Though the arts are usually struggling financially, since the recession they’ve been seriously struggling. Grants have dried up, audiences are down, and many artists are under more pressure than usual.
Nor is this trend just about the recession. “The arts are having a hard time adapting to the 21st century,” says Adam Huttler, founder of Fractured Atlas, a group that presses artists to be “more entrepreneurial.”
“It’s technology, demographic shifts, changing audience expectations, increased competition for leisure time. A lot of folks are wringing their hands in mounting desperation, but what we really need is a lot more aggressive experimentation in the business aspects of the arts.”
Fractured Atlas recently identified artists who are experimenting on the business end of the scene, announcing five winners of its 2014 Arts Entrepreneurship Awards. We caught up with one of the winners, a project in Kansas called The Pilot Balloon Church-House.
Initiated by Josh Meyer and Matt Hislope, the Church-House is a pop-up art colony on the site of an old church. Since August, more than 80 artists have taken residence there, bringing a wild and weird array of crafts with them. One Louisville theater group worked on a death-metal adaptation of the Elizabethan tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Another troupe, The Sin Eaters, set up a mobile concession and asked locals to ingest their failings in fruit pies. One more artist is working on cross-stitch versions of famous abstract paintings. (See more here.)
Meyer and Hislope saw a rental listing for the church on Facebook last year, and decided to apply. They raised $9,000 on Indiegogo, and now charge $50 a week per person to stay at the colony.
Huttler says he likes the way the Meyer and Hislope have put a new spin on the old idea of the residency, creating something out of nothing and doing it in a financially sustainable way. “They’re keeping costs low. They’re keeping timing flexible. And they raised money through crowd-funding, which is great in engaging a broad base of supporters. We really like the spirit.”
The pop-up model makes it easy for artists to come and go, without the baggage of a traditional residency program. “Residencies have always seemed fairly institutional,” Meyer says. “You have endowments and an elaborate application processes. It’s great they exist, but it’s also great there’s another way of doing it and achieving the same thing.”
Huttler doesn’t think Church-House, or the other winners, are going to save the arts. But he hopes there are lessons other groups can take on-board.
Meyer reckons other people could easily create pop-ups for themselves. “The artists don’t need a lot from us. What we’re really giving them is the time and the space. Anyone with a year to do this could probably start their own artist colony.”