Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Art spaces

This morning I attended a business roundtable discussion hosted by Flashpoint, at Conner Contemporary (which is an incredible art space -- go visit if you haven't yet). I missed the first 20 minutes, since I decided to run a real time scenario on how much taking public transportation to H Street NE sucks red hot ass, but I managed to catch a lot of interesting discussion.

Philippa Hughes, Jayme McLellan and Karyn Miller led the talk, and it would probably be easiest for me to say that I usually agree with everything the three of these very smart ladies say. When discussing temporary art spaces and how to approach developers and managers, Philippa brought up the excellent point that it's important to talk in their language and focus on how hosting a show might benefit them. We can talk about the intangible benefits of art to a community and even how, long-term, artists change neighborhoods, but that's not going to convince a storefront owner with a $6000/month rent going unpaid to host your sculptures for free because one day, far from now, it might make him feel good. It's not a business person's job to "better the community," it's their job to make money, and it's the art community's job to succeed in the former by focusing on the latter. If anything, the intangible and long-term benefits of art is the ace up our sleeve. The attention and $$ we can bring businesses this weekend are our cards on the table.

There was a lot of interesting talk about how this common ground might be found, and some developers and BID members were there to bring some good points to the table about consolidating efforts through initiatives like "condominium-izing" gallery spaces, particularly when many galleries feel the rug being pulled out from under them over and over as rents rise and landlords seek tenants with deeper pockets. We also talked about forums to pair available spaces with art groups, like one the Cultural Development Corporation houses.

The obvious dysfunction is that these talks go on and then nothing tangible happens. What will it take to get arts orgs in town working together, focusing on the right priorities, and doing it in a way that's palatable to people with a bigger bottom line to worry about?

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