Visual art coverage in the Outback
Not-so-secret confession: though I met my Flyover co-bloggers at the 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater, I'm really a visual art person at heart. I began arts writing focusing strictly on visual art, then branched out into books and eventually theater. For me, writing about visual art presents certain challenges and pleasures that are unique to the discipline.
But surveying the state of visual arts writing in the Outback, I'm a little dismayed. While we can probably all lament the amount of coverage in local media for all arts disciplines, I sometimes wonder if visual artists don't have the worst lot (or at least art vies with dance for that dubious distinction). Either there's a dearth of staff writers and freelancers competent to cover visual art, or editors just aren't giving it much space. When it comes to the amount of coverage, I feel that theater and music generally fare better, and this is somehow tied (in ways I can't fully articulate yet) to their more communal nature - performers and audience meeting together for a shared experience, as opposed to the viewer having a solo encounter with a work of art. That one-on-one engagement with art remains either foreign or daunting to many people.
Also, while many small community theater organizations have a volunteer who handles PR, visual artists have a tough time getting coverage, particularly if they're not in a show at the moment. While it seems reasonable to have that news hook of a current show to justify a profile on an individual artist, that expectation probably is not so reasonable if the artist is living in a smaller community where venues for an emerging or mid-career artist to have an exhibition are few and far between.
Here in Madison, Wis., we've long had two main anchors of the visual arts scene: the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA, previously known as the Madison Art Center) and the Chazen Museum of Art (formerly called the Elvehjem). While MMoCA has its Triennial of contemporary Wisconsin artists and the Chazen does a quadrennial show of University of Wisconsin faculty artists--among other chances at those venues for state artists to be seen--the MMoCA and Chazen focus on artists who are relatively well established or at least accustomed to the workings of the larger art world. Another significant venue, the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, focuses exclusively on contemporary Wisconsin artists and has a strong exhibition program. At the other end of things, there are coffee-shop shows in which you might see something wonderful or something dreadful. It's that in-between level, between the funky local coffeehouse and the accredited, established museum, that is often lacking in cities like Madison. As a result, serious visual artists may find it hard to locate a suitable venue for their work, thus depriving them of that "news hook" that may gain the attention of local media.
There are some bright spots, though: artists are banding together (as I know they are in other cities) to raise their profiles. Madison Area Open Art Studios is an annual event in which roughly 150 local artists open their studios to the public over a fall weekend. It's established itself as a reliable yearly event and draws the expected and well-earned media coverage. But with 150 artists, coverage tends to be on the event as a whole, with only limited attention given to introducing any one particular artist. Group visibility sometimes comes at the price of individual visibility.
As one might expect, coverage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city, fares better. Some examples: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a talented reporter/critic (Mary Louise Schumacher) devoted exclusively to visual art, and the online magazine Susceptible to Images posts intelligent articles and discussions.
I'm not sure I've reached a cohesive, conclusive point on any of this--but that is part of why I wanted to throw this out here on the blog. I'm curious to hear from others in smaller or mid-size cities. How is visual arts coverage in your town, in terms of both quality and quantity? How does it compare to your local performing arts coverage? And if you're a visual artist in a smaller or mid-size city, what is your vision of ideal--or at least good--coverage of the local art scene?
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog