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Phillips' Mill Art Show Goes Digital

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As the venerable Phillips’ Mill Art Show, now in its 91st year, finds a broader audience online, its artists discuss their work, hopes and challenges.

Phillips' Mill Art Show Goes Digital

Every year, both serious art collectors and casual art lovers eagerly await the opening of the Phillips' Mill Juried Art Show, one of the most prestigious in the region. They know the exhibition will include some of the best work of their favorite artists, as well as reveal emerging talent.

This year's show opened the way it has for the past 90 years-with great anticipation and excitement-and one very notable exception. The entire show of framed artwork, sculptures and portfolio pieces was "hung" online, creating new challenges and opportunities for its artists as well as its organizers.

"We didn't know what to expect," says Laura Womack, who chairs the Art Show Committee at the Phillips' Mill Community Association. "The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a new era for the art world, one in which art is more easily accessible to more people, which can only help make the world a better place," she says. Yet how many people will actually buy art, especially at the higher end of the market, without actually seeing and experiencing it?

This past July, Sotheby's reported that George Condo's "Antipodal Reunion" sold at an online auction for $1.3 million, the highest price paid for a work of art purchased over the internet.* How that kind of transaction translates to regional shows, however prominent, like Phillips' Mill, is a wait and see. With the show closing on November 1st, its artists are using their creative talents in new ways - making behind-the-scenes videos that take viewers into their studios, streaming virtual demonstrations, posting their work and sharing their stories - all to connect to their audience.

"This is my first time in the Phillips' Mill Juried Art Show, and I am so honored to be included among such accomplished artists," says Sherri Andrews. "Phillips' Mill has done a great job not only bringing the show online but promoting it. I personally enjoy reading about the artists' backgrounds." One of Andrews' paintings sold almost immediately. "I was so happy to be able to deliver my art to the buyer in person and exchange a few words. There is a connection between buyer and artist that is hard to explain."

Womack understands the importance of that connection and continues to find inventive ways to make the virtual experience as personal as possible. With online platforms for viewing art now so common, and bringing art to so many more people, it's hard to imagine they will go away completely, even after museums and galleries are fully reopened.

West Windsor's Ilene Dube is a writer, artist, curator, filmmaker and strong supporter of the arts who submitted her artwork to Phillips' Mill for the first time this year because the online format made it so convenient. She was "blown away" to be accepted. "For the past seven months, I have attended many online exhibitions, and the range and sophistication of the platforms out there is amazing. [Thanks to this technology], I have been able to visit artists in their studios all over the Northeast and chat with them one to one," she says.

Phillips' Mill has encouraged this year's accepted artists to submit videos of themselves to share on social media and to participate as guest speakers on "ArtTalk," its new virtual series of conversations with artists from around the region sharing their perspectives, passions and art. Using platforms such as Zoom, Facebook and Instagram Live, and ArtSpan (virtual gallery experience), Phillips' Mill and other arts organizations have been able to connect with larger audiences and in ways they never have before.

Before the pandemic, Trenton multimedia artist Chee Bravo would ride the New York City subway for hours and hours, looking for inspiration for her well-known series of hand-colored screen prints of subway performers. "They are not allowed to play right now. I have been spending more time experimenting with my craft and giving more live talks and demonstrations on printmaking," she notes. Bravo has reached so many more people online, but like other artists, she underscores that the connection she gets when meeting other artists and buyers in person is hard to re-create.

"Of course, I miss seeing the artists and the work in person, but it's wonderful the way Phillips' Mill has pulled the show together," adds Haley Manchon, whose work "Space Cadet" won the 2020 Bucks County Herald Award in memory of Joseph T. Wingert. "I have been coming to the Phillips' Mill show for years and seen some incredible work and met many great artists. Year after year, this show is a reminder of how much talent there is in this area."

Art shows like Phillips' Mill's offer the best opportunity for these talented artists to get in front of more people and potentially transform their lives in some small way. "Artists don't need anyone else to make their art, but they do need to have it seen if they want their voice heard or they want to pursue a career," says Robert Beck, an award-winning New Hope artist and a leading voice in the Bucks County Art Community. "Phillips' Mill is a prominent juried exhibition with a history and reputation that attracts a high level of art and an informed following. I always submit my best available painting. To be accepted is an honor."

For a full list of winners and to view the exhibit online, visit phillipsmill.org.



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