I just emailed Virginia Hoffman, this comment about Arts Groups in East hampton, NY as an example of the difficulties of promoting arts activism.
I just moved to SRQ from East Hampton New York. I am chronicling the experience--somewhat naively I have to admit--in a blog, New Sarasota Artist. I came from a community where there is an arts activist organization --the Artist Alliance of East Hampton--founded in 1986 in memory, ironically, of a Sarasota Art luminary Jimmy Ernst. Interestingly, the same conerns that you write about, the problems of affordable housing, affordable studio space and exhibition opportunities are the same ones we grappled with. Like the Sarasota arts community, the East Hampton community is overshadowed by big elephant art in NYC. Nothing to be done about that. While many of the artists who moved to East Hampton were fleeing the maw that is the NY Art World, it was the proximity of NY that exacerbated the many structural problems EH faces--alot of out of town summer money, lack of studio space because everything -- but absolutely everything standing, gets converted to insanely huge McMansions. And despite all the money floating around, nobody buys art--especially local art, except for some plein-air painters. So the home turf of Jackson Pollock and Bill de Koening have become inhospitable to the local artist.
There is a further irony in that the Artist Alliance of East Hampton deteriorated into an Arts Club; members looked for benefits for themselves. Some of the original goals were achieved--like building code waivers to allow for bathrooms in studios not connected to a home. But in general the group lost its way. New members sought to join who were looking for opportunities to show with professionals and the professionals withdrew. Four years ago, a separate group (that included one of the 1986 founders) formed to return to the activist original purpose of the Alliance--I led that for a year, and we had a successful conference on the Arts and the Economic Crisis. But for some reason even the activist group members found the effort too great for their individual reward. It was sad but an eye opener. I will say that the effort of breaking away and founding something new sparked many changes at the Artist Alliance (including tossing out a very harmful and damaging President ) so that was good and useful. But, it remains an art club.
So while I am a big believer in activism by and for visual artists I will say that it is a steep road to climb and that many are lost along the way. But I thank Virginia for her thought post.