Blog: Monica Bowman

Any way you cast it, the beauty of art is its ability to project intrigue onto, say, an overturned refrigerator. This week Monica Bowman, founder and director of The Butcher's Daughter gallery, opens a window onto the relevance of contemporary art for Detroit communities.

Post 2 - COMMUNITY: Who is Contemporary Art About?

Depending on your experiences, when you think of contemporary art you may first think of hipsters, edgy hedge fund managers, or über-sophisticated parties in which everyone stands around admiring a used refrigerator on its back. These things (all recollections of yours truly) are just one side of the story.
I was asked to write this blog based on a comment I had made in a previous interview:
"Collecting art is an investment in yourself and your community."
While I made that comment a while ago now, it somehow seems even more authentic and true to me today that it did then. Since opening in September 2009, I have received a warm reception from collectors, local business owners, and the art community in general. So you know, each exhibition is kicked off with an opening reception in which the public is welcomed for the first viewing of the art, and this is often a chance to meet the artist(s). The attendance has been overwhelming and this is simple indication of a general desire for larger cultural offerings in the area; perhaps most encouraging is the dialogue that occurs as a result of the patrons interacting with one another and me when they looking at the art.
Last September I wrote a five part series on demystifying art collecting in my blog, Prime Cuts, called Adding it Up. The series was created to communicate in a concise, uncomplicated manner key elements important in understanding contemporary art: who buys art, why buy art, what is value, who determines prices, and how do you know what art to buy. These topics and the resulting discussions have only increased the community's interest in their personal roles.
The most concrete example I can give of this happened after the opening reception of the current exhibition, No Vacancy, at The Butcher's Daughter.  Artists in the show came from New York and as far away as San Francisco to meet and network with people from the surrounding Metro Detroit area. I noticed a group of three men gathered together and approached them to introduce myself. I was informed that one of them was a cousin of the artist from California and the other two were his friends. None of the men had ever attended an art opening. Shortly thereafter came an influx of people and I forgot about the men and our short introduction.
A few days after the opening reception I received the following email:

...I just wanted to state what a fantastic time I had last Saturday at the opening of No Vacancy. My friend hadn't seen his cousin Guy Overfelt in a while so it was an even more exciting time for him as he has never been to an art gallery show before. He was absolutely amazed at the type of people he met and talked to. He didn't realize that there were people that would actually listen to what he had to say about photography and art.

You see, we work together in a blue-collar industry and one really doesn't get to meet with an eclectic group of people. Not saying that there is no creativity in the people that we work with, it's just that most of the time we can't discuss certain topics or express our ideas and opinions about things because most of our co-workers don't understand or just don't care.  So I told him that he was going to have a great time and he did.  It was great for us three to finally get out of our usual drudgery and attend this event.  You did an excellent job and you deserve a lot of credit.  Thanks again.
It is instances such as this that affirm the intrinsic relationship between art, artist and community to me as well as underscore the ability of context to bridge people together. To invest in art, one must believe they play a role or have a connection to the artist's creation manifest. This step is essential in allowing artists to create work and cultural capital to grow in a community.
Take the cliché, "Rome wasn’t built in a day" and think of this as a metaphor for the work to be done in Detroit. In order to overcome social adversity in our communities we must support artists and local businesses that reinforce the society we envision for ourselves. Taking action, working to rebuild and reinforce infrastructure, rejecting apathy: all keys to reestablishing Detroit as a center for cultural significance. Buying and collecting art encourages social discourse and is an important part of the vitality of any urban center. What other commodity can offer that? 
To see the art that inspired the email, check out No Vacancy: Guy Overfelt on The Butcher's Daughter Prime Cuts blog.