Tom Starland: An Interview With Myself -
with questions asked by Tom Starland
In the Spring of 2000, I finally caught up with Tom Starland, editor and publisher of Carolina Arts newspaper, a publication covering the visual arts in North and South Carolina. It took some time linking up my schedule with Starland's, but we finally met up in his office at the PSMG, Inc. headquarters at Bonneau Beach, SC.
From the beginning, Starland was reluctant to do the interview, but once he understood that he would be asking himself the questions and that he would probably not interrupt himself - he consented. The interview started off in a historical outlay of how the paper started and its early transformations. As we got into some of his pet subjects tempers began to rise, but no eruptions occurred. Eventually Starland began to glance at his watch and I knew we had gotten as much out of him as we were on that day.
It is almost six years since that first interview and I have managed to convince Starland that there was a lot of subjects we never got into, plus a lot has happened in those six years - so here we go again.
Q: Before we start on part two, is there anything you want to say about part one?
A: Yeah, I was misquoted! In reading back over the interview, I think I kept my cool while being as frank as I could, considering that my wife probably made me take out the really good stuff and cleaned up what was left in. History is history, you have to live with what you have said - after all, this isn't the White House. Ask away, I'm ready.
Q: Here we are, it's the end of 2005 and you're about ready to enter your 19th year of doing an arts newspaper. You going to make it to 20?
A: Nice question! It's encouraging to know you're still a positive thinking guy. Well, I have to say I never imagined I would be doing something (anything) this long. My wife (Linda) and I owned and operated a black and white photo processing business for 16 years and we got out of that with the knowledge that the electronic imaging age was coming. I've always felt like you can do something too long, but I'm set on making it 20 years in the arts newspaper biz, but after that - who knows? Since we passed the 15-16 year mark I've been keeping an eye out for something else to do but nothing better than what I'm doing right now has come up. There are a lot of things we still want to do with Carolina Arts, so it's not time to think "what's next?".
2006 is our tenth year doing Carolina Arts. As you may remember, before Carolina Arts we published South Carolina Arts and before that, Charleston Arts. So that's nine years that we've had a foot in North Carolina and we're still learning about the visual art community there.
And, for the record, when July 2007 rolls around we won't have published Carolina Arts for 20 years, but we will have published an arts newspaper for 20 years in pretty much the same format that we began in - just three or four computer generations later (unlike some people who consider having an art consulting business and then opening a gallery as all continuous years of having a gallery). That person knows who I'm talking about and so do a lot of others. Talk about rewriting history or just making it up...
Q: OK, before you get on a rant, lets get into some of the subjects we discussed beforehand. You wanted to say something about the poor state of communications in the visual art community.
A: Here we are in the electronic age of communications and some people are still sending their press releases to us by mail and a few even by fax - two pretty outdated modes of communicating. Computers don't cost that much these days and neither does internet service - people need to step up and get updated. Despite the electronic revolution, people still have a hard time - in our case communicating on time - by our deadlines and in a manner which is useful to us and to them. You just wouldn't believe how many times a month I receive a press release from someone which only gives the date of the exhibit's reception. There is no beginning and ending date included. That's pretty bad considering the main focus of Carolina Arts is exhibitions. I have to return e-mail to ask what the beginning and ending dates of the exhibit are. Not all shows start the day of the reception. Sometimes they don't respond in time by deadline or at all. It makes me wonder if it really was an exhibition or just a reception. We're not in the business of announcing receptions which only last a few hours.
Q: So you're not getting the info you need from the galleries and artists?
A: That's two different issues, but in many cases it just seems that galleries seem to think it's all about the reception. They think that is where the sales come from and everything else is gravy. That's a mistake in my opinion. But, the point I want to make is that there is no perfect format for all media outlets.
You need to find out what each outlet requires to promote your event. We don't print reception dates and times in our articles, so we don't need that info. That's what advertising is for or invitations. Others do, but you should be checking to see what each different outlet wants and "when" they want it and in what format. It's the same thing with advertising - you can't just send anyone anything.
We (the media outlets) are giving the publicity. I can assure you there is no shortage of people wanting free publicity, so we all make policy on what we will use and how we like to get it. If you want that publicity you need to know how to send it. Otherwise we're going to use the stuff that comes in right.
On the other point about exhibitions - one person who has never been in your gallery before can come in the day before an exhibit ends and be your biggest sale of the exhibition - biggest sale of the month. Everyday of an exhibition counts - to the artist(s) featured and to people who can't make the receptions.
On the point of artists sending press releases about their exhibitions - that's OK, but they are operating under two sets of policy - ours and the gallery's. They don't have the last say on publicity - the gallery does. I don't mind getting info from artists, but if they didn't coordinate with the gallery - it just causes more work for us. That's not good for us and we most likely will turn it around on them.
We post info about what we need, how and when we need it on our website - under the "confusing" heading - How the Paper Works. Otherwise you can call and find out.
Q: Does that cover it as far as communication goes?
A: Yeah right. We've just begun. The problems are all over the place. We're going to have to break this down to certain areas to be able to cover it all. First you have to remember that the focus of our paper is on exhibitions. Exhibits at commercial gallery spaces, art museums, arts council galleries, college and university galleries, even at alternative spaces like restaurants, coffee houses, churches - just about anywhere willing to hang art and make it available to the public to see for a duration of time.
Now we love people who have planned their exhibitions and send them to us in advance - even if it's for just a few months. Many institutions do it for up to a year's time span. The problem is, not many people stay with the plan. They change the beginning date or the ending date - they even change the exhibit lineup. Change is OK as long as you let us know of the changes ahead of deadlines. I hate nothing more than giving our readers the wrong info. We don't make up the info we print - most of the time someone changed things and didn't inform us of the change. It's almost gotten to the point that I'm not as excited about advance schedules as I used to be.
So, artists, gallery managers, curators, exhibition planners are not coordinating very well and changes seems to be the order of the day. That's just not good for us or all media outlets.
In the same vein - don't send your press release until it is finished and correct. I can get up to six e-mails in two days correcting the release or updating it before it is finally correct. And, if you send a correction - just send the part that needs to be changed. We start working on info as soon we get it and I hate having to dump stuff I've worked on and replace the whole thing with another release - not knowing what was changed without going over both with a magnifying glass.
If you have sent us a press release which you feel is correct - don't send it again a week later or every week until it runs - we'll wonder what's wrong with it and start looking for the correction. Again - don't use mass e-mail for your releases. They don't fit the needs of all media. It's just being lazy.
If you want to make sure we got your e-mail - ask for a return e-mail to say we received it or call to make sure we got it.
Q: Anything else?
A: Oh yeah - there's more! I haven't mentioned what I call the e-mail from Dr. Frankenstein. Some people have the idea that regular old e-mail just isn't good anymore or that we won't notice it unless it is dressed up as a singing telegram. These are the e-mails that come in seven different fonts, letters in different colors, type in different sizes, words underlined, words in all caps, and anything you can imagine. What a pain in the rear.
I guess these people think this is the way their press release is going to end up in the paper. I used to think e-mail was so nice because I didn't have to retype it, but now I spend what seems to be just as much time getting rid of all the smoke and mirrors these days. Some people think they need to include graphics too and a few photos (11" x 14") size photos. The entire e-mail has 14mbs and takes five minutes to download. And, why do people have to send attachments of two paragraphs of text?
I can't imagine that any media outlet enjoys getting these Frankenstein e-mails. And, attachments are problems in themselves - they include all kinds of hidden things.
I just want to get simple text e-mails with the content in the body of the e-mail. Nothing fancy - just the facts. And if you want to send a photo - one will do, about (4" x 5") size and in color so we can use it on our website. If we use it in the paper we can change it to black & white.
All the fancy stuff is unnecessary and it's not going to make us notice the e-mail any more than the plain ones - it's the info in the e-mail that counts. In fact the reverse is more true - the fancy e-mails get my attention, but not to the benefit of the sender. We're processing 20-40 a day and some days more - closer to our deadline.
And don't send your message as a PDF document that can't be copied. And, don't send your files as an image (jpeg, tif, gif, etc - those are "image" files, not text files). We can't copy, edit or use your written words as images of any kind. What good is that? Sure it looks pretty - but it gets deleted "pretty" fast.
Q: How do you control what people send you?
A: You can't - I've tried, but most don't listen. If I could control e-mail I could stop all the e-mails I get from the performing arts groups all over the South. I guess they have never looked at our paper - they just got our e-mail address as a media contact and they add it to their mass mailing list. Here again, know the people you are sending press releases to. There is no way you could look at our paper or website and get the idea that we would like to receive e-mails about performing art events, church socials, flea markets or garage sales.
Oh, but you say what about spam blockers? That wouldn't work either. My mail program has a filter that tries to identify spam. You wouldn't believe how wrong it is about a lot of e-mail, but that's because most people don't know what to put in the subject line of the e-mail.
Some people don't fill in a subject so it comes as - No Subject. Some put "Carolina Arts" in the subject as if we don't know who we are. I'm sure we delete some mail that was really intended for us but because we don't have time to look a them all we dump the ones that don't look like they belong to us or are just real spam - about all that internet mail crap - free money from Africa and such.
Subject matter - matters!! Put in - info from (x) gallery, photo from (x) gallery, question from (x) artist, gallery listing for (x) - something that pertains to the paper. Don't just say "Help" or "Hello".
Q: If you've covered e-mails, what other problems do you have with the communication skills of others?
A: OK put on your "imagine" hats. Lets say we don't wait for some e-mails, letters, phone calls or FAXs to get here by our deadline. Let's say I'm the kind of guy who likes to get his work done as early as possible and I surf our huge Red Hot Links pages looking for info about exhibits - all those websites are just a click away. Strange as it may seem to some people there are some organized people out there that really try to communicate with the world and they post their exhibit schedules and even press releases on their websites. I guess that they think that the info might be useful to people if they just stumbled along on their site. I mean, what's the purpose of the site anyway except to provide info to people that might lead to a visit to a gallery, an exhibit, or to purchase art.
Like they say - "What can Brown do for you?" Well UPS can expand your gallery or art sales all over the country - world. Websites are for expanding boundaries.
It's a lot cheaper to place info on a website than it is to print it up and mail it to someone, advertise it, or pay people to make cold calls. So why not use it for all you can. A website can be like an extra salesperson. And, it works 24/7.
Of course here again many people suffer from not embracing the new electronic age. If you have a website you need to have the ability to make changes and updates. There's nothing worse than an old, stale, website that was launched several years ago and offers nothing new to draw people back to it. And, unless you have lots of money to pay a "webmaster" to do that for you - you need to learn to do it yourself or at least have an employee learn how.
If you are a gallery, your website should be able to tell visitors what work they could see if they walked in the door today - not work that was there a year ago and has hopefully sold. If you offer exhibits, it should be able to give info on the current exhibit and at least the next - if not a schedule into the future. You should be able to offer images of work that is available to purchase now for each artists you represent. You should offer directions on how to get to your gallery - maps. Hours and contact number should be given. And, this all doesn't have to be offered in a fancy wiz-bang format. I don't care how fancy your website is - if the work is not good - the website won't sell it or make people come to see it. And, when you use dates - put the year on them. I can't tell you how many times I thought I was dealing with current info later to find out it was a few years old.
If you're an artist - the same thing goes. You should be able to tell people where they can see your work - which galleries carry your work, where and when your current and next exhibits will be, a show of current work, and lot of info on how to get in contact with you.
The saddest fact about websites is how some of the non-profits have handled them - poorly. Many got grants to set them up and they did nothing to maintain them or keep them updated. This was money flushed down the toilet. Of course many suffer from the "one paid person" runs the organization factor and they burn out fast and then the next person doesn't know the password.
The SC Arts Commission just issued grants for $25,000 to 20 non-profits to work on their websites. Most of the money will end up in the hands of web designers and in a few months the sites will be old and no one at the organization will have learned how to make changes. The sites soon will become a financial burden or an embarrassment. Most likely the people working there today - won't be there tomorrow.
Q: Well it sounds like people in the visual art business are just not doing a very good job of communicating. And, I hate to tell you this little tidbit. Those who need to hear your message are not listening.
A: Oh you got that right! I'm usually preaching to the the wrong people. The people who don't communicate don't often spend much time learning new things or taking in what's going on around them. It's all about them and spending time bitching about why other people get all the publicity and they are not. Instead of finding out why - they like to bitch - it's much easier.
Q: Is that it - on the great communicators?
A: I've saved the best for last. The worst communicator in South Carolina happens to be our state arts agency, the South Carolina Arts Commission. This is an agency with a multi million dollar budget, a huge staff (bigger than most states in the country) and they can't communicate with the public or their "subjects". I use that word because that reflects their attitude about the people they are supposed to serve. They practice the "trickle down" method of communicating. They talk amongst themselves about what's going on, what opportunities are available, then they talk with their friends and dependents, then they talk with their media friends and allies, then they sit on their hands and eventually they post info on their website and send out a few e-mails to the rest of the media. By the time news trickles down to people who could have used the information there is usually not time to respond.
Their idea of communicating is like this - imagine if there is something we might do for you. Then check out our website to see if what you were thinking of is being offered - check often, things change. You can call us and ask, but you better be careful how you word your questions - we won't offer any info, we'll just respond to your questions. And, if you ask the wrong question - too bad. "Helpful" is the word that won't come to mind in dealing with the Arts Commission.
They used to have their own publication sent out to their mailing list (there's another subject) and a publication sent to artists, but they say they can't afford those anymore. If and when they do send out a direct mailing about an opportunity they use non-profit postage which doesn't have to be delivered if the address has changed or the person has a forwarding or has died. They just add to the list - they don't update. Again, it's up to the people on the list to send updates to the Arts Commission - even after they have passed away.
The Arts Commission has a program airing on SC Educational radio called Arts Daily - it should be called Arts Weekly. This gives a minute of info (several times a day) about art events taking place in SC and of course NC and GA - so they can beg those listeners on SC's borders for funding too. I've heard the announcement of events that have ended, I've heard announcements of places that have been closed over a year and the same announcement over and over. They don't change it daily. But of course you can go to their website and look for events.
Things have gotten so bad that recently only four artists applied for the annual crafts fellowship - so none was awarded. The Arts Commission requires five applicants to make the award. Why did only four apply? They don't hear about the opportunities and when they do get notice, it's too short a time to respond by the deadline or they just don't care.
Trickle down communication just doesn't cut it, but less communicating is good for them. Less people to serve, less people taking up grants - more money for them.
Now some could say, "Well NC isn't publishing their own newsletter anymore and you have to check their website for info. What about that?" All I can say is - in my nine years of covering the visual arts in NC - there is no comparison - except that SC receives more money per person to do their job and it doesn't compare to NC. Don't get me started on that.
Q: Do I see light at the end of the tunnel?
A: It is getting lighter in here, isn't it. Final words on communication. Some of the press releases we receive are horrible. Some are full of "artspeak" yada, yada, yada. Some are written as if they are a form Christmas letter - mentioning all the trips the artists have made and what the spouse is up to and all the kids - and pets. Some just keep saying the same things over and over again. It's as if they have nothing to say about the work that is about to be exhibited.
A few folks have mentioned that the un-edited press releases offered in the paper is the worst part of the paper. It's something we are going to have to take a hard look at in the future. Changes might be on the horizon in the future.
On the other hand we get some very informative and interesting press releases. Of course these are usually written by paid public relations staff members - but not all of them. It's just a matter of having something to say and presenting it in a manner which will make people want to go to the exhibit. After all, isn't that what it's all about - getting people to respond in a positive way to something that will benefit you?
Q: Man, I'm hoping that's it. Is it?
A: Probably, until I read it over again - who knows.
Q: All righty now. You wanted to talk about Cultural Tourism.
A: Cultural Tourism is an issue that doesn't seem to sink in, in the great state of South Carolina. Tourism in SC means getting people to come look at old houses, play golf, spend time at the beach, and visit the last vestiges of the Civil War. Our neighbor to the north and east has found that people will come to NC because of the arts - especially crafts. They're just ending a two-year statewide celebration of crafts in NC. I can't remember a governor in SC making a proclamation celebrating the arts in SC - much less an organized celebration of it. Of course we have the Spoleto Festival USA which lasts 17 days each year, but there is no celebration of the visual arts there.
Commercial art galleries in the tourist areas of SC are already promoting the arts to travelers throughout the country. If SC's state agencies dealing with the arts and tourism would just cooperate with their efforts, something could be accomplished that would benefit everyone in the arts in SC. But, don't hold your breath. It's forbidden for non-profits and governmental organizations to work with the commercial sector - at least some of them. They have no problem dealing with hotels, golf courses, resorts, and a multitude of commercial businesses, but just not those in the arts - at least visual arts.
Ya know what - I'm not going to say anymore.
Q: So in your opinion the State is not doing a good job with promoting Cultural Tourism, how about those who represent the business community - local Chambers of Commerce?
A: Oh man - you talking about the private business club - chambers? Cause that's what they are - you join - you play. These folks get public funds plus their membership fees to promote certain areas - business communities of a certain area. Let's use Charleston as an example. If I call and ask about art galleries in the Charleston area - the only ones they will know about are the ones who are members of the Chamber. All others don't exist - even if they can't come up with what I'm looking for and I decide not to visit Charleston - even though the kind of gallery I was interested in is there - but just not a dues paying member - even if I'm a gallery generating sales and paying local and state taxes that go into the Chamber's hands to promote the area.
Over the years I have been asked, pleaded with, leaned on, and even denied access to services in order to join Chambers - all over the Carolinas. No matter what the pitch is - I'm not buying - cause they're lying. My favorite is - if you join we can help your business grow.
OK, I'm a newspaper publisher - they already have members who are newspaper publishers - how can they help my business grow, if not at the expense of their existing member publishers? I've never gotten an answer to that question yet.
And therein lies the problem with Chambers - the big fish feed off the little fish. Unless you are a big fat powerful business with lots of employees - you are just joining to help their business grow. And, sure - in a rising sea all boats rise - until you get run over by one of the big boats.
Chambers are not in the business to promote all in an area unless all are members and even then the level of promotion is never the same - just look at its leadership - see any small business leaders in charge?
And, another sad fact is that Chambers don't seem to understand tourism - much less cultural tourism. They want people to come to town and stay at a hotel and eat at area restaurants and perhaps go to a baseball game but beyond that - it depends who the members are.
Q: Is that steam coming off your head? Do we need a break?
A: We need another subject. How about it if I ask a question. Why do you think more people are not interested in the arts?
Q: Let's see... the standard answer is that they are not educated enough. They don't have enough income to enjoy or take part in the arts. And, it's because when they were children in school they didn't have enough exposure to the arts.
A: I'm sure all those points have something to do with it, but that can't cover the question - totally. I have the feeling it is more to do with people in the arts thinking they are better than the people who are not. Many people with money, education and class flock to the arts. They fund, manage and direct the arts to suit their interest and their interest is to be better than other people, but at the same time they expect the rest of the folks to participate - because they can't afford to support their habits totally. Why would anyone have an interest in something they have no say in?
This same group of people (artsy people) take government funding which belongs to all the people and have it funneled to support their interest - under protest of the majority of the population. It's no wonder people get really mad when they see what their tax dollars are supporting.
Does this mean that the majority should have a say in all art produced, all public art, or what is to be added to the national treasure? No! Heck, most of them are uneducated, poor and haven't a clue about the arts. But shouldn't they get something for their money? Why should public supported art always be crammed down their throats? Why should the 1% get all the funding and have all the say?
I know lots of highly educated people who care nothing about the arts. I know lot of people who spend tons of money going to sporting events, buying expensive cars, eating expensive meals, traveling around the world, building enormous homes. The closest they get to the arts is by placing a cold drink on a Thomas Kincade drink coaster?????
And, how can exposure to the arts be a problem - they don't like what is thrown in front of them as it is. And, if they do like some "common" art - the art establishment releases a huge groan of - "Oh My God!" See, they do worship a higher being.
Q: So, how do we break down this class barrier?
A: First, I'm not sure either side is unhappy with the way things are. I'm not sure the arty fartys really want to be joined by the masses. In my case, the more I was exposed to the arts the less I was enamored my the arts - I'm still amazed, but I don't feel like it is above me or out of my reach. I can still enjoy a wonderful piece of art, but at the same time I don't feel like I have to be dressed in a tuxedo or whisper in its presence. I don't need to be invited to a reception to go and enjoy looking at art - in fact I prefer not to see art at a reception. I don't need to have someone tell me I'm doing the right thing in my art purchases. I'm happy to just like what I buy and not have to explain - why.
After all these years I consider myself an art snob - not in the way many would think. I'm a snob because I'm not buying into art that has to be explained to me. I don't consider a group of assembled objects (lost or found) to be a creation of art. Yet many of them are very clever and I would even consider buying them. All in all, I feel good art comes in all forms, but there is a lot of bad art out there - I don't care what someone says or writes about it, or what publication puts it on their cover. But, it's only bad in my opinion. Other people can love it and that doesn't bother me either.
And, you know what? I still enjoy football (American football), mindless TV, politics, rock & roll and the fine arts. Go figure.
Don't get me wrong, I support public funding for the arts. I just think more non-arty people should have a say on what is purchased with public money. Artists can make whatever they want. Private individuals can purchase and fund whatever they want - on their own dime, but the public should have more say on public art.
If the fine arts establishment wants a larger audience - they are going to have to start thinking about catering to their tastes and slowly increasing their exposure to other views. It can't be forced or drummed into you - even when you're a fourth grader.
Also, the fine arts should take the arts to the people, not always expect the people to come to the arts. It would be good to see a fine art show in a Mall - people might be surprised that there is more than "Mall" crafts - that's no shot at crafts. You know what I mean. But then again some people wouldn't be caught dead in a Mall. It's the same way most people feel about art museums.
Q: You have been quite a critic of the SC Arts Commission. Let's say the Governor appointed you in charge tomorrow - what would you do?
A: Here's the Top Ten Changes I would make at the SC Arts Commission.
No. 10 - Since the Governor was smart enough to appoint me in charge I'd ask him to remove all existing Commission board members and not allow anyone who has ever been on the Commission to serve again.
No. 9 - Eliminate the SC Arts Foundation. It's just a slush fund for the Arts Commission to accept money from big business and give them awards for it in return.
No. 8 - Cut the staff in half - at least. The Arts Commission has had one of the largest staffs in the country and for the life of me I don't know what most of them do.
No. 7 - Announce that the Arts Commission is out of the presenting business and art collecting business. We'll let the people we're supposed to be serving do that from now on. Funny, I haven't seen them produce any plays or put on any concerts. Why do they think they need to compete with the visual arts community?
No. 6 - The Arts Commission will be decentralized. Offices will be opened throughout the state were regional representatives will maintain office hours to assists arts entities in their region and so they can also become knowledgable of the community - not just what's going on in Columbia.
No. 5 - I will ask the Governor to aline the Arts Commission with the State's tourism department - much like it is in North Carolina.
No. 4 - Funding will go through a major reworking. Grant levels will be increased. There will be more money with a smaller staff and money saved by not producing art events and developing an unfocused art collection. The process of giving grants to art groups on an annual basis will be phased out over five years. If non-profits can't learn to become independent of the Commission's funding - they need to go out of business. Individual artists will be able to get two grants and out. There will be no art welfare at the Arts Commission. There will also be enforcement to see that grants are used for what they were intended.
No. 3 - The Arts Commission will maintain an updated artists' registry. It will actively search out artists to get them registered and will make that information available to the public and the commercial sector.
No. 2 - The Arts Commission will become an active partner with the State's media outlets to provide them with information, expertise, and assistance in any way it can - to promote the State's artists and arts community - both non-profit and commercial. You don't have to give commercial businesses money to assist them. We'll put together a pool of talented writers, reviewers, photographers, interviewers, educators - whatever they need to make sure they don't have to cut and paste an article about an out-of-state artist or art group to fill space.
No. 1 - I'll change the name of the Commission to the SC Arts Services Department.
In a nutshell I will turn the Arts Commission upside down and make it a service organization to assist the arts community on a grassroots basis. The agency will be out of the business of dictating the arts, managing the arts, and competing with the arts community. Frankly it will get out of their way and act as an assisting agency. The folks in their own community will decide what their arts community is going to look like - not the Arts Commission or the NEA in Washington, DC. And, if they don't like it - they can keep their money.
Q: Wow! I guess you've put some thought into this subject. So much for the idea that you just rant off the top of your head. You've been thinking about this for some time.
A: I could go on and on - point by point and give you more details and examples. But, don't hold your breath! Nothing is going to happen in SC. The people who could make them change - the political leaders in SC - just don't care enough about the arts or whether the Arts Commission is doing a good job or not.
Most of the people I depend on don't need the Arts Commission to do their thing - so it just a point of frustration. The others who come to me and cry about the injustice of the Arts Commission - won't do anything themselves to make change or help change happen. They won't bite the hand that "might" feed them.
Q: So how's the competition doing?
A: Well I'm not sure who you mean by competition. Right now it seems my biggest competition comes from national publications covering the visual arts. These are slick, four-color publications sold in national chain book stores and by subscription. I'm fighting with them for advertising dollars from the bigger art galleries in the Carolinas. I don't seem to have much regional competition in that there is no other regional visual arts publication.
Q: What about the other region media - daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, alternative newspapers, TV stations, radio, etc.?
A: Daily newspapers are in a world of hurt. First there is the lack of people who read. Then there are those who just don't care. And, then there are the older readers who are pissed off that the paper has turned its focus to the 30 and under crowd - mostly the folks who don't read or care. Then they have the problem of all the weekly and monthly alternative newspapers which have offered advertisers a more focused audience and cheaper advertising rates.
So with all this loss of income from declining readership the daily newspapers have cut their coverage of the fine arts - they offer readers coverage of entertainment - TV, movies, music, stars, fads, and all the other cultural mediums.
The arts are not in the future of daily newspapers.
TV - got 10-30 seconds - that's all the time they have for any subject. They do performing arts not visual arts - there's not much motion in the visual arts.
Radio is much the same - it's just TV without the pictures.
Q: It doesn't sound like there is much competition there.
A: The problem is they have no reason to justify better coverage of the arts. It's like the old "Catch 22". Do they do more coverage to attract the readers/viewers/listeners and go broke before they notice. It's too late for that anyway. Media coverage of the arts is on the decline - it's all down hill from now on.
It's like I said nearly 20 years ago. Once my paper started, all it would take for the a newspaper to shut me down would be to start covering the arts more - I'd be out of business in a month or so. But they didn't do it - as they saw no profit in it.
We're not getting rich doing this either, but then again we don't have to make our shareholders happy - we're already happy.
Q: You don't seem so happy at times.
A: Well, I've got my problems, I've got my frustrations, and I've got dreams, but all in all I'm happy with what I'm doing and I'm grateful that other people are happy with what we are doing. Five years from now - ten years from now - who knows? I know we've accomplished something each time we publish. We make a difference. And some people are watching every move.
In the future, what will it all mean? I can't tell you, but there are libraries around the Carolinas who are saving the copies for future study. Students at colleges and universities use our website for research. We're printing history every month. And, in the next century when people start studying the visual art community of this time - they'll be digging up copies of our newspaper.
One person's happy is another person's pain in the rear. Many people wouldn't go along with this - but I think of myself as a realistic optimist - I'd have to be to keep doing what I do. I'm just not wearing blinders - I see the whole picture - not just what I want to see or what people want me to see.
I'm also a skeptic. I question everything and look at everything several ways - positive/negative - bull shit/truth. But there again, one person's truth is another person's bull shit. I believe I'm telling the truth, but so do the folks in the Whitehouse - so there you go.
Q: Any last words?
A: I thought you knew me - there are always more words. You catch me short of words or without an opinion on something and you've got me at a rare moment in time.
No, there is no use going on. Part III won't be that far off if I know you, but I hope it's another six years before you call on me again. The people who should read this will never see it and those that do - probably won't believe it, so what's a guy to do?
is published monthly by Shoestring
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Copyright© 2006 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan. 1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright© 2006 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the authors of articles. Reproduction or use without written permission is strictly prohibited. Carolina Arts is available throughout North & South Carolina.