ArtId Art Blog
The Pioneer Valley, hugging closely to the Connecticut River from Longmeadow to the South and Brattleboro to the North, struggles to come to terms with its vanished industrial heritage and remold itself into contemporary viability.
The Arts have played a major part in its ongoing reconfiguration. Radiating from the arts mecca that is Northampton, a diversity of cross currents have funneled creative vitality into former warehouses and industrial complexes, most notably in Florence, Holyoke, and Easthampton.
Valley women command leadership posts in politics (mayors in two major cities), education (two all women's colleges, Mt. Holyoke and Smith) numerous businesses, organizations and non-profits, and in the world of the Arts. Forgoing traditional Fine Art gallery management, the women of the Valley have chosen to find new methods and means for cultivating their Arts and their Arts businesses. These alternative venues include co-operatives, collectives (The Fiber Arts Center, Amherst) fund raising umbrellas and service organizations (The Fund for Women Artists and The Women's Fund) and numerous public/private partnerships.
Two Pioneer Valley women are redefining Artist representation, sales and networking. Northampton's Linda Post launched Paradise City Arts Festivals, Inc., now celebrating its tenth year of phenomenal growth, from the foundation of a working artist. Betsy Davison, by way of contrast, decided to forgo bricks and mortar entirely, establishing an on-line community of creative arts professionals and members of the art trade, capitalizing on her years of experience in corporate boardrooms and the laboratories of product research and development.
Davison founded MindsIsland.com in an effort to respond to the most fundamental problem confronting the working artist--Promotion and Sales. Minds Island, a membership based electronic network seeks to create an artist centered marketplace nexus. Servicing the private arts buyer, publishers, arts consultants, designers and decorators, Minds Island serves its member artists as a communication network, means of outreach and an electronic arts agora.
For a nominal monthly fee (9.95 to 15 dollars per month) artists are provided professional arts-related content, career advancement opportunities, job postings, bulletin boards, and most importantly an on-line studio showcasing the full range of their work. Minds Island also offers commission free point of purchase transaction capability.
Headquartered in Indian Orchard, an eastern suburb of Springfield, Minds Island currently represents over 500 artists and hopes to expand to 3,000 artist members in the next 14 months. As business partner to the working artist, Minds Island creates a unified place for buyers and consultants to search, find, and gather information. The search engine allows the trade to search for work based on style, region, medium, price and size. Artists can easily establish a changing studio presence of 18 to 36 images, biographical information, ordering and contact information, point of purchase capability, all through a simple series of mouse clicks that transfer their digital images into easy to navigate pre-designed templates. Technical assistance is provided or complete service set-up for those who wish to keep their fingers far from a keyboard.
Davison hopes to empower the independent artist beyond the confines of conventional geography and propel the emerging artist into opportunities and visibility not easily proffered by conventional means.
Fine artist and artisan Linda Post has galvanized her extensive experience into a very successful model of arts representation and promotion. After 20 years of creating, carting, transporting and exhibiting her art and wares at the nation's art and craft festivals, Post decided to turn the tables and mount her own show. With a thorough understanding of the problems that confront the exhibiting artist and an eye to reap the benefit of a strong tourist migration to the peak of New England's fall foliage displays in the upper valley and in Vermont, the first Paradise City Arts Festival was born.
Utilizing the network of artists that she had met on the Arts festival circuit whose work rang with strong distinction and a thorough knowledge of the fertile talent pool of the Valley's regional artists, Post launched her foray into a new dimension of arts business. As she opened the portals of Paradise, her first show was flooded with applications. The collective quality of this initial exposition quickly established a reputation for elegant craftsmanship, high artistry and a creative energy that fused the distinction between fine art and fine craft. Expansion followed a fast track.
In a short span of ten years Paradise City Festivals, Inc., has grown to two shows each year in Northampton on the holiday weekends of Columbus Day and Memorial Day, two shows each year in Marlboro, MA, and one each in Philadelphia and Ft. Lauderdale. Paradise City continues to grow in scope and vivacity and currently manages a database of 15,000 artists.
Post attributes her success to establishing a tradition of presenting collections that are museum quality collectibles within a festive and relaxed ambiance. She recognizes the fact the collectors and buyers appreciate the intimacy of face-to- face direct contact with the producing artist. This experience affords an enhanced value that is prized and cultivated by Post. The design of her expositions is carefully crafted to coordinate neighborhoods of complementary creative expression central to the Paradise City experience.
Seventy five percent of Post's audiences are return visitors, arriving from considerable distance. Post's Paradise provides a relaxed ambiance of music, a festival of gourmet foods and restful isles of gardens, sculpture parks, and comfortable places of leisure. A central tenet of the Paradise philosophy is for customers to enjoy long afternoons of unhurried browsing. Post regards this as a boon to the viability of the festival's commerce.
The success of Paradise has filtered into the community at large and a strong partnership has been forged between the hospitality industry, entertainment venues and local restaurants that welcome the throngs of festival-goers eager for an ample repast at the end of a long day of browsing.
The distinct vision of Paradise City has centered on the presentation of precious works of creative enterprise within a pleasantness of concourse between artist and collector. Linda Post's efforts to enhance and cultivate this intimacy of interaction is a key to her success. The Paradise City Festivals are a major contribution to the region's embrace of the arts.
East of Paradise, following the branch of the Deerfield River to the Mohawk Trail, lies the quaint and eclectic village of Shelburne Falls. Here a sisterhood of small galleries has grown up in surprising number. Like a necklace of pearls, this unique conclave of pioneering women entrepreneurs maintain their independence, yet collectively share the luster of an arts community that is defined by strong women sharing a common vision.
Sarah Hettlinger's Bald Mountain Pottery, Andree Clearwater's Wings of Light Gallery, Anne Brauer's Quilt Studio, Lynne Shulda's Salmon Falls Artisan Showroom, Jean Sherburne's Gallery, Frame and Portrait Studio, Suzie Robins' Textile Arts, Kathleen Young's North River Glass, The Laurie Goddard Gallery, Janice Sorenson's A Stone's Throw, Pat Pyott's Stillwater Art & Design, and the Shelburne Falls Artist Co-operative are all a part of this tiny community's profusion of women in arts.
The Bridge of Flowers, a town beautification project initiated in 1928 by the Shelburne Women's Club, transformed the former trolley river crossing into a peripatetic Eden of floral delight. It is the principle magnet of tourism that brings visitor traffic to the village. Unlike other tourist destinations, the galleries of Shelburne almost exclusively represent artists that are part of the fabric of the local community and the surrounding hill towns. The women's heritage established by the famed bridge may be the secret of the enigmatic network of women that are the engine of commercial vitality of this arts community.
This congenial sorority of business women share customers, referrals, and a bonding of community purpose that is deeply rooted yet retains an informality. Their primary source of communication and conflux is the organization of the monthly Gallery Walk held on the third Friday of each month. Openings, special events, and guest appearances are all coordinated on these evenings of welcome.
This unique business model of an arts community developed organically and is nurtured by personal relationships, shared values, mutual support and a strong sense of common purpose. This confluence of women has fostered a synergy of creative endeavor that exemplifies a lifestyle mode unique to the Pioneer Valley.