- Donnie Bonelli
When The Cold Year, Telesomniac and The California Queens come together for an upcoming show at Gold Blood Collective, it will be a little different than a normal performance. With a love for the local visual arts scene, The Cold Year's vocalist and guitarist Matt Skaggs is bringing visual art into the fold, as he did at the release party for their most recent album, Prey For Me, in October. The goal? Breaking down the barriers between music shows and art shows.
"It was a gallery-esque show," Skaggs says of the album release event. "Five artists had booths along the room in The Beehive, so between the bands' tear-down and put-up, people were looking around and talking about art and buying art."
The pitch to share space is simple, but it turns up some nagging assumptions about concert venues and their capacity to serve as art spaces. Show energy typically ebbs and flows around the main event, and there are things you expect and things you don't. The bands will play in a certain order, their merch will be available at the back, and the reason you're there is music—to enjoy music, socialize around music and pay money for hearing that music. Shows like the release party, and the upcoming Saturday, Dec. 14, event, raise the question, "What kind of art belongs where?"
The release show was a success partly because of the arrangements The Cold Year made with the visual artists. "If you bought a piece of art, you got a copy of the album for free," Skaggs says. "So no matter what you bought, whether it was merch from us or a $2 card or a $20 painting, you got a copy of the album. It's synergy. It's us saying, 'I love your art, and I want you to have this opportunity for people who might not go to a gallery walk to come and see it.'"
It'll be the same deal at their upcoming show. Exposure doesn't pay the bills, and there's a reason people see a lot of artists running any sale of their art through low-overhead methods like Instagram, or even Twitter. "Without a valid platform and constant flow of eyes, customers, you don't tend to make that much money, or not enough to justify the costs," says Sean Clifford (@shaun.sketches on Instagram), one of the three artists Skaggs has brought on for the show. Currently, none of the three sell their art online, though Lou Wehlage (@daydreambelievercoffeegriever) offers commissions and Reina Meza (@reinamariemeza) is working to make her work available to purchase.
"There's a ton of artists in the world, and plenty of copycats who are completely willing to sell your ideas for a third of the price," Clifford says. "The only sure-fire way to combat this symptom of the modern world is to make your brand mean something special to your buyers." Much in the same way that coming in time to a show for an opener can introduce you to a band you've never heard of, a face-to-face interaction with an artist turns a "random internet drone" into "my artist friend," as Sean puts it.
It's collaboration, not just exposure, that can meaningfully move the needle. "Making friends in the art community is how you get good exposure, people you can trust," Wehlage says. Supporting artists means supporting them materially, and though that often takes the form of purchasing albums or artwork, as fellow artists, it can also mean sharing opportunity. Skaggs realized this after working with artists like Emma Hilton (@thespookshack) on the album art for Prey For Me, and Donnie Bonelli (@thephotoshopgawd) for the group's band photo, which is done in a style reminiscent of byzantine iconography. "Donnie disappeared for two days and came back with that work—it was amazing," Skaggs says of the saintly portrait. "And so because of my pure, positive experiences with visual artists, I will never not look toward an artist to provide a way to convey our music."
In some ways, sharing space reinforces the relationship between visual art and music that has existed for decades. "When I was a child, I was drawn to vinyl and records because of their art," Meza says. "I think music and art have gone together for a while now, just in different forms. For example, an artist will create merch for a band, and then that band will offer it at their show."
Mixed-media spaces and collectives have long existed in Salt Lake City—Vague Space, Existimos and the work of organizers like Stef Leaks all come to mind—but simple as it is, the show at Gold Blood Collective feels novel in its focused inclusion of visual art, a practice more venues can strive to adopt. As we become more imaginative about what kind of art can belong where, we find more direct, material means of supporting art itself—means for it to live and grow in unexpected ways, in unexpected places.