( Column 12 / 2002)

"The Lost Valleys"...by...Ron Gladkowski

          "A commentary about creative people living in the small communities scattered through the hills and valleys of Central New York"
          Published in The County Review

"Painting Nudes" (Conclusion)

          The room went silent. The performers were perfectly still.... a silent tableau, they could have been figures in a wax museum. After a few moments, music began to play. A strong steady beat, and the sounds of Steppenwolf performing "Born to be Wild" echoed through the Hall. The artists came to life, simulating painting while keeping time to the music with their paintbrushes. The audience roared with laughter....
          Now, lest you think this was some lewd and lascivious exhibition, I should tell you that the audience saw nothing more than could be seen on any beach. The positioning of the artists, their easels, and assorted equipment, shielded their bodies. The way palettes and paint rags were held during the performance offered further protection, while the performance itself was perfectly choreographed and performed so as to prevent inadvertent exposure.
          After performing a couple more pieces, concluding with "Vincent" by Don Mclean. The curtain closed, and shortly, the three artists, now wearing robes, came out to meet the audience. Ida seemed to be the spokesperson for the trio, and addressed the question of what "Innovations" was all about:
          "Each of us has made our living traveling around the country selling our work at art festivals, over time becoming close friends. One day we got to talking about moving to one community, and living near each other. We settled on this area of New York State because of its natural beauty, low cost of living, and the solitude it offers. Upon settling in, we sought to make friends, and get involved in the community, particularly in creative areas. Making friends was easy, but, being relative newcomers and independent thinkers, our ideas, and suggestions have been met with indifference, and sometimes hostility. Try as we may, it was impossible to reach beyond the politics." She said.
          Her tone changed, and you could hear the ire in her voice as she went on. "The provincialism that pervades this community is a major obstacle to progress. It's a cesspool of short sighted, narrow minded, small thinkers who can't see beyond their own sphere of self interest or influence. An incestuous group who only have relations with those within the network of politically or socially connected individuals, with no thought given as to competence, or qualifications. They focus on the illusion of their own self importance in the guise of working together as a community. They, in effect, close themselves off from any and all inflow of new ideas. Each in their own little bubble....seeing only what they are narrowly focused on. Resisting any attempt to look at something new, choosing instead to put up barriers."
          "Art associations that are funded, not for profit, organizations serve a useful purpose, but because of their structure, have serious drawbacks. Decisions made by a board of directors equate to 'Art by Committee' and are often made for practical, political, or monetary reasons. These priorities put the focus mainly on reaching 'Patrons of the Arts', and corporate sponsors, usually because that is where they can raise funding. Often, the organization's Image becomes more important then their accomplishments. The idea of encouraging innovation by seeking out those artists who are breaking new ground and exploring new creative directions, is not a high priority when the goal is to please traditional, conservative contributors. It frustrated us to see such potential wasted for lack of imagination on the part of the local art community, so we decide to create an alternative."
          "Though each of us work in traditional media, and, for the most part, create traditional art, we recognize that art is also about new concepts.....new ideas....new media. This is an exciting time, this new millennium offers so many new means of self-expression, and hundreds of people experimenting in each one. As successful independent artists, whose incomes or egos are not dependant on local patronage, we saw ourselves free to create a venue offering encouragement, support, and exposure for new forms of artistic expression. We bought this old Grange Hall, remodeled it ourselves, and are planning a series of exhibitions, performances, and presentations by artists on the cutting edge. We are looking for artists who have new ideas, whether they are young or old, established or just starting out. The important thing is that they think outside the box. We don't plan on seeking public funding, drawing salaries, or becoming a not for profit corporation. We want 'Innovations' to remain free from influences that would stifle creativity. This is a labor of love, and we want it to remain new, exciting, and fun."
          "As to the purpose of this performance.... If we wanted to draw out the best imaginative artists, we felt we had to set an example. Making this opening exhibition as outrageous as possible would encourage those who might think that their ideas were a bit too far out. We wanted to set the limits so far out that anyone would feel comfortable."
          I left the performance feeling encouraged, knowing there were people of integrity out there who followed their ideals, and were willing to put their money, and time, where their mouths are. They open doors, and blaze new paths without thinking "What's in it for me?"
          On the drive home, I fell asleep. I must have been really tired, because I don't remember even entering my home, or climbing into bed. Morning came, I woke up, and started my day thinking about the whole experience over a cup of tea.....

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