known stories of the Abstraction Expressionists and their near-desperate endeavour to exhibit within the MoMA’s already hallowed halls.  No doubt, to this end ambition served as some sort of impetus for their art making  – personally, a relatively unsavory thought.  Of course, few local artists entertain hopes of exhibiting in the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg or Tampa Museum of Art.  Yet, I suppose, it would require little for aspirations of museum inclusion to overtake nobler goals.  That said, I’d like to clarify that this is a dumb reason to suppress a creative interchange between local artists and art museums – this sort of ambition seems to be an unshakable aspect of the art world regardless.
The second reason against a creative interchange that comes to mind is the possibility that both the local arts community and art museums operate better independently – a sort of separation of powers.  Obviously, this would retread what was spoken about under the previous subheading –  what really privileges one to exert an influence on the other?
An arts community is unhampered by the expectations of a board, donors, the public, and general bureaucracy.  A museum has wide-reaching resources and concerns that spread far beyond the local community.  It may be that mixing the two weakens some of each’s greatest strengths.

Is ‘Trickle’ the Wrong Word? (It’s definitely an Annoying One Now)

The word ‘trickle’ implies movement, and maybe that’s an imprecise way to illustrate the potential relationship between an art museum and surrounding art communities.
It has been wonderful watching the visual arts community in Tampa Bay grow.  Perhaps an inevitable effect of this growth is that the larger nebulous community divides and again coalesces into smaller groups.  St. Petersburg’s art community becomes the 600 Block, Warehouse Arts District, Gulfport, and so on.  Tampa’s art community becomes Seminole Heights, Ybor, USF.
Can museums act as centers that enjoin the manifold scenes into a singular and stronger community?  With some effort and cooperation, museums can be the fulcrum that allows composite art communities to achieve common goals and meet common needs.  Beyond the potential of being a resource for its venue space and organizational support, museums can act as a visible representation of the larger arts community.  This sort of arrangement would also be beneficial to the museums.
It is certainly in any museums interest to foster an environment of cultural literacy and art appreciation.  Advocating surrounding arts communities can concurrently work as a grass-roots effort to nurture and expand a community that produces future patrons.
* * *
So what should the relationship between museums and local art communities be like?  I’m still not sure.  But I am pretty sure, though, what it might involve: A spirit of cooperation with a focus on shared needs and goals, a manner of operating that reflects a modern sense of pluralism, and a partnership that benefits the larger community we share.
The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

Art@Bay on ARTICULATE – Visual Art Calendar 10/18 – 10/24

The Pinellas arts scene can’t easily be pinned down – we’re a pretty diverse bunch.  For the well-rounded arts lover that you are, this is likely a point of pride. This week we’re getting even more rounded, as our picks range from the hell-raising to the heartwarming.

Check out the calendar here on ARTICULATE

Art@Bay on ARTICULATE – Visual Art Calendar 10/18 – 10/24

Warehouse to Wynwood: A Checklist

Detail of a mural by Acud-Akut in the Warehouse Arts District

I stared out the window as we drove up I-595 on our way out of Miami.  Single story, brightly painted garages and warehouses, street art murals, numerous galleries: “That looks just like the Warehouse Arts District!”  In actuality we were driving by Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.  The Wynwood neighborhood is arguably America’s most important art neighborhood outside of New York city limits.  Perhaps it was the visual similarities between the two districts that inspired my optimism.  But maybe, just maybe, the Warehouse Arts District, too, can one day be a national game changer of a neighborhood.

After all, in Florida’s Bermuda-Triangle-style real estate climate, expecting a neighborhood similar to Manhattan’s Chelsea or even Brooklyn’s Williamsburg area are frankly unrealistic.  However, Miami’s Wynwood – that just might work.  So how does our WAD become the cock of the walk that is Miami’s WAD?  Here is a check list to get it going.  Don’t despair: the Warehouse Arts District can already cross some of these off.

Low rent neighborhood for artists and galleries.  Artists are generally poor; they’re not starving artists by choice.  Getting them to congregate in one neighborhood require’s affordable rent.

Warehouse/garage spaces that make for good gallery spaces and studios.  This is self-explanatory – a lot of space is good for working artists.  I’ve also been hearing the term “industrial-chic” lately.  I suppose the grittiness can look cool in its own way.  On an unrelated note, if you ever hear me utter any word followed by “chic”, please drown me. 

Recognition from the city as an important cultural neighborhood.  To be honest, Miami, like St. Pete, didn’t exactly give their WAD much recognition until it became clear that the arts makes crap-loads of money.  Crap-loads.  Recognition is recognition, though, right?  Seriously, cooperation and help from the city is vital.  St. Pete annually budgets money for arts organizations that would be near impossible to operate without.   

World-class art fairs that funnels thousands of art-lovers (and collectors) to the neighborhood.  Through Art Basel Miami and satellite fairs, December is the only time of the year Miami may be more important than NYC.  I realize St. Pete can’t realistically expect a fair of Basel magnitude any time soon (if ever).  That doesn’t mean we can’t host a quality contemporary art fair.  Main Sail and Gasparilla Arts Festival?  Please.  We could use a fair that doesn’t appeal exclusively to the senior citizen set.   

Art galleries in touch with national trends, pushing the conversation forward.  This may be the most important piece.  Everything else will grow organically if the district has a base of galleries/spaces in touch with contemporary art thought.  Otherwise, the area can easily regress into a kitsch district.  Think St. Augustine’s Historic District without any of the history. 

Art collectors that live in the area or at least visit often.  I hate to say it, but art collectors are still one of the main catalysts to good art.  Tourists demand chotchkies.  Serious Collectors demand quality contemporary work.  While it’s better to supply the latter, unfortunately it’s easier to supply the former.  It seems that nearly all of (the few) collectors that head our way land just South of us in Sarasota.  In the mean time we’re plentiful in the next best catalyst: good schools.  The University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, and the Ringling College of Art and Design are all producing a respectable pool of new artists.       

The arts and their support have strengthened exponentially in the Bay area as of late.  It could be my love for St. Pete and Tampa saying this but I think we may soon be poised to bring our voice to the national table.  It may soon be time to widen the cirlce of those benefited by our art scene to well beyond the bay.  I’d hate to see the chance squandered.

Warehouse to Wynwood: A Checklist

Look! 2nd Saturday Art Walk – 5/12/12

We made seven stops on Saturday night’s art walk!  Here is a slide show of our travels.  Photos of the Warehouse Arts District are scant here because I’m saving them for an upcoming post.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for Art at Bay’s prestigious top three art walk works of art (aka my three favorite)!  What were yours?

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Billy Cole, Absence – at Blue Lucy’s Scratching the Surface


Kristen Bellomo, Wolves Don’t Hate, Black copper paint on cardboard (at C. Emerson Fine Arts)

…and #1

Lorrie Fredette, The Great Silence, Beeswax, tree resin, muslin, brass, steel and nylon line, 74 x 194 x 68 in. (from Wax: Medium Meets Message at the Morean Arts Center)

Note:  After Ramblin’ Rose I had to head home and entirely neglected to take photos of work from artist Zoe Sierra Hill.  Check out her work here.

Look! 2nd Saturday Art Walk – 5/12/12

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – Art Getting to Work

Duncan McClellan Glass

If art neighborhoods were personified perhaps St. Petersburg’s 600 Block would be a skinny-jeans-and-Chucks hipster.  Tampa’s Seminole Heights might be tweed jacketed; scruffy but mature.  However, there is a new neighborhood you’d probably find in blue jeans and blue-collar: the Warehouse Arts District.

Read the rest of the article here

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – Art Getting to Work