Remember, despite pandemic-led limitations, art can still be admired online

"The Price of Peace," a Small Works piece by Joplin artist Connie Miller open for online viewing at Spiva Center for the Arts.

By now, we’re beginning to adjust to the closings of businesses and cancellation of activities and events due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The local arts have not been immune. Plenty of events — from theater productions to art classes — have been cancelled or postponed, translating to lost revenue for arts nonprofits.

Some are even temporarily closing their doors. Spiva Center for the Arts announced Wednesday that it will close until April 7 and reassess the situation at that time.

It had already scrubbed the opening reception of its Small Works Auction and its national competitive exhibition, PhotoSpiva, signature exhibits that attract the largest number of patrons annually for the art center.

It had also postponed events related to PhotoSpiva — its Juror’s Lecture and awards presentation and the Juror’s Portfolio Reviews, in which area photographers may receive critiques of their work by the exhibit juror. Those events may be rescheduled before the exhibit closes on May 16, if the threat of the coronavirus has passed by then.

It’s disheartening that the virus will impact two of Spiva’s most popular exhibits of the year. PhotoSpiva is its crown jewel of the exhibit year. Now entering its 44th year, it is the nation’s longest running photography competitive and is considered a survey of excellence in contemporary photography.

The Small Works Auction is the center’s largest annual fundraiser, aside from the St. Avips Ball. It’s a silent auction of small-format artworks — paintings, photographs, sculptures, and jewelry — submitted by Spiva member artists.

Luckily, the auction won’t be a complete wash after the temporary closing of the center. It’s being saved by an online bidding process that opened yesterday. Auction works can be viewed and bids can be submitted through Bidding closes at 3 p.m. Friday, May 10. It’s anyone’s guess whether the center will be able to hold its final bidding party that night.

The center is also working to get the PhotoSpiva exhibit online. As of the press deadline for this column, it had yet to be done, but it’s probably online by now, so it’s worth a check on the Spiva website.

While online viewing of the exhibit is a save, it must be a disappointment for the photographers whose works were accepted. They got their glory, but only online.

These photographers were up against some stiff competition for acceptance of images into the exhibition. While only 85 entries were accepted, there were 1,173 submitted by 199 amateur and professional photographers from 37 states. That compares to last year’s submission of 601 images from 103 photographers. Eight of the selected images for this year were submitted by Joplin area photographers.

When more than 1,000 images are submitted, it translates to some tedious work for the juror, Dr. April Watson, curator of photography for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art at Kansas City. She had to study the vision, content, composition, and technical approaches of each submission, culling all but the best — less than 10% of those submitted.

“Often, I jury shows that are winnowed down before I see the (entries) that I further edit, and that was not the case with PhotoSpiva,” Dr. Watson said. “I was nonetheless really impressed with the range of subjects and artistic approaches. It really reflected the diversity of the medium.“

To make her selections, Dr. Watson reviewed all the images and their accompanying artist statements electronically and ranked them. She made another pass through the top ranked works —about 300 of them — and then began thinning them to a number that was appropriate for the gallery space.

“I don’t know that I had a specific vision in mind (for the exhibit), but I do think that the final selections will reflect the broad range of contemporary practices in photography,” Dr. Watson said. “Certain themes will inevitably emerge when we actually hang the show, I’m sure. That is really the fun part of curating, finding the visual and conceptual juxtapositions that make an exhibition provocative and engaging.”

The exhibit winners aren’t considered until the exhibit is installed, allowing the entries to be viewed as a whole and their details studied with a keener eye than is allowed electronically. Again, the virus will slow that process, so we’ll have to await a Spiva announcement of the winners. A $1,000 cash award goes to the first-place photograph with second place receiving $750 and third place, $500. There will also be presentation of three merit awards of $150 each and three honorable mentions of $100 each.

Across America, businesses, including art nonprofits, are concerned about how the coronavirus will impact their bottom lines. You can help Spiva through this unsure time by bidding online in the Small Works Auction. It’s a great way to get original art at reasonable prices.

If you get stir crazy from the virus-imposed social isolation, take some time to view PhotoSpiva online.

Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.

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