I lived in Manhattan for twenty-five years and then moved to East Hampton, New York, a small town at the end of Long Island. I then moved to Sarasota, Florida, a small city. In East Hampton and Sarasota, I witnessed firsthand an obsessive desire of many resident artists to only exhibit their work in local venues.
Some artists adhere to a self-imposed hierarchy of believing that you must “start small and work your way up.” Other artists believe that their market is limited to their town, city, state or country of residence, or that some sort of universal censorship is imposed, illogically concluding that there is no market anywhere for their work if they are unable to find a receptive audience in their hometown. Other artists earnestly believe that hometown exposure leads to national recognition; should a hometown be a city with a vibrant art community, this is sometimes true.
More often the motivating force behind an artist’s desire to only exhibit work in local venues is a deep-seated need, based on anger and rage, to prove to the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker that “I’m somebody.”
But it is almost a fruitless endeavor to try to prove you are “somebody” because you are up against a universal rule that is innate in cities and towns where there is not a flourishing art market. In other words, residents of Yourtown have a built-in prejudice that artists living in Yourtown couldn’t be that talented—otherwise they would live somewhere else!
This point is succinctly made by an artist who wrote a “letter to the editor” of a Sarasota newspaper describing her experience in becoming an area resident. She moved to the Sarasota area because her paintings were selling very well to Florida residents through a gallery in California. But after the move, she was considered a local artist, and her sales came to a grinding halt. “Did the artwork change?” she asked. “Did the artist change? No, the ZIP code changed.”
However, the stigma of being a “local” artist quickly vanishes once an artist begins exhibiting work in other cities. But sadly, artists who pine for national or international recognition, but limit their horizons to local or regional resources, will find that their longings will go unfulfilled. These artists have yet to understand the universal law that national and international recognition and support usually comes your way from venues and audiences outside of your neighborhood.