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Local Artist-Photographer Terry Johnston Hosts Free Artist Photoshoot

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Underwriting support from:

/Rapid Growth Media

/Christopher Apap

Grand Rapids freelance photographer and local arts advocate Terry Johnston is excited about a new, personal project, focusing on "starving artists" - a condition Johnston describes as "a very real possibility when a community doesn't value its local artists."

To flesh out his vision for the piece, Johnston is inviting local artists - especially those who've donated their art/services to an event, company or organization - to drop by and participate in a free photoshoot on June 13, from 3-7pm at the Wealthy Theatre Annex (1110 Wealthy SE).  From this photoshoot, Johnston said he'll edit, arrange and compose the photographs as a slideshow, to premiere June 16 at the Rapid Growth Speaker Series event (at Wealthy Theatre). 

Johnston encourages participants to dress "down and out, almost indigent," in order to represent "a current mindset perpetuated by some in Grand Rapids, taken to its natural conclusion."  That mindset being, in Johnston's words, the belief that creative professionals can be asked - repeatedly - to provide services for low/no compensation.  "It's unsustainable," Johnston said.  "If you don't have a structure in place for compensating artists, either the art suffers - or you have a community of trust-fund artists, which is what we've seen happen in Manhattan, and other metro areas where working-class artists simply get squeezed out." 

The term “starving artist” is universal enough to be featured in Wikipedia.  "There is some romantic view of this condition, almost like it's enviable," said Wealthy Theatre Director Erin Wilson.  "And while you'd almost never ask your electrician to donate time or materials, artists get asked all the time, to do exactly that, in Grand Rapids.  It has created a culture where nobody hesitates to ask, dangling the mythical idea of 'exposure.'  It's a culture from which we need to wean ourselves, if we're serious about nurturing local art in a meaningful way.  Chicago is ahead of us on this: we've got a lot to learn, and it won't necessarily be easy."

Wilson also serves as the board president of ArtPeers, an organization created to promote appreciation of local artists, and to encourage patronage of local art events.

Johnston and Wilson agreed there are many factors that lead to "starving artist" conditions, including a lack of agreed-upon standards (even among artists).  "When one artist asserts their work is worth 'x' there may be ten artists who'll do it for free, because they don't understand the consequences of undercutting each other."  Johnston said it's not a "free market" scenario when artists are indirectly persuaded into believing their services are worth so little.  "It's artificial, because Grand Rapids is a city of people who cherish the art produced here - there's already a common consensus that art has value."

Wilson agreed: "Because the community embraces art produced locally, much of our work is behind us; but, God is in the details."

With a growing and thriving Arts community erupting in Grand Rapids, the June 16 Speaker Series event (at which Johnston's art will be premiered) is an open conversation about how the community at large treats the local artists, how creative professionals feel about the perception that they ought to donate so much, and about the ramifications when organizations reserve the bulk of their funding to bring in out-of-state artists, with nearly no budgets for celebrating the true creativity community that is bursting at the seams, locally.

Rapid Growth Media and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority have put together numerous Speaker Series Events at Wealthy Theatre over the past few months. On June 16th, seven prominent local artists and creatives are coming together to discuss issues of compensation, artists' responsibilities (i.e. filing taxes) and Wilson will speak to the efforts ArtPeers is undertaking to showcase and fund local artists.  Audience participation will be encouraged, with plenty of time and several roaming microphones for question and comments.

Wilson said the panelists also will discuss valid reasons why creative services professionals would consider donating their work, to an event, cause or organization.  "These reasons may be personal, or involve criteria that is nobody's business but the artist's," he said.  "But in these rare instances, it could benefit the arts community as a whole, to present the value of the donated services in an invoice - even if the total is zero'd out, there's a line item reflecting a dollar value, and that reaffirms (that the art is worth a real amount of money.)"

"And there are good questions an artist might ask, when agreeing to donate services," Johnston said.  "Is anyone else getting paid?  Is there money coming in?  Are there sponsors paying the organization?  Where is the money ultimately going?"

When someone is getting asked to donate services, Johnston said, these are valid questions.  "In a sense, you're obligated to ask those question, as an artist - and you're entitled to answers, naturally."

Johnston has chosen to donate his services for the June 13 photoshoot, as an arts advocate - and he joked that "honestly, an effort like this is unfundable otherwise, for obvious reasons."  However, the artists being photographed will be entitled to a small stipend, for gas, or an inexpensive lunch at a local restaurant.  He said an anonymous donor (a community artist) has stepped forward to kindly donate this.  Artists also will receive a high-resolution digital representation of their images as photographed by Johnston.

Wilson said ArtPeers - who are launching a completely revamped website, with a comprehensive Grand Rapids Artists Directory - will provide registration tables during the June 13 photoshoot. Wilson said the ArtPeers Artists Directory will be open to everyone, even *past* artists/groups, to create an archive of art in Grand Rapids, past, present and future.  In addition, Wilson said, patrons can use the Directory to find artists to hire for events, and paid gigs. 

Johnston said - for the June 13 photoshoot - artists are encouraged to arrive in their most tattered clothing, and preferably looking grungy, even tired.  All types of people are invited to come share in this collaborative shoot. Participants are welcome to come any time between the start and end time (3-7pm).

Johnston said he knows he's onto something, with his proposed art piece, because he has received a small number of "hate-email." 

“I think I’ve stumbled onto something, with this topic,” said Johnston. “I am starting to get a lot of controversial comments regarding the upcoming shoot. I won’t back down from this issue, ever! This project is bigger than I originally thought, and it is time to stand up for the Arts.”

Admission to the June 16 Speaker Series event (and the June 13 photoshoot) is free.

Johnston has been a practicing commercial and event photographer whose work has been displayed across the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Japan. He leads with a design background where he use to be a Senior Designer in a advertising firm. Terry is a Grand Rapids native who attended Kendall College of Art & Design, but left his senior year to work for Apple Computer in California. Terry prides himself in working local with clients such as; The Downtown Alliance, Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, JW Marriott and Amway Collective to name a few. Terry founded the Grand Rapids flickr group which boast 1,200+ members and organizes monthly photowalks and activities. He also volunteers his photography services and knowledge to local non-profit organizations.

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We love to see our youth wanting to pursue the Arts as a career choice! Thanks so much for having an event that will allow them to maybe have a brighter future in the Arts!

And it's supposed to rain on Sunday anyway ;-)

Looking forward to the Rapid Growth Speaker Series event next week, this will be a very interesting conversation.

Artists!!!  Come on out and get recognized and get a FREE photo from the wonderful Terry Johnston.