The sheer volume of emerging artists producing new art in our great borough is impressive, if daunting, especially for the recent art school grad competing to get their work noticed. For decades, artist registries (think massive volumes of slides and mission statements) have existed as neutral playing fields where artists can catalog and display their work for curators and gallerists. Beneficial? Definitely. Simple? Not so much.
Previously, registries required artists to print special slides of their work and deliver them to each individual organization’s collection. If curators wanted to search a registry, they had to schedule an appointment and spend hours sifting through notebooks. Now, arts organizations are opting for digital display, and these slide registries are beginning to collect dust, replaced by sleek, easy-to-use web-based databases.
Two Brooklyn art organizations – Nurture Art and BRIC Arts Media – have launched their online artist registries. “Our registry’s raison d’être is to benefit emerging artists,” says Karen Marston, executive director of Nurture Art, a non-profit art gallery in Williamsburg. “It benefits them by creating an exhibition opportunity. It benefits them by giving them exposure, giving people access to their work so that it can be seen, so they can be found.”
Like most organizations, Nurture Art has a physical database, which has existed for over a decade and features the work of more than 2000 artists. Their online registry went live at the beginning of June, and so far, almost 300 artists have uploaded profiles. Marston says Nurture Art’s registry is unique because not only can artists create profiles, but so can curators. “They can not only search for artists to include in future projects, but we actually created a place where you can see what independent and emerging curators are up to,” she says.
The goal for the registry is to create a community of emerging artists and curators. “We don’t prejudge the work,” says Marston. “We want the curators to do the curating so we want there to be a really broad range of work; a lot of different kinds of artists and curators using this as a space to meet, see each others’ work and create projects. We’re looking to create that connection.”
While Nurture Art is based in Williamsburg, their registry is open to artists located and working anywhere in the world (however, Marston estimates that 60 percent of users are based in Brooklyn). Other registries, like those of BRIC Arts Media and the Brooklyn Arts Council, cater solely to artists living or working in the borough.
“There’s a sense of real passion about Brooklyn these days among creative people, and I think this helps further that sense of Brooklyn,” says Elizabeth Ferrer, director of Contemporary Art at BRIC.
Like Nurture Art, BRIC just launched their database in June. They also have almost 300 registered users, mostly artists who were a part of their old slide registry. The registries are similar in that artists have total control over their profiles on both sites.
At Nurture Art, they can upload an unlimited number of images, and organize them in a variety of ways: a single page with clickable images or a page of thumbnails leading to separate galleries, each with as much or little text as the artist desires. Despite it barely being two months old, participants are already raving about the database. “It’s the best and most organized registry out there,” says artist Lisa Kellner. “I love that Nurture Art rethought the online possibilities for artists and how they can best showcase their own work.”
In BRIC’s registry, artists can upload 20 images which appear as a slideshow on the home page of their profiles. Unique elements include the option to create a video gallery on your profile, a module that creates a calendar of upcoming events from information that artists upload, and the ability to search by neighborhood. “We’re committed to providing a platform for Brooklyn affiliated artists,” says Ferrer. “So if you have an allegiance to a certain neighborhood, you can see who’s in Fort Greene, who’s in Gowanus, who’s in Bushwick.”
For many artists, the fact that BRIC’s registry is Brooklyn-centric is the main draw. “It would be unfair to say it cuts down on competition, since many artists live or work in Brooklyn, but it caters to a smaller group than say an international registry like Re-title,” says MaryKate Maher, who is part of several other registries, but notes that she’s found the most success with those dedicated to Brooklyn artists. “It has allowed curators and artists access to my work that may not have known of me otherwise.”
Johanna Taylor, the development and marketing officer for BRIC, says that’s their main goal. “Our mission is to provide a platform for emerging artists in Brooklyn and connect people to them.” Ferrer adds, “Really well known artists don’t need to be on registries. I think for younger artists, it’s a fabulous way for them to document their work and communicate with people.”
They may have launched sophisticated registries, but Nurture Art and BRIC are by no means pioneers. The Brooklyn Arts Council created an online registry when they first began their website back in 2001. Today, the registry — which covers all disciplines, not just the visual arts — has more than 5400 users. “In all honesty, they may have more bells and whistles than we have at the moment,” says BAC President Ella Weiss, “but this is still a great tool for artists. That’s why we have so many.”
On BAC’s registry, artists do not have as much creative freedom with their profiles, but they receive bi-monthly email blasts with opportunities for grants, exhibition submissions, residency openings, and upcoming seminars. BAC constantly receives information from organizations across the nation looking for artists. “It really levels the playing field to a certain extent,” says Weiss. “Whether you’re an emerging artist or an established artist, whether you’re renowned or not, you have an opportunity to participate in the arts world in Brooklyn through the registry because you get the same information as everybody else.”
Online registries are becoming more and more prominent, but in an industry with deeply ingrained traditions, it’s unlikely that digital networking will replace the importance of meeting and knowing the right people.
“I think the online activity is definitely growing very, very quickly in importance and becoming essentially integrated with how the art world functions,” says Marston. “I think right now both kinds of networking—the digital and face to face at openings—are equally important. They seem to thrive off and feed each other in interesting ways: people find out about openings and discuss what they are seeing online and meet and follow-up networking with connections in both directions. The most active, successful people seem to be the ones taking advantage of both.”