Opinion: Diminishing Local Art Scene Starting to See Revival?

Fort Collins has been a place admired by residents for its’ natural beauty since it was first founded. The city is now a destination for a variety of artists who look to the beauty of this natural landscape for inspiration. Successful nature photographers, illustrators, painters, etc. have been the pioneers who have inspired artists of various mediums to come to Fort Collins. A multitude of factors could help to explain the recent misplacement of local galleries/artists, but some argue that the local art scene could be in the stages of a come-back.

Why local art is vanishing:

The phenomena of local art galleries shutting down could possibly be explained in an article by Thomas Griffin. He mentions how artists across the country have been engaging in their own marketing via various methods. The internet, Griffin claims, is an artists’ best tool for marketing themselves. Apps like Instagram even allow artists to sell pieces directly to the buyer on mobile platforms that require zero investment, unlike some galleries. While technology has allowed buyers the chance to become more comfortable buying art directly from the artist, technology has also been criticized in the art community.

The Fort Collins Starving Artist Association is a blog describing the art scene in Fort Collins. In a post dated July 24, 2011, the anonymous author claims that the internet is a double-edged sword for artists, but centers discussion on the negative impacts the internet has. One of the negative impacts stems from the monetary value of art. Sensibly, artists need to make money to keep creating and galleries need money to stay open. This virtual world is filled with art-blogs — ones that have become a way for anyone to appreciate art without having to fork up any cash to view it. The anonymous author of the blog also agrees with Griffin, beings that the internet has led to the commercialization of art, extending the negative impacts to local artists/galleries.

In recent years Fort Collins has also seen an effort for the preservation of ‘ghost signs’ in Downtown Fort Collins. According to fcgov.com ‘ghost signs’ are the old and worn advertisement signs painted on some of the historic brick & mortar buildings of Old Town. Adam Thomas wrote 108 pages about these signs back in 2007 after the City of Fort Collins approved a new ordinance. Even though this ordinance was fixated at replacing large, bright, and often visually-unappealing signage around the city, unintended consequences of the ordinance affected some of these historic paintings. While there is much more history to these signs than I can cover in this article, Thomas does a pretty good job of explaining why these historic signs should be preserved. His article is, “intended to provide a means of determining the significance of the city’s extant painted wall signs and provide suggestions for the preservation and interpretation of these historic advertisements.” Thomas admits that many of the signs that would be common during that historic time would inevitably be banned under the current city ordinance. He wrote his article to help preserve these historic forms of art, indicating that a revitalization of art in Fort Collins could well be underway.

Photo From: http://www.visitftcollins.com/things-to-do/discover-old-town/

Why Art Matters:

“Art Makes You Smart” is an outstanding article in the New York Times, published in 2013 and written by Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene and Daniel H. Bowen. The article, in short, describes how,

“through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong casual relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.”

In more relatable terms, the study held a lottery to decide which of the 525 school groups would visit the new art museum. Out of 11,000 students and 500 teachers, half of them visited the museum (treatment group), and the other half did not (control group). After all the groups had visited, coupons for free entry to a “special exhibit” at the same museum were sent out to all 11,000 students and their families. These coupons were coded to tell which group (treatment/control) the student was in during the study. The authors found that the students who had visited the museum (treatment group) were 18 percent more likely to visit the exhibit with their families. At the end of the article the authors, “conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition.”

Even better yet, the Fort Collins Museum of Art has free admission for K-12 students in the Poudre School District. Their program allows field trips for school students which promotes community involvement in the arts, and could also help to spark the revitalization of Fort Collins art. This could be one of the many opportunities to help the revitalization of local art, maybe it isn’t dead after all.

(Photo of Poudre Valley Bank, now the Fort Collins Museum of Art) Photo From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Collins,_Colorado

Revitalization: Hope on the Horizon

Bonnie Antich (the owner of Canyon Spirit Gallery) was the one who alerted me about the serious degradation local art has been experiencing for a while now. Last time I was in her shop, she made comments on how over the past several years Fort Collins art galleries have been struggling. She has even recently witnessed several galleries close on her street. Bonnie said that this has caused the art portion of Fort Collins to change now that some galleries are importing more art (from non-local artists) than ever before.

But, Bonnie did talk about hope on the horizon for the local art scene. She claimed that despite tough times over the last few years, many people in the art community are constantly making efforts to revitalize local art and to improve the situation for local artists. The First Friday Walks in Downtown Fort Collins are rooted in supporting local artists. The event presents local artists’ work for viewing to a large portion of residents. This free event has been popular for some time now, and is another piece helping to bring the art scene back.

Despite some degradation in the art community, lately it seems as if Fort Collins does not want the lively and prominent art scene to fade away. Many efforts are being made by locals to help keep historic art intact, and efforts are also being made to promote local arts by selling them in stores, a few local galleries, and even the First Friday Walks. And if the Poudre School District takes advantage of their free tours, the Fort Collins art scene could see a nice change in future generations.

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