I ask this because, yes, I am involved in an arts trail, the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail. This year, despite the rain, we managed to get nearly as many people as last year to wander around the neighbourhoods of Southville, Bedminster and Ashton, popping into people’s houses and looking at the wonderful art on show. Now, we arent the only arts trail in Bristol. Oh no. We now have many on throughout the year, in North Bristol, Totterdown, Easton, St. Werburghs, Clifton and soon to be Windmill Hill. I apologise if I have left any trails out. It seems to be an expanding market, with the public hungry to go to these things. Why is this?
The first thing that obviously comes to mind is the fact people like to be nosey. They like to come and look inside people’s houses. So some of the people that turn up are your neighbours. They want to see what your house is like on the inside. How you live. To talk to you. To introduce themselves. When I was showing in a friend’s house a few years ago, we had lots of people from her street popping in and chatting. She had lived there for nearly ten years but had seldom if ever chatted to the people who lived more than a few doors away. It was a perfect excuse for them to come in, chat and break the ice.
The second reason like to come to arts trails is because they are fun. There is lots to see and do and sometimes buy. Weekends can be boring, but if there is an art’s trail on somewhere, well its easy to get to, plenty of parking (the street!) and if you get bored you can just stop and do something else. Or wander off. Or stop and come back later or next day. Its really non-commital. You havent made an big commitment to driving somewhere and paying for parking and then feel that you’ve got to see it all. It’s not formal, its relaxed.
This informality I think is the unique thing about arts trails. You arent tied into something, and the atmosphere is completely different than going to a gallery. Galleries tend to have this atmosphere, you know, whilst its calm and quiet and everything which is sometimes neat, its also not real. It’s got lots of philosphical baggage that some people dont like. I’m not talking about artists here, I’m talking about ordinary people who want to see art but get intimidated by galleries. Artists love galleries. Nothing wrong with them. But arts trails allow people to see art in a real environment. At home. People are friendly, you can meet the artist. Have a chat, a sit down on a sofa. Ask them stuff. You can sometimes do all that in a gallery but not very often. At a viewing you will only get a rare few minutes with an artist.
The next attraction of arts trails is the fact that you will get to see paintings. And drawings, in fact these days you get everything but you do get at least some art that is approachable by the public. I’m not a stuckist but it is nice to see paintings of things. And the public feel that art on trails is approachable. It is then the job of the artist to inform and educate people into other forms of art.
So art trails give people a nice informal community building excuse to get out on a Saturday or Sunday and see art. Its not surprising that they are popular, Whats more surprising is that there isnt one on every weekend!
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