In March 2016 Boris Bally invited me to participate in an upcoming exhibition titled, "Imagine, Peace Now." All of the artists were to be given an inoperable handgun and asked to make an artwork addressing gun violence in America. A previous post shared my artwork.
I have known Boris for at least 28 years (maybe more) and am a big fan of his work with recycled traffic signs. The range of Bally's work is backed up by exquisite craftsmanship, sophisticated aesthetic, bravado, integrity, work ethic and sometimes even outspoken opinions. Go Boris!
Obviously I have the utmost respect for Boris, but beyond that, I believe, I BELIEVE, I BELIEVE that artists and makers can send a message with their work. Indeed, some of the most famous artworks of history resonate with political and social messages.
In this post, Boris Bally shares his experience putting together a show with a theme about gun violence. It is always enlightening to hear from the voice of experience. Boris enlightens all of us about the challenges of an invitational and juried show, the lessons learned from organizing an exhibition, finding exhibition locations, and mistakes made along the way.
Putting together a show is in itself a noble effort and a time intensive commitment powered by passion. Boris raised funds through Kickstarter for a print catalog for the show. A Kickstarter campaign is kind of like a Sisyphus challenge -- it seems endless and always requiring more effort. There are many successfully funded projects, but it requires a great deal of support. Boris tells more about this too.
Thank you to everyone who made a contribution for the catalog and the influential voice of artists and makers speaking out about a politically hot topic. A dollar or five dollars may show the power of the arts to speak up about a life threatening issue. If you can afford it, a larger donation gets a Kickstarter reward (left), but every dollar counts.
Below my questions are in red bold followed by Boris Bally's responses. Included in this post are a selection of artworks to be exhibited in Imagine, Peace Now.
What have you learned from organizing this show?
The show organization has lots of detail and complexity. An ongoing challenge has been to insist on following the original rules and guidelines initially set forth -- by treating all artists fairly and equally. Occasionally, this gets put to the test and it is a difficult decision. I am reminded that, by nature, artists don’t pay attention to the basic details: deadlines, artwork constraints and sometimes there is pressure to make exceptions to rules. This show is teaching me to be firm, yet diplomatic.
Did the work submitted for the show surprise you?
I am surprised by the amazing individuality and talent displayed in these pieces. So many angles -- the various approaches to the theme which is fairly narrow in scope but has so many strong opinions tied to it. However, the broad spectrum of quality astounds me.
Some of the better known artists have submitted what I consider a lazy stab at the topic and devoted little energy (I am withholding names -- it will become apparent when the show is on display). A few of the lesser known artists have given the project 150% and used their full creative arsenal with a lot of thought and energy in their pieces.
I am surprised how many METALsmiths have chosen to keep the gun as a whole, rather than to manipulate or reconfigure the gun’s materials. Certainly a big part of this was the barrier of working with a frighteningly ‘loaded’ (metaphorically) and often unfamiliar object.
Of course you love every entry, but did you hope that people would address one specific issue about gun violence rather than just use the gun parts for adornment or shapes?
I definitely do NOT love every entry. However, I was pleased by the range of topical involvement. Even adornment using gun components can make powerful statements with sensitivity, hopefully making people think about guns in a different way.
Surprisingly, no entry glorified guns despite the extreme range in severity of anti-violence statements. I did not want to censure anyone, rather hoping to engage and elicit conversations -- which hopefully lead to involvement and action. The work that spoke to me the most was that which worked off the actual statistics, or the specific gun laws and transformed these into art that helps viewers to comprehend the emotions, the flaws and the sheer magnitude of the issues at stake.
How did you find show venues?
I wrote to many of the venues that hosted my first gun show. Several had changed leadership or were not able to meet a rapid deadline (my initial goal was to get this into a showing before election day). The first venue that signed on, The Society of Arts and Crafts, did so quickly, supportively, and without question. Fabio Fernández and Luiza deCamargo believed in my project given our history of working together in the past. After they signed on, Bob Ebendorf, Barbara McFadden and Gerald Weckesser made a strong case for the show at ECU despite the Director’s initial hesitations. I am so pleased to be able to open the show at the gallery and will be featured during the Materials Symposium where I initially made the big decision to move forward with IMAGINE.
What has been the hardest part about starting a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the catalog?
It took at least two months to prepare the incentives (which are required) and to produce the video (very helpful). I interviewed several successful KS campaign candidates for advice. It took lots of planning to lay the groundwork of what I was asking for, how I would ask, becoming familiar with the platform, the incentives, the up-loading process and the rules. The most worrisome component was that KS lists in the rules that weapons are not allowed.
They would not directly answer my questions when I asked them, in advance, if the project to go on. They said, "just apply and you will see if it gets accepted.” That was very nerve racking -- should I put all this into something that they will later not accept?
The amount of mail I receive has been daunting -- SO Much from various PR firms that promise funding help. Also I have been writing non-stop begging folks for support. It is an uncomfortable position to be in, but on the up-side, it does benefit the artists in the show.
What do you think is important about a print catalog as compared to just a digital version?
Obviously, both have their place. I am old-fashioned in believing that a print catalog circulates in different ways than digital. It ‘sits’ on tables and can be easily browsed without batteries or glare. The essays will provide for some interesting reading that will lay the framework for the show and the publication. A book becomes a collectible, an ‘artifact’ just like the physical works in the show. Books have such a rich history and I believe, still a place in the libraries of our homes / offices. A book becomes a ‘presentation’ of the content -- like an exhibition . . . and a nice way to view an exhibition if you can’t be there in person to get the real time show. But, if we do not get the funding for a print catalog, we will try to get funding to do the downloaded one. (still a big expense)
How did you even estimate the cost of the print catalog?
I didn’t want to create a low-end catalog again, after having done this for my first show, ‘Artists of a Different Caliber’ back in ’97. Been there done that. Thought I would see if we can get a major, museum quality book going, to give the show some extra credibility in the high-end art world. I still believe we can do this. Of course, all the artists in the show get a complimentary catalog and also a discount on initial orders of future copies.
What is a Kickstarter Campaign financial picture?
The $50,000 estimate for the KS campaign breaks down as follows:
- $5,000 Kickstarter and Credit card fees lop off about 10% in fees, so now we are down to $45k
- $13,000 getting high and low actual print costs (based on 2,000 copies @ 100 pages @ 8.5 x 11” with neat binding)
- Roughly 1,100 catalogs would go to fulfill the donations on KS so we will have leftovers to give artists and to sell at the venues.
- Our high estimate was $26k - we did have one for $86k but threw that out -- and lowest was $11k.
- $6,000 our photographer gave us an estimate of $5k- $8k for reshooting the art (depending on the quality of what we receive -- all work -- or any work that needed to be reshot)
- $3,000 our designer gave us a cost of $3,000 for the whole project, including the logo. This is a steal considering she will also be working with the photographer.
- $1,000 video honorarium for KS/ advertising
- $20,000 incentives costs for the campaign range (depending on quantity of pledges) between $15k- $28k. These are for producing the keychains, pins and platters, etc.
- $2,000 padding-in case I screw up. (minimal payment for my time if I do not)
What are your regrets:
I wish I had not promised invited entrants would get their work included in the show, despite the jury process/ decisions. There were a few pieces that should not have been included due to major technical issues or minimal effort.
What are your hopes:
After the second venue, we regroup the show into a tighter, more focused grouping culling to perhaps 50 pieces to travel to a variety of venues. At that point, I would welcome new entries to ‘refresh’ the show while distilling the show to its most powerful examples.
To the readers of ASK Harriete, I ask, What is the power of art? Review the Kickstarter Campaign for Imagine Peace Now It needed 31, 284 $1.00 donations. That is a lot.
But as an alternative, the catalog is fully funded with 6,257 $5.00 donations. That could happen in one day, with your help.
What shocks me is the amount of money the NRA spends on lobbying and political campaigns. According to OpenSecrets, a site that tracks money in politics, the NRA spent $984,152 on campaign contributions during the 2014 election cycle. It also spent more than $3 million on lobbying in both 2013 and 2014. How much do you think the N.R.A.is spending on the upcoming election?
So can you give the cost of a cup of coffee so the arts can raise it's voice about gun violence?
(P.S. I'd like to add more information about the images but didn't have the title for all the artworks. Please feel welcome to email me with the titles.)
This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.