What is art worth? A thousand dollars, a cake, a cork? It’s a big, complicated question that, in my new job as the Davis Art Center’s director of development and special projects, I think about every day.
What is the value of teaching a child to paint? Can we put a dollar sign on the value of giving a child the confidence, pride and ability to positively express themselves? What is the value of taking a dance class once a week? $10 or $15? How can that capture the long-term benefit of stretching and releasing a body that sits at a computer all day?
Artist Marc Lancet and his colleagues are also thinking about the value of art. They bring the question to the fore with the “Fair Trade” wall featured in the Tsao Gallery’s current “Stretching Function” ceramics exhibit. On the wall, anybody can trade one of the ceramic pieces made by the artists for something of equal value.
It is amazing to see what has been traded in “fair” exchange for ceramic art. People have left their own artwork, a CD series of classical music, and most ironically, a carefully placed cork and cookie. The cork and cookie could seem a bit disrespectful or rude: Really? That’s the value you place on a hand-crafted, beautifully etched ceramic piece? On the other hand, the aesthetic placement of the cork and cookie on the wall is visually striking, and it is an in-your-face statement about the subjectivity of art.
To me, the value of the Fair Trade wall is not what is traded, but the act of trading. By trading, people are activated to participate in the artistic process, and to consider the value of art in a fun and interesting way. The wall becomes a place of continual art-making. It allows people to walk into the Art Center and make art happen.
When I tell people I am the director of development and special projects, people look at me funny. It’s a long title. What does that mean? What do I actually do? Development in the nonprofit world means fundraising. And yes, I will be fundraising. But really, I will work to make art happen, even for corks and cookies.
My job is to rally support for artists and for art-making; to help local artists get their work done and seen; to show how vital it is to let a child play in clay and how life-affirming it is to awaken the long-suppressed dancer or singer in an adult. Most importantly, my job is to ensure that every single person who comes in contact with the Davis Art Center can have a creative and artistic experience. It is activating the artist in everyone. It is making art happen!
The Davis Art Center is on a path of renewal. We are offering more classes and workshops than ever. We are creating more opportunities to engage in art in unexpected and fun ways, like the Fair Trade wall, or the recent Paint-the-DAC-Shack, in which community-generated ideas turned our storage shed into a public mural. So, I encourage everybody to come experience the creative process at the Davis Art Center, 1919 F St., and help us make art happen.
— Shelly Gilbride is the new director of development and special projects at the Davis Art Center; this column is published monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-756-4100.