Akron has the good fortune to be the stomping grounds to some of Northeast Ohio’s most diverse and talented artists. The city’s palette comprises sculptors, painters, potters, photographers, jewelers, performing artists and more.
But not everyone can make it to an opening, exhibition or an art fair to take in this vast talent.
However, folks got a generous sampling of it when the glossy art book, Present Tense: Contemporary Art in Ohio, Exhibition in Print, was released Saturday, Nov. 29, at the Box Gallery inside Summit Artspace.
“It’s an in-print-only exhibition,” says Don Parsisson, a sculptor who is a member of the Artists of Rubber City, the nonprofit contemporary art organization who launched the project to raise funds for area artists.
Showcasing local talent
Present Tense represents the work of 76 artists, whose works play out in digital photography. Artists were allowed to submit up to five images of their work, and a few of them had more than one piece of their work selected to be showcased in the book, which measures a portable 7 x 7 inches.
“As the book suggests, Contemporary Art in Ohio, we wanted to focus on artists here,” Parsisson offers.
Artists who entered the competition had to have a strong connection to Ohio, having been born, educated or lived here at one point. Some of the book’s artists include Kate Budd, Eva Kwong, Laila Voss and Janice Lessman-Moss.
And the book proves quite a launch for the artists included, Parsisson says — some of whom are just beginning their careers.
The art forms in Present Tense are extensive. They include textiles, mixed-media, oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography, found objects, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, performance art, installation and video performance (still image).
The launch event coincided with the opening of a new exhibit, “Black & White,” which included an opening reception.
The initial printing of Present Tense, which costs just $25, was 100. Depending on demand, there will be subsequent printings.
At the time of publishing, all copies had sold out, according to the website.
Making the book a reality
Initially, Summit Artspace Gallery Director Rob Lehr suggested a sort of “look book, where artists would buy a page to promote themselves,” Parsisson recalls.
Present Tense artists were allowed to submit up to five images and paid a nominal entry fee of $25, which included the first two images. Additional image entries cost just $5 each.
The book’s committee set a goal of 80 pages, “which gave us a manageable count and price point we could work with,” says Parsisson. Present Tense is a tad more than that goal, at 84 pages.
“I think we had 300 and some images to begin with,” says Stefanie Hilles, one of two jurors who selected the final entries for the book.
Hilles, who teaches art history at the University of Akron and Kent State’s Stark Campus, says, “Arnie and I were talking about the quality of work that came in.”
Arnold Tunstall, the other juror, is the collections manager at the Akron Art Museum.
“We whittled it down to 80 pieces, and it was tough!” Hilles adds.
She and Tunstall managed to get the task done in a reasonably short amount of time, while slightly tilting the Food Pyramid.
“One day, down and dirty,” Hilles shares, “About three or four hours, and we gorged ourselves on chocolate and fruit.”
And while the amount of quality artwork submitted was significant, the artists “had to have a good photograph because that’s what’s in the book,” Parsisson adds.
As everyone knows, it costs money to publish a book.
Present Tense received money from a donor-advised fund, a fund set up by a community member who also decides the grant making decisions for that particular fund.
The Schloenbach Family Fund of Akron Community Foundation awarded $1,100 to Artists of Rubber City for Present Tense.
Part of that fund will allow copies of Present Tense to be placed in local libraries, giving the artists even more exposure.
Hilles and Toni Billick, an area artist who works at Don Drumm, were the grant writers. The women “set out a call to all of the art schools, arts societies…so we could direct them to the [Web] link,” Hilles says.
Leveraging the digital world
While it may prove daunting for an artist to capture a presentable and viable digital photo of their work to enter a competition, it may be a nice alternative to the more traditional route. Transporting one or more art pieces can be time consuming and costly, as well as precarious and cumbersome — depending on the media with which the artist is creating.
Hauling a flat canvas would not be as tricky as, say, a 5-foot iron sculpture.
“More and more shows are doing online entries, so artists are getting used to the idea that they have to be able to have a good photograph of their piece,” he says. “The idea that you schlep five pieces into a gallery, well…it’s just so much easier if everything comes in digitally.”
The book committee sent a juried Web site all the entry criteria for the Present Tense competition. Once the deadline was reached, Hilles and Tunstall logged in to the site to view all the submissions.
After choosing the semi-finalists, the two then made their final selections while viewing the submissions at Summit Artspace on a CD compiled by the website.
“The site does a huge amount of management, which really makes it worthwhile,” Parsisson says.
Present Tense was published by a company called BLURB, a “print-on-demand site, so you can buy a single copy or 5,000 copies,” Parsisson says. “I’ve used them before for a number of books.”
This fundraiser impressively came to fruition in less than a year. The committee first met in early 2014, and the entry deadline was in July. And on Nov. 29, the book was released.
“To this point, the project has been successful,” Parsisson says.
Now the city just has to wait for the next printing.