June, 2008, Buy Art, Not Cocaine: The Cheaper Show 8
On Saturday, June 21, the eighth chapter of The Cheaper Show will unfold at Vancouver’s Storyeum. For only one night, attendees are given the rare opportunity to purchase any piece of work, at a flat rate of $200. Having attained a new level of magnitude this year, The Cheaper Show boasts 150 artists, 300 pieces of work, and has already been featured in numerous publications within the city.
Organized and brought to fruition by a group of local artists, three key individuals are the driving force behind the event: Executive Director Graeme Berglund, Producer Heidi Iro, and Co-Curator Megan Paterson. Reveling in the patio-friendly weather that Vancouver has been aching to have this year, we discuss the show, its background, and the integral components that make the show one of the most distinctive events in the history of Vancouver’s art community.
ZP: What were the primary ideas behind The Cheaper Show’s conception?
GB: The show was created out of necessity, a response to the artistic climate at the time. Since the mid-80’s, art had always had a particular ‘coolness’ attached to it. During a 2000 trip to London, specifically to Soho, I was in awe of the way the city embraced artwork. Numerous galleries, three every block or so, and everybody was in support of everybody else. Prior to the ‘artistic renaissance’, Vancouver had nothing in comparison to that situation. Eventually, change was instigated by galleries such as Misanthropy that were able to bring art up from the underground.
ZP: Give me the history of TCS.
GB: Trying to think of a new way to promote talented and underexposed artists, we introduced a new concept: a one night show, dozens of multi-disciplined artists, and all the work selling for the same (and affordable) price. ‘Cheaper Than A One Night Stand’ was held in 2000, and organized by myself, Steve Col & Syx Langeman. Held at the Sugar Refinery, the first show sold all 60 pieces for $75. Over the years, the shows began moving into bigger venues, as word-of-mouth spread. Eight years later….the largest recurring one night art show in Vancouver’s history.
ZP: Regardless of medium, artist, or size, all of the work at The Cheaper Show sells for a flat rate. What is the significance of this?
HI: It evens the playing field. Art is subjective….value is determined in such a strange and inconsistent way.
GB: With a flat rate, it’s not all about who you know, or who you’ve slept with. We’ve just removed all of that.
ZP: In 2000, when the first show took place, the flat rate was $75. Eight years later, the work sells for $200. What were the circumstances propelling this transition?
GB: All of the artists were creating absolutely amazing pieces. Having us sell them for such a low price was embarrassing, even paltry.
MP: When we held the show at the Sugar Refinery, it was a completely different situation. All of the work was hung in one night. We received no profit from the bar, and the venue itself was of no cost. Eventually, you begin to develop and business, and the growth happens simultaneously.
ZP: What kind of role has the show played, and will continue to play within the Vancouver Art Community?
GB: The Cheaper Show is of a democratic nature. We purposely seek out dissimilar art scenes, to order to bring them all together.
HI: The intention behind the show came from a group of artists, frustrated with a lack of venues to exhibit their work. The Cheaper Show is an opportunity for artists in the same situation to be seen.
MP: Just a few years ago, apart from the odd show,barely no one would see your work….
GB:..and ten years later, there is still a notable lack of space in the city to show work on this level.
HI: Now, the show has reached a place where its name is not only recognized locally, but internationally as well. We have both our local artists, and international ones who are shipping their work to us.
ZP: For the artists involved, The Cheaper Show can offer numerous opportunities. Over the years, what have been examples of these opportunities?
MP: A chance for those to show, who aren’t able to show. A space to exhibit, and a chance for someone who otherwise may not get one.
HI: We have several different mediums, from painting and drawing to design and video work. These mediums are able to co-exist within the show, and therefore people accept the format as a new way of looking at artwork.
MP: Graeme and I have both landed significant gallery shows, and numerous artists have made significant contacts and received commissions. Directors, curators, they all attend the show looking for the crop of the up-and-coming.
ZP: Any definite plans for the future shows?
HI: We’ve been considering the size of the show, and I doubt that it will be any bigger. At current time, it is manageable and we may even reduce it. That way, the show can return to a more intimate nature.
ZP: The success of the show over the past few years has been incredible, from the success of the artists, to media attention, to the firmly established positive reputation. What do you attribute this success to? Is it something we owe to Vancouver, or would a similar situation occurred within other cities?
MP: When The Cheaper Show began, Vancouver lacked a middle ground. In a place like San Francisco, you have a more diverse, multi-layer community, from high art to street art exhibitions. Vancouver had nothing in between craft and high art; with the show we were able to bridge the two and create a middle ground.
GB: It made a platform, something to bridge the gap of mid-level galleries. A lot of the show’s success is due to everybody who attends, and we rely on locals. Having a middle ground in the art community was something new, and unfamiliar. Word-of-mouth spreads.
HI: You have to look at Vancouver compared to European cities- Paris, London, Vienna. These cities have prominent aspects of their old cultures, and art and culture are regarded as a whole in a completely different way.
When they organized the first show in 2000, chances are they had no idea what it would become. The show is successful became it comes from a pure place. Our volunteers, for example, help because they know how much the show means to the community. The Cheaper Show isn’t about attitude, or elitism…that’s not what this has ever been about.
Vancouver sets itself apart for the same reason. Everybody we have talked to during the process has been supportive and enthusiastic about the show, from artists and volunteers to our sponsors and local businesses.
ZP: To ask in the most simple way, why does the show work?
HI: The show has become what it has become because it came, and continues to grow from an absolutely selfless place. No one involved has an ego.
GB: It was, it is built by friends, a group of people who are artists in the community who are devoted to the project. Everybody involved with the show is consistently positive, no matter what they’re doing. It works because it all comes from the right place.
The Cheaper Show will be held at Storyeum ( Gastown), on June 21st from 7PM-12PM. Everybody is welcome and admission is free. Further information is available from www.thecheapershow.com
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief