Among the many losses in the surreal year 2020 will be a cherished autumn ritual in Santa Cruz County: the annual Open Studios Art Tour in which artists from all over the county open their creative worlds to the public each October.
This year, unsurprisingly, the Open Studios will not happen, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. But even as it plans for 2021, Open Studios’ host Arts Council Santa Cruz County is making use of the downtime to create an entirely new orientation to local visual arts.
It’s called the Visual Arts Network (VAN), and it’s an online catalogue of local visual artists and their work, to be unveiled in October.
“It’s a pivot in lieu of Open Studios,” says the program’s longtime director Ann Ostermann, “so that come October, when people will be looking for art and artists, we’ll have a safety net.”
Here how it works: For an annual fee of $65, local artists will get a dedicated page on the network that functions much like a personal website, with artist statements, photos, videos, and links to social media and sales portals.
Open Studios itself is juried; a panel of seven arts professionals chooses the artists to be on the tour on the basis of technical proficiency and artistic vision, among other factors. The Visual Arts Network, by contrast, will not be juried. The only qualifications an artist must demonstrate is that their work is 1) in fact, visual art of some kind and 2) original and locally produced art, not manufactured elsewhere.
Ostermann says that the VAN could serve as a staging spot for artists just beginning to make the move toward professionalism. “With Open Studios, you have to be a certain level. You have to be ready to welcome the public to come see your art. You have to know how to display your art, price it, market it. It’s a big dive into the professional art world. (The Visual Arts Network) is a really welcoming way for someone just starting to think about what would it be like to put my art out there for the public.”
She also says that the new online venture will evolve to offer artists instruction and access to professional development tools, including mentoring opportunities, training in video and photography, and networking within the rich and vibrant visual arts community in Santa Cruz County. She also says that the network will have a budget for year-round marketing for artists.
“Usually, in October, we have a four-week press and then it’s done. Now we can go year-round. It’s thrilling the ideas we can have. Maybe next spring, we can let the public know what artists have, who’s opening up, who’s doing appointments. For a person who doesn’t like change and was getting ready to produce her 17th Open Studios tour that I know like the back of my hand, I’m actually finding that it’s creatively juicy to do (something different).”
Ostermann also says that the network will work with artists who cannot afford the $65 annual fee. “People are experiencing real financial hardship right now,” she says. “If you’re not getting income, if the $65 fee is a hardship, you can contact me (to wave the fee).”
The application process to be part of the inaugural 2020 Visual Arts Network is now open. The deadline to apply is July 6. For details, go to santacruzopenstudios.com.