( Column 18 / 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

A breath of fresh air!

          The mail carrier pulled up into my driveway, and Jeanne handed me a cardboard box about the size of a large shoe or boot box. The box was empty except for a note, and a check for $10. It was from PICA, (Public Inquiry - Creative Action) a group of young artists, recently graduated from Alfred University, who had settled in Jamestown, New York, Seeking to revitalize this community long suffering from population flight, they are attempting to generate interest in the arts as a means to involve the community in bringing new life to the city.
           In keeping with their innovative approach to reaching out far and wide to share creativity among anyone interested, boxes were sent to many artists across the country, and each box was to be returned with, or turned into, a work of art for an upcoming art show premiering on January 18, 2003. They included a check for $10 to cover at least some of the cost of preparing and sending the entry. WHAT A BREATH OF FRESH AIR! They actually seek out artists, and offer them a stipend to participate.
           More often, I am use to seeing art organizations caught up in their own self-importance and believing they are entitled to be supported just because they exist. They act like they are doing the artist a favor by charging an entry fee with no guarantee that the piece will even be accepted. They supposedly exist to offer support and encouragement to creative people, while educating the community, instead they exploit the energy, finances, and egos of artists and art supporters to enhance the prestige of the organization, and by association, inflate their own egos. Soliciting financial sponsors, these organizations put on "Art Shows" in their communities and expect artists to beat a path to their door. compete with others for piddling awards, and attend stuffy elitist art openings. None of this ever seemed like much fun to me.
          I had met the group last summer while participating in a craft festival at the Chautauqua Institute, and was very impressed with their energy and enthusiasm. Jesse, Jessica, and Ryan were the remaining members out of the seven founders, and were working hard to expand community horizons. It's not easy to work around and through the existing bureaucracy and introduce new concepts and ideas, but they have managed to find support from forward looking members of the community, who recognize the importance of embracing fresh new ideas as a means of moving forward.
          How refreshing it was to meet these folks at PICA. They are fun. They encourage free thinking, involve the community, make use of unused space and invite both artists and residents to share in the creative assets of the community, and actually become a part of the artwork. By exploring new concepts and placing no limits, art becomes inclusive and, expansive, encompassing any and all disciplines available. Visual art and sculpture, craft, location art, multi media and performance art, music, and theater can all be joined into one joyous celebration of creativity.
          Getting back to this box I received....This innovative concept prompted me to explore the subject of "Thinking Outside the Box", which seemed appropriate. I thought, "They have sent you this box, and want you to think. Think Inside? Think Outside? What about thinking both?"
          So, I came up with a plan....I would make a Brain-in-the-Box. I would put a brain in the box, that would pop out when the box was opened, symbolizing that creativity needs to be set free. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, there should be a celebration when the box is opened! I decided to add some music, and have streamers that spring up with the brain. I plan on festively decorating the outside of the box announcing the contents. At this point, I am working on collecting the pieces for my creation, so I don't know exactly what it will look like. I plan, however, to share the progress with everyone via the Internet. I am setting up a web page at: www.artmakers.com/brain where you can see the evolution of the Brain-in-the-Box.

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