About Hidden River Arts

Hidden River™ Arts, the independent literary and performing arts organization based in suburban Philadelphia is dedicated to the service, support and celebration of all artists. Named after the Schuylkill (Dutch for "Hidden River") which winds its way through the region, Hidden River™Arts is committed to nurturing the artistic community by providing varied and supportive services to creative writers, and artists of all genres. We offer competitions, publication, shows and live events, as well as outreach through workshops, classes and audience building events.

The Artist’s Dilemma: Refuse the Addiction of Social Media or Fail at Self-Promotion?

The common belief these days is that, without constant presence and self-promotion on social media platforms, an artist is doomed to obscurity. It can’t be denied that the platforms themselves have encouraged this thinking. But how much success can you expect? Does a constant promotional presence on Facebook, for instance, guarantee that you and your work become more recognizable, and most important, that your posts reach those who want to engage with your artwork or your activities?

Drew Zeiba takes on this topic in his article, “Can You Make It As an Artist in 2018 Without Constantly Plugging Yourself on Instagram?” on Vulture Just what is an artist’s role in society, and does that role include the endless need to self-promote? Zeiba says, “There is a long tradition of artists refusing to play the self-promotion game. Isa Genzken and David Hammons are famous for preferring not to talk to the press; Stanley Brown destroyed his early work and his own image. But in today’s globalized art world, in which collectors buy work based on pictures scrolled through on their phones, isn’t logging off forever rather self-defeating? Refusing to be an artist-as-public figure in the era of social media seems almost reckless — like willful career suppression, if not suicide.” Many cite the addictive quality of social media, and how much time and energy can be wasted on these platforms that is best used in making art.

On the other hand, as Zeiba says, there are those success stories that underscore the uneasy feeling that no artist can afford to unplug entirely: “Brad Phillips is in many ways the poster boy for why artists should be on Instagram. Thanks to the platform, he got a book deal with a prestigious British publisher, mounted solo shows in East Hampton and Oslo, and made direct sales by DM (which means he didn’t have to give a gallery 50 percent).”

But as Phillips himself points out, it is a “double-edged sword”. His article “How Instagram is Changing the Art World,” on Vice talks about the love/hate relationship that he, and other artists, have with Instagram and other social media platforms. Phillips writes, “I have, through Instagram, sold a great deal of work privately to people. I’ve had a solo show in Oslo at Bjarne Melgaard’s gallery. I’ve been included in many group shows. I had a solo show in East Hampton at Harper’s Books. Entirely due to Instagram I’ve had a hardcover book of my drawings published by a reputable English art book imprint. None of the above “developments” in my career, none of the sales, were facilitated by my gallery in New York. That’s not the fault of the gallery. The art world right now is a youth-fetishizing cannibalistic death cult of speculation and interior design masked as progressive painting.”

What is the role of the gallery in this new world? In the past, galleries offered validation, support, protection, promotion. It was the gallery that made the connection to the buyers. For that service they often required 50% of any sales, which while it sounds high to the outside world, was the only way that the gallery could be maintained — especially in an essential city like New York, where real estate costs are quite high and the space for a gallery is an expensive proposition. The gallery owner also needed to make his/her own living through the sale of the artist’s work.

The curators of creativity are being muscled out by these social media platforms. Who, now, is the arbiter of taste in the “art market”? Phillips, again: “Most collectors buy what other people buy, and what other people buy is what is happening right now, today, and if Instagram is anything, it’s an encapsulation and display of the most urgent present moment. Knowing that they can cut out the middle man, knowing that artists will be happy to sell work privately means collectors can arrive at the same point for half the price.” The point worth emphasizing here is that collectors can arrive at the same point for half the price That means that the artist is no better off in terms of profit from sales. It also means that the artist now must be his/her own promotor and curator, a job that was formerly a full-time job for someone else, someone who was devoted to being the social arbiter of artist’s work — and most importantly, who had a more extensive understanding of the artist’s work, and how it was positioned within the history of art movements and styles — a larger picture and a much more erudite approach. That, it can be argued, is a great loss. And, with the artist taking on the work of promotion, where is the time to grow and mature and create as an artist?

Obviously, this is not a new issue. Stephen Sondheim addressed it in Sunday in the Park With George — this situation where creative people find that much of their time is spent in doing everything BUT making art. In “Putting it Together“, illustrates the experience of the creative “market” and its demands on the creative person.

The digital world, however, presents other problems — one being the security of the artwork. Much like the problems with piracy that have plagued the musician or the writer, there is the issue of image theft for the artist who puts work on these platforms. Phillips bemoans this for himself and his colleagues, “But a key issue artists are coming up against now, myself included, is the loss of control over the imagery we post. Our work is screenshot, then disseminated without consent. In an age where a JPEG has almost as much value as the physical object, this is problematic. Artists I’ve known have had their work taken off Instagram and included in publications without being compensated, never mind notified. But at least there their work is identified as their own. Straight up duplication and theft is equally common. I’ve seen my own art recirculated back to me without credit or worse, credited to a stranger. Some people think artists should be flattered by imitation but in the end it just makes it harder to use those images later for artwork and there’s the risk of being accused of appropriating your own work after it’s recycled and reposted on the internet thousands of times.”

Another issue is the erratic, unfathomable application of censorship rules on these platforms. Many artists complain of having work flagged, or removed, or having accounts taken down completely even when the work does not violate whatever the terms of the platform might be. There are often no humans with whom you can speak. There are often no clear reasons for the haphazard ways in which the “rules” are applied. Censorship, it appears is visited upon women artists much more often than upon men, for instance.

Zeiba speaks about the response of artist Jake Borndal, who quit Instagram, citing several issues, addiction being among them. He quit Instagram when he quit smoking. Borndal also wants to remind everyone that these platforms, in particular Instagram, which seems to lend itself so well to the visual, is anything BUT a creative space. Writes Zeiba, “It is a space bound by certain social, aesthetic, and user-agreement constraints, all of them prescribed either top-down by Instagram design or policy, or more amorphously by cliquish consensus among a segment of users, in turn shaping the kind of content that might be made and shared.”

Bottom line: for the so-called benefits that might be offered through the use of these social media platforms, the loss — of time, of creative freedom, of quiet and personal rumination time — may just be too high. What does that mean for artists in these current times? Might there be other ways in which artists can find each other?….can find their audience? One suggestion: might we begin to think seriously about creating our OWN social media platforms where artists, writers, musicians, performers, can gather, can curate the work of each other, can provide a sort of gallery/performance space? Might there then be the possibility to address such issues as piracy, since these platforms are created by, run by and meant to benefit the artists themselves?

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Tuan Phan Receives The Panther Creek Award in Non-fiction From Hidden River Arts

Tuan Phan, Winner of
The Panther Creek Award

Hidden River Arts, the inter-disciplinary independent arts organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is pleased to announce Tuan Phan of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as the inaugural winner of The Panther Creek Award from Hidden River Arts, for his memoir, Remembering Water.

Phan speaks of his memoir, “Remembering Water is a memoir of my escape from Vietnam in 1986 and my return to live there thirty years later. It delves into my memories of the past Saigon my family left, my return, the family members with whom I’ve reunited and the locals I’ve met. It encompasses the Vietnam of my childhood memories as well as the present-day version of Vietnam, from Saigon’s booming development and its high rises, to the countryside and Mekong Delta. In 1986, I escaped from Vietnam, a member of a mass exodus of refugees that have been named the “boat people”. I was only eight years old at the time. 21 years later, I returned to visit Saigon as a foreigner in the birth city. This new Saigon is now a humming modern metropolis, a complete remake of the quiet, poverty stricken city that I left. Remembering Water is a memoir and reflection of my departure and return. It encompasses the Vietnam of my childhood memories as well as its present-day form, from Saigon’s booming development and its high rises, to the countryside and Mekong Delta. I’ve lived in Vietnam for nearly two years, the book is an account of that return and stay.”

Tuan Phan is a Vietnamese American who arrived in the United States in 1986, when he was eight, where he and his family have lived and where he was educated. After a childhood learning English and forgetting his mother tongue, he is now back in his birth country, teaching English and relearning his first language, while re-immersing himself in Vietnamese culture and life.

The Panther Creek Award is offered yearly for an unpublished book-length work of non-fiction. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and publication with Hidden River Publishing. Submissions for the next cycle of the award will be accepted beginning on January 1 and deadlining April 15, 2019. For more information about The Panther Creed Award, please see our guidelines.

For a list of the semi-finalists and finalists of this first cycle of The Panther Creek Award, please see our News and Awards announcement page.

Hidden River Arts was established over twenty years ago in Philadelphia, PA as an organization focused on “serving the unserved artist”, looking to provide supports in the form of awards, live arts events, workshops, and publication to bring attention to artists working in under-recognized areas, or in under-recognized forms. More on Hidden River Arts can be found at our website http://www.hiddenriverarts.com as well as here on our blog. We encourage you to follow us here to be sure you are updated with our news, events and activities.

Justine Dymond Is Winner of the 2018 Eludia Award

Justine Dymond has won the 2018 Eludia Award for her story collection, THE EMIGRANT AND OTHER STORIES

Hidden River Arts, the inter-disciplinary independent arts organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is pleased to announce Justine Dymond of Belchertown, Massachusetts, as the 2018 winner of The Eludia Award, for her collections of stories, The Emigrant and Other Stories.

In describing her award-winning manuscript, Ms. Dymond says, “The stories in my collection range widely in setting and era, including France during World War II, Maine in the early eighteenth century, and Tennessee in the twenty-first century. What the stories all have in common, however, are characters who experience life as foreigners, whether in their own countries or not, and who long for a real or imaginary elsewhere. Each character has a different impulse that propels their longing. For one couple, it is discomfort with their identity as Americans as they spend time in another country. In the title story, a young teacher discovers freedom and desire inside the walls of a prison. In another story, a teenager in Washington, D.C. yearns to be included in the lives of strangers. In the story titled “Intruder,” a woman in colonial New England gradually realizes that her neighbors want her to be elsewhere. Each story represents a border experience, imposed from the outside or inside, that paradoxically confines and propogates the human desire to be somewhere else.”

Given that we live in a time so filled with xenophobia and nationalism, so filled with out-of-control hatred of the “other,” The Emigrant and Other Stories speaks to our lives in a very timely and powerful way.

Justine Dymond is Associate Professor of English at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where she teaches literature and writing. Her short story “Cherubs” was selected for a 2007 O. Henry Prize and was listed as a distinguished story in The Best American Short Stories 2006. Her stories have appeared in Pleiades, The Massachusetts Review, The Briar Cliff Review, Meat for Tea, Lowestoft Chronicle, and Cargo Literary, and have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and The Best American Travel Writing. Her fiction has been honored with grants and awards from the Vermont Studio Center, Writers OMI at Ledig House, and Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Demeter Press issued her co-edited collection Motherhood Memoirs: Mothers Creating/Writing Lives in 2013. She is currently writing a novel based on the life of a woman who was tried for infanticide in Boston in 1733.

The Eludia Award is a first-book award, offered yearly for an unpublished book-length work of fiction written by a woman writer, age 40 or older. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and publication with Hidden River Publishing. The next submission cycle for the award deadlines March 15, 2019. Please see our guidelines for additional information.

Hidden River Arts was established over twenty years ago in Philadelphia, PA as an organization focused on “serving the unserved artist”, looking to provide supports in the form of awards, live arts events, workshops, and publication to bring attention to artists working in under-recognized areas, or in under-recognized forms. More on Hidden River Arts can be found at our website. And the names of our semi-finalists and finalists of the 2018 Eludia Award cycle can be found here.

Arts for Assets Sake

What’s Art Good For? Apparently, for collateral.

It is long known that the “art market” is filled with speculators and asset hounds who are hoovering up the “hot” artists not for aethestic purposes but as investment. The horror stories of what that has done to the art world abound. But I confess, I had to read Georgina Adam’s article, “In Debt We Trust” in The Art Newspaper several times before it began to sink in and I started to realize, with horror…..My God…..this is really happening.

Those same investors who have been turning the art world into a kind of Thunderdome are now part of an increasing trend: Art-secured lending. What does this mean? It means that the owners of art-as-asset are now borrowing against that art in yet another layer of frenzy – creating a bourgeoning market for lenders smokin’ hot to get in on the action.

Adam writes, “Warhol or a Wool hanging on your wall may give you great pleasure, but it used to be that art gave you no monetary return—unless you sold it….No longer. Today that work of art can remain on your wall and at the same time give you cash in hand, allowing you to buy more art, inject some money into your business, cover a guarantee at auction or pay off an urgent tax demand.”

If you have any doubt that this is becoming a huge market, “…according to a report published last year by Deloitte and ArtTactic, in 2017 the global total of loans outstanding against art was eye-popping: between $17bn and $20bn.”

Piles and stacks of money – coins and US dollars.

Evan Beard, who is a national art services executive at US Trust claims that “the market” of art-buyers are less likely to purchase art for aesthetic purposes, but as what he called a “strategic asset”.

Aside from the overwhelming nausea and disgust I feel toward the kind of people who treat the creative effort of the arts community as little more than a stock option, I have questions about what this means for the artist him/herself. It has long disgusted me that art is sold, resold, sold again, auctioned — and that the rising prices of any given piece of art do not benefit the creator of that work of art, but those who “own” it through purchase. It seems to me that some portion — if not the lion’s share — of the increasing value of a work of art should go to the artist or his/her estate. I know that this is distasteful to those who don’t want to monetize art at all — and I understand that completely. But my argument exists within the boundaries of a rapacious capitalist economy, fueled by greed, where it seems that the same, very few, elite at the top of the food chain are the ones who see ALL the increase. If we are forced, as artists, to live in this world, why shouldn’t there be new kinds of contracts upon the sale of a piece of work that withhold a certain portion of any financial increase for the artist alone?

Another question: If these purchasers and speculators of art can borrow against the value of their collection, can an ARTIST borrow against the value of his/her own unsold work? Or is such financialization reserved only for those 1%-ers who play in this game of capitalist roulette?

I’d love to hear from you about this. As visual artists, what do you feel about what has happened to the art market? As collectors, how do you feel about the direction that art-speculation is going?

Marjorie Sandor Is Named The Inaugural Winner of The Tuscarora Award

Marjorie Sandor, Winner of The Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction

Hidden River Arts is pleased to announce Marjorie Sandor of Corvallis, Oregon, as the inaugural winner of The Tuscarora Award for Historical Fiction for her novel, The Secret Music at Tordesillas.

Ms. Sandor speaks of her novel, “The novel tells the story of a 16th-century musician of Jewish descent navigating the ever-growing terror of the Spanish Inquisition from within the court of the Catholic Kings Fernando and Isabel, and later, that of their tragic, intriguing daughter, Queen Juana “the Mad.” Forcibly converted to Christianity as a child, the gifted young instrumentalist Juan de Granada carries in his memory a music—and a culture—now punishable by death. The dangers of his daily life gradually increase as he finds himself drawn close to a young woman of the court, herself the daughter of converts, whose courage and secret passion for the old traditions threaten her life, and the lives of those she loves.”

While exploring a particular historical time and place, the novel also explores the very human and timeless struggle to hold fast to personal and artistic liberties in a time rife with national paranoia, ethnic cleansing – certainly relevant to our times. The Secret Music at Tordesillas reveals a nearly-undocumented aspect of the Spanish Inquisition: the way that cultural and religious oppression threatens to doom forbidden artistic practices.

Marjorie Sandor is the author of four highly-acclaimed books of short fiction and essays, including the linked story collection Portrait of my Mother, Who Posed Nude in Wartime, winner of a 2004 National Jewish Book Award. Her work has appeared in such journals as AGNI, The Georgia Review and The Harvard Review, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Her edited international short-story anthology, The Uncanny Reader, appeared in 2015. She teaches in the MFA Program at Oregon State University and the Rainier Writing Workshop.

The Tuscarora Award is offered yearly for an unpublished book-length work of historical fiction. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and publication with Hidden River Publishing. The next submission cycle for the award deadlines March 1, 2019. For information, please see our guidelines.

Hidden River Arts was established over twenty years ago in Philadelphia, PA as an organization focused on “serving the unserved artist”, looking to provide supports in the form of awards, live arts events, workshops, and publication to bring attention to artists working in under-recognized areas, or in under-recognized forms. In addition to the information here on our blog, you may explore our Hidden River Arts website.

The semi-finalists and finalists of this inaugural cycle of The Tuscarora Award can be found here.

The Precarious Artist

Musicians performing in Nashville. (Alamy Stock Photo)

A stunning vote to oust the current president of the Musician’s Union and replace the leadership was prompted by grave concerns about the on-going difficulties of a musician’s professional life. Michael Cooper of the New York Times writes, “The leadership team of the New York local of the musicians’ union — the union’s largest local in the nation — was voted out of office on Tuesday in a stunning upset, amid concerns over the underfunded musicians’ pension plan and broader changes facing music, the original gig economy.”

Valid concerns about the underfunded pension plan is what sparked the vote to change leadership; it also sparks larger questions and concerns about the ways in which union representation has failed to keep up with the needs of membership — not just with the musician’s union, but with all unions. Artists have long lived the life of “gig economy” practitioners, and unions are meant to protect them from the many ways in which a capitalist culture undervalues, underpays and exploits their work. Fears that union representation is out of touch with its membership are well-founded; it is one of the reasons that younger artists are opting out of union membership.

The newly-elected president of the Musicians Union, Adam Krauthamer, was elected with a robust 67% of the vote. Before his election, he founded Musicians for Pension Security, out of a growing concern about mismanagement of the union’s pension funds.

The widespread insecurities of life in the arts cannot be off-set by unions which fail to ferociously guard the well-being of their membership. Addressing such problems is essential in an economy that makes survival of society’s artists even more at risk. Looking beyond the issues with unresponsive unions, it isn’t hard to identify problems with the financial well-being of visual artists, writers, poets, photographers…..In a society that refuses to adequately support its artists, that leaves us to try and protect ourselves. We here at Hidden River Arts welcome ideas and comments about ways in which we can all support each other – how might the artistic class (I don’t use the phrase “creative class” since that term has been usurped by the business community) build their own networks, inter-disciplinary networks, in order to support and protect each other? What sorts of projects and protections might we establish to protect our fellow artists?

Carol Tyx Receives Inaugural Willow Run Poetry Book Award

Carol Tyx
Winner of Willow Run
Poetry Book Award

We are pleased to introduce you to Carol Tyx, of Iowa City, Iowa, who has been named the inaugural winner of our Willow Run Poetry Book Award for her stunning collection, Remaking Achilles: Slicing Into Angola’s History. Tyx will receive the cash award of $1,000 and her manuscript will be published on the Hidden River Press imprint of Hidden River Publishing.

Inspiration for Tyx’s work came from a gruesome historical event in 1951, when 37 inmates of Angola Prison in Louisiana slashed their own Achilles tendons in order to make public the brutal conditions at the prison. Interest in this event led Tyx to the prison itself, where she did extensive research and, with what began as a plan for one or two poems, found herself writing an entire book of poetry based on this incident. More information about Carol’s experience with this horrifying history can be read here.

Carol teaches writing and American literature at Mt. Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her teaching interests include African American literature, U.S. Latino literature, creative writing, and service learning. Along with a colleague and many students, she facilitates a prison book club. Her poetry has most recently been published in Minerva Rising, Hunger Mountain, Big Muddy, Iowa City’s Poetry in Public, and Rising to the Rim, published by Brick Road Poetry Press.

We here at Hidden River are extremely proud to be bringing this powerful collection out into the world. Please be sure to follow us here for updates and book launch information as the time grows close!

The Willow Run Poetry Book Award is offered yearly for a book-length collection of original poetry. The next submission deadline for our second award cycle is February 15, 2019. For more information, please see our guidelines.