It is a long time phrase adopted by a number of artists in Fort Collins, “Nothing there”. This was often the response to work that was shown at Valhall Arts http://valhallarts.blogspot.com, the sole contemporary art venue in town. On First Fridays, there was a small following for the gallery that would come in and look, ponder, and discuss. The rest … head stretching into the room, shoulders and remaining body parts on the other side of doorway, less than a peek and then the fatal phrase ….“nothing there”. Some of the time it was actually stated, other times implied through body language. Interestingly enough that phrase underscored the frustration that a small school of thoughtful contemporary makers felt about the condition of the arts in the area.
And so it remains. After 14 years of hitting my head against the messy white walls of a town of uneven art makers, I happened to be out and about on a First Friday and there was a glimmer of what actually can and does happening there. The work for the most part was still, let’s say, less than adventurous and below the mediocre line.
What did become crystal that evening was that lots of folks showing were trying too hard – they were trying too hard to be artists. Grossly self-conscious in their work and their presence; trying to be an artist in a non-art town that has been promoting itself egregiously as an arts destination for far too long. This is often to the disappointment of those who come to live and find out also, that there is “nothing there”. An odd twist, I would offer.
Any work that night that held merit was awkward, experimental and it was genuine. That was where the energy was. Perhaps that is always where the energy is instead of with the “wannabeartheads” pontificating on their over played and self-promoted work.
BeetStreet the local arts presenting organization has historically offered little for Fort Collins artists other than a philosophy of generating revenue through the creation of “passing” work that is easy to digest by a non art-smart public. It has done a great disservice by promoting what is happening there as “art “ and “making Fort Collins an arts destination”. As a result, in the visual arts, (this is not the case for music) what has been created is an expectation accompanied by empty national press. An “arts destination” has grown that has filled the city with a good amount of redundancy and mediocre crap. Fort Collins should have been promoted as an experimentation destination which is far more exciting – implying risk and innovation for those who are actually doing that – and they are there. I see them and hear them–but they are not promoted by or recognized as part of that camp.
An “incubator” is a fish bowl that one can observe but not in which one can participate. It often holds something that has not matured and is being supported artificially. Ultimately, the real makers are doing it outside of Fort Collins, outside of the “incubator”.
The philosophy of generating revenue through the creation of mediocre work has all but killed the real makers in Fort Collins. The glimmers of hope are found outside of the monopoly game that is being played by pseudo arts administrators and presenters whose bottom line is their dollar and not the innovation of the makers.