Last year’s self-guided Clark County Open Studios tour of local artists’ private workshops and galleries was the best-attended, biggest-selling outing in the event’s history, according to organizer Jennifer Williams.
Open Studios didn’t happen this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some local artists and crafters have hosted their own individual, in-person events, but the Open Studios team decided against encouraging any risk of exposure, Williams said. That added more difficulty — and loneliness — to an already difficult, lonely year for people who make a living by selling art.
“I told the artists, ‘I know you’re disappointed, but we want to keep promoting you,’ ” Williams said. ” ‘If you find new and different ways to share your work, we’ll be there.’ ”
The new and different way has arrived. Artists Sunday, a nationwide campaign encouraging people to patronize the self-employed artists amongst us, is set for Nov. 29. Many Clark County artists have been spiffing up their websites and signing up to attract eyeballs and make sales, Williams said.
To browse their offerings, simply visit www.ArtistsSunday.com, click on “artists” and enter the city or area you want to explore. You can also browse by style or search for individual artist names.
While Artists Sunday is focused on one date, Williams said, it’s really a movement: a reminder that visual artists and crafters have stayed plenty busy throughout the pandemic. Because their favorite ways to show and sell their work — galleries, festivals, in-person visits — went dark for much of this year, they’re especially hungry to reconnect online with art lovers and seasonal gift buyers.
“What a vibrant arts community we’ve created here,” Williams said. “We don’t take it for granted. We worked hard to build it. It’s still there.”
But, like all communities, its members have been isolated and undercut by the pandemic.
“I am so thankful I have my studio and my work, because it’s been depressing,” is the shared feeling in the Clark County arts community, Williams said. “I think we’re all missing our connections with the community of artists and with our audience.”
The pandemic turned painter Cathie Joy Young’s long-anticipated, statement-making spring opening at a Portland gallery into a “bummer,” she said. For one thing, she and her husband both got sick with what they suspect was COVID-19. Young felt terrible but worked hard anyway to mount the show — which was poorly attended due to the pandemic just taking off, she said.
“I had a real existential crisis,” Young said. “It was like, why bother anymore?”
Williams was also looking forward to a Portland gallery opening, she said, but riots in the streets blockaded anybody from attending. She took her first long rest from painting in 20 years — but then she got back to her artworks and her website, which needed an update.
“The day after I signed up for Artists Sunday, I sat down and completely redid my website,” said Young. “I’m not a stranger to online sales, but it’s not something I’ve emphasized.”
Galleries and studios
Artists already lead solitary working lives, Young said, so they really look forward to meeting their patrons at openings and events.
“My life as an artist is pretty isolated anyway, so when you put it out in public and you interact with people … you get an appreciation that you don’t get online,” she said. Chatting with her admirers often leads Young to make new discoveries about her own artworks, she said.
While Artists Sunday is an online event, it’s prompted some artists to try scheduling studio visits with one socially distanced, masked-up party at a time. Many local brick-and-mortar galleries, including downtown Vancouver’s Art at the Cave, Aurora and Art on the Boulevard, already went further earlier this year, reopening their doors and functioning like retail stores. Patrons must wear masks and stay apart from other people.
Williams looked into it and came to the same conclusion: Art galleries and studios — which have always been touchless, socially distanced and lightly attended — must be among the safest of indoor outings, she said.
So she tried a similar experiment at her own studio in Ridgefield a couple of weekends ago, hosting a trickle of masked-up visitors by appointment only.
“On a small scale, this is a safe way to control the numbers,” she said. “I’ve decided to offer studio visits by appointment throughout the year.”
One of her visitors was longtime Open Studios participant Ann Cavanaugh, a Battle Ground artist who usually welcomes upwards of 250 guests to her studio over that November weekend.
Williams said Open Studios may return next year, but over two weekends to spread out the visitors, given that “it may take another year before we take our masks off.”
“The point is, we must all adjust and find new, safe ways to continue doing what we do,” she said. “The goal (is) to bring Clark County Open Studios back next year, knowing it might look very different.”