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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 17 July 2005

Take the Pledge

Lots of people say that we need to promote the arts here in Columbia.

Lorah Steiner is actually doing something about it.  So can you.

Steiner, the Executive Director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, was working on an update for the CVB's Master Plan to increase tourism when she realized that the arts held a great deal of promise in that regard.  But she was also aware of the number of galleries which had closed in recent years, and the decreased visibility of local artists.  At this time, only the Columbia Art League qualifies as a real commercial gallery space, though there is "Poppy Art" coming soon, and other dreams on the drawing board.

It's a fairly simple relationship:  without galleries, artists don't have any place to show and sell their work.  Without artists, it's kind of hard to tout the arts as a draw for tourists.  Yes, a number of restaurants and businesses do show local artists.  But those venues are limited, and don't lend themselves to promotion as tourist destinations for their art displays.

Steiner realized that sales of artwork is the key component.  More sales will do several things:  it will help galleries survive (and tempt new ones to open); and it will encourage more artists to come into the area, or the ones who are here already to show their work in local venues.  So she came up with the Art Purchase Pledge.  "The idea for the Art Purchase Pledge came from the simple idea that if we made more people think about art purchases, more people would purchase art.  So many people indicated that they loved our galleries and enjoyed art but when confronted with the question, 'do you purchase art?' the answer was often, 'No, not lately.'"

This, unfortunately, was reflected in our experience at Legacy.  If everyone on our mailing list had averaged just $100 in purchases each year (or about $8.00 per month), our sales would have doubled.  Plenty of people like to look at art, but fall into the trap of thinking of galleries as some kind of museum:  a place to go to look at art, but not to buy.  This was the same experience of the other six galleries which closed while we were in operation.

The Pledge is straightforward:  to buy one piece of original artwork locally in a year.  It's a simple, direct, and powerful idea.  There is no monetary threshold that has to be met, no minimum purchase price.  Just so long as a piece of artwork is original and bought locally it qualifies, whether it's a $30 vase or a thousand dollar painting.

Because of her connection to the business community, Steiner started there.  "The original idea was to get more businesses to invest in local art.  The program was launched at the Chamber Business Expo as it was an ideal venue for reaching businesses."  She got over 40 commitments.  Maybe that's not a huge number, considering there are over 1300 businesses who are members of the Chamber of Commerce, but it was a promising start.  "We want to encourage people to think about original art as a way to add beauty and individuality to their home or their office.  If you walk into an office that is decorated with original art, it creates the impression of a business that is creative and successful."

But The Pledge is not just for businesses.  Individuals can certainly sign up (Steiner did, and has already found a piece for her home).  Pledgers get periodic email updates on shows, receptions and special events when they can fulfill their pledge.  Several participants have already met their pledge at a recent Columbia Art League show, Steiner was delighted to report.

Steiner is planning to expand her efforts to promote the Art Purchase Pledge into the general community, to get more people to sign up.  If you're interested in taking The Pledge yourself, watch for sign up sheets at upcoming art festivals and other events.  There are also plans to set up a website, perhaps in conjunction with the Art League, so that people can sign up online.  I'll let you know if I hear more about that, and will be happy to pass along your contact information if you drop me an email.  But you don't have to wait - you can act to promote the arts by buying art locally on your own.  It's really that simple.

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