Works on paper

For the next 18 days, right here, in River City, ArtPrize 2011 will dominate many of our citizens with a sense of euphoria that one could plot on a scale between  a rainbow-covered carriage ride pulled by unicorns and a confab facilitated by the local chapter of ‘Art School Graduates for Truth.’

The importance of program leadership in public Montessori education

My remarks, as written, were presented  as a public comment made to the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education, Education Subcommittee, April 20, 2011:

Hello, I am Matthew Patulski, a GRPS Montessori parent and a member the GRPS Montessori Taskforce.

On behalf of the task-force parents, we want thank the district for executing the Montessori marketing survey. Without scooping the details, I just want to say it validates what we have known for along time: there is interest in Grand Rapids for a high performing, public Montessori High School. This interest transcends, income, race and region as long as there are Montessori trained staff teaching Montessori curriculum.

To do this, we must start at the top: Hire a dedicated Montessori Principal or Program Director…

The outcomes of the GRPS Montessori Taskforce

On April 11, 2011, I spoke during the public comment section of the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Board of Education meeting about the work of the GRPS Montessori Taskforce …

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ArtPrize 2009: Stumbling towards empathy

Now that ArtPrize 2009 is a fading memory, I can say there is more good than bad to ArtPrize (gasp).

I have many issues with ArtPrize on a functional level but it has the potential be very good for the Visual Arts in Grand Rapids over time. Put another way: how is this not an improvement over having large fiberglass painted cows, fish, birds, etc. scattered around downtowns across America and calling that art?

The salient point of discussion: We all must continually broaden and improve the quality of the work shown and the subtlety of the exchange between Artists and the viewing public.

While Artists are not Doctors, they do share that singular dedication and desire for professionalism and knowledge found in medicine and other professions such as the law, the sciences, the baseball. How does one get the public to understand that premise, fend off biting allegations of elitism, while at the same time being responsible as artist/curators for selecting 1/2 of the top 10?

Margo Burian, a painter friend of mine, remarked the following:

It seems like everyday, more funding to the arts is being cut at both the state and federal levels.My take on it is that the general public feels generally excluded from the arts, therefore the powers that be can make cuts without suffering too much backlash.If ArtPrize did something well, it was getting people to feel included and that they were participating. Does that qualify them to judge art? It’s not my place to say, but what I do know is that many of them cared enough to get off the couch and get down to venues to look at Art.

If we as an artistic community want to have support for the Arts, we have to get the greater community as a whole to see the value of the inclusion of the arts in their lives. If by allowing a public vote, you get the public interested in the arts, we bring the community up as a whole. Its then, when we create an inclusive community, that we can educate people as to the value of the arts and how they play a part in the quality of daily life.

People will defend something they care about. As creative professionals we need to own Art actions, not just be passive observers waiting for an audience to saunter by. The increased traffic will give our local institutions an opportunity to show work that we will want to see that public will be interested in as well.

ArtPrize was a great membership drive for the UICA. Also, several pieces are under negotiation of sale to collectors and UICA gets a cut–another win for the home team. My hunch is that the success of this year will help to shape decisions of who shows next year and where. UICA has set an expectation for success (4 of the top 10). Many other works are in the top 25/50/75/100. I wonder if next year, GRAM will throw it’s doors open for 3 weeks and show work inside instead of just two walls on the exterior. I would not be surprised if the Frederick Meijer Gardens and GVSU are more involved next year as well.

Sure, you will still have the B.O.B. and other restaurants showing work. Smarter artists won’t go back to the venues that make their work subservient to the spectacle of that venue. I felt very uncomfortable looking at artwork and someone else’s lunch or dinner at the same time. The Kissing Booth was the exception that proved the rule.

Besides the UICA/Old Federal Building, I can think of 5 or 6 venues of the dozens I visited that are role models of well presented, non-institutional spaces covering a full spectrum of curatorial premises: Betadesign, Brass Works, 47 Commerce SW, Monroe Community Church, Peaches B&B and Tanglefoot. The work varies in quality, like much of ArtPrize, but these venues really cared about the presentation–they respected Artists. By the way, 2010 venue organizers, you could cherry pick a great 10-12 person show from the right 1-3 artists found at each of these locations.

In the end, advocacy, education and most of all, empathy will improve the conversation and the quality of the work. The public will develop a more informed opinion to compliment an intuitive one about Art and Artists. Artists will gain much in speaking to this newer audience, but it will take some time. Asking questions and listening may be the better action for now. Both sides will garner respect from each other. There is a bigger agenda in play that goes beyond just looking at Art. It will probably take 3 of these before you can effectively critique its impact to the larger schema of the Art World.

Last Saturday, on the last day, two days after all of the winners were announced, there were thousands of people out in the streets of GR simply because they wanted to see the work. Some were artists, 20-somethings, the usual suspects. But also moms and dads taking their kids around downtown. I had great conversations, I listened. A typical story: ‘We wanted to see the top 10 and then got sidetracked.’

Sidetracked: it’s a start. Thank you.

Orginal Post:

ArtPrize v. Festival: Is there a difference?

Festival of the Arts

Last night while walking through The Old Federal Building, Festival of the Arts came up in conversation. For those not from River City, it’s our annual 3 day event featuring the best local Art, Music, Film and food in the West Michigan 7 county region. The first Festival began in 1969, the year we installed Le Grande Vitesse. The icon at left was created by Calder for that event. A line has been drawn from 1969 to now. After this first week of ArtPrize is there an intersection of intent?

From the Festival website:

Always held the first full weekend in June in downtown Grand Rapids, Festival of the Arts is a community celebration featuring arts, entertainment, food and fun activities for the entire family. All performances, exhibits and activities are free, thanks to generous donations by local organizations, companies and individuals.

Now ArtPrize:

At ArtPrize, any artist—from established to emerging—has the chance to show work. Any visitor can vote. The vote will decide who wins the largest art prize in the world. We also took the unusual step to allow people in the city to open a venue and choose the artists to show in their space. There is not one official curator or jury for the competition.

On the face of they sound very different. But are they?

This past week, crowds in the 10’s of thousands walked biked, bussed and trollied throughout the 3 square mile ArtPrize district to look at art, eat food, take in the day. This past June, 10’s of Thousands of people walked around downtown to look at art, Listen to music, eat food, take in the day.

ArtPrize has a $250K people’s choice award. Festival’s is only $500. Both events had over a thousand entries. Both get people talking about Art.

The selection process of Festival is more rigorous on the one hand with only a third of its entries being chosen for the exhibit. Although very local in flavor, the overall quality offers a decent sense of the ‘best of the region’ by those people who love to make work be they are paid or not.

What I saw this past week in ArtPrize, was that the bad are very bad and the good are very good. Of the very good works created elsewhere, they help expand the local sense of what is Art. I also saw that many local artists can hold their own against national work.The sad part is much of it is rarely seen locally, except in the classic gallery setting. Will the ArtPrize public continue to step out for that after next week? They say it is part of their mission to promote an ongoing dialogue about Art. We shall see.

When I was a boy, my family would go to Festival and I would always go to the Visual Arts and Film competitions first. I spent hours walking the halls of art and especially watching short films. Often returning many times; amazed that someone I might know could make a movie and show it to other people. Now as an adult, I work as a creative professional, I write, I support the creative endeavors of my wife and two boys. I can draw a line from Festival to now. Will my sons be able to say that about ArtPrize? We shall see.

A lot of the local Art professionals like to grumble about the caliber of work in Festival. Same goes for ArtPrize. I don’t disagree. I have real issues with both but I still go, family in tow and find value in both. If you are going to live here and make here, then step up and own Festival, own ArtPrize, own this town. Don’t sing public virtues of ArtPrize and grumble in the comfort of friends. If you don’t like something point it out, offer a solution. Also make sure to give praise when it’s due.

The general public often remarks they don’t always understand Modern Art. Or they may say ‘I could do that.’ And that classic: ‘Art is in the eye of the beholder.’ Not good enough. There are some great works out there but you please, do your homework. Crack a book, rent a video, google an artist, attend some of the great lectures that UICA, ActiveSite and other venues are hosting this week and next. Own your vote by being informed.

Tomorrow night, Friday 10/2, UICA is hosting a discussion on the ArtPrize Top 10. 7-9 PM. Come out and step up.

Some of the better works in ArtPrize (Part 1)

So last night I made my way through a dozen or so ArtPrize venues in downtown River City. Galleries, bars, restaurants, industrial spaces. It went rather quickly given crowds but then I had the list. So far, I have not been too far off the mark and find myself making it shorter as I go–but that is for another post.

Here are a few remarks, made on location. I want to encourage Connoisseurs and Fans alike to take in the following works these next few days as they deserve more attention than most:

ArtPrize and Innovation: does Art need either one?

ArtPrize is upon us here in River City. For lo these many months, a topical condition has developed that I have come to call the ‘Dilemma of ArtPrize.’

It could be best described with these remarks: ‘Why are they doing it and what is it really for?” or “Hey ArtPrize: I really like what you are doing but you should do it this way” and of course “ArtPrize is great, why do you want it to fail, you must hate our city”.

So why does ArtPrize exist? Is it just ‘a radically open art competition, giving away the world’s largest art prize’? Is it only about viewing and voting for and against visual art in some neo-populist fashion? Is there more to it? What is the audacious, outrageous solution of ArtPrize?

Read on: ArtPrize and Innovation: does Art need either one?

The 10% solution: a way to see the best of ArtPrize

Q: Can one see 1262 artworks in 7 days and give the work its due?

A: One can try, but probably no.

As some of you may know, ArtPrize is a new visual arts competition being held in Grand Rapids, MI  from September 23 to October 9, 2009.  It’s been the talk of the town here in River City since late April of this year. Many posts, comments, chats and an aha moment later, we are now on the cusp of something. With venue and artist matching complete, everyone is building, painting, installing, cleaning up after themselves, twittering and teasing all sorts of minutia; drip, drip, drip — you get the picture.

So, what does the discerning art viewer do to make their way through it all? I started by reviewing each entry online.  With a healthy application of Sturgeon’s Law (both of them) I winnowed a list of selections down and I plan to give what work remains the time it deserves.

Read on…