BY Lori Palmeri
Move over Door County, Oshkosh has the Newest Creative Arts District in Northeast Wisconsin…
When you think of northeast Wisconsin, do you think artistic? Or do you imagine the pricey galleries that line the Door County peninsula as being the “artsy” region of Wisconsin? Have you ever considered Oshkosh as an emerging creative arts district? Yes, Oshkosh’s enigmatic art energy and activity has, until now, been a well-kept secret above the 44th parallel and has all the makings of an evolving art scene.
Opportunities affordably abound for art collectors and aficionados of the spectator curator persuasion. But those who want to participate and create art, of all ages and abilities, now have access to resources to tap into their own artistic abilities through a variety of media available in the downtown Oshkosh emerging arts district. We’ll leave the juried fine art to the pro’s, but the urge to create innately exists in all of us. Thus, an evolutionary DIY art movement has begun downtown, building on the shoulders of the long-running gallery walk. Emerging fresh talent is here to stay and on the way.
Most locals are familiar with the vibrant monthly gallery walk in Downtown Oshkosh that has a strong record. And most locals are familiar with the wealth of live Oshkosh musical talent scene.
Some are discovering that art is not just for collecting, but participating in DIY art hangouts from art painting parties, to paint your own pottery, artistic furniture repurposing, film-making, sidewalk chalking, writing, dance and music. Ok, admittedly, this writer is not quite sure how to categorize the “Art of Karaoke” as yet, but since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps someone out there perceives it as a form of art. In all seriousness though, the spirit of the creative process now resides in our own backyard.
Enter the “Buy Local” campaign to support local business, add those businesses catering to the creative and, voila! the (not-so) BLAH (Buy Local Art Here) campaign delivers to all ages and abilities, whether you want to buy local art already produced, or DIY “make and take”, it is accessible, affordable and absolutely abundant in Oshkosh.
Shop local as a spectator consumer, or get in on the local DIY art opportunities. While we may be branded “Event City”, soon we may have to consider the fact that the Oshkosh art scene is rapidly evolving into a creative arts district in Northeast Wisconsin.
For the visual arts collector (or wannabe collector)…
Oshkosh has no shortage of galleries, co-operatives, collectives and display space in shops for the visual arts. But fresh art craves recognition and buying local art preserves the unique character of place that is undoubtedly Oshkosh.
Jen Graves, of the Seattle local art blog “thestranger.com” has some great suggestions for affording gallery art, among the “Keep Seattle Strange” campaign to support buy local and independent. An excerpt from her post reads:
“Here’s what you should know about what is affordable—a vital fact: Every gallery wants to help you buy something if you love it. (They are not in this for the money because what money?) Pay what you can every month, with zero interest. This is common. This is how it works. A work of art that costs $1,200 looks like it’s out of reach; I know I can’t spend that right now. But $100 a month for a year? How much was that last night of going out? How much was that sweater, dinner, cab ride? And you are paying how much in rent? Want a work of art enough and you will have it. It’s not about affordability. It’s about knowing that this is possible, and knowing you can ask to make it work. Knowing that dealers and artists want you to ask to make it work. The good ones don’t care how much money you have. They care how much love you have.
Another reason to buy art: because a city cannot live on project managers and engineers alone. Because buying art is a way to notify artists that their presence is wanted. (Because it is most likely not going to pay their bills.) Do you know how many artists have considered stopping making art or leaving this place they love, but stayed and kept on just because of one or two or three encouraging art sales? It doesn’t take much.”
So, just exactly who is making local art here? People of all ages and abilities are. From professional art show painters, musicians, dancers, writers, to DIYers of multimedia.
Local emerging visual artist, Amber McCord, travelled to the ice caves at the Apostle Islands last year and was so inspired, she took hundreds of photos, resulting in a series of large scale sculpture and even larger scale paintings. One is pictured here called, “Ice Shove”, where the physicality of being trapped is exemplified in ice. So, local climate conditions impact her abstract concept of escaping emotional entrapment – a contradiction, where forms and shapes collide along the shores of local (Wisconsin) waters.
McCord and other emerging Oshkosh artists keep it local and have sold paintings affordably to local and regional collectors. See the artist review of Sarah O’Neill also in this issue.
Local filmmakers, musicians, and performance artists showcase their art in the local festivals and events as well. Textile artists and crafters are busily honing their skills and making ready for market season as well.
Not to be left out, the literary arts have recently become more active with writer’s conferences and clubs taking place, as well as spoken word. Perhaps, too, the lost art of storytelling has a chance of making a northern Wisconsin debut. Time will tell. And, finally, while it is not located specifically in the downtown arts district, word is that M. Schettl is in the process of opening an “Oddity Park”. Yay, Keep Oshkosh Odd!, that is to say, along the lines of the “Keep Austin Weird”, “Keep Seattle Strange”, and other artistic communities’ buy local independent movements.
Social scientist, Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class, theorized that makers, tinkerers, and other creative people in post-industrial cities, help attract and drive economic prosperity. Florida describes the creative class in two broad categories of the “Super Creative Core” and “Creative Professionals”. While his study and theories are over a decade old now, some of the points made, while controversial in the industrial sector, have proven out, and some cities acting on the theory, have not. Florida claimed that cities wishing to attract the Creative Class must have the three T’s: Talent, Tolerance, and Technology and that members of the creative class value these characteristics when making relocation decisions. What Florida didn’t account for were what this writer proposes as the “trapped creatives”. That is, the segment of the creative that for various circumstantial reasons, perhaps aging family members or young children in school, or health reasons, are mobility or location restricted, yet still need that creative outlet to manage the stresses related to such situations. Enter DIY art spaces. What YMCAs are for physical health, DIY participatory amateur art venues serve the social and mental health.
The DIY Art Scene…
We understand there are those that might be aghast at breathing the words fine art and DIY together, but the fact remains, people are getting creative in Oshkosh. Oshkosh’s own Art Spot at City Center, not to be confused with the chain Pinot’s Pallete, along with newcomer The Fire Escape, (paint your own pottery), Studio 3 (colorful and quirky furniture), and a host of opportunities abound for curious creators.
Owner of the Art Spot, Laurie Larson, and partner daughters Amanda Carey and Jenna Larson, have a vision to share their family philosophy of “making art accessible, providing mentoring and encouragement, (yes, it takes courage to come out of your comfort zone!)”, says Larson. She also says while people may feel intimidated at first, accessing their creativity, “if you did any problem solving or – ever took on a challenge, you are creative…and the bottom line is the human mind is creative!” She passionately says, “Our mission is to tap into that section of the brain which is wonderful for the spirit and not about final outcomes…to trust the process. If your spirit catches fire – you are successful!” They take great pride in providing the kinesthetic experience of mindfulness, while making memories, and social bonding resulting in taking home art that has been finished. You can round out your evening by adding refreshments served by their affiliate, Beckets restaurant, providing wait service with tea, appetizers, wine or dessert.
Additionally, Art Spot is committed to making art accessible and providing supplementary instruction to youth. They are “spirit driven”, trusting and respecting the creative process, through their hosting of art parties. Public events are priced by the event. Private events require no down payment. An example of cost for an adult 16X20 canvas painting class is $35 per person. Children’s events typically run $18 person for a 12X12 canvas, 75 minute session up to $25. Painting, fused glass, and more are available with planned expansion to other media.
The Art Spot goes the extra mile with post-class/party satisfaction surveys and continually strives to improve the guest experience. Larson says, ”We want you to feel and experience quality. The staff is very interested from greetings to the final survey and are thankful that you chose them…making the choice to have courage, investing your time and money to walk in. In the end, they want guests to leave feeling appreciated. Staff is trained to engage in a team, with genuine enthusiasm for sharing with the guests.”
The Art Spot will be hosting a Spring-themed Daisy painting class at the WHBA Home and Outdoor Living Show, for a special ladies night, doors open at 3:00pm for the home show, getting your gift bags, painting class check-in is at 5:45 until 8:00 pm, on Friday March 13th. Cost $30 for the class.
Another novel concept in local art is that of the “CSA” and no – that isn’t a bushel of zucchini coming to shareholders. It’s community supported art shares. Shareholders buy a share and receive a certain number of surprise works commissioned by local artists. The concept did not come out of New York’s art scene, rather it came from the good ol’ Midwest heartland. Yep you betcha – Minnesota! However, it is taking off in New York, Seattle, Atlanta, Philly and anywhere starving artists congregate. But the model seems to be working best in smaller communities and rural areas where art may not be traditionally supported in a “sustainable” way. This may be an opportunity for the Oshkosh community to further support our emerging local artists.
Rumor has it an arts incubator, (what’s an incubator?)gallery and makerspace is in the works for downtown Oshkosh by summer. A makerspace and incubator is a step outside of an art collective in that creators share space, tools, knowledge and ideas in order to grow and support emerging artists and entrepreneurs. Some makerspaces offer demonstrations or make and take workshops for a small fee. If you have visited the Art Garage in Green Bay, the endeavor aims to open a micro version of a similar concept here. Watch for it and other DIY demonstrations coming soon.
So, shop local art and start or add to an affordable original art collection of your own, without the big city gallery prices. Or, walk on the creative side and try your hand. Build the creative class in Oshkosh while the community builds our “talent, tolerance and technology”.
How about it Oshkosh? Are we ready for community supported art CSA share programs? Or murals all over the city to explore by foot or bike, especially along the river walk and in the heart of Oshkosh? Do we claim and strengthen our local creative arts district, providing an added branding to that of Event City? Get out and sample what makes your city unique, or be part of the DIY art scene and tap your inner artist. Hush the inner critic. With so many opportunities, you could end up with your own gallery wall of collected and self-created works of art.