Recently I was called to volunteer on the committee to review submissions for 2014’s roster of exhibitions at the Fairbanks Arts Association’s Bear Gallery. Participating in a posse is infinitely easier than doing it solo in a classroom setting, and I joined six other jurors from the creative community who represented a breadth-and-depth cross-section of media (example: printmakers, sculptors, watercolorists, painters, drawers etc.). Also on hand were a handful of hopeful, prospective artists who had their pieces up for consideration. The event is public and is a good opportunity to see the process, as well as participate and support in the tentpole non-profit organization dedicated to championing visual arts in the Interior.
The review took place on a Wednesday evening, in the gallery itself (which afforded a chance to peek at the current works on display during break-time), and lasted less than a couple hours as there were only twenty portfolios to look at – somewhat disappointing given the historical all-night sessions resulting from at least twice that number of submissions. Most artists had the maximum of ten images each, with a few numbering as low as the bare minimum (five). The work ranged from pastels, photography, oils, acrylics, steel, wood, fabric, glass and a bookmaker to boot. Subject matter was for the most part predictable landscapes (half of the pieces) and some representational portraiture, with barely any abstraction or alternative/contemporary art.
There were a couple other experienced art educators on the panel, so my assumption was that a good portion of the feedback was solidly objective, and I quickly slipped back into a familiar role as a clinically detached observer, even if a handful of the portfolios were by friends and familiar folks. There were three chances to review the works – the first a rapid overview, followed by a longer look - with time to inquire about titles, medium and size of individual pieces - and lastly a final perusal so as to double-check our initial assessments. Each portfolio was scored using this scale:
1 to 1.5 Poor to FairThe scores are then added up and calibrated using an “Olympic Style” system (or “Trim Mean Statistical Method”) meaning the highest + lowest scores are dropped with the remaining five averaged for the final number. Those that rank highest are the first to fill the allotted slots, of which there were only five for the year. The remainder of the dates are set aside for annual exhibitions such as the 64th Parallel, Rarefied Light and other group shows.
2 to 2.5 Fair to Average
3 to 3.5 Good to Very Good
4 to 4.5 Very Good to Excellent
5 Most Superior
All in all it was a rewarding insight to both the behind-the-scenes logistics and the diversity of artistic efforts going on in the community. It is always reinforces the basic message in the classroom on the importance of meeting submission deadlines and criteria, carefully selecting a cohesive body of work, and how crucial it is to present - ie photograph - it in the best way possible (though alI can say is I don’t miss old-school slides a bit). There were some images that I suspected suffered from poor representation, being too dark or underexposed, or not an effective composition - a critical factor when it comes to showing 2d images of 3d pieces. One final impression from the process was to underscore how important it is for a professional artist to be operating on an exhibition schedule that is often years in advance, and there's also no telling how many failed to clear the basic threshold of getting their work together and in on time.
It will be another exciting season to look forward to in 2014, since many of the selected artists will in fact not be displaying the same pieces shown in these sample portfolios, but may very well instead opt to present a new body of work. Personally, and this may be a bias, I think attendance would blossom if there were a few more surprises, even a shock or two, amongst the usual staid, placid offerings, but given the fairly pedestrian expectations of the viewing public who want their art safe and non-provocative, support might suffer as a consequence of pushing too many buttons. There already is enough grumbling about artistic entitlements, deadbeat bohemians and other "socialists" in society as it is, and Fairbanks is certainly a case in point for conservative "tastes." One of the other unfortunate aftershocks in losing so many galleries has been the void-abhorring shift of works that were previously displayed in more commercial settings will migrate into the spaces that might otherwise host more progressive and contemporary artworks. Yet another reason to inculcate aspiring talents to aggressively promote their presence on-line.