What happens when you bring together a diverse group of artists for camaraderie, peer review, critique, and a lively, free-flowing discussion of current issues? Almost two years ago, I contacted about 40 artist friends in the Belfast area to see if they were interested in starting a salon-type discussion group. About 20 responded positively and our Mid-Coast Salon was born. The first monthly meeting was in December 2018 at my home studio in Belfast, and we have met in different home studios every month since.
Participants include architects, art center executives, a ceramist, college and high-school art instructors, an illustrator, painters, a photographer, political activists, and sculptors. They’ve come from as far away as Vinalhaven and Franklin in Maine and occasionally Massachusetts and New York. Perhaps the better-known members are Alan Crichton, Carol Sloane, Harold and Elissa Garde, Kenny Cole, Kerstin Engman, Lesia Sochor, Liv Kristin Robinson, Mark Herrington and Russell Kahn.
Aside from the lively peer reviews, we have taken up such wide-ranging issues as: what happens to our work after we are gone, research into tax deductions for donated work and royalties for secondary art sales (which we handed off to UMVA for further consideration), recent trending in art fairs and conceptual or experiential exhibits, art making versus marketing and promotion, and whether we should open up an Instagram account for the salon so we can expand our portal for exchange of information. We continue to evolve. Suzette McAvoy, Executive Director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, recently joined us to introduce CMCA’s Artist Toolbox, a new series of statewide talks and workshops to help artists present and promote their work professionally. Other artists and art activists also have contributed information for our discussions.
Last summer we formally surveyed our members to profile their preferences in discussion topics and direction for the group. They expressed great enthusiasm for the value of our gatherings and overwhelmingly favored the stimulation of our show-and-tell segments. Kenny Cole, for example, felt the salon is “a safe place where we can introduce work we are exploring to get friendly peer reactions and suggestions during its development.” Others added that it’s invigorating to get out of our studio shells and exchange ideas with serious artists we admire.
One direction that came from the survey was the idea of having an exhibit of our diverse work to make a strong statement about why we meet and what holds us together. We submitted our exhibit proposal to UMVA as the logical advocate for art and artists. UMVA agreed. Thus, the exhibit Mid-Coast Salon Says: “Art MATTERS” will run June 30 through July 31 at the UMVA Gallery in the Portland Media Center, 516 Congress Street in Portland. There will be an opening reception 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. during the First Friday art walk on July 3 and a special salon-type discussion involving our members and the public beforehand at 4:00 p.m. to explore the question “Does art matter?” Salon representatives also will be in the Gallery from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in July and the Gallery also will be open during Media Center hours, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday.
What brings us together, despite our diverse disciplines and styles, is our love for and commitment to art. We feel that when governments and schools cut support for the arts, they are short-sighting the invaluable influence creative, conceptual thinking has on everything else. Many recent studies confirm that teaching students to conceptualize and embrace creativity is far more important than rote memorization and that it helps improve performance in all other school disciplines. Indeed, financial institutions are beginning to seek out and hire art and design students to enhance their research and development. The Rhode Island School of Design, for example, is positioning itself to lead the impact of design on the major economic, environmental, and social issues of the future, arguing that the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) used to guide education and development, should be STEAM, to include Art. Humans have always had the need to make stuff, sometimes for no other purpose than it pleases them. One could argue that art has preceded all the major innovations in our history—the idea that, if you can think it, you can build it. It has been an immeasurable communications tool for the development of society and a powerful influence on public sentiment. Of course, aside from its practical applications, art feeds our souls, gives us a reason for living and inspires us to greater heights. It’s the reason that major museums are enjoying increasing crowds of young people, despite the availability of virtual art tours on their computers. They want to experience the actual art firsthand and even observe artists at work to understand its making, either through onsite visits or online videos. Another indicator is the recent rise in adult coloring books so that more people can make something beautiful even if they don’t know how.
Image at top: Harold Garde, Councils, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 80 in.