ArtSquared showcases and supports local artists in virtual art sale

Heleana Backus, A&E Reporter

In April, Walla Walla arts organization ArtWalla dropped off 8 6-inch-by-6-inch white squares on the doorsteps of 125 local artists. In their 8th annual ArtSquared fundraiser from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2, ArtWalla put the unique, transformed squares up for sale online at $36 each. 

In a year without the pandemic, crowds of people would have gathered over a single weekend to view the hundreds of squares, stacked on large-format easels without the titles, mediums or artist’s names immediately visible. 

Pieces in the 2020 ArtSquared fundraiser hang at CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla. Photo contributed by ArtWalla.

To adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, Peter Eberle, 2020 Whitman Art graduate, ArtSquared participant and ArtWalla Webmaster, designed the new ArtSquared webpage. According to ArtSquared organizer and participant Rachel Smith, the webpage puts artists on a similar playing field as the typical ArtSquared fundraiser. While patrons can see the artist and medium when they click on a square, they first have to be drawn to the piece.  

Eberle said, “Last year was my first time at the show. It was a strange bodily experience, with people in close quarters navigating these huge easels. I saw a similar energy opening day [this year when] people were rapidly buying orders and sending emails that said things like, ‘This square’s gone but I had it in my cart!’ It had the same sort of frenzy and excitement, but in a new virtual format.” 

Because of the work of Smith, Eberle and ArtWalla Treasurer Tricia Harding among others, the fundraiser continued this year and allowed local artists like Whitman Professor of English Katrina Roberts to participate. The last time Roberts created art for the fundraiser, she painted French landscapes, but this time she chose to paint a series of “creature-portraits” using gouache. 

“I painted what I felt passion for and, as one who loves to imagine that empathetic leap into the life of another, I find it really enigmatic to imagine the stories that faces might tell. I loved creating that sequence. I think of them as tiny, coiled portraits, like poems or micro-fictions, that tell of lives beyond mine,” said Roberts. 

The ArtSquared fundraiser lets anyone with $36 own original work from passionate artists like Roberts. The democracy created by giving every artist the same 8 squares and pricing each piece the same, regardless of the materials the artists use, is one of Roberts’s and Smith’s favorite aspects of ArtSquared. 

The annual ArtSquared fundraiser gives artists the opportunity to create within the parameters of 6″ x 6″ squares. Photo contributed by ArtWalla.

Roberts said, “There’s something really rewarding about having someone else prompt pieces with a time-frame and formal constraints. It’s like writing a crown of sonnets where you only have a certain amount of space. The squares are small enough that they feel like tiny treasures. They can hang out, hide someplace and have a little conversation together.”

This year, ArtWalla sold over 725 squares to support both of their grant funds. Through the Dan Dunn Memorial Grant program, ArtWalla awards 2 artists in the Walla Walla Valley $250 to support their work. With the Arts Build Community Grant program, ArtWalla awards $450 to 4 organizations that provide arts programming or seek to expand into arts education. Applications for both grants are due Nov. 16.

ArtWalla encourages student artists and experienced artists alike to participate in ArtSquared and to apply for a Dan Dunn Memorial Grant. Registration for ArtSquared opens each spring and costs $5 for ArtWalla members and $30 for non-members. For more information about becoming a member, and registering for ArtSquared, visit ArtWalla’s website. 

Though this year’s sale has already concluded, you can view the collection of squares on the ArtSquared webpage and see the juried ArtSquared large-works exhibition at CAVU Cellars through Oct. 25. You can also follow ArtWalla on Facebook and Instagram to receive news about calls to artists, grants, classes, local exhibitions and ArtWalla’s continued work to support the arts. 

Smith says, “ArtSquared is an act of generosity for everyone involved — the people who are buying, the people who made art, the people who helped put it together. It has a generous spirit.”