There’s a long tradition of artists and performers surreptitiously looking on as an audience takes in their work, oblivious to their presence. Every so often you hear about a movie star slipping into the back row of a cinema to catch a screening of one of their films undetected. A friend and former circus performer recently told me a delightful story about a time she noticed Michael Jackson don a disguise to watch circus-orchestra renditions of his popular hits. When “Bad” came on during the elephant act, the King of Pop could reportedly be seen with a “huge shit-eating grin on his face” before he left quietly through a back door and jumped into a waiting limousine. I’ve run into similar scenarios myself (minus the circus, elephants, limo and worldwide fame) whenever I happen to notice a stranger reading one of my articles out in the wild. I usually have to resist the urge to blurt out, HEY I WROTE THAT at top volume, which, let’s be honest, is mostly for my ego. But then, how often do creative types get such an untarnished view into someone else consuming their work?
It’s a temptation many of the artists who’ve taken part in the Anonymous Art Show have had to fight themselves. Staying true to its name, the Arts Whistler fundraiser sees locals submitting miniature paintings on an eight-by-eight-inch canvas, with the artist’s name only revealed after the work is purchased. Sometimes, however, keeping a tight lid on a piece’s provenance is easier said than done.
“We’ve had times on buying night where the artist is so excited one of their pieces is about to get sold that they just can’t contain themselves and we’ve had to tell them, ‘Hey, cool your jets. It’s supposed to be anonymous!’” says Arts Whistler executive director Mo Douglas.
Returning for the fourth time, this year’s Anonymous Art Show features nearly 300 tiny pieces by 183 artists, of all experience and ability levels. This speaks to the core of the show’s appeal: its inherent accessibility, breaking down barriers for both artists and collectors.
“The arts are still battling perception in a lot of places that it’s somewhat elitist or for the wealthy and educated,” Douglas says. “That’s why we do our best to blow those out. Art is absolutely for everyone and creating opportunities that are accessible for everyone to really dig in and enjoy it.”
Besides the art, the show’s real attraction is buying night, set for April 8, which Douglas says is “like no other way to buy art.” Attendees pay $25 to get in the door, then they can purchase “art-buying spots”: This year, there are 10 spots available at the $250 level, up to 50 spots available at the $150 level, up to 50 at the $100 level, and up to 100 at the $50 level. Also, for the first time, Arts Whistler added three top spots at the $500, $400 and $300 level.
“The first chance to buy art is buying night, so it’s a bit of a small-g gala, but it’s more as if we’ve merged Whistler’s sport community and arts community because the randomness of the number you get, [which indicates] the order in which you’ll choose, creates a certain measure of competition,” Douglas says. “Somebody is hoping the person ahead of them isn’t going to take the piece they have their eye on. Folks end up with a shortlist of 10 or 20 pieces, and in the buying line, it’s funny, we didn’t institute this, but people started a little elbowing and … trash-talking if they want the same piece.”
If you miss out on the frenzy of April 8, fear not: Douglas notes typically about half of the works sell on buying night, with the remainder available for purchase through May 25.
The Anonymous Art Show has developed into Arts Whistler’s signature fundraiser, with the event historically bringing in about $16,000 for community programming.
“It’s just one of those things that helps us do more community programming or leverage something new like an Art on the Lake, an idea that we had that we didn’t have budgeted but was just too good to not do,” explains Douglas.
The exhibit officially launches April 1. Get a sneak peek of the works on April 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. for the artists’ reception. Buying night on April 8 gets underway at 7 p.m. and will include appetizers, drinks, live DJs, and if Douglas has her way, plenty of dancing in the theatre.
“So people need to be ready to buy art and get their dancing in,” she says. “It’s just a really fun night for people to celebrate the bravery of a lot of our local artists to jump in and create some great work.”