Imagine for a second the chore facing Sandee McGee, the director of the Umpqua Valley Arts Center in Roseburg, who was the juror charged with selecting the works in this year's "Around Oregon Annual" exhibition at The Arts Center in Corvallis.
McGee's task was to sort through more than 400 entries from more than 140 artists to select the 44 works that finally made it into the show.
Is it hard? Absolutely. Near the end of the process, she said, "I really have to, for lack of a better word, kill the darlings" to make the final decisions.
But it's a process that McGee, herself a photographer, enjoys. "It's a really incredible opportunity for me to see work that Oregon artists are making throughout the state."
And that's the essential idea behind The Arts Center's "Around Oregon Annual," which opens today and runs through Aug. 9: It serves as a cross-section, a snapshot, of the artwork being produced by artists throughout Oregon. As a result, the exhibit showcases a variety of different mediums, styles, and approaches, including photography, painting, installation elements and a few media not so easily categorized.
It's not the first time McGee has served as a juror for a show: "I don't do it as often as I would like," she said. "I would be happy to do more."
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She said she always judges submissions without having any information about who produced which particular work. Such blind judging "levels the playing field for everybody," and gives newer artists a chance to compete against more established names: "We always want to meet and greet new artists."
When she's taking a first look through submissions, she said, "there will be pieces that hit you so hard" — work that shows that "somebody is fully committed to getting their message across." Works that draw her back again and again and spark her curiosity are the ones that have a good shot at surviving the final cut.
McGee said she doesn't worry that much about whether the show's final shape is particularly cohesive or features themes that unite the pieces. "I try to stay focused on the quality of the individual work," she said.
But, in the final analysis, there is a theme that percolates through the works tabbed for this year's "Around Oregon Annual:"
"I'm always moved by artists making work and being true to themselves," she said.