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"Artist's Tools," by Richard Lemke.
Guest Writer

Portland's art is for everyone
Oh, the things I've learned
by Duane Snider

had few expectations last year when I wrote my first essay on collecting art in Portland.

In fact, when I was done writing I had no idea where or how to get it published. But just after I finished, I had a chance encounter with the highly regarded Portland artist, writer, talk-show host and curator, Eva Lake. She suggested nwdrizzle.com as a place for an outsider to find an outlet for an alternative point of view. My essays have appeared in these pages several times since.

The three basic elements of my message are 1) art is for everyone; 2) Portland is one of the best places to buy art; and 3) the great majority of the local population lacks even a basic awareness of this extraordinary cultural opportunity we have in Portland.

So, who did I get responses from and what kind of comments did they make?

Shortly after part one was posted I started getting e-mails from readers like Bonnie Meltzer. There was a feature on Meltzer's artwork in the same issue as my essay. She found my piece when she brought up the site to check the story on her.

Meltzer praised me for focusing on the need for cultivating a broader pool of art buyers. She also mentioned her roll as the publicity person for the Portland Open Studios Association and wanted to know if I might be interested in helping attract new buyers to the annual events in October. We arranged a meeting and she instantly became my mentor of the moment.

Meltzer suggested I put some effort into promoting my essays locally. I printed up a sheet full of little promotional cards and thought if I passed out three or four hundred I might get enough new readers to the site to register a bump in the number of hits for the month.

At the time I had no idea that this site had been around for more than four years and got thousands of hits a month. But I made a point of passing out these promo cards at the health club I belong to, at a Portland Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery reception and to my coworkers at the optical wholesale lab where I've worked since 1979. I soon started getting e-mails. I was actually connecting with people on issues that don't get much attention in arts pages or the general media.

Many responses were from local artists who appreciated reading a collector's view of the local art scene. They found my opinions a sharp contrast to the standard material from art critics and cultural pundits.

One young artist who had recently completed her fine arts degree commented that she had no money and had never even thought about buying a piece of art. She told me that after reading my first essay she had a strong urge to buy some art.

I encountered Jeff Jahn, who writes the Critical i column for this publication, one Saturday afternoon. I asked if he'd read the piece. With a puzzled expression he told me he'd read it and thought I'd made some good points.

I got an e-mail from Carolyn Zick, a Seattle artist who posts an arts blog about the Portland and Seattle art scene (www.dangerouschunky.com) and has also written for this publication. She offered her support by posting a link to my essay on her blog. Ruth Ann Brown, owner of the New American Artist Union also posted a link on her gallery Web site. I felt flattered by the free promotion.

Just after part two got posted I attended a preview reception at Gallery 500 with Jeannine Edelblut. She's an artist I'd met a few months earlier at another gallery preview. She liked my essay and wanted to introduce me to a few people who were in the thick of the local arts scene.

The first person she introduced to me was Richard Speer, the Willamette Week art critic. The moment Jeannine said my name Richard jumped in and said, "I've wanted to talk to you for weeks. I really liked your piece. My editor even told me I needed to read your piece because of the issues you raised."

That one floored me. I wondered what was happening. I'd been talking about these issues for years to anyone who would listen. I had the impression that people didn't take much of my rambling diatribes seriously. Now that I was in "print," praise poured in from people I never expected to hear from. I felt my head swelling.

Edelblut also introduced me to Rosie Williams, the Workforce Coordinator at the Portland Development Commission. She suggested I make a stop by Sam Adams's office the following night for a City Hall First Thursday reception. She said Adams was lobbying for the assignment of City Hall liaison to the arts.

"Carvaliny's Plan," by Tyson Grumm. [courtesy: Beppu Wiarda Gallery]

The next night I was at City Hall.

Adams's office was jammed with people attending the reception and it took about 10 minutes to worm my way through the crowd before I finally got next to him. I introduced myself and gave him one of my announcement cards.

Before I could even get into my rehearsed sound-bite about my essay, he stopped me and said, "Oh yes, I liked what you had to say. Just go and talk to my staffer, Jesse Beason. He'll fill you in."

I was stunned. I couldn't believe they had already read the piece.

When I talked to Beacon, he said he and Adams had read the essay and strongly supported my message about the quality, depth and affordability of the Portland art scene.

Beacon introduced me to several people involved with community outreach for the arts and I passed out more cards. He encouraged me to write more articles. I have to admit I felt pretty full of myself as my ego continued to inflate.

I continued to promote my online contributions to owners and directors of galleries, curators at the Portland Art Museum, people in charge of cultural nonprofit groups and anyone who took the time to hear my pitch. Bruce Guenther, Terry Toedtemeier and Margaret Bullock all read both parts of that first essay and made very positive comments.

The most surprising reactions came from the people I least expected to get reactions from. These were folks who told me they didn't know or care much about art. This group included the production workers I work with at the optical lab and people at my health club, who split their focus between their businesses or professional careers and their families.

The feedback from the aesthetically challenged crowd was consistently positive and enthusiastic. I'm sure some were simply impressed that I got published. A more pervasive theme was the surprise these people felt when they realized their genuine enjoyment in reading an essay about art. They repeatedly expressed feelings of connection to the material because they felt like someone was talking to them about art in a way they could understand.

This confirmed one point I tried to make in that initial essay: Offer the broader public more information on the basics of collecting and appreciating art in a clear style devoid of cultural jargon and the potential for expanding the audience increases dramatically.

Around the time my fourth essay was posted, David Stabler, the lead classical music critic for the Oregonian, suggested I introduce myself to Allan Oliver, who owns the Onda Gallery on Alberta Street and teaches a class on buying art at Portland Community College. Stabler thought Oliver might like to use some of my essays as instructional material for his students.

I acted on the suggestion and made a pitch to Oliver to at least look at the articles. His initial reaction was skeptical, but he agreed to check out one or two. A few weeks later I got an e-mail from him. He simply asked if I would mind him using my essays for the students in his class. I gave my heartfelt approval.

At least four other artists have e-mailed to tell me they are actively promoting my essays as a tool for educating perspective buyers. I dreamed of getting this kind of support, but can't say I expected it.

With each essay I've written I've attempted to offer fresh views of the roll that art plays in our lives. I've tried to demonstrate how developing a passion for art adds great value to everyday experience and the fabric of the communities we live in. I hope in some small way to fill some of the gap left by standard art criticism and reporting on the business of art.

It's no surprise to me that the stories about art in the Home and Garden section of the newspaper get more feedback from readers than the stories in the Visual Arts pages. When people see the effect art has on a living space, they start thinking how art might enhance their environment. It's about praising the virtues of owning original art while emphasizing the very personal nature of selecting particular pieces.

"Egg, Cup, and Flour Barrel," by Slava Mamsikov.

The media tends to paint a picture of people who buy and own art as part of an elitist crowd. Here in Portland that couldn't be further from the truth. I am completely committed to my belief that Portland is the best place in the country to buy art.

Here, art is for everyone.

I am a passionate fan of art even though I lack money, prominence in the community and the fine arts degree. I rub elbows with the cultural upper crust but live and work with the common people. Maybe that's why people identify with what I've written.

A close friend recently gave me a calendar containing a quote by Bruce Barton that embodies the most important lesson I've learned:

"Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dare believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance."

After seeing the responses to my essays, I think I understand what that means.

E-mail Duane at sniderdies@msn.com and find more of his writing in our archives.

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