As the traditional start of the holiday shopping season kicks off with Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30 and Cyber Monday Dec. 2, those in the arts and culture arenas are reminding shoppers that there are gifts to be found inside art galleries, at theater box offices and through new experiences, such as dance lessons.
In a unique way, such gifts can keep on giving, to not only the recipient, but also the artist and the community at large, according to Rebecca Slak, executive director of the Indiana Arts Council.
By giving a present that takes the form of a cultural experience, she said, “you’re encouraging the recipient to grow as a person and as an independent thinker.”
Among gifts she suggests are dance lessons, theater tickets and artwork.
Regarding the latter, when handmade artwork is given as a gift, she said, it can connect the recipient with its maker in a meaningful way that can’t be found in mass-produced selections, especially if the work is from a local artist.
“When you buy a piece of pottery, you take it home and you use it and know it was made by someone who lives 15 minutes away from you,” Slak said. “You’re linked to that person and the process in a way that is very immediate and equaled by very few other things.”
Such transactions hark back to the past in ways that appeal more and more to those who are inundated with mass-produced gift options.
“It’s amazing to think that it used to always be like that,” she said, noting how 100 years or more ago, nearly every item needed was purchased, and likely even made, locally. “Now it’s an unusual experience, so I think it really gets back to that sense of community and immediacy. And that’s what the local arts can do,” she said.
Pieces from places such as The Artists Hand Gallery makes for unique gifts, according to gallery manager Sandy Trimble.
“Much of our work is one of a kind,” she said, and that makes for something meaningful to exchange.
Sometimes, a person’s spouse or friend will return to the gallery to purchase an item they admired on a previous visit, knowing it will make a perfect present.
The gallery makes note cards available for just that purpose. It also gets special items in around the holidays, like scarves, ties and jackets. This is the second year for a one-day artist-in-residence program that puts one gallery artist in the front of the store each Saturday leading up to Christmas.
Well-received last holiday season, Trimble said it’s again getting a good response. According to her, when artists are on hand to interact with customers, they see a bump in their sales.
“The idea is people get to see the value of the work,” she said, “because they talk to the artist and see all that goes into that work.”
Artists sometimes contend with the notion that because they are doing something creative, there is less “work” involved. Though pursuing a passion, Trimble said, the artist has to also make a living.
“Yes, you love (making art). But it’s also how you put bread on the table,” she said, adding that, as with any professional venture, there are business expenses, like those associated with materials, presentation and time.
“From a business perspective, those things all have to come into consideration when buying the work,” she said.
As with other small-business support, patronizing arts-related ventures benefits the local economy through something Slak called the “multiplier effect.” She said it boils down to this: When you spend your money at a large, national store, chances are, much of that cash will leave your area; but, when you buy at a small business, your dollars are more likely to be used by that merchant right in your community.
“The multiplier effect is about money actually staying in the community longer and having a greater and more positive impact in the community,” she said.
In addition, by sharing the name or idea of a creative venture you’re making connections. Those connections, she said, are essential to keeping the arts in business and allowing enriching cultural offerings to remain accessible to everyone.
“It’s like the multiplier effect,” she said of supporting local arts. “But in addition to the money, you’re multiplying social capital in our community.”
According to Slak, Indiana County provides good chances for artistic ventures, as well as their patrons. And she expects to see those opportunities continue to grow, through the efforts of local groups, such as one that convened earlier in the month to discuss formation of a cultural district in the borough.
“It seems that throughout the year, we can expect the continual building and continuing effort by many individuals and groups to make the arts and arts-related businesses visible, accessible and prominent across the county,” she said.
Trimble agrees, but said that until the Indiana Borough gallery opened, Smicksburg was one of the only places where artists set up shop to sell their work. As their efforts expand, she hopes to see an even greater appreciation for both the creative and business ends of the arts.
“We want to be seen as part of an arts economy in the county and have people see that art has value,” she said. “The worker is worth their wage. And the artist is, too.”
ARTIST IN THE WINDOW
Those at The Artists Hand Gallery are putting something interesting in the window for the holiday season, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas trees, toy trains or twinkling lights.
It’s about the artists. In fact, it is the artists.
One artist per week is setting up shop each Saturday in the storefront of the Indiana Borough gallery.
Doing so highlights their work for the holiday season and shows shoppers who’s behind the paintings, pottery and jewelry they buy, according to gallery manager Sandy Trimble.
The artist-in-residence schedule is as follows:
• Nov. 30: Barb Pennington, jewelry
• Dec. 7: Jonelle Summerfield, oil painting
• Dec. 14: Tracy Hibsman, metal arts
• Dec. 21: Chere Winnek-Shawer, jewelry
Artists will be doing demonstrations and selling their work from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday through Dec. 21.