Inspiring the Neighborhood
by Tina Manzer
For the second year in a row, Muse Art and Design in Portland, Oregon, is celebrating spring with “An Artist A Day.” Throughout the month of April, a different artist paints or draws each day in the front window of the art supply store located in the city’s chic Hawthorne Community. They’ll use paint contributed by M. Graham, and Art Alternatives panels and canvases donated by MacPherson’s. The resulting 30 pieces of art are then auctioned off in May to benefit Schoolhouse Supplies, a “free” store where public school teachers can obtain classroom materials at no cost. According to Peter Rossing, the store’s owner, $3,000 was raised by last year’s event.
“Peter has great community building/relationship making ideas for his store, and this one was solely his,” said writer and publicist Sally Murdoch, who is helping him this year. “Seven years ago, he opened this tiny little art store in a neighborhood where a lot of artists live and work (he does, too), and since then, he’s been coming up with ways to bring people together.”
You may remember a story in Art Materials Retailer a few years ago that described Rossing’s system for installing and breaking down an in-store art exhibit – every six weeks. He told us then, “I want the local art community to say, ‘Hey, this store really supports us.’ For me, each exhibit is another opportunity for guerilla marketing.”
In 2009, Rossing successfully pulled together An Artist A Day without a lot of planning, which seems to be his forte. The trick was recruiting the participating artists quickly. A few more than the required 30 eventually applied; some were ruled out by their medium. If they couldn’t produce a finished product in the storefront window in five hours, they couldn’t participate. “It pretty much eliminated photography and other things that can’t be wound up then and there,” explained Murdoch.
This year, Rossing started early – in January – and by February 21 he’d received 65 applications. Interested artists were directed to the event’s new website, www.anartistaday.com where they could read the criteria and get up-to-the-minute information. “The website is for everyone – participants and the general public – to see the schedule of artists and watch the content evolve as the event is happening,” noted Murdoch. “It’s a lot tidier than including An Artist A Day as part of the store’s website. Since it’s going to be used for a long time to come, it was worth going to the trouble of creating a dedicated site.”
Making bigger crowds
Muse is small – 920 square feet – and is located in a circa 1930s building that faces a very busy boulevard. Heavy-retail-traffic neighbors include an antiques store, a pet shop and a coffee shop. “There are a lot of passersby who naturally glance in the window anyway,” said Murdoch. “In April, from noon to 5 p.m., they’ll definitely see some action happening. Generally, crowds draw more crowds so we’re expecting spectators on the sidewalk outside.”
Last year, to promote the event to the public, Rossing wrote and distributed a press release that was picked up by the local neighborhood media and PBS station. He also included information about it in his monthly store newsletter. “Schoolhouse Supplies has a pretty good hold on the public,” noted Murdoch. “They were able to reach a different cross-section of people than Peter did to generate a lot of publicity on their own. His partnership with a high-profile foundation like that helped legitimize the event.
Linda Womack, one of the participating artists in 2009, sent an e-mail to her fans inviting them to come to watch. Crowds formed both inside and outside of the store. “She’s a good promoter,” noted Murdoch, “and a popular encaustic artist here in Portland. She’s written a book, Embracing Encaustic: Learning to Paint With Beeswax. People here were curious to see how encaustic works.”
Rossing stocks art materials that aren’t always available in other stores, so the artists’ fans plan on shopping when they come to watch their friends create. “An Artist A Day brought new artists into the store. Last year, sales increased for the products demo’d that day, although it’s really difficult to measure,” he told us. “I do know that my business increased throughout 2009, so I think the event helped bring Muse through the economic crunch.”
Sally Murdoch’s job this year was to “get a lot of looky-loos there,” she said. “Peter didn’t have time last year to promote the event out there huge. This year, we’re targeting public schools because in the end, the event benefits them. We would love to host field trips. It’s a great opportunity for them to watch a real artist at work.”
While the artists stop creating on April 30, An Artist A Day culminates with a reception and silent auction at Muse on May 13. All the artists are encouraged to attend along with the Schoolhouse Supply people and the general public. It’s the last chance to place a bid on the artwork. Fifty percent of the price received for each one goes to Schoolhouse Supply, and 50 percent goes the artist.
Muse serves food and beverages, much of it gladly donated by Portland breweries and wineries. When I talked to Murdoch in February, the store was working with neighborhood restaurants to encourage them to offer discounts during the month for people viewing An Artist A Day. “The idea came from Schoolhouse Supplies actually,” she said. “It would really bring the neighborhood together.”
Oregon does not have sales tax and in the current economy, art programs are the first to be cut at public schools. “That’s the need that this event is addressing,” Murdoch added. “Teachers can take control and get some art supplies into the hands of kids.”
“For me, an event like this expands the sense of community,” said Rossing. “My vision was always to be more than a retail entity. My goal is to support the neighborhood and run a place where artists can network.”
He told us that people are proud of Muse’s efforts and glad to have the store in their neighborhood. He hopes that An Artist A Day grows as an annual event to be able to help other local nonprofit groups.