The San Diego visual-arts scene stinks. Bitch. Moan. Boo-hoo."
It's a common refrain in San Diego, a place often deemed culturally inept-especially when compared to its big sister 120 miles to the north and its little, yet more culturally accomplished, sister on that peninsula in the Bay Area. But plenty of art-scenesters who are in tune with what's really going on here think such cynicism is misguided.
It's said that the problem isn't with local artists; the problem is with local art collectors-by and large, they simply don't exist.
"We have awesome artists," said Ann Berchtold, founder of SanDiegoArtist.com, an online site that spotlights local artists once a month. "Pamela Jaeger, Tim McCormick, Daryll Pierce, Joshua Krause, Blaine Fontana.
"What we don't have are people who really collect here," she said. "If they do have the big, big money, then they're going to buyers who are buying from L.A. and San Francisco."
Berchtold said people generally don't understand or are intimidated by the art-buying process, and that it's important for them to educate themselves and buy locally. Artists, she said, can't survive in a city like San Diego-now well-known for its outrageous cost of living-unless people buy their art.
New to the art-collecting world herself, Berchtold believes just about anyone can do it.
"If we can change the mind of the Average Joe," Berchtold said, "like me-I don't have the money to buy $10,000 paintings but I've made it a point to get to know the artists, and I know I can barter. Artists are great barterers."
A good resource for finding and getting to know local artists, aside from her own site, Berchtold said, is another organization she belongs to, San Diego Visual Artist's Network. SDVAN is a database of local artists' names and contact information. The site includes an events calendar and links to an art gossip column as well as a link to "The Smart Collector," an oft-updated series of articles about the ins and outs of art collecting.
SDVAN is also currently hosting "AROUSE Yourself with Art: Collecting Secrets Revealed," a free, three-part series that began last Wednesday with a basic overview of art collecting. Berchtold, who seems to have her hands in almost everything with the words "art" and "San Diego" in it, made an appearance as one of two art collectors on a panel fielding audience questions.
Patricia Frischer, the primary coordinator of AROUSE, agrees with Berchtold's assessment of the art scene in San Diego, noting that a lack of collectors was the main impetus for the series.
"It seemed apparent that we needed some more direct how-to advice," said Frischer, who added that the event was originally intended to be a short, one-hour informative workshop but quickly evolved into something more.
Run completely by volunteers, Frischer said more and more people started getting involved (maybe the sexy name "AROUSE" had something to do with that). Felippo Floridia, the director of Galerie D'Art International, volunteered his space, and 10 selected artists, along with several other art experts (including a certified art appraiser) volunteered their time.
The second part of the AROUSE series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Galerie D'Art International in Solana Beach. Participants will learn how to find emerging and established artists' works, and a mini-exhibition will teach parents how to involve their children in the art-buying process (Berchtold is behind this segment as well, with Inspire, a project she created that turns artists into instructors and takes them into classrooms throughout San Diego County). But the main event of the night will be a mock auction. Audience members will be given $20 million in fake dough and encouraged to pretend-bid on the art.
Frischer said it's all part of "demystifying the whole process."
"Everyone who goes to the event will get 10 tips to collecting art," she said, offering one tip in advance: "If you walk by an art gallery and all the lights are on and you can see people drinking wine, you can go in.
"Just remember to enjoy yourself."
She said San Diego "has the population to support our artists"-it just needs a little prodding.
Pamela Jaeger is one of the emerging artists who's taking part in AROUSE and will have four pieces hanging in Galerie D'Art International during the event. A San-Diego native, she's no stranger to the local art scene. She started showing her work publicly within the last three years and quickly thereafter was able to shed her "starving artist" skin. Now, she said, she's able to live off the money she makes from her artwork; SanDiegoArtist.com and SDVAN played a big part in making that possible, she said.
"People still will contact me and say, "Yeah, I saw your stuff on [the web],'" Jaeger said. "Somehow, people just find me."
The last segment of AROUSE is happening on Aug. 31-same place, same time. Meet local artists in person, and, if you're feeling brave, make a bid in the real-life Contemporary Art Auction and take your place as one of San Diego's few budding art collectors.Check out www.SanDiegoArtist.com and www.sdvisualarts.net.