Art Martin is not only a painter, he’s also associate curator/collections manager at the Muskegon Museum of Art. Martin chatted with REVUE about West Michigan’s art scene and offered some advice and insight for emerging artists.
West Michigan is having a cultural renaissance. Without taking away from the positive side of this, where is there room for improvement?
I think ArtPrize has greatly contributed to the idea that the arts can produce a sense of vitality and community and cities around the area are picking up on that. Spectacle is always appealing, but is also expensive, hard to maintain and requires constant reinvention. The best opportunity for diversity of art and thought is going to come from more modest shows and events. At the most basic level, if a community wants to have a vital arts scene, artists need the financial support that comes from the sale of art.
Besides making art, what responsibility do artists have in developing excitement for the arts among the public?
Artists need to be open to opportunities. Not everyone is at a level where they are going to be invited for solo shows at our museums. There are going to be chances at smaller sites and artists shouldn’t pass on these for want of something grander. Artists also need to attend events not featuring their own work, building a community of support for their fellow artists. In my own role at a museum, it is disheartening to only see artists at our exhibitions when their own work is on the wall.
What responsibility do curators have?
Curators need to be educators. It is important to make sure that what we develop is accessible at all levels. Even if someone doesn’t ultimately like what a curator presents, you want them to walk away with some new knowledge or understanding. Like artists, curators also need to be visible and involved in the arts community outside their own doors, building relations with peers, artists, audiences and supporters.
Can you give me your thoughts on the state of art criticism in the area? What role do you think it plays?
Art criticism in our area is limited. When I look back in our archives, I can find professional critical reviews of Muskegon area art shows, plays, musicals, concerts and symphonies. There is nothing like that now. Art criticism is important to growing quality and support. For curators and programming directors, it is professional, objective feedback we need to strengthen what we do. For the public, it is another tool for building understanding of the arts and to both challenge and encourage their own criticism.
Chris Protas is the curator at The Fire Barn Gallery, a Grand Haven-based non-profit operated by three painters.