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I was forwarded an exchange between an artist and an event organizer that has me thinking (again) about how artist negotiate the landscape of making, exhibiting, and selling art.

The essence of the exchange was that artist should boycott a local street festival because it is exploitative. The response by one of the organizers was that said street festival was operating at a loss, in order to support the artists involved.

I cannot independently verify these claims and assertions, because I’ve only seen screen grabs from Facebook posts, but this exchange, fictional or otherwise, raises some issues that I’ve discussed here previously.

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I like the idea of artists making a living. However, that involves artists investing in their art practice the same way a business does in its goods and services and promotions. In this sense, it’s important for artists to come into their practice realizing that they will have to spend some money. The question here is weather that money is best spent in the pay-for-play model of most street art festivals.

Before I explore this question further, I should say that in the ecosystem of art in any city, the street festival is an important part and is here to stay. It’s a great event for artists to engage with the public in a non-critical exchange, which is where the art experience lives for most of the population. So for the artists and businesses participating, it seems like a fair deal. The businesses get foot traffic and the artists get exposure, and, depending on the arrangement, they also get to keep 100 percent of their profits if they make any.

Considering the average 60/40 split that for-profit galleries arrange with their artists, I’d say that’s a pretty fair shake.  But I still maintain that the effort is wasted for the handful of artists that may want to pursue art beyond street festivals. Art is a profession like any other. The minimum professional requirements are that you study and understand the history of it, and that you pursue it as much as possible. If your aspirations end at street festivals, then that is where you could spend all your time, money, and effort. However, if you see this as a jump-off point to a gallery or museum, or as a place where you could have a critical dialogue with art, then you’re pointed the wrong way.

If this sounds like a rejection of the street art festival, it isn’t. It’s a recognition that there are many avenues for pursuing creative visual art practice, but you shouldn’t, like the artist in this exchange, call for a rejection of something and in the same breath aspire to be a part of it. If you reject any of the many shortcomings of the all-evil “art world,” then be that artist.  Becomes one of the many trailblazers that gave a middle finger to the establishment and rejected the canon of art we’ve inherited from decades of practice and experience. That’s where new movements come from (although, spoiler alert, they all end up a part of the art world).

It’s worth repeating here that there is enough room in Fort Worth for both, and enough artists to fill these niches. I hope that artists do pursue the route that they are passionate about, and not conflate the two. I for one will be eating turkey legs and drinking from kegs long after gallery hours on any given weekend.

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