Smile Politely

Urbana Arts Exposition exposed: Awesome attraction for artists and attendees alike

C-U art lovers had a new post-brunch opportunity yesterday: the inaugural juried art exposition put on by the Urbana Public Arts Program in conjunction with 40North. The all-day event featured work by local artists and gave the public a chance to not only view the art, but meet the artists and impulse-buy anything eye-catching.

(Pictured above, Beth Darling, below work by Michael Owen Thomas)

While it may sound like any old booth-type of street fair or festival, the aspect that makes the Urbana Arts Expo stand out is the fact that it was juried. Urbana Public Arts Program and 40North reviewed submissions by nearly 40 applicants and narrowed it down to 23 artists sharing 16 booths, assuring that everything hanging inside the Civic Center was wall-hanging (or table-standing) quality. Outside, no one was judging the presence of local foodtrucks, and I was happy to see both Dragonfire and PopStop present.

The juried aspect also kept the show’s size manageable: it was a happy medium between a tiny gallery showing and an overly-busy “all are welcome” expo. The problem I find with larger expos or street fairs is that the large quantity and variable quality of works on display can make art-fatigue set in — there’s so much noise that my brain shuts down and loses the chance to pick out that one piece that is really speaking to me. UAE struck that balance well, giving each booth enough space around it that my eyes had time to rest before being turned over to something completely different.

And there were plenty of differences to be had, that’s for certain: photography to surrealism, representational to geometric, oils to paint pens, sculpture to jewelry, all media were considered for this year’s Expo. My tastes are eclectic, and there were offerings for all kinds, and all kinds of budgets. My friend picked up some gorgeous earrings which displayed a beautiful sari-type print for only $5, while my boyfriend decided to carry home a geometric wooden lamp for around $150. Meanwhile, my heart yearned for a deliciously disturbing work that ran almost a thousand, and I didn’t even dare ask about the price of the lamp that I really wanted, so thankfully I decided it would never fit in my house.

Having the artists there is typical of any Expo, but it was nice to see new and familiar local faces and get to speak with each artist. I recognized the work of recent Giertz Gallery artists Heather Dent, Roberta Bennett and Suzanne Keith Loechl from this summer’s Around the Block exhibition. I put a face to “artists of the corridor” Ellie Pinzarrone and Beth Darling, as well as Travis Hocutt of IMC Gallery with whom I’ve had a handful of email conversations. That guy who volunteered at my library and I randomly see at shows? Yeah, he works in salvaged, reclaimed materials to make non-representational art.  I spoke with Jana Uebele, sharing booth space with her 15 year-old daughter who is off at art school as a result of not rebellion or footstep-following, but an envy of her older sister who also went away to school for dance. Although the Expo was clearly a way for artists to sell their work, none of my conversations felt transactional, it was just people talking about things they liked. Of course, it did work in the artists’ favor to be there and to be able to actively sell – the one thing I bought was out of appreciation for Al Creamean’s spontaneous decision to title a new work “Pumpkin Spice Bullshit”. I agreed so heartily, I purchased the work on the spot.

(Pictured above, Caroline Goldsmith; below, sculpture by Jana Uebele. I can’t believe you thought that was Pauline, she is a lovely person, not a lobsterclaw head)

Speaking with Public Arts Coordinator, Pauline Tannos, it was clear the organization worked hard to make the Expo exceptional in a few other key ways. Wanting to highlight new talent, she recognized that many of the artists were exhibiting for the first time, so an orientation was held before the event to allow the artists to share tips amongst themselves for selling their works. Many of them had never met each other before, so this was also a valuable time to network, as was the artist’s reception held Saturday night. Both artist-only events were included in the paltry $50 booth fee, as were the movable walls, direct lighting, electricity and wi-fi. Most of the artists present were very happy with the accommodations, and Tannos mentioned that many had already asked about plans for next year’s event. She said the event was well-attended, with around 350 people walking through before 4pm, and others continuing to enter.

Personally, I can’t wait, and hope to see another Urbana Arts Expo before another year goes by. My budget, on the other hand, hopes this remains an annual event.

All photos by Scott Wells.

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