Ever passed a gallery and seen something that looked interesting through the window, but found yourself thinking “I could never afford it” or “I probably wouldn’t get it”?
Well, you’re not alone.
“Galleries can be really intimidating places — I’m sometimes intimidated to walk in,” said artist and writer Jennifer Rabin, which is saying a lot, given that she’s paid to know art. Since 2015, she’s been the visual art critic at “Willamette Week,” although she will depart at the end of March.
After watching nine Portland galleries and one museum close in the first nine months she was at WW, Rabin grew alarmed. Then President Donald Trump proposed eliminating the national endowments for the arts and the humanities, and Rabin had to do something.
In the last two weeks, Rabin launched two programs — Art Passport PDX and Artists Resist — to get more people looking at art and standing up for why art matters.
For Art Passport PDX, viewers pick up a passport and get it stamped at eight chosen galleries by June 15 for a chance to win a $1,600 gift certificate, plus any number of other prizes like a membership to the Portland Art Museum or original art. But in order to get a stamp, they must ask questions about the art.
“I wanted people to be able to go in and be honest and say, ‘I don’t know anything about art,’ ‘Can you talk to me about this show,’ ‘I don’t get this,’” she said. “There’s absolutely no right or wrong thing. This is how we fall in love with art. This is how we develop our taste.”
Rabin chose the eight galleries, which range for downtown stalwarts like Froelick and Blue Sky to newer-comers like Wolff Gallery and the Stephanie Chefas Projects, because they showed an array of art forms, they are all run by friendly gallerists eager to talk with visitors, and they each offer works under $1,000 and payment plans that allow buyers to make small monthly payments.
“A lot of times when people have an empty space on their wall, they’ll go to Ikea, they’ll go to Cost Plus, and they’ll buy a piece of mass-produced art to hang in their homes,” Rabin said. “And what people don’t realize is that sometimes, quite literally, for just a little bit more money, they can get a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of work that an artist poured their heart and soul into. And by spending our money that way, we’re not only supporting artists, but we’re supporting galleries and the arts and culture in Portland.”
Which brings us to Rabin’s second project, launched this week in response to Pres. Trump’s proposed elimination of the NEA and NEH: Artists Resist. Drawing inspiration from the “It Gets Better” campaign, Rabin is inviting artists and non-artists alike to submit videos about why art matters to them.
So far, there are videos by the artist Lidiaemily Archibald, the documentary filmmaker Chris Parkhurst, and others.
“The arts and humanities have always been important and they will always be important, and they’re of particular importance now because one of the things we’re seeing is a rise of xenophobia and hatred and bigotry,” Rabin said in response to why funding for the arts should be preserved in a time when pressing issues like climate change, homelessness, poverty and terrorism are all competing for limited funds.
“The strength of the art and humanities is to give us windows into other people’s lives and into other people’s experience, and it makes us care,” she said. “It breeds empathy and compassion for other people, and we need that more than ever.”