City cultural scenes are one part organic (who’s there to start) and another part audience participation (who shows up).
Earlier this month I hung out at the Providence Arts Festival Downcity and wanted to write about who flocked to this event filling Providence’s downtown streets on a glorious June weekend.
Fair warning here, gauging the crowd at an un-ticketed arts event can be a bit of an art form onto itself. My observations are based on a half-day of conversations at the festival plus a few follow-up emails with artist exhibitors. My mental audience checklist starts here. Is parking maxed out? Do I see new faces or just the expected ones? Yes to both of these so let’s go further. Did I see families? Check. Young people, adult couples, and people from within our city’s cultural community? Check. And to the best of my ability to sense, at least some demographic and lifestyle diversity? Check. Okay, well done Shop Downcity festival organizers.
Now onto the actual festival marketplace: Who showed up to sell art and were people buying? To my eye the exhibitor landscape was similar to what we get at area open markets with the addition of a handful more fine arts booths. Since my quasi-official role was to get “I Buy Art” buttons into the hands of all who bought art at the festival, I circulated to most of these artist exhibitors.
I stopped first at a booth with over-sized contemporary canvases propped against its frame. This turned out to be the OneWay Gallery from Narragansett. For Stephen Cook, One Way’s head curator, meeting more Providence artists was a reason to participate. In his own life Stephen explained that he comes to Providence regularly for materials, shows, and events. He seemed to want to make more of this link and close the distance gap between our capital and Narragansett. When I inquired about his typical gallery foot traffic in Narragansett, he reported positively mentioning that he now has some regular collectors who come from Boston and New York and appreciate how the artwork Gallery One shows is more affordable.
My next conversation was with Robyn Coccia who came because she wanted to try a more urban outlet for her art. This Warwick based nature photographer talked about setting her prices at an accessible level ($15-50) declaring, “If I cannot afford it, how can I expect others to do so?” Even so, Robyn was not feeling the art buyer love when I headed home mid-afternoon.
In a highly visible end booth was a striking installment of smaller textile based collages from Jiyoung Chung. This artist is a RISD graduate living in Providence and heard about the show when she was doing the RISD sale in May. Jiyoung’s prices were from $70-450. She reflected after the fact that for her it was an average fair with some pieces having been sold.
The next booth was Brandon Aguiar’s and was fully packed with high-energy figurative canvases. Brandon is headed off to Parsons this fall, lives in Swansea and has a studio in Fall River. His goal is “to get his art out there!” and he readily pitched his upcoming Gallery X show in New Bedford. I do not know if Brandon made sales, but I did pass by later on and witnessed him engaged in a full-on conversation about his art with a gentleman many decades his elder.
My festival exploring introduced me to three exhibiting artists who live in Providence (two of these artists are connected to Homestyle on Westminster). Christina Marie looked back over her guestbook to find visitors from Boston and Maine in addition to a few of her regular Homestyle shoppers, Eastsiders, East Greenwichites, and South County residents. Christina felt very strong about the day’s foot traffic. In a follow-up email she reported that the festival resulted in a few new clients, a portrait commission and a several studio appointments because some people did not come armed with checkbooks. Christina’s day notably included one buyer who purchased a piece for their new Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdowncity’ loft. We laughed about how the creative city formula might just come full circle for her during this gorgeous Saturday afternoon. Rounding out the Providence artists I met were painter Rebecca Adams (who also shows at Homestyle) and photographer Mike Wilde.
On the whole both the festival attendees and exhibitors seemed to be finding their niche. I was impressed by how many of the artists and visitors were very upbeat about the scene. Perhaps people were rallying to make the downtown streets come alive as a hospitable act for the U.S. Mayors’ Conference. Yet to my eye this event had an authentic pulse and delivered on a much broader set of criteria even if it sprung up due to the Mayors’ Conference being in town. Feedback from my own festival corner is that we gave out a slew of “I Buy Art” buttons. We even had a few people eagerly showing us receipts for their art purchases! Okay, we believe you. We are not the buy art police!