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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 30 April 2006

No Vail of Tears

Iíve taken a pretty hard line on businesses, particularly restaurants, which will use the lure of "exposure" to get artists to provide free decoration for their walls.  It's exploitation, I've said.

Ned Vail begs to differ.  Vail, who is well known here and even helped to start the City's C.A.R.E. gallery program, contacted me with this to say:  "I am with you on the articles you have written about the gallery scene in Columbia.  I learned first hand by helping Jennifer (Hobbs) Roberts start up the Golden Hippo.  It is a tough gig in that town.  All too often people are supportive of the arts in Columbia up until the point where they actually have to purchase it.  It can be a frustrating place for an artist."

But, he says, "I believe I would not have an art career without the private business sector, especially in Columbia.  I think restaurants and other businesses are a key to keeping art alive, especially in a gallery deprived city like Columbia.  I understand your stance on places that take advantage of artists and their work.  I often feel that the general public does not understand the art is for sale in some places.  And that is up to the artist and business owner to make it clear with price sheets or labels or notes on the table explaining the situation."

It's a valid point, and as I explained to someone else at a recent art opening, I'm not against artists showing in restaurants or bars, so long as those venues really work to help promote the artists they show.  And that has been Vail's experience.

"I have had success selling work out of restaurants.  Bob Tye (especially his manager, Kelly Reilly) helped sell my work."  Tye has had a string of restaurants in the area, including The Cornerstone Cafe, The Margarita Grill, the old Bobby Bufords (now the Pasta House), and Grill One-5 (now under other ownership).  Most recently Tye opened two new venues in Fulton:  WestWood Coffee and The Fulton ChopHouse, and worked closely with Vail on the interior design and selection of artwork.  Selling work from those venues (and others, including Shakespeareís Pizza and Widmanís) wasn't the only benefit.  Commissions also came in, thanks to the exposure.  Some private commissions, some for new businesses, and even large scale murals for Countryside Nursery School, the UMKC Dental School, and Pediatric Services at the UMC Hospitals & Clinics.

Vail, who has roots in Columbia dating back over twenty years, now lives in the KC area because of his wife Sandra's job.  Yet he maintains a close connection to mid-Missouri, as evidenced not only by working with the two new Fulton venues, but also by keeping work at other area businesses.  One such is Great Southern Tiger Travel (formerly Canterbury Travel, on south Tenth Street downtown).  Barbara Davis, co-manager there, said regarding Vail's work:  "Ned is a breath of fresh air, personally and artistically.  We've been so fortunate here in this office to have a steady display of his art.  His imaginative work adorns our walls and has for almost a decade.  He changes things around from time to time even though it's not necessary since his work never gets stale."

But doesn't placement of work a non-sales venue constitute exploitation?  Vail doesn't think so.  "Restaurant/business art also looks good on the resume and if you have the right camera, great photos for the portfolio and web page."

Again, he's correct, as attested to by the great images on his website.

Anything else, Ned?  "I would be remiss if I didn't mention Les Bourgeois.  Their art label competition is a great addition to the art scene of mid-Missouri (and not just because I was a winner this year).  Not only do you get the publicity from the Vineyard, and a free case of wine, but you also have a 4 month period to hang and sell art in the Bistro."

OK, I concede.  Ned Vail has proven through his experience that a long-lasting relationship can be beneficial to both artist and business.  The business can get great-looking, original art and in return can provide the artist with sales and, yes, exposure.  The key is to find a business which is really interested in actually promoting your work.  Make sure that they will treat your art with respect, not just as decoration.  Is the lighting good?  Will they put up labels, or work with you to have information available?  Will they make sure that their staff is aware of how to communicate sales or commissions?  Talk to other artists who have had work up in a venue you are interested in, see how they were treated.  Trust your instincts, and good luck.

And thanks to all those businesses who do support the artists in our area by providing a viable venue for the display and sale of work.  I was wrong to over-generalize, and I apologize.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
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