Royal Bison as Artist Run Centre
This past weekend the Royal Bison Craft and Art Fair celebrated its eleventh incarnation. Just shy of 2700 people attended the two day event that showcased the works of 72 local artists, designers and crafters of all stripe. I took in both days, each time bringing a different person with me and finding great things to spend my money on (which shall not be revealed, since I know the recipients read this blog!).
Get there early, before the crowds!
But the Royal Bison offers more than the wonderful opportunity to pick-up unique gifts; it’s a showcase and a breeding ground for new ideas, which makes it a lot like an informal artist run centre.
Let me explain. Artist run centres began as alternative spaces to mainstream or commercial galleries, offering artists an opportunity to present new and experimental art as well as the chance to network with other artists. Initiated and maintained by artists, as the name suggests, artist run centres bridge different forms of practice, two and three dimensional work co-exist and enter into dialogue with performance and critical writing. In addition, artist run centres routinely hold artists talks as a way for the community to speak first hand with artists about their work and process. Artists apply to show their work in these spaces and the process of selection is typically juried by their peers - other artists. Because the goal of artist run centres is to offer artists a venue to show work that’s in progress, rooted in conceptualism, innovative, unconventional, performance-based, or otherwise intangible, they differ greatly from a commercial gallery where the goal is to sell art.
Many of these aspects related directly to the aims of the Royal Bison. Run by local artists and designers, it is a space that exists beyond the realm of any traditional galleries where artists are able to engage directly with the community and with each other. Vikki Wiercinski, one of the three organizers behind the most recent Royal Bison, also highlights how one of their goals is to foster an environment for experimentation for their vendors aimed “to show off the top notch creativity in Edmonton and support groups that create art around the city.” To achieve this goal, the Royal Bison is a juried affair, in that once the applications have come in, a team of artists and designers collectively decide which submissions to include, which motivates potential applicants to keep their work interesting and of a higher caliber.
Design work of Gabe Wong
Once accepted there is a small fee to participate, which helps organizers cover the costs of things like the venue, promotions and maintaining the website. The fee is low enough so that it “encourage[s] aspiring and budding makers to put themselves out there with very little financial risk.” Wiercinski uses herself as an example. Formally trained as a graphic designer, she hadn’t really thought that much else was possible with her degree until she began participating in the Royal Bison where she was able to develop her own line of goods she hand prints in small editions.
This is also the first year that the Royal Bison made regular contributions to a blog, featuring a diverse range of artists and works slotted to participate, as a way to increase interest in the show long before the doors ever opened. Designed more to entice people to attend the show, the writing on the blog is supplemented with loads of great images and is descriptive more than anything else. Still, I recommend checking it out – embedded in the profile of each artist is a link to their own website, thereby increasing exposure to those features.
Artist Books by Uppercase
The Royal Bison evolved out of a pre-existing art and craft fair, cleverly named Arts Versus Crafts, held a few times in 2004-05 at the former Red Strap Market. Like the Royal Bison, the purpose was to bring well made arts and crafts to the people in way that was accessible to both potential vendors and visitors. The torch was taken up by Raymond Biesinger in 2007 when it was apparent that Arts Versus Crafts wasn’t going to take place again, but used the former fair as a model - $2 admission, cheap tables for vendors, great independent work.
Biesinger led the Bison for 10 great fairs and really helped it attain its reputation for fun, quirky goods before moving to Montreal and passing the torch again. I asked him if he’d begun anything like the beloved Royal Bison in Montreal and Biesinger told me that he didn’t have to, “others have been doing a fantastic job of organizing similar fairs (Puces Pop, Smart Design Mart, etc.) [and] it’s an absolute pleasure to roll in to any fair, these days, with a portfolio full of prints and nothing to do but table them!”
Rings by Jeanie Andronyk
Of course the biggest difference between the Royal Bison and an artist run centre is that despite offering an alternative venue to display original works and a place to engage different members of the community, vendors are there to (hopefully) sell some of the works they make. Yet the spirit is the same. The response from the arts community has been overwhelming (double the applicants than ever before) as it has been from the public at large. More people came through the doors on Saturday alone than at any previous Royal Bison. Wiercinski says the feedback has been unbelievable, people “are absolutely impressed with what quality and range Edmonton’s art and craft scene has to offer and they haven’t seen another fair like our Royal Bison.”
Edmonton needs more points of engagement between art and the public at large and alternative venues like the Royal Bison aim to fill that need. It’s not just the arts community that is asking, it’s also the people like those that attended in droves this past weekend.
- smarterthanyou likes this
- latitude53 posted this