By Drew Walden
Recently, I sat down with Jonathan Allred, one of the founding members of the White Spar Collective. This Prescott group has been quietly working hard to bring a different vibe to the local art scene, while remaining dedicated to its artists and their work.
Drew Walden: I thought we could begin with the origin story of the White Spar Collective. How did it kick off?
Jonathan Allred: The idea had been bouncing around with a few of us local painters and artists to have a show that was more contemporary in both work and style. A lot of great artists live here [in the Prescott area], but they’re almost never seen by the public for all sorts of reasons. So we decided to change that by doing our own thing. Originally, it was supposed to be a one-off type of event, so we reached out to Mark and Bethany Walters of the Prescott Public House. They were down. They were creating a local-driven vibe that they thought we fit into, and we thought the space suited our needs.
How long ago was all this?
The first show was three years ago this month.
How did it shift from a one-time thing, into now where you’re having your third anniversary?
The short answer is that it kept working. After the first event, most of the artists, patrons, employees and locals were bummed when the show was over. So we gave it some time and decided to do another show after six months, in the summer. All the while we didn’t advertise, there was no social media promotion, and the works were picked up directly from the artists’ studios. Etcetera. We didn’t quite know what we were doing, so we figured we’d keep it mellow and local. Even to the point that it was only referred to as the Local Art Collective event.
What about it was working? If you weren’t advertising, how did people find out about the event?
Mainly word of mouth. Most of the artists were local and would tell their friends, so we relied on the small-town scene. Eventually enough people would see what was happening, and by the end of the show most everyone had seen the work.
The shows work because of the artists. Everyone brings high-level work, and it comes together because all the different styles and voices are seen at once. We’re able to show pieces that other places might deem too edgy or provocative. We don’t have a building where we’re trying to pay the rent, so sales have never been the goal. The mission has always been to showcase the best possible work, and to bring a contemporary art event to our town.
I know money-talk in art is a taboo subject, but how do you guys handle sales without a brick-and-mortar location?
We’re able to provide really good returns to the artists, due to our lack of overhead. None of us get paid to handle [work] behind the scenes. We don’t pay for any outside services, and we don’t have any sort of daily bills. We provide the venues with a small percentage for allowing us to show, and to cover the cost of repairing walls. We use our percentage to cover all materials and the travel it takes to put on a show. The rest goes to the artists, which is typically 70-90% of the price, depending on the venue.
That sounds pretty rad. I’ve heard some horror stories about the business side of art, and wonder how you navigate that part of the business.
We just use the Golden Rule. We’re all artists, so we look out for our own.
Nice. I like that. Not being an artist myself, it seems like that world can be a little tribal at times, which can become negative for everyone.
Yeah, but that’s not our vibe. When we saw these events gaining speed, we made sure to keep the invite open to new and returning artists. Some people can’t make one show, but they’ll have something for the next. We try to have a blend of professional, amateur, student and emerging artists in each of our group shows, to keep the scene dynamic. It’s also why, when we decided to brand our movement, we included the word collective, as that’s what we want to be: strength in numbers.
And what about the White Spar part?
It’s a reference to White Spar Road here in Prescott. We wanted something that was universal, but grounded in our Prescott origins. The logo itself was directly inspired by Barbara Krueger.
I like that you guys thought about all this, and didn’t just throw something together. In this digital world, I feel like people care more about getting “likes” on social media than experiencing something real and engaging.
Exactly. We all care and want the best shows, so the public at large can be exposed to what’s creatively happening around them. We feel that the harder we work and the more we keep innovating how we feature artists, the greater the impact art can have on our community. We’re obviously not trying to reinvent the wheel, but make it roll our way instead.
With all this happening, what next for the White Spar Collective? Any new shows or events planned?
Our current big group show is happening now through March 11 at the Prescott Public House. We recently partnered with Chef John Panza and Cassandra Hankison of BiGA to have rotating solo shows in the restaurant. There are a couple of other venues and events we’re booking for this summer, as well as reaching out to locations in Phoenix and Tucson. If all goes well, we hope to start designing and painting murals for local businesses and schools.
Good deal. How can people find out more about upcoming events?
We promote through Instagram @white_spar_collective, or by email, email@example.com. And we would love to thank: Lauren McCrea, Brandelyn Andres, Dana Cohn, S. Jordan Palmer, Lupe Galvan, Carl Dahl, Steve Mason, Mark and Bethany, Chef John and Cassandra, 5enses, and every single artist that allows us to hang their work.
Drew Walden is an aspiring renaissance man with a penchant for the arts. He is currently traveling while working on his first book about the life of dishwashers. Contact can be made through firstname.lastname@example.org. IMAGES FROM TOP: “Strange Days” by Chadwick Uptain @chadsickuptain, “Spontaneous Combustion” by S. Jordan Palmer @sjordanpalmer, “Foul Play” by Alexa R. Simpson @lexarsimps, “Frank Bacon and Study of Corruption” by Jonathan Lee Allred @jonathanleeallred.