Art & Development

Arts Initiatives, NYC to MCR to OAK

Check out Jerry Saltz’s “Glimpse Art’s Near Future at No Soul for Sale” (New York Magazine, June 24, 2009) to read about the X-Initiative,

a makeshift four-day art fair… an exercise in “radical hospitality,” inviting more than 30 respected not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artist collectives, and independent enterprises from New York, the U.S., and around the world to exhibit whatever they want…. The spaces are free.

I love this idea because (1) it’s an art fair with noncommercial intentions, and (2) it’s perfect timing for collaborations among artist-led arts groups. I imagine the X-Initiative to be experimental, grassroots and also (hopefully) challengingly conceptual.

Coincidentally, I just learned about Contemporary Art Manchester,

a new, not-for-profit consortium of visual arts organisations, comprising of established, high-profile partners, independent galleries, young artist-run projects and curatorial agencies … generating new forms of exchange…

Contemporary Arts Manchester Trade City postcard

Contemporary Arts Manchester Trade City postcard

CAM’s inaugural project will coincide with the Manchester International Festival:

Trade City [is] a dynamic international exhibition … Introducing a number of Manchester and UK premieres and stimulating new commissions from regional and international contemporary artists…. Each participating organisation has selected … the work of twenty-six emergent to established artists….

It’s a brilliant move to extend the International Festival’s commissioning of new work to local artist-run organizations and artists.

I appreciate these initiatives in grassroots exchange, collaboration and reciprocity. Just because the art market has crashed doesn’t mean that artists should retreat to the margins of society. Instead, these artists and art promoters are GOING FOR IT — inventing new platforms for dialogue and creating spaces and networks for mutual support.


And what of the Bay Area? Like Manchester, our region is rich in alternative art spaces, great schools and bright artists, and we’re overshadowed in commerce by larger markets elsewhere. What the Bay Area lacks in glamour, though, we make up for with collaborative, grassroots activity. I’d love to see something the scope — and edginess — of an X-Initiative or CAM here in Oakland.

I think it’s a matter of vision — not just what the community here aspires to, but how we see ourselves within an international context. Like the Paul Arden book goes, “It’s not how good you are, but how good you want to be.”

Artists cultivate our local and international communities. In contrast, though, our public agencies seem tightly restrictive.

For example, in 2005, a few dedicated individuals created the Bayennale, a Bay Area biennial. It was grassroots, inclusive and site-specific (using shipping containers as exhibit spaces). That the “biennial” was under-attended and hasn’t yet recurred seems besides the point. What sticks for me was that it was a chance for an emergent scene to see itself and its collaborative capacity, and that in addition to local art there was a strong international presence, including a mixed media kinetic installation by a Berliner, I think, the likes of I haven’t seen since.

One of the problems is at the civic level. I think the city agencies haven’t been able to reconcile their strong commitment to cultural programming (read: diversity and community engagement) with a commitment to contemporary art and excellence.

The art scene in Oakland has grown a lot in the past few years; credit is due to the scrappy artists-gallerists, and to the city which has figured out how to support these groups and artists. But I can see Oakland being more than a network of modest galleries showing mostly local artists. It has the potential to be known for outstanding contemporary art and culture (and design, BTW), if it can sort out its convictions.

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