On the Mark, Colin Dabkowski, Buffalo News, September 4, 2009

If there’s one thing that throws most working artists for a loop, it’s public relations.

With certain notable exceptions — say Damien Hirst, Britain’s purveyor of artistic shock and awe, the late Andy Warhol or local oil painter Peter Fowler — asking a painter or sculptor to get out and glad-hand the masses can be a tough sell.

For decades, this has resulted in an essential disequilibrium in which mediocre self-promoters can sometimes trump reclusive talents in the cutthroat quest for art-world glory.

Enter the New York Foundation for the Arts and its MARK program, designed to iron out that imbalance by giving artists a leg-up on the savvier competition. The program, now in its second year, has put 24 Western New York artists through a six-month program of workshops and educational sessions aimed at helping artists publicize, fund and otherwise promote their work.

An exhibition highlighting the work of this year’s 12 MARK participants opens tonight in Allentown’s Indigo Art gallery. The program, which was administered locally by Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, ended in June. Hallwalls will also administer the Western New York segment of the 2010 program.

Bruce Adams, a veteran of the Western New York arts scene whose figurative oil painting has been a familiar sight at local galleries, praised the program for creating what he called a “new assertiveness about being an artist.”

“It sort of empowered me to take advantage of contacts that I already have in the art community that I possibly was a little too meek to approach before,” Adams said. “It kind of said, ‘No, that’s your job. As an artist, you have to do these things.’ ”

As part of the 2009 program, the MARK artists learned how to write succinct and effective artist statements — those often grandiose paragraphs that accompany exhibitions and usually do more to confuse viewers than intrigue them — as well as learn techniques for networking and ways to talk about their work in ways that are neither self-aggrandizing nor self-deprecating.

For Catherine Linder Spencer, a photographer who has been working for decades but only began to exhibit her work in the past few years, the MARK program helped her overcome fears of explaining her own work to potential funders or exhibitors.

“As an artist, I had to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t that I lacked confidence, but I had a really difficult time talking about myself and my work,” she said. “I came out thinking, OK, I can speak in front of a group about myself as an artist and feel like I don’t have to sort of gasp for air. So that was huge for me.”

Of course, not every artist is interested in buzzwords like networking and long-range goal statements or the finer points of grant applications. Some, for various reasons, are reticent about applying a PR or marketing mind-set to work that is, at its essence, about personal expression and noncommercial creativity.

“It’s not about changing what their work is, it’s about changing how they represent that work to the public,” said Hallwalls Executive Director Edmund Cardoni of the MARK program’s intent. “It’s when you start to make compromises with your mission or with your art, that’s where the danger is.”

In addition to Adams and Linder Spencer, the “Remarkable” exhibition also includes work by Mary Begley, Viktoria Ciostek, Elizabeth Emery, A. J. Fries, Ani Hoover, Susan Lakin, Sarah Mottalini, Elizabeth Switzer, Kurt Treeby and Adam Weekley.•

PREVIEW

WHAT: “Remarkable”

WHEN: Tonight through Oct. 10

WHERE: Indigo Art, 79 Allen St.

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 984-9572

cdabkowski@buffnews.com