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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Web Site Creates an Artists' Community

By Beth Cooney

The life of an artist can be a solitary one. So solitary, that painter and photographer Peg Benison was often transfixed by the crowds when she would make an annual trek to the Open Studios events of the Stamford Loft Artists Association in the city's South End.

"They figured it out. You put artists together and the crowds come. But so many of us in the art world try to do this on our own. It can be so hard to get the word out about what you're doing."

So Benison created, a virtual gallery for area artists to show their stuff to potential clients, buyers and galleries. Her mission: post portfolios, images, artist statements and news and events on the Web and hope that the crowds will come to "galleries" of artists from Greenwich to Stratford.

Benison built the site, combining her background in computer graphics with her experiences as a working local artist.

Her target was the art market in lower Fairfield County, which boasts the fifth highest concentration of professional artists in the nation, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. (San Francisco is the highest; New York City ranks fourth.)

"It's a staggering statistic to me because considering the number of artists here, a lot of people don't know where to go for art around here," says Shauna Holiman, past president of the Greenwich Art Association and an early poster on Holiman, whose paintings are often inspired by nature, says Benison's passion for creating a community is what convinced her to show her portfolio at

"Despite all the artists and art organizations around here, we are still an incredibly fragmented group. Some of us don't even know each other," says Holiman.

Painter Benice Horowitz of Stamford was drawn to show her work on the site for similar reasons: "A lot of us have our own sites, but this is more like a group show."

For Horowitz, an expressionist-style painter, "This concept works for me because to make it in

the art world, you need to be more of an extrovert than I am. I prefer to be in my studio painting. This gives me a chance to put myself out there a bit more."

Artists pay a fee to be part of the site, which went online earlier this summer. About 14 local artists are currently showing there.

The site is juried by a group of working artists, "because a lot of people can call themselves artists. I wanted to have some standards to maintain quality," says Benison.

And she is steadfast about not opening the space up to artists beyond Fairfield County. "That's been the problem with other virtual art galleries. You can see something you like, but it's in Santa Fe. I don't think anyone is going to buy something they haven't seen or experienced in some way."

Benison takes no fees for any sales or commissions that may come from page visits. Visitors are given information on how to directly contact artists, usually by e-mail.

"I am not interested in getting involved as a middle man. I am not an online gallery," says Benison. "The idea is to bring potential artists to the attention of people, not to get in the middle of their relationships."

Benison says she has received one new client from her posting at the site. Horowitz and Holiman say they have not heard from any potential clients, "but I didn't expect anything immediate. This is just one way to reach people," says Holiman.

"People have tried to do this on a broader scale, but it doesn't work. I mean, I cannot imagine buying art I haven't seen or experienced in some way," says Benison. "You have to be able to go and see the art to experience. Here, you can contact artists and make arrangements to see something. The Internet just provides a window. It gives people a chance to get an idea of what you do and go from there."


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