By Elizabeth Johnson – September 2014
One of my favorite authors César Aira published a story titled Picasso in The New Yorker Magazine in the August 11th &18th, 2014 issue. Straight off, a genie asks, “What would you prefer: to have a Picasso or to be Picasso?” The vast, emotional gulf that separates collecting art from being an artist spurs art sales, even if you are an artist that buys art: each side wants what the other side already possesses, neither is ever completely satisfied; thus, new art production and sales are driven by desire.
Easton is an arts-friendly town that promises to become a creative hub for the Lehigh Valley; but how does a small town establish and support the ephemeral Contemporary Art business? The fundraising initiative to support the Karl Stirner Arts Trail in Easton, PA is a place to start. Several artists associated with the Trail and close artist friends of Karl’s have donated work to be auctioned October the 5th, 2014 at Lafayette College. Your twenty-five dollars at the door promises appetizers, an open bar, and the excitement of live bidding for quality art. More importantly, you will join the City of Easton and Lafayette College’s concerted push to transform our small town into an arts destination.
You’ll have to read the Aria’s story to discover his answer to the “have a Picasso or be Picasso” question; but Mark Mulligan, CEO of VM Development Group, replied without hesitating, “I’d like to be Picasso.” After securing economic development grants to restore the historic Silk Mill, the City of Easton selected VM Development Group to manage the first phase of residential construction. Winding along the Bushkill Creek, the Karl Stirner Arts Trail links the Simon Silk Mill Redevelopment Project to downtown. Mulligan credits Easton’s stated arts focus at the Mill as selling him on investing in the project: he has a strong background in the arts, as he studied voice at the Juilliard School, performed worldwide as a tenor, and formerly worked as a commercial artist in Manhattan. He hopes the Silk Mill will attract a mix of artists, families and professionals who want to live and/or work within walking distance of the central Easton.
When asked how he would foster local art appreciation and sales, he said, “If you create cool living spaces, and make interesting culinary experiences available, you’ll attract young professionals. Disposable income would allow professional residents and the creative community to grow together.” The long-term proposal for over 307,000 square foot at the Silk Mill anticipates galleries, affordable artist studios and live/work spaces, small performance venues, classrooms, artist meeting rooms and shared production facilities for ceramics, metalworking, and photography. Also, the Silk Mill would be the goal, the destination, the place to get coffee, or a beer and sandwich after a stroll down the sculpture-dotted Karl Stirner Arts Trail.
Considering Aria’s question myself, I would choose owning a Picasso over being Picasso any day of the week, and I would sell the work to fund something important. The Bushkill Creek Corridor Council of the Arts under the authority of the Greater Easton Development Partnership hopes to sell enough artwork at the auction to meet a $50,000 matching grant from a private donor. All proceeds from the sale will be received by the City of Easton and GEDP. Lafayette College will host the live auction on campus in Pfenning Hall from 3-5 PM on October the 5th. Robert S. Mattison, a Contemporary Art historian and the Marshall R. Metzger Professor of Art at Lafayette, will wield the gavel as auctioneer.
The group of 10-12 artists who have donated work to the Karl Stirner Arts Trail fundraiser fall in the $2,000-$8,000 price range, affordable price points for many Lehigh Valley art collectors. Artists contributing work include: David Kimball Anderson, Brandon Ballengée, Berrisford Boothe, Nancy Cohen, Willie Cole, Vicki DaSilva, William Lamson, Loren Madsen, Paul Matthews, Steve Tobin, and Jim Toia. The Stephen Antonakos Studio, Durham Press and Lafayette College’s Experimental Printmaking Institute will donate works as well.
So ask yourself. What would you prefer: to have a Picasso or be Picasso? And come to the Karl Stirner Arts Trail Fundraiser October the 5th to test your assumptions. Are you a contemporary artist, an Easton art booster or an art collector? Are you a mixture of the three?
Art and trail-lovers alike can help to ensure the next creative acquisitions for the trail, by joining the Lafayette College fund-raiser on October 5th 2014.