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In Keenan Ivory Wayans’ “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” there’s an exchange between a barbecue restaurant owner, played by Isaac Hayes, and Chris Rock’s character, who tries to bargain for food by asking the owner to sell him just one rib for 50 cents, instead of buying the combo of five ribs for $2.50. He then tries to bargain for a cup of soda, “How about a sip for 15 cents?” After all of that, he pulls out a wad of hundreds and asks the owner if he could break one.

Artists willing to sell pieces for fewer than $100 lets collectors off the hook, and it reduces art to little more than something amazing to hang over that nail hole in their walls. I am referring to the recent event 100 for 100: 100 Artists for 100 Dollars & Under, organized by Dee Lara, Jay Wilkinson, and others, as part of the FamFest at Shipping &Receiving. The rule was that each artist had to have at least one of their works for $100 or less. I cringed at this notion for a couple of reasons.

First, why is it that artists are the only people required to sacrifice their labor and expertise in order to engage an audience? The second thing is that this well-meaning endeavor actually sabotages artists who already face an uphill battle for representation, patronage, and recognition for their work. Granted, not everyone on the list of 100 is pursuing art as a largely full time endeavor, but there are some who could, and others who are, but are frustrated by the lack of opportunity in Fort Worth.

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I didn’t attend the event, so I can’t say how successful it was, but I did have a couple of conversations with two of the exhibiting artists (who will remain anonymous). They had legitimate arguments for participating, like the fact that these pieces would end up back in their studio, taking up space, and that nobody else was going to buy it. The other argument was that some of what they sold was older work, and that they’d prefer to sell otherwise overstocked pieces. But what about the collector who buys art from an exhibit for close to $1,000 and sees a similar piece from the same artist going for $75 or $100? My guess is that they would feel that they got a raw deal, and that would make it difficult to justify buying from the artist at a higher price in the future.

It makes it even harder for artists to catch a break in this town. Where can they turn for representation, patronage and other opportunities? As regional municipalities ramp up incentives for individual artists, our city continues to turn a deaf ear to visual artists not affiliated with non-profits, and who are not a part of Main Street Arts Festival. So artists are forced to sell works for $100 a piece in an ill-advised alternative just to stay afloat.

The greater Denton Arts Council just announced artist microgrants of up to $500 for artists, while the City of Dallas continues to expand its offerings through its Cultural Vitality Program (the program awards up to $20,000 to artists who partner with an organization). This is all on top of individual artist grants from the Dallas Museum of art (the Otis and Velma Dozier Travel Grant, among others), the Nasher Sculpture Center ($2,000 microgrants), and the Arts Council of Northeast Tarrant County.

If the City of Fort Worth and its private sector continue to fail to live up to the culture portion of the Cowboy and Culture slogan, visual artist will continue to look elsewhere for opportunities. And the only art experience the city will have to share with residents and visitors will be art festivals (which are great in the spirit of cultural balance and variety). But with little support for individual visual artists, that balance is visibly non-existent.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not so sure this is a totally legit argument. As a participating artist, the 100 for 100 show was successful in tandem with FamFest. It was designed to be accessible to many walks of life. “Come get some cool art for an affordable price, common man.” I do agree that it is difficult for emerging artists to get some attention around here. Not every museum or gallery is going to trust emerging artists with that money, it would seem. Maybe there’s something to be done about that. In some cases, if you aren’t given an opportunity, make your own. There are probably plot holes in this comment, but you get the gest.

    • I wasn’t arguing against artists selling their work for whatever price they choose, I was arguing that artists don’t have enough opportunities for their works and until the city, and collectors are held to a higher standard, artists will be forced to sell their art any way they can.
      And you are correct in saying that if you aren’t given an opportunity, you create your own. But for the handful of artist looking for the space between DIY and gallery representation, I think it’s important to move in that direction, rather than away from it. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Really FWweekly? Whats wrong, is the city ashamed that they spend thousands of dollars on advertising the official “fort worth arts festival” and it sucked and no one showed up? Every single artist at the 100 would’ve been honored (or maybe not 😛 ) to set up a tent in the blazing heat during that festival. But sorry, it’s way over priced, and no artist wants to pay $700 when you can just show up and hang a couple of your pieces for $50-$150 ..sometimes free if you’re not an entitled dick.
    Your loss for not going though, you could’ve got some great art for an outstanding price and really made a difference in these artists lives.

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