Local artists shared their experiences in and advice on business development and economic vitality at this morning’s Downtown Forum. Jennifer Wolcott, Nick Sinclair, Barb Matz, and Shari Setchell offered a variety of perspectives on the artist’s life, and its future potential, in Northfield.
For Jennifer Wolcott, the colleges are an important part of Northfield for artists, contributing much to the mix that is appealing to the creative community. She goes to art fairs for exposure, teaches to pay the bills, and looks for commissions that allow her to be an artist. Jennifer says that arts organizations like the Northfield Arts Guild raise awareness of arts in the community but don’t generally generate income for artists.
Nick Sinclair mounts gallery shows to raise awareness of art in the community. He goes on the road, doing car shows, to gain exposure and, hopefully, generate commissions. He works nights to pay the bills. Nick recently created the Northfield Art Town website to help build the community and invites everyone to Saturday’s Lowbrow/High Octane Event in Bridge Square.
You become an artist because you have no choice, according to Barb Matz. Sometimes you put so much into it and get little in return besides restaurant recommendation requests. She teaches art in the Hastings public school system to pay the bills. Barb sees the Riverwalk Arts Quarter as an effort to create a more visible artist presence in Northfield.
Swapping database building for dance instructing, Shari Setchell says it only takes 15 different part-time jobs to generate a living in the arts. She’s quite happy with the life of an artist in Northfield, although she’s wishes there were a few more performance spaces and opportunities in town. Shari works to get dance out in the community with performances such as Ballet on the Bridge during ArtSwirl.
All of the participants believe that Northfield has much to offer as an Art Town, with so many smart people, talented people, and creative people. They all suggested that the arts community just needs to pull together a bit more, and over a longer term, to achieve greater results.
Some of the ideas that offered included that Northfield artists can often be invisible, quietly working behind office doors in downtown, and that the community could benefit from additional public art, making it immediately clear to visitors that Northfield is an art town. Events that invite the public into the studios and projects that include public art would help to address these visibility issues.
The artists/panelists suggested several steps the community could take to more effectively promote arts, including holding Gallery Crawls and Studio Tours on Saturday afternoon to reach the larger markets in the cities, rotating regular “shows” in local restaurants with active promotion, and visually marking and/or marketing the developing arts quarter in downtown.
The panelists and the audience agreed that the arts should be a part of Northfield’s promotion, marketing, and branding. Several people suggested that the Arts and Culture Commission should be the arts community’s advocate to the CVB, EDA and City Council.