Talking with artists at the Riverside Art Market

by Madeleine Peck
The Riverside Art Market is arguably a success already. With over 40,000 people storming the gates on opening day, and similar crowds on the second Saturday, the event which takes cues from a similar market in Portland, Oregon, seems poised to become “the” event that defines Riverside.
However, for the sake of mental masturbation, it’s always fun to consider what is and isn’t art; how, where, and when to draw the line…and if it means anything at all. Interestingly, over the course of three days, two people (one a professor/artist, the other, a barista/artist) asked the same thing about the market, “So really, it’s more of a craft market?”
Indeed, the market features a plethora of handmade wares. There are lots of jewelry, tasty treats (oh, the unbounded joy that is kettle korn), tot-wear and purses. And then there are the fine artists, smaller in number and with distinctly different price points.
Ad Reinhardt, artist, teacher, and theorist once wrote, “…art is involved in a certain kind of perfection …Cultures in time begin to represent what artists did. It isn’t the other way around. There was an achievement in separating fine art from other art.” Thus, in a situation where fine artists share space with meat pies, it seems instructive to gather some of the participating artists’ opinions and experiences.
Shea Slemmer, a painter and the co-owner of Flux Gallery in 5 Points, says her decision to show at the market is as much about the community as it is for fiscal reasons. “Flux is specifically geared towards local Jacksonville artists who are vital to our cultural growth, so it makes sense to be a part of an organization with similar goals. I see it as a symbiotic relationship.”
When asked about the possible dilution of the fine art-ness of her work, as well as that of other artists, Slemmer replied, “I measure my success by personal accomplishments, not perceived or implied worth. I think of ‘fine art-ness’ in this context much like I do a fine bottle of wine: the smart buyer knows what they like and it has little or nothing to do with price or venue. For me, it is the concepts behind my work that hold the real value so I do not feel diluted by ‘art-market-ness’.”
Overstreet Ducasse, whose booth is filled with his own paintings notes, “The reaction to my work has been unbelievable. I was surprised to see so many people, I sold four pieces and there are still people calling, emailing, and asking if I am going to be back.” Ducasse says that he plans to be at the Riverside Art Market every other week, and is currently working on a series of smaller paintings for sale. The most amazing thing for the artist was however, the reaction of people to the personal stories behind his paintings, “Some people actually cried.” he said.
Slemmer shares the space in her booth with two other artists, Ed Liberatori and Anna Membrino. Membrino, a painter and English major at UNF said, that already the market is “getting a name for being a great venue for local artists [because] it’s affordable and easy to become a part of.” For her part, she says she was “thrilled,” when Slemmer asked her to participate.
Photographer Liberatori sees the venue as an excellent avenue for his work. It is his first time showing professionally, and he says that the reaction from market-goes was “really motivating,” and that he plans to add to his inventory slowly but steadily. “It’s an amazing venue and the community has just embraced it so greatly.”
Doug Coleman, Chairman of the Riverside Arts Market Research, Operations & Development (RAMROD) Committee, who along with Dr. Wayne Wood, has been instrumental in bringing the art market to life comments, “When we did research about public markets in many other cities, we found that the minimum spent by market visitors was about $12.50 per person including children, per day. One of the nation’s largest, Portland, Oregon’s ‘Saturday Market,’ for example, estimates their economic activity at over 8 million per year and have an estimated 750,000 to 800,000 visitors. We estimated (based on size of our market, parking, access, marketing budget, etc) that we would draw about 100,000 visitors our first year and do over one million in sales.”
He then goes on to point out that the market has created three full-time, Jacksonville-based jobs. “Small potatoes,” he says, but since they’ve done it at the height of the recession, he stresses how proud they all are. While new director Tony Allegretti weighs in stressing the “the quality of experience.”
No article on the Riverside Art Market’s first two weeks would be complete without mention of the Bike Valet service provided by Matt Uhrig and Abhishek Mukherjee of the blog, One of the first things out of every person’s lips as the market is discussed–the service is as delightful as it is smart.
For his part, Uhrig sees the use of bikes as a tangible way to make life better, “there’s just a better quality of life from the back of a bike,” he said. Conceived by Uhrig and Mukherjee as a way to encourage people to ride their bikes out to the market, the valet service is free, and Bike Jax has plans to be there every week. And though he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to experience the market, Uhrig does say “I think RAM is brilliant…it’s going to become an icon in Jacksonville.”