Why Covid Made Me Start a New Mailing List for Art Events in Valencia (And Cancel my Meetup Membership)

When I moved my studio from London to Valencia in 2017, the city’s art scene was almost entirely hidden from fresh immigrants like me. There was IVAM and the extraordinary Bellas Artes Museum, but smaller galleries and arts festivals like IntraMurs seemed entirely impenetrable. Websites were infrequently updated, emails were unanswered and press releases were pages long and arrived just days (or often hours) before an event.

So I began a Meetup group for women called Art Nights Out. I contacted the galleries for details of their opening nights, and created events to bring international women to the evenings. Galleries like SET Espai d’Art, Shiras Gallery, Galeria Cuatro, Luis Adelantado, Galería Vangar, Tuesday to Friday and the wonderful (now closed) espaivisor welcomed the opportunity to bring new people to their exhibitions.

It’s now three years since I founded the group and I have over 1,000 members. I met extraordinary women at the events I organised and many of them have become cherished friends. But in 2020 the art world here in Valencia irreversibly changed. Ongoing covid restrictions mean that I cannot bring more than six people together, and events in alternative venues struggle to define just what we can safely do. As artists we are challenged to become even more creative about sharing our work – whether it be through micro-happenings in alternative spaces, or timed entries into immersive, yet socially-distanced gallery installations.

In these new models, Meetup.com simply doesn’t work. When organising an Meetup event for 20 attendees, I would open the RSVPs to 30 – knowing from experience that 30-40% of attendees would cancel in the hour before or simply not turn up. In a fluid Meetup for a traditional gallery opening this is fine, but a bespoke poetry reading for just two tables of six? It’s unfair to everyone involved.

In addition, ever-changing restrictions meaning that our events have to be flexible. This means fail-safe communications with our guests. I need to be able to Whatsapp our RSVPs to say that we’re moving outdoors (bring a coat!), or ask them to arrive half an hour earlier to stagger our social distancing. Meetup.com keeps all of the contact details of my members, so that the only way I can contact them is through the platform. This means the discussion boards which many never check, or “group emails” which many are unsubscribed from. Pre-Covid, this was a minor black-mark against the strengths of Meetup.com. Now, it’s a dealbreaker.

So Covid has forced my hand. I believe in creating beautiful, memorable art events in Valencia, even if it is just for an audience of six or an “aforo” (venue capacity) of three….. with the rest of us patiently socially distancing outside. Within whatever we can safely and legally do, we can create. But it needs new models and a new immediacy in the relationship between organiser and audience. Art events must become art happenings again – intimate, flexible, occasionally chaotic and all the more unforgettable for it.

And I think where we start is with a good, old-fashioned mailing list. So here it is. Add your email and I will send you invitations to the art happenings we’re organising in this amazing city. They are small, extraordinary and just may be rather historic. You are an even more significant part of making them happen. Let me tell you about them now.

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By submitting your email you agree to receive art event details and invitations from me, Bay Backner. You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in these emails. (I’ll meet you at an underground, covid-responsible art event this year).

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