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On Decentralization

Danny Baskin

Decentralization within this article and the Fine Art world refers to the slow and steady movement of galleries, art spaces, and artists away from central art hubs such as New York and LA. I am not discussing the political history of France or blockchain and Bitcoin. With the internet connecting people easily from all parts, artists, galleries, and buyers no longer need to be in the heart of the art market to participate actively within it. Instagram, Twitter, and more have made viewing the ebb and flow of aesthetic trends easier and faster than ever. More active online participation has grown with sales through sites like Artsy, Firstdibs, and Maecenas. Connecting with artists can be done easily with email, Facebook, or newer sites like Foundwork. For job hunting within the arts, there often seem to be more sites than jobs.

Still though, running into someone at a party or opening and having a light informal conversation is and might always be the way in which to make a lasting bond and create new avenues for showing or selling art. It has been said that New York’s biggest asset is people. In the same vein, experiencing an image online in a 1080 x 1080 pixel square is extraordinarily different than being directly in front of a work of art. But New York is expensive and space is scarce. Artists tend to move toward affordability, and while cities grow in size, they also grow in expense. The center of the country draws more artist each year, and there are plenty of areas to experience art in the flesh here. There are artist retreats that have been here for decades, museums that have been sharing art with communities for ages; art schools and artists and local galleries that have been building a life, an ecosystem for a very long time. Now, with the ease of decentralization, they can be heard in new ways. They can garner new attention and draw new faces with distinct voices and differing experiences to a space that is ready to have them or at least ready to listen. Decentralization deals not only in place, but location. Barns, chicken coops, homes, fields, backyards, rivers, banks, and all sorts of spaces in between are now exhibition halls. There is freedom to care less about districts and more about what helps to uplift the work or is just available past the recurrent rectangle.

Decentralization is much more than leaving SoHo for Stillwater. It can refer to the idea of moving away from Eurocentric timelines in museums. It can be pushing away from the white male gaze or understanding that there is a Marshallese population in Springdale, Arkansas that has a distinct and complex art history of it’s own. Decentralization can refer to gender fluidity and all things non-binary within the arts. Decentralization deals with purpose; who art is for and how to provide it to them. As the middle class degrades, it becomes less accessible to enter into the art market, but urge for experience is strengthening. Spaces that are meant for engagement rather than ownership are growing more and more throughout the country, and museums and galleries have taken heed. Even art fairs a la Spring/Break seem to be leaning toward experience rather than static viewing for the sake of sales.

As with anything, there are difficulties as well. Sales aren't always great. The art market is an unfamiliar one, even to the wealthy here. Sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and more are always around. Even the extremely liberal struggle with eye contact sometimes. While everyone is happy to have more art spaces, more artists, more art exhibit builders around, they are not always prepared to pay for this. Sometimes people are exploitative, sometimes they're ignorant. Often it's difficult to find considerate, Socratic, analytic conversation within art spaces and one is stuck discussing the weather or gossip rather than the work. If this all sounds familiar to you, it's because these issues are everywhere. They're in Brooklyn, NY just as they are in Brooklyn, OH. They are not inherent of the center of the country, they are larger systemic issues that we all must contend with.

Decentralization can mean more than just moving to rural Kansas, but it can also mean believing in the people of rural Kansas or anywhere outside of the major metropolitan art centers, or any center. Whether in attitude, space, location, openness, or acceptance, Decentralization is about shifting, and the arts are due for a shift.

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