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History Will Teach Us Nothing… But Art Can Teach Us Much.

January 27, 2012

NOTE: The following article was kindly published in
Krisp Magazine recently. I’m reposting it here:

“History Will Teach Us Nothing… But Art Can Teach Us Much!”
By Anthony Donnelly

From the hundreds of local artists and writers Jonathan could have picked to write this article, as an emerging artistic voice in the area, I’m honored he chose me.

Part-way through writing this piece originally, it dawned on me that if I was going to be true to my personal motto of “Sharing Our Toys”, it would be remiss of me not to involve the art community at large. I immediately posted a short request on the Lehigh Valley Artist Community (LVAC) Facebook page seeking input. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go back to the drawing board completely, as many of the opinions and suggestions voiced echoed my own.

As a general focus point, I believe the following quotation condenses the general theme and feeling of the majority of active participants in that group:

“If we wait for others to create change, it will be the change they want, not the change that is needed. In order for this area to become what we dream and hope it will become, we have to unite, promote, and act in unison to make the community as a whole want to participate and enjoy what we are creating.”

Far too many politicians promise ‘Change’, and far too many people believe them. No single person can enact change, not Obama, not Hitler, not Gandhi, not John Lennon. Change does not happen with mere words. Change happens with teamwork, planning, and action. Most of all, change comes from the People (the community) especially if it is to be ‘lasting’ change – and isn’t that the only kind of change we all want?

Throughout history, it has been artists – the true free-thinkers – and not politicians that have been at the forefront of new ideas, inspiration, and change. Without the motive of re-election, they are free to take the risk of exercising their individuality and openly express themselves. By their very nature, artists have to think outside the box. To create something truly new, something original and unique, artists often have to stand out from the crowd, or stand up for what they believe in. True artists are not driven by money-motives, status, or fame. True artists are born to create – they cannot help it and they cannot stop it – no matter the consequences, nor how large the ridicule, or risks. Artists must create.

When I first landed in Allentown and began to be pulled into the artistic vortex, the phrase I heard most often was that ‘something’ was ‘bubbling’ under the surface, and that we were close to ‘Critical Mass’. There was a great deal of discussion about what was wrong with the local art scene, but not much talk of solutions, nor much action to remedy it. Many blamed the lack of artistic exposure on our proximity to New York and Philadelphia (a sentiment that is still alive today). Fingers were pointed in many directions at local organizations and institutions that ‘should’ have been working in collaboration with each other and local artists, but appeared to be rather elitist ‘cliques’.

An arts movement that encompassed the ‘Lehigh Valley’ as a whole didn’t seem to exist, nor was it even being talked about. There didn’t appear to be many bridges, if any, between the local community and the artistic population. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much unity in the local artistic world at all. Small wonder the Lehigh Valley wasn’t considered an artistic destination to local residents, nor seemed inviting to any outsiders.

I am happy to say that ‘Critical Mass’ has definitely been reached, but now the real work begins. There is a buzz in the Lehigh Valley arts scene which has the potential to historically change how this area is viewed. This is not to say that many local people have not worked hard publicly and behind the scenes to lay foundations for this new evolution, they have, but the catalytic ingredients have now been added to the mix and are being stirred. Some of these elements include the establishment of the LVAC and the new gallery openings from Soft Machine, New Vox, and Art Works.

Most surprising was the number of creative people in this area – membership in the LVAC grew to almost 300 within three weeks! There is a lot of excitement in this group, but there is a very real danger that once this initial enthusiasm subsides, the real work will be left in the hands of the active few (that have been active the whole while) which is a sure-fire way to ensure the status-quo continues. We all have to make sacrifices and do our part. Many expressed the joy they had creating art. Perhaps if work together and have fun creating this new artistic environment, other residents just might want to join in the fun!

We all agree we need more marketing, press and media coverage, but how many of us send press releases (or even know how) to the local outlets? How many people have blogs, post on blogs, or do anything to promote ALL art events in the area? Likewise, most townships seem to be completely disinterested in supporting the arts, but how many of us write letters or emails to our local and state representatives? Artists are taxpayers, too!

My first blatant observation is for us all to stop looking at what we don’t have and focus on what resources we do have and can actively build on right now. Our geographic location is perfect, and that’s why more established artists have moved here, and emerging talent – that can relocate – is staying here! Of course they exhibit and sell in NYC and Philly, wouldn’t you?

We also have to stop all the in-fighting: what’s good for the arts is good for the arts! What if we used our creative powers in external ways to promote and market arts in this area? We must be bold in our actions, and not be afraid to make mistakes and be laughed at. Now is the time to lead and inspire and share! We have the power to engage the entire Lehigh Valley community into this new artistic movement. A rising tide will only lift the boats that are in the water; it is no good, if we keep putting them in dry-dock or back in the driveway. If we come out together en masse, perhaps the residents of the Valley will actually notice us?

The Happy Rizzi House

If they won’t come to us, we must find creative ways to reach them. Why can’t we offer ourselves as guests at dinner parties? I’m sure doctors and lawyers, CEOs and the like would love to hear some other table talk than surgery and court battles! If the crowds are at sporting events, why aren’t we exhibiting there? Perhaps there is still time to convince the developers of the new hockey arena that the project might attract more people long-term if it looked more like the ‘Happy Rizzi House’ in Braunschweig, Germany (pictured). Let’s have exhibits at company open days? What about more art in the suburbs? Art displays at Parade of Homes? Why can’t we have exhibits at Symphony Hall? Then there is Rotary, Lyons Club, the Kiwanis, etc. If we want to be accepted more into the community we must get involved in our community, yes?

Great strides have been made already this year and the potential to finally make this area an arts ‘Destination’ is closer than anybody could have imagined twelve months ago. Provided the collaboration continues, the dialogues turn into action, and collectively, as a whole community, we drive this mission forward in order for future generations to benefit from this legacy, we will succeed.
As an ‘agent provocateur’ (in the true French sense) it is my sincerest desire that this article will act as a bridge to prompt different sectors of our community to unite and enact the change we all want. Perhaps Krisp Magazine will even entertain the idea of printing follow-up articles highlighting the growth and developments within the local art scene. So, stop reading, write an email, post on your blog, and get into action for the arts!

***

Anthony Donnelly is the originator of “Pants-4-Art”, a celebrity charity project turning autographed pants (trousers) of famous people and celebrities into sculptures and artwork. More details here: Celebrity Art Pants Project

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