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July 2009

An Art World Closer to Home

by John Clay, editor-in-chief

During my years in Boston and New York City, I thought succeeding in the art world was all about showing, and hopefully selling, in galleries. Moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota a few years back and getting some distance from the allure of the New York art world, I now know that there is another art world in which success, for me at least, is about sharing beauty and insights with the people around me by creating works they can take home with them, so that part of my life can become part of theirs. It is also about bringing a part of other artists' lives into my own by outfitting my home with their work. Galleries vanish—or at least recede into perspective. I am buying, selling, and bartering directly with other artists and with non-artists. And I am finding that the art of everyday life (and what more could any artist ask, than for their work to be part of one's everyday life?) is found in everyday places: in cafes, small gift shops, art-and-craft fairs, and home or studio exhibitions.

A friend of mine makes "wearable art" jewelry (he's a metal smith and stone cutter). He shows in art fairs all across Minnesota. Art fairs don't have the social cache of galleries, but the fact is, my friend is selling work, making money from his art, building name and face recognition, and building a following.

Another friend of mine is a painter who does some art fairs and shows regularly in local coffee shops. I asked her "Don't people just buy coffee at coffee shops, is it really worth showing there?" She told me that people are indeed buying her paintings from coffee shop shows. She too is making some money and building a following of interested buyers. One result—galleries are starting to show interest in her work.

My wife Elizabeth and I, both of us artists, have traded pieces with other artists. And a potter we met last spring has even traded his artworks for dental work!

Keep on the lookout for galleries to show your work, but don't forget—there are other good ways to show, sell, and start getting recognition.

More and more, Elizabeth and I are replacing manufactured items throughout our home with hand-crafted items, many by people we know. Instead of buying from an anonymous store whose investors work on Wall Street and whose producers work in another country, we are buying directly from people who produce the goods, people who live and work right here in our city or in nearby towns.

Paintings, photographs, mosaics, bowls, cups, sweaters, scarves, purses, jewelry. It should come as no surprise that there are people around us who know how to make all these things and are making them. And now we are buying them for our own home.

Buy and barter with friends who are artists. Buying a small piece you like by someone you know strengthens friendships, and buying a piece by someone you don't know, but whose work you have seen displayed in a coffee shop or a local gift store, can be a great way to meet new artists and make new friends. Once you find a place to buy local art, you've also found a place to sell your own art.

Here are some ideas to get started: To find art and craft fairs, search festivalnet.com. Also stop into some of the little local stores you may have passed by before; browse and ask if they have any locally made art. One good find will lead to the next, and the next, and the next. Along the way you're finding new venues for showing and selling, finding inspiring and better-quality goods for your own home, meeting artists, building community relationships, and strengthening your local economy.

© John Clay

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