Sunday, September 13, 2009

Auction for the Arts: The Difficult Balance of Creativity, Finances and New Traditions

We participated in the first annual Carmel Treasures Auction for the Arts events this weekend and the aftermath is such a mixed bag of tricks. The event was beautiful and well organized, but not particularly successful in terms of sales or fund-raising.

The whole night was very symbolic of a current trend in so many industries, where nothing can be launched, sold, or introduced without the presence of food and wine. Steven and I are both semi-professional appreciators of tasty drinks and dishes, but living in a community like Carmel, which is equally celebrated for fine food and fine art, it can be difficult to focus attention on the art work and distract from the concentration on food and wine.

Art seems to suffer particularly from this connection, paintings and sculpture are appreciated passively and museums and exhibitions often add to the perception that art is there to beautify and appreciate, but isn't necessarily something that you buy. The difficultly is that without collectors and patrons new art would cease to be created or produced.

It’s a conflict in many ways, even for those “in the business.” As artists or agents you can quickly appreciate the value of a piece its creativity, skill level, quality, or collectability (code for investment value) of an item, but that’s not the same thing as being able to afford a piece. The result is that when you go to an auction as a participant, not as a bidder, you spend a lot of time yearning for the $40,000 painting, that is a steal for $25,000 and sharing empathy with the painter or agent since today’s economy means that they won’t even earn the asking price. The skill is being able to communicate your knowledge and perception to an appropriate individual, but sadly such folk are a little hard to find these days.

The Treasures event also had me pondering the difficulty of establishing new traditions, particularly in the current economy. The Central Coast has a couple of occasions that mark the calendar year and bring locals and visitors out into restaurants, shops, etc. They’re institutions now, the kind of events you block out a week for every year, but I wonder if they also struggled at first and how they managed to keep on and eventually succeed. When the first Concours d’Elegance was held at Pebble Beach, did people think it was ridiculous to drive a bunch of pretty cars out to park on a bluff by the ocean?

How do we encourage creativity and new traditions for our community with the understanding the immediate success in unlikely? How do you cultivate interest, appreciation and attendance alongside likely buyers? Is there an appropriate balance between the broader goal of collective appreciation and the necessity of private ownership?

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