Archive for 2008


Please use this space to comment on the project, to come up with more ideas, or to suggest solutions to these problems. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s what we’ve been thinking about and wrote to our subscribers:

It’s the year of politics.  While the election is (thankfully) behind us, the idea of change and representation has pervaded our lives and made us re-examine our own values and priorities.  This project, run by Joseph del Pesco is a bit of a departure from “normal” TPG pieces. “State of the Arts” is part visual art, part political message, and part unconventional exhibition of Bay Area artists.

In a series of conversations, both group and individual, Joseph started a large group of artists and curators off with a set of statistics outlining the current environment for artists and arts funding in California and the US (they’re included in this booklet).  From there, the conversations (one of which makes up this season’s audio accompaniment) go in many directions- identifying problems for working artists, their root causes, and creative ways to harness and generate support our army of artists.

An important aspect of this project is still yet to occur.  The posters will be delivered to the offices of politicians throughout the Bay Area, a process that will be documented through our blog and website.  We hope that in some small way we might impact policy or at least remind politicians of their constituency, a large portion of which is made up of artists.

We’re indebted to Joseph for keenly creating a project that echoes many of the goals of The Present Group: utilizing new models to create positive change and exposing a wider audience to the value or artists and art.  Since the theme of this piece is conversation, we’ve taken a different approach to our critical essay this time round.  Our written back and forth with Joseph gives insight into his ideas behind the project, what we came away from the conversations with, and possibilities for the future life of the project.

As you can see from the posters and statistics, art is a huge part of life in the US.  In times of economic downturn, history shows a boon for the arts and creativity, which then help to bring us out of the economic slouch.  So now more than ever we must act on our belief in the power of art by considering the way we treat, pay, and support artists in our communities.  As subscribers, you are already helping to create a new network of support for artists and for that, we commend and thank you.

Warm regards,

Oliver and Eleanor

Annotated Links

Why Art is Important

Why Art is essential in our Public Schools

What is art and why does it matter?

Barrack Obama’s Arts Platform [PDF] – Along with providing healthcare for artists and increasing funding for the NEA, Obama also wants to create “an ‘Artists Corps’ of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities’ as well as pass the ‘Artist-Museum Partnership Act’ which amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.

But is it Art?  The Spirit of Art as Activism A collection of 12 essays, edited by Nina Felshin, on this theme of art as activism. A review.

Other art activist groups:

W.A.G.E: (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) “calls for an address of the economic inequalities that are prevalent, and pro-actively preventing the art-worker’s ability to survive within the greater economy”


Gran Fury:A group in the 80′s and 90′s focused mostly on AIDS awareness, education, and visibility.  They produced images and staged events to increase awareness, almost an ad campaign for AIDS awareness and education, yet funded through art institutions.  An interview with Avram Finkelstein, an original member.

Guerrilla Girls: Raising awareness about sexism and racism in the art world since 1985.

Women’s Action Coalition [WAC]: is a grassroots radical women’s organization first formed in New York in January, 1992 when a group of women angered by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings met to turn their outrage into creative street action for change. There were strong chapters in cities all around the country, notably Chicago and San Franciso.

Art Worker’s Coalition:  Though short lived, (1969-71) this group did cause some real change for artists, especially in their relationships with museums.  Documents from their Open Hearing and other materials available here.

Artists involved in the conversations:

Amy Balkin
Anthony Discenza
Aaron Gach
Eleanor Hanson
Packard Jennings
Helena Keeffe
Mads Lynnerup
Anthony Marcellini
Christian Maychack
Lee Montgomery
Lucas Murgida
Steve Shearer
Chris Sollars
David Stein
Oliver Wise

A Conversation with Joseph del Pesco

The Present Group: Why Now? How did you come to look into these stats?

Joseph del Pesco: My interest in statistics and their potential to illuminate the situation for artists in The SF Bay Area (and eventually California) was set into motion by an email, from artist Amy Balkin, that included a New York Times article called “A 21st-Century Profile: Art for Art’s Sake, and for the U.S. Economy, Too.” It was written in response to a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts looking at the roll of artists in the U.S. economy. One of the opening lines of the NYT article was “If every artist in America’s workforce banded together, their ranks would be double the size of the United States Army.” This stayed on my mind for days; the creation machine balancing out the death machine. Of course it’s not that simple but the juxtaposition echoed. Later, in the same article, it notes that “San Francisco leads metropolitan areas in the proportion of artists in the work force.” Another piece of information that proved impossible to forget. This NY Times article continued to surface in almost every subsequent art-related conversation.

Eventually I asked my friend Emily Sevier , who works at an arts foundation, to recommend some additional statistics. She emailed a pile of relevant data, perhaps most importantly the San Francisco Foundation’s “Information on Artists III“. This overview pointed out some of the key problems. For example it notes that California has the least state arts funding of any state in the US. It remains irreconcilable that San Francisco should have the most artists in the workforce (with Los Angeles a close third) and the state of California should have the least governmental arts funding. Combine that with the fact that California is one of the largest economies in the world and you have a major bind. Eventually I decided I wanted to talk to a group of artists about this and other related findings and see what ideas might bubble up in response. This dovetailed with the invitation from you [The Present Group] to organize an edition. After talking through scheduling options, we decided to keep it simple with a breakfast-in-the-backyard style morning session.

TPG: It’s safe to say that both Eleanor and I were extremely energized and inspired by the conversation.  I was struck by how, in a relatively short four hour discussion, we were able to identify and agree on some key issues and produce simple yet viable ideas for creating change.  For example, I think Chris Sollars suggested that it was reasonable for artists to expect at least minimum wage for the time they spend installing a show at an artspace.  By the end of the day there were ideas on the table ranging from creating an artist payment standard that would be promoted and maintained through theinternet , to a team of artists and art supporters gathering signatures for a referendum in support of something like an Artist Bill of Rights. Since all the participants were accustomed to spending time on projects with little hope of payment or tangible reward there was a natural trend towards pragmatism, simplicity, and maximizing impact. It’s easy to imagine regular meetings like these creating something really impressive. Do you see this project as leading to any sort of larger movement or organization of artists?  Or are there any artist organizations or movements that already exist that are addressing these issues?

Art Worker’s Coalition at PS1 Gallery

JdP: Historically groups like the Art Workers Coalition (est. 1969 in New York), which included revered artists like Hans Haacke and Carl Andre, created an open platform for discussion about the situation for artists and led to an open hearing and a statement of demands. The statement includes a demand that a percentage of the resale of artworks should go back to the artist. This demand was made law in California as the California Resale Royalty Act, which took effect on January 1st, 1977. This is a small demonstration that social will can create political change and that artists and their advocates can work together to make it happen. Contemporary iterations of this impulse can be found in the California Lawyers for the Arts. I think the goal is not to start the movement but to locate the people who are already aware of these issues and to work to continue to expand and connect the network. Part of the State of the Arts project is to connect artists directly to elected officials in the form of a poster edition, to make something compelling and aesthetic that might get their attention. It also subtly points back to the union and protest posters letter-pressed by Horwinski Printing in their hundred plus years of business.

TPG: From our perspective, one of the central problems that came up in conversation was that there are all these local organizations with fairly large budgets whose mission is to support visual artists, but this group of well-known local artists did not feel supported.  There was even talk of feeling exploited by the art auctions many of these organization use to raise money, where artists are encouraged to donate their works to support the organizations that are there to support them.
Most artists basically want two things: To work on their projects and to support themselves while they do it.  It’s no coincidence that those are the two areas where The Present Group spends all its money, on artist stipends and project material costs.  But as it is now, most non-profits focus on setting up shows, and while that’s important, a show is an indirect solution to this particular problem.  I guess the idea is that exposure may lead to patrons, gallery support or help as a resume line for getting grants.  But everyone at our meeting was in favor of direct artist grants.  It makes so much sense I wonder how the system has gotten where it is now, and why so few organizations give direct artist grants.

JdP: It’s important to note that despite the dramatic cuts in recent years there are at least a few grants available for individual artists: the Creative Work Fund is a generous grant that is too invisible in the community, and the occasional Artadia foundation grants, which began in San Francisco and have since gone nation-wide, are two examples. There’s also the new Center for Cultural Innovation grant which supports an individual artist’s sustainability by helping them invest in tools and marketing. But the key point is that too much of the money available for the visual arts is eaten up by the art space non-profits who give, on average, about 10% of their overall budget directly to artists, some of them are worse. This kind of low level support might have made sense in the 70s when the cost of living was about one third what it is now, but most of these institutions are simply enabling an inadequate system to continue.
The other side of this is political. The climate for direct artists grants has remained cloudy in the US since the mid 90s when the NEA killed individual-artist grants after controversy surrounding artists like Maplethorpe and Serrano. Since then it seems there’s a kind of pervasive reluctance in government that stems from a distrust of artists and what worrisome things they might do if given monetary support. The only way this attitude is going to change is with time and persistent reminders from the artist community. Artists undoubtedly want fellowships and commissions, but how about health insurance and travel grants? How about a serious contemporary art publication? Perhaps its a combination of new attitudes and new institutions that will make it possible. In my opinion, initiatives like the Present Group are part of the next generation of hybrid non-profit/for-profit organizations that will support visual culture in the coming decades.

TPG: We certainly hope so.  If nothing else, throughout our experience with TPG, we have gained a much broader understanding of the fact that there are many good artists out there who are forced to stop for financial reasons, that there is a definite need for art, art understanding, quality art criticism, and artist funding.  There are a lot of ideas out there, and we are encouraged every day we hear a new one.
Thank you Joseph for putting together such an engaging project.  We look forward to seeing how this project grows and develops.  I hope it breeds as much conversation as it was borne out of.

Statistics to Start the Conversation

The state of California is the lowest contributor to public arts funding in the nation. California also has two of the richest cities in the US (San Jose and San Francisco), making it one of the richest states in the union.

San Francisco leads metropolitan areas in the proportion of artists in the work force, followed by Santa Fe (which ranks first in writers and fine artists), Los Angeles, New York and Stamford-Norwalk in suburban Connecticut.

To sum up: California has the most artists, it’s one of the richest states and has the least state arts funding.
The 2003-2004 budget of the California Arts Council was slashed by 95% (from $18.3 million to $1.1 million) and the council was forced to suspend most of its grant programs to arts organizations.

“During my first year as Director (of the California Arts Council), we were able to grant just under a million dollars. This past year (2008), I’m proud to tell you, the CAC expended over $3 million in programs, grants, convenings and assistance. This is largely due to the sale of Arts License Plates, which brought in $2.8 million last year.”
Artists in SF are well-educated, stable and engaged in their communities, yet they are spending less time on their art each year, with fewer of them earning income from it and almost half earning under $3,000.

In 2002, when the U.S. job market conditions worsened; unemployment for artists was twice as high as for all professional workers.  Note: This doesn’t bode well for artists in the current economic climate.
In the early 80s an unnamed non-profit art space in SF was paying $500 artists fees. With the rate of inflation that $500 today would be more like $1500. Almost 30 years later, most non-profit art spaces in the Bay Area are still paying $500 or less. On top of this, each year these same art spaces are bleeding the artist community with their auctions.

It’s a legal obligation of the 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization to make the tax forms: Form 1024 and Form 990-T public.  Note: You can go to to find specifics
If every artist in America’s work force banded together, their ranks would be double the size of the United States Army. More Americans identify their primary occupation as artist than as lawyer, doctor, police officer or farm worker. Shouldn’t Artists have a voice as much as these and any other profession?

References for Statistics:

Introduction to “State of the Arts”


Facilitated by Artists Space curator Joseph del Pesco, “State of the Arts” is an unconventional exhibition project where the medium is the message. The four enclosed letterpress posters are the result of two think-tank style conversations between groups of artists living and working in San Francisco and Oakland. During a series of follow-up emails with the curator, major points were identified and distilled into arguments, demands, and observations about the conditions for artists. Two of the posters address the situation in the state of California in general, and the other two speak directly to the SF Bay Area. All four posters will be delivered to elected officials in the Bay Area in addition to the subscribers of The Present Group.

It is an edition of 96.

In the conversations:
Amy Balkin
, Anthony Discenza, Aaron Gach, Eleanor Hanson, Packard Jennings, Helena Keeffe, Mads Lynnerup, Anthony Marcellini, Christian Maychack, Lee Montgomery, Lucas Murgida, Steve Shearer, Chris Sollars, David Stein, Oliver Wise


Joseph del Pesco is curator-at-large for Artists Space (New York) and co-founder of the Shotgun Review (San Francisco). He has organized independent curatorial projects for the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre, Canada; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco; the Rooseum in Malm, Sweden; and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy among others. His writing has appeared in various magazines including Proximity, Fillip, NUKE, (and the next issue of Flash Art) in addition to several international exhibition catalogues. Documentation of these exhibitions and other projects can be found at

TPG at Unique Los Angeles: This weekend!

uniquela.jpgUNIQUE LOS ANGELES is an exciting two-day shopping event that showcases independent design talent at great prices. Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the event brings together 200 of the best designers, artists and merchants. AND we are one of those amazing vendors.  We are sharing a booth with our good friend Lauren at Sweet Meats and it’s gonna be great.

There are crafting stations, a funny mod bar/lounge, yummy local food, and tons of shopping.

If anyone is in the LA area and wants tickets- we’ve still got some free ones for you!  Just email us and we’ll leave them at the front desk for you. But if you do buy tickets, 50% of the proceeds go to Create Now! a LA based non-profit working with at-risk youth.

December 13th and 14th, 11-7
California Market Center (Penthouse – whatup)
$5 Admission (unless you get some free tickets from us!)


Horwinski Printing Company

A Sneak Peak into the making of TPG8 and into the life of James D. Lang, the owner of Horwinski Printing Company.  Founded in 1906 and dedicated to the craft of letterpress, this business has a long history of  working with artists, unions, politicians, and businesses of all sizes to spread their message.



more after the jump >> Continue Reading »

A beautiful wedding

Congratulations to our friends Alex and Petter on their happy day



Let the beauty we love be what we do.

- Coleman Barks reading/translating Rumi

Happyyyy Hoolidaayyss


I woke up to Christmas music this morning and it seems to have gotten me in the spirit.  I don’t think it will ever stop being funny to me to dress up and make little scenes for our avatar bobbleheads.

Have a wonderful, warm, and fun holiday season.  Thank you to all of you whom have stuck with us, read our blog, sent us encouraging notes, proposed interesting projects, and made everything in our life just a little bit better.  To another year!  May it be a whole lot better than most people are predicting!  If nothing else, let it be filled with art.

Warm wishes,

Eleanor and Oliver

T-shirt orders commence! Support artists and show your love.

It has been decided, and the wheels are in motion.  You can order your very own I heart art t-shirt here. All profits from sales of these sweet t-shirts go directly towards artist stipends.  So you are doing a good thing with your holiday dollars, meanwhile looking really really awesome.


We will begin shipping t-shirts on December 11th.  Get yours!

Hayes Valley “Circle of Joy” Holiday Art Walk and Auction

Come out and enjoy the music, food, drinks, late night shopping, carolers, and general good cheer!  We, along with 25 other artists, created wreaths to be auctioned off in Hayes Valley storefronts to benefit Opportunity Impact.  Opportunity Impact is a non-profit that works with students in the Western Addition during their critical formative years, grades 4-8.  They work to develop life skills and provide education in order to create new opportunities and a better future for young people.

The details:
Auction: Friday, November 28th – Friday, December 5th at 9PM
Hayes Valley Block Party: Friday, December 5th, 6-9 PMwreath.jpg

Participating artists: Blair Bradshaw, Chris Thorson, Lauren Fleischer, Andrew Venell, Don Ross, Lucky Rapp, Mark Paron, Christopher W. Stokes Inside Modern, Ginny Parsons, Kevin Grady, The Present Group, Justin Trigg, [mm+gf] Ally Trigg and Bethany Snyder, Lori Stein, Storm, Matt Silady, Ed Luce, Ben Collison, Madeline Behrens-Brigham, Nicole Baugass, Gregg Casin, Kirsten Tradowsky, Michael G. Broeker

Ethan and Ben at it again

Our very first artist/writer pair have teamed up again for an exciting new web project entitled “Tumbarumba.”

Tumbarumba, by Ethan Ham and Benjamin Rosenbaum, is a frolic of intrusions, a conceptual artwork in the form of a Firefox extension. Tumbarumba hides stories, twelve new stories by outstanding authors  where you least expect to find them, turning your everyday web browsing into a strange journey.


The project is a 2008 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., (aka Ether-Ore) for its Turbulence web site. It was made possible with funding from the Jerome Foundation.

TPG8: Coming soon. . .


Wassenaar: An internet photography magazine

From the people of We Can’t PaintWassenaar

photo: Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann

From the Editor’s Letter about Wassenaar:

Wassenaar is an Internet specific publication that focuses its curatorial eye on emerging photographers, photography books from established, independent, and self-publishers, as well as interviews conducted by bloggers. This simple formula, while structured much like a magazine, takes the ethos and subjective freedom of blogging by existing as both absent of commercial interests and free from a specific template. The ability to take risks in an online space means that the following issues of Wassenaar may only focus on a specific artist, type of photography, a single book, or even simply feature a collection of artist portfolios. In short, Wassenaar aims to be an online magazine that reflects its place within the web as an entity that continually evolves, never forgetting that this form publishing is indefinable.”

I heart art: T-shirts!

We’re going to make t-shirts for this holiday season…

Anyone (anyone?) want to vote for the design they like better?


TPG #9: David Horvitz

Each time we get better and better proposals.  Though fun, it makes our job challenging.  So without further ado… we have chosen David Horvitz as the artist for TPG #9 (Winter 09: Release March 09).

David Horvitz was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in New York. He is an artist that works in many forms, including photography, books, curated projects, writing, multiples, and video. He has been featured internationally in exhibitions and publications, and has had solo shows in the US.


“Two photographs of the light in the sky on the 2008 summer solstice – the longest day of light in the year. Wake up before dawn and walk out to an empty field. When the sky begins to illuminate make the first photograph. Wait there the entire day. When the sky begins to darken make the second photograph.”

The aftermath: Healing

In this election year, there has been a lot of energy focused on the “other side” of whatever your political views are.  There’s blame for things that did or didn’t get passed, people who did or didn’t get elected, and things that could have been.  Today I have had a couple of glimpses into the idea that many people know, deep down, that all of that is not productive.

From Ze Frank (internet creativicist and proprietor of The Show):

From 52 to 48 with love


“i would love to have a place for obama supporters, mccain supporters and supporters of third parties (over 1%) to reach out in a gesture of reconciliation…
simple messages from individuals.

perhaps it is naive. the differences are real, i know. but we have to repair the damage done from this election cycle somehow…

the fringes (all of them) have been allowed to dominate our conversations for too long. to create a cycle of hate, ill-will and revenge.”

From No on Prop 8:

“In working to defeat Prop 8, a profound coalition banded together to fight for equality. Faith leaders, labor, teachers,civil rights leaders and communities of color, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, public officials, local school boards and city councils, parents, corporate law firms and bar associations, businesses, and people from all walks of life joined together to stand up against discrimination. We must build on this coalition in order to achieve equal rights for all Californians.

We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss. We know people of all faiths, races and backgrounds stand with us in our fight to end discrimination, and will continue to do so. Now more than ever it is critical that we work together and respect our differences that make us a diverse and unique society. Only with that understanding will we achieve justice and equality for all.”

A Conceptual Loom

We’ve decided to elevate this piece by Eva Repo out of the comments section.

Text/ile includes the two conditions of the contemporary art object: tautology and mythology. These two conditions are the main forms of the object after 60′s, the so called conceptual object. Upon the management of their balance or imbalance is based the mass of all the theories and practices since then. The first years of that period there was a prominence of the tautological form. The object was a lectical, anatomical, logical extract. In the revolutionary 70′s the object had to abandon this introversial tautology and develop communicative patterns with the urban environment, the society, the humanity. The object releases all the mythology forms that used to expel. It becomes biographical, social, ethnographical. Since 2000, there is a great interest towards the mythological forms of the object as a light struggle towards globalization and leveling of cultures. The object reveals all the elements expressing its variation, codification and hetetotis (otherness). From another point of view there is the aspect of a new kind of colonization : the accumulation of a variety of ethnographic mythologies to the Western based institutional art system. But this comprises subjects of a future judgement.

According to the above standards, Maggie Leininger presents an object in various and overlapping levels of tautology and mythology. The first notice is the cover of some medical content. This box provides some information that stamp a kind of ‘scientificality’. And this is not a latency. It is the reliance of Leininger’s venture. On this first notice, the ‘form’ of the human genome is indicated and the content of samples is implied. The word ‘legend’ though is written and already provokes a different kind of expectations for the content of the box.

The content of the box are the metaphorical samples of a medical experiment. There are the modulors of Leininger’s experiment: the phenomenon of chromosomes, the procedures of a multiplicity and the one stroke procedure of creating from zero to a whole. Leininger does not aim to offer information or cognitive values. This is the point where she treats her object in a different way from what Joseph Kosuth maybe would do in the 1968, she skips its tautology and enters its mythology.

Weaving segments is the model of her research. Those black and white pieces of textile don’t offer any knowledge. Howbeit this technique is regarding to a strict rationalization as it follows specific traditions to produce the manufacture. The patterns are taken out of the box and they are exposed on the wall. This exposition creates the final impression of the object as the model and the prototype are conceived in the procedure of repetition and proliferation of the main pattern. This is the point where Leininger’s object exposes an irregularity. So far it can be described through all this reading of its readable layers. But now the exposition on the wall offers the optical obvious of the experiment. The object becomes an aesthetic item. The pile of the boxes in the corner is a hasty representation of the chromosome assumption and do not manage to complete as a concept and as an image the initial expectations. The textiles become an interesting gimmick in an unformed object.

The above formal debility is resolved by an extra connotation of Leininger’s project:
The technique used by Leininger provides her with the possibility of an interface with the economic and cultural conditions of her locality. The American textile workers lost their employment as the textils travel to Asia, South America and other places so as to be manufactured by cheaper hands. This long thread starting from the micro human structure to reach -theoretically- the macro structure of the contemporary economy, also represents the to-and-fro state of the conceptual and physical object between a tautology (now it becomes the tautology of the economic mechanism) and a mythology (the poetic weaving of textiles, plots and stories).

This concern of Leininger is creating a link to a feminine heterotis of object construction. It brings to mind the objects of Sheela Gowda who works with dyed ropes as metaphor for the umbilical cord and the birth, but also implies the Indian textile tradition and the colonization of their industry in 18th century. And a look to Sheela Gowda goes back to Eva Hesse and her almost common repetition practice. The long fiber of a connected feminine object is also an aspect of a feminine mythology. An expletory factor is that Maggie Leininger figures a consistent american allure, as a different kind of sensitivity in comparison to Gowda.
In conclusion, the Text/ile is a structure that is articulated in an acrobat’s way among critical points. It is an initial draft of a research in the system of chromosomes. It is the directing of the methodological tools for this research, the patterns of textiles. And it is the presentation of these pieces in a repetition formula and the implications of a transfer to a macro-level of the textile industry affairs. This procedure inevitably follows the moves of a conceptual loom as the conception of the object has to operate in to-and-fro and up-and-down levels of the whole scenery.

-by Eva Repo

How far we’ve come

From the same source as Death and Taxes (below)

389 Years Ago

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Lego Hello World
I wish all my printers were made of legos.

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google
Images from Life Magazine going back to 1860′s, hosted by Google

Coming Face To Face With The President
Well crafted story about an under-heard point of view.

In California, Pot Is Now an Art Patron
A new funding source for the arts – reaping big rewards and funding many projects.  It’s pot.

Notes on Portraiture in the Facebook Age

Celebrity Book Club: A List to End All Lists
Because, well, it’s sortof awesome.

Are "Artists' Statements" Really Necessary?
The pros and cons about that nemesis for most artists.

This to That
You tell it what you’ve got and it’ll tell you what to glue them together with.

Work of art: Online store for buyers, sellers
Not the TV show!  Kelly Lynn Jones from Little Paper Planes is interviewed on her project, gives us a cheat sheet to local affordable art resources.

How to make a Daft Punk helmet in 17 months