There’s a new monthly art happening in town, and it promises to be a good one.
Melissa Erdman, 24, is the showcase director for the Hartford location of RAW (not to be confused with Hartford’s Real Art Ways), what she calls a “very altruistic for-profit” that brings artists from all over the spectrum -- musicians, visual and installation artists, fashion designers, makeup artists, dancers, and so on -- together for a night of revelry. This month’s kickoff event takes place at the Russian Lady on June 7 at 8 p.m., where the event will take over the second and third floors. Featured artists include fine artist Isabelle Rodriguez, illustrator and mask-maker Brenda Lyons, hair designer the Vicious Kitty and photographer Corey Lynn Tucker.
“The cool thing is that there are no restrictions,” says Erdman, formerly a stage designer at Hartford Stage. “At past events they’ve done live tattooing, body painting, anything that is creative and expressive.”
RAW already exists in 32 cities across the country, and Hartford, along with Atlanta, Honolulu, Reno and Raleigh, is the latest locale to be added to the roster. Every month in these cities, RAW brings together 20 local artists for an independent artist showcase from February to November, and there’s an end of year RAW awards show where all the artists get to compete for RAW artist of the year.
So, why Hartford?
“Because there’s something brewing,” Erdman says. “There’s a creative energy and something big, I feel. There’s an artistic energy that is building up. It’s underground right now, but with this newer generation of artists that are more interested in collaborative art, I really see things in Hartford’s future.”
The closest RAW locations are Boston and New York. Once an artist showcases at one city they have the opportunity to showcase at any other city. The events are not permanent spaces; they set up and strike the same night, and each month has a theme, which is more for the organization’s branding and advertising, Erdman says.
“I moved to Connecticut from Wisconsin because I was hired at Hartford Stage,” Erdman says, “and I loved working for them. I got to create some really cool things... I did props, so I was making things for other people. You are good at your job if nobody notices your work, but that’s not why I got into art. I wanted to express myself and help the greater good.”
RAW’s founder and CEO, Heidi Luerra, started the organization after she went to launch a clothing line, says Erdman, and she quickly found there were not a lot of resources for young artists. The first RAW in 2005 was a clothing launch party in Los Angeles that drew 3,000 attendees, and people kept asking when she would do another one.
“We are sustained through ticket sales,” Erdman says. “Not a lot of organizations are doing that. When I explain that to artists, I say, ‘When there’s a recession, what’s the first thing that gets cut? Arts funding.’... What we create is a world in which [artists] are loved and are free to express themselves. We give them the tools to help them succeed, a press packet with shows, one or two-minute interview, endless collaborative opportunities.” Their model, she says, is revolutionary; artists do not get compensated, but if they choose to sell a work, RAW doesn’t take a commission. “We are allowed to exist because the venue is happy because people are drinking and the artists get exposure and gigs by showcasing their work,” Erdman says. “Everyone is happy.”
One of Erdman’s Hartford artists is an installation artist who makes six-foot tall paper dolls. “She is a local bartender, and she works at the Half Door, which is my favorite restaurant,” Erdman says. “They are all local people, all respected in their community. There’s a press photographer who’s been doing this for 15-20 years, and he discovered that he also does art photography. He’s choosing to express this side that he usually doesn’t get to when he’s creating for business.”
The next RAW: Hartford event takes place on July 12, titled “Mixology.” Every showcase is different.
“We could have an avant-garde makeup artist, or all local indie bands,” Erdman says. “It’s a never-ending creative river.”
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