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Left, “Wild Man of the Woods” mask has been attributed to the carver Willie Seaweed. Right, Jennifer Pray working on the newly reopened American Indian galleries at the Denver Art Museum. Denver Art Museum. Matthew Staver for The New York Times

When the Denver Art Museum’s signature American Indian art galleries reopened last week after a seven-month overhaul, the biggest change wasn’t the new display cases or the dramatic lighting. Rather, it was in a less obvious place: the wall labels.

For the first time many of the works on display are attributed to individual artists instead of just their tribes. It is a revolution in museum practice that many scholars hope will spread, raising the stature of American Indian artists and elevating their work from the category of artifacts to the more exalted realm of art.

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Judith H. Dobrzynski
New York Times


James Balmforth, 29, is a sculptor. He lives in a squat in a South London suburb and is represented by Hannah Barry, who runs a gallery in a Peckham car park

There is probably an empty building on your street, you may have walked past it a thousand times and not noticed its slow and mossy decay, or maybe you don’t know it’s even vacant because, theoretically, it’s not: someone has taken it over, fixed it up a bit and is putting it to good use, using it as a theatre, a gallery, a shop, a community space or a home. The chances are that they are not even doing it illegally.

With the number of our empty buildings officially stated to be 943,000 last year and that figure expected to rise to more than a million this year, councils and communities are becoming more and more open to the idea that empty space is not necessarily dead space. One such venture is the Brixton Village, currently hosting its inaugural festival. A stone’s throw from the Tube station, behind the main drag of JD Sports and Marks & Spencer, 20 empty shops in a run-down arcade have been filled with community-driven businesses, design collectives and workshops. A joint initiative between Lambeth Borough Council, Space Makers Agency and London & Associated Properties, the building’s owners, it’s the largest example yet of a growing nationwide trend.

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Hana Hanra
London Times

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An opening-night event at the Arts Collinwood gallery in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.

Last month, artists Michael Di Liberto and Sunia Boneham moved into a two-story, three-bedroom house in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, where about 220 homes out of 5,000 sit vacant and boarded up. They lined their walls with Ms. Boneham’s large, neon-hued canvases, turned a spare bedroom into a graphic-design studio and made the attic a rehearsal space for their band, Arte Povera.

The couple used to live in New York, but they were drawn to Cleveland by cheap rent and the creative possibilities of a city in transition. “It seemed real alive and cool,” said Mr. Di Liberto.

Their new house is one of nine previously foreclosed properties that a local community development corporation bought, some for as little as a few thousand dollars. The group aims to create a 10-block “artists village” in Collinwood, with residences for artists like Mr. Di Liberto, 31 years old, and Ms. Boneham, 34.

Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.

Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.

“Artists have become the occupiers of last resort,” said Robert McNulty, president of Partners for Livable Communities, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. “The worse things get, the more creative you have to become.”

Artists and architects are buying foreclosed homes in Detroit for as little as $100. In St. Louis, artists are moving into vacant retail spaces in a shopping mall, turning stores that stood empty for more than a year into studios and event spaces for rents of $100 a month. Artspace Projects Inc., a national nonprofit development corporation, plans to create 35 live/work spaces for artists on vacant property in Hamilton, Ohio, after converting an empty car factory and an adjacent lot in Buffalo, N.Y., into 60 artists’ lofts last year.

Cleveland is emerging as a testing ground for the strategy. With the collapse of the manufacturing industry, the city’s population has plummeted to around 430,000 residents today from nearly a million in 1950. A wave of home foreclosures has accelerated the slide. The Cuyahoga County treasurer estimates that 15,000 homes sit vacant — roughly one in 10. City officials tore down 1,000 homes last year, and more than 12,000 buildings await demolition.

In neighborhoods pocked by vacancies, artists have started filling the void. Last November, Katherine Chilcote, a local painter, bought a boarded-up, bank-owned house for $5,000 in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, where one in four family homes has gone into foreclosure in the last three years. Thieves had stolen the doors, punched out windows and ripped out all the pipes, sinks and electrical wiring. Eight cats had moved in.

The 29-year-old artist and four friends spent months ripping up moldy carpet, laying down new tiles and hardwood floors, repairing walls and stripping peeling paint. She bought the empty, weed-filled lot next door for $500. She plans to build a sculpture garden there, with large, whimsical mobiles that twist in the breeze. She’s applying for grant money from the Cleveland Foundation to turn four more vacant houses in the neighborhood into artist residences and studios.

Through her nonprofit public art organization, Building Bridges, Ms. Chilcote is also working to turn vacant storefronts in Cleveland’s Westown neighborhood into artists’ exhibition spaces. Four storefronts are now filled with hand-painted pottery, landscapes of trees and fields, and large, spray-painted scenes of the city’s abandoned steel mills and factories.

Ms. Chilcote plans to expand to seven storefronts this summer, and is working with the Westown Community Development Corp. to create nine permanent artist residences and studios in an old theater that’s been vacant since the mid-1980s. In the meantime, Ms. Chilcote and other artists are hatching creative, temporary uses for buildings that are scheduled to be demolished. This summer, she plans to transform an empty ice cream parlor into a giant sculpture of a cake.

What began as a grass-roots movement, with artists gravitating to cheaper neighborhoods and making improvements, is now being embraced by city officials as a tool to revive neighborhoods reeling from vacancies and home foreclosures.

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Alexandra Alter
Wall Street Journal

If all the professional dancers in the United States stood shoulder to shoulder to form a single chorus line, it would stretch from 42nd Street for nearly the entire length of Manhattan. If every artist in America’s work force banded together, their ranks would be double the size of the United States Army. More Americans identify their primary occupation as artist than as lawyer, doctor, police officer or farm worker.

“It’s easy to talk about artists in lofty and spiritual terms,” said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Without denying the higher purposes of the artistic vocation, it’s also important to remember that artists play an important role in America’s cultural vitality and economic prosperity. Artists have immense financial and social impact as well as cultural impact…”

Drawing from the census, the endowment has compiled what it bills as the first nationwide profile of professional artists in the 21st century.

In 2005 nearly two million Americans said their primary employment was in jobs that the census defines as artists’ occupations — including architects, interior designers and window dressers. Their combined income was about $70 billion, a median of $34,800 each. Another 300,000 said artist was their second job.

The only artists whose ranks declined since 1990 were, as a group, fine artists, art directors and animators, to 216,000 from 278,000. The number of announcers also dropped.

More than one in four artists live in California and New York, where their sheer numbers are overwhelming compared to the artist colonies in other states. New Mexico, Vermont, Hawaii and Montana rank first in fine artists per capita, but they total 7,000, compared with 66,000 in California and New York combined. Since 2000 Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New Mexico gained in the proportion of artists compared to all workers.

Mr. Gioia attributed the spread of artists beyond traditional urban clusters to the growth of cultural institutions in maturing cities in the South and West, the mobility of the work force, technology that enables a painter in Santa Fe to reach a broader audience and the high cost of living in cities including Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Overall, the median income that artists reported in 2005 was $34,800 — $42,000 for men and $27,300 for women. The median income of the 55 percent of artists who said they had worked full-time for a full year was $45,200.

Over all, artists make more than the national median income ($30,100). They are more highly educated but earn less than other professionals with the same level of schooling. They are likelier to be self-employed (about one in three and growing) and less likely to work full-time, year-round…

“Many performing artists are underemployed,” Mr. Gioia said, “but one of the stereotypes we’re trying to debunk is that artists are mostly marginal and unemployed.”

About 13 percent of people who say their primary occupation is artist also hold a second job — about twice the rate that other people in the labor force work two jobs. The majority of artists work for for-profit enterprises but 8 percent work for private, nonprofits and 3 percent work for government.

While the number of artists doubled between 1970 and 1990 as theaters, galleries, orchestras and university and commercial venues grew, their ranks since 1990 have increased at about the same rate as the total work force. They now represent 1.4 percent of the labor force, or nearly as many people as the active and reserve armed forces.

Sam Roberts
New York Times

Alan Greenspan recently proposed a constitutional amendment: “Anyone willing to do what is required to become president of the United States is thereby barred from taking that office.” In a similar spirit — with tongue partway in cheek — I’d like to put forward Teachout’s First Law of Artistic Dynamics: “The best way to make a bad work of art is to try to make a great one…”

Voltaire said it: The best is the enemy of the good. Ralph Ellison, like Bernstein and Welles, learned that lesson all too well. In 1952 he published “Invisible Man” and was acclaimed as a major novelist. The well-deserved praise that was heaped on him gave Ellison a fatal case of importantitis, and though he spent the rest of his life trying to finish a second novel, he piled up thousands of manuscript pages without ever bringing it to fruition. Why did he dry up? Because, as Arnold Rampersad’s 2007 biography of Ellison made agonizingly clear, he was trying to write a great book. That was his mistake. Strangled by self-consciousness, he never even managed to finish a good one.

Contrast Ellison’s creative paralysis with the lifelong fecundity of the great choreographer George Balanchine, who went about his business efficiently and unpretentiously, turning out a ballet or two every season. Most were brilliant, a few were duds, but no matter what the one he’d just finished was like, and no matter what the critics thought of it, he moved on to the next one with the utmost dispatch, never looking back. “In making ballets, you cannot sit and wait for the Muse,” he said. “Union time hardly allows it, anyhow. You must be able to be inventive at any time.” That was the way Balanchine saw himself: as an artistic craftsman whose job was to make ballets. Yet the 20th century never saw a more important artist, or one less prone to importantitis.

Yes, it’s important to shoot high, but there’s a big difference between striving to do your best day after day and deliberately setting out to make a masterpiece. What if Welles had gone back to Broadway after “Citizen Kane” and directed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on a bare stage, with no expensive bells and whistles? Or if Bernstein had followed “West Side Story” with a fizzy musical comedy that sought only to please? Or if Ellison had gritted his teeth, published his second novel, taken his critical lumps, ignored the reviews, and gone back to work the very next day? Then all of those gifted, frustrated men might have spared themselves great grief — and perhaps even gone on to make more great art.

Terry Teachout
The Wall Street Journal

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For Claude Monet, 1912-22 was a watershed decade. He was perhaps the most successful artist of his time, and his genius had already assured him a place in history.

But as he aged, his painting noticeably lost subtlety. Brush strokes became bolder, and colors strikingly blue, orange or brown. His images lost detail and flowed into one another. His days as an avant-garde rebel had long passed, but some critics would later wonder whether the Impressionist was suddenly trying to become an abstract expressionist.

What has long been known about Monet’s later years is that he suffered from cataracts and that his eyesight worsened so much that he painted from memory. He acknowledged to an interviewer that he was “trusting solely to the labels on the tubes of paint and to the force of habit…”

For artists with eye problems, it is perhaps surprising that infirmities did not change their styles more radically. A key, some experts said, might be that although artists’ perceptions might be influenced by physical limitations, they are also informed by what the artists know and what they want to do.

“Most of us are into quick snapshots,” said John Elderfield, chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. “But the ability to translate visual memory into a different medium is another thing altogether. Monet had been painting for 50 years when he had cataracts. Of course he painted from memory. He painted from memory all his life.”

Guy Gugliotta
New York Times