On Saturday night The Art Produce Gallery in San Diego hosted an event aimed at fostering a dialogue between artists, art dealers, gallery owners, critics, and anyone else who considers themselves part of the San Diego Art Scene. The format was simple (I like simple): five questions posed separately to a panel of experts and higher profile members with solicitations for responses from members of the audience.
Turn out was high and I felt as though the energy was too. So much so that I hardly got a seat (in fairness this is partly my fault as I was a few minutes late). I ended up, at the encouragement of the director of Art Produce, climbing over a bunch of people and posting up on a table top, at the front of the room but way over to the side. I must have been outside the field of vision for the moderator, because I had a somewhat difficult time getting called on, despite my zealous hand raising. I wanted to respond to everything, because everything was interesting. Well for the most part. There were people filming the event, but I have not been able to find the video. I would like to watch it again to remember better what was said so if anyone has it out there please share.
The questions posed were, roughly:
1. What is wrong with the San Diego art scene?
2. Who buys art in San Diego?
3. Why stay in San Diego?
4. Something regarding Art and Media (?)
5. What solutions can be provided?
Throughout the talk, I was reminded of the school that I attended for college, Sarah Lawrence. It struck me that they share a common plight. That is, Sarah Lawrence is one of the most delightful places on the planet, a breeding ground for creativity, personal expresion, etc etc. It also happens to be the poorest four year college in its peer group (its endowment has shriveled to a mere 54 million dollars). There are a great many things that work against the College, but in general it seems to have a hard time raising funds because, in order to retain what makes it unique, it cannot simply adopt the measures that other more mainstream institutions have undertaken to bolster their endowments. In this way, Sarah Lawrence is and will continue to be forced to think outside the box in order to stay afloat. San Diego shares this dilemma, and it could be the city's saving grace.
At the discussion Saturday night, there arose a question of identity which I found rather interesting. On the one hand, people advocated measures which were essentially borrowed from communities that have worked in the past ("What we need is a Bergamot Station"..."At Art Basel..." ... "It was the same in the West Village in the 70s..." etc etc). A counter argument to this mindset seemed to develop, one which perhaps revolved around the idea that San Diego should play the hand it is dealt with the aim of fostering a completely unique identity. There was certainly the opinion expressed that San Diego's downfalls are simultaneously its virtues.
Me, I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. Owning a gallery in Leucadia can be frustrating insofar as I want to participate in the San Diego art scene. Or any art scene really. My gallery would obviously benefit if it was located in the Bergamot Station or Chelsea or wherever. On the other hand, if I was in Bergamot or Chelsea, I would not be in Leucadia, and so I would not have had the opportunity to create/foster a unique scene up here. Now, don't get me wrong there is an art scene that already exists in North County San Diego, and I am in some ways just learning the ropes. However, (especially having just moved from five years of living in New York and Paris) it is evident to me that this area is not reaching its full potential. That can be discouraging or intriguing, and I chose to assume the latter. If one looks at North County as a blank canvas, then one can see it as a land of opporunity, a place where people can express themselves without the constraints of an already established scene (like NY or Paris).
That is abstract, and I am aware that more concrete suggestions and actions are needed. One solution to this particular aspect of the development of a San Diego art scene is obviously related to the need for more networking, and more effort on the part of the artists and community members to show up and promote each other. Yes promote each other. While there may be no direct gain for someone talking up and spreading the word about someone else who is doing good work in the area, ultimately we must understand that by promoting the scene in which we are participating, we are promoting ourselves. Networks like SDVAN are golden, it is free and does a good job of consolidating artists into a browsable directory. The only problem is that its not really hip. Not that I think the San Diego scene needs to be trendy but...well, just look at the website and I think you'll get my drift. Also, being hip is just not the mission of SDVAN, and I guess rightfully so. I really like the Art As Authority blog, and have been exposed to a lot through reading it. We just need more of it. I see a sort of redundancy on these sites. It is not necessarily their fault either, they are just dealing with what they have. However, I think Art As Authority, with its editorial component (which is crucial) and its blog format (which gives them good mobility), has the ability to broaden its horizon a little bit, and I believe it should. It just can't do that though unless it has people who are willing to participate. That means renegade art reviews for the sake of the art. That means taking pictures and video to document events. And that means doing justice to your efforts by sending that stuff out there and relentlessly trying to get involved. Etc etc.
I have a lot of other ideas, and could probably go on for a long time. Overall I thought the talk was very useful and I really want to thank everyone who organized it and made it happen. I met some people who seemed excited or on some level invested in the idea of a San Diego art scene (not least of which was Michele Guieu who also has a blog), which is a good sign. I encourage everyone to continue this dialogue. I am more than willing to offer my gallery as a venue for exchanging ideas and/or other good events having to do with any medium of creative arts. Also, what I would like to do is to invite people to post their thoughts or responses here or send them to me via the contact page of the gallery website. Maybe start with those questions that the panel posed. Or make your own questions or respond to something I said, whatever. That talk was cut short and I know that there are more opinions to be heard. I would furthermore encourage everyone to post comments and send thoughts to Mr. Kevin Freitas at Art As Authority, Mrs. Patricia Frischer at SDVAN, write to CityBeat and The Reader demanding more art reviews for the sake of the art alone. etc etc. Robert Pincus, critic for the Union Tribune, was saying that he would like to see more amateurs trying their hand at critical writing, so find shows that you find interesting and write about them, and then send what you write to Mr. Pincus. I'd like to read them too. In fact, I have a whole host of work at the gallery that is begging criticism, and anyone who wants to start here is welcome.