April Issue 1999
Verner Award - To Late and To Slick
by Tom Starland
As usual, the SC Arts Commission didn't disappoint me when it comes to winning my highest award for calculating what's best for them. In announcing the recipients for the annual Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Awards, said to be the official Governor's Awards for the Arts, they give the late William Halsey a Lifetime Achievement Award. My question is why now? What's so different about his lifetime achievement now? Why did they wait so long? Halsey should have gotten this award at least 10 to 15 years ago. And, surely long before many other individual artists received theirs.
My best guess, considering the thought patterns of the Arts Commission, is that the timing was right. At Halsey's age (83) and frail condition, even if he hadn't died before the announcement, he probably wouldn't have been able to make his acceptance speech in front of the Governor and all. This way, they wouldn't have to sit there and squirm in their seats listening to him rake them over the coals for having ignored him during his last 20 years, while he was creating some of the best art in the state.
Halsey deserved South Carolina's highest award for the arts. So do a lot of others who probably won't even be considered until they are gone too, so they can't speak up about the great arts commission.
So let me ask the Arts Commission, if William Halsey was so great in their eyes: How much of his art have they purchased for the State Art Collection over the last five years? Ten years? Twenty years? How many exhibits that the Arts Commission produced had work of William Halsey included in them over the last five years? Ten years? Twenty years. And don't count the Views from the Edge Project - we all know every one of those exhibits were already on the hosting institution's drawing boards long before the Arts Commission jumped on the millennium bandwagon by throwing some money at each group. The only people who don't know about that fact is the National Endowment for the Arts who gave them the money to ""produce"" a celebration of the century - not repackage exhibits already in the works.
And finally, if this Lifetime Achievement Award wasn't a calculated last-minute decision by the Arts Commission, why couldn't they have announced it before his passing? But, then again, when you have to consider everything against how it suits you first, other considerations are always afterthoughts.
Update on the Columbia Arts Task Force
Teri Tynes, arts reporter and editor of the Free Times in Columbia, SC, has joined me in pointing out the futile efforts of trying to get nonprofit art organizations in Columbia, or anywhere else for that matter, to divide public monies equitably. Her recent commentary on the Cultural Wars going on in Columbia between the Cultural Council of Richland
and Lexington Counties and the Columbia Music Festival Association hit the nail on the head. These two "middleman" arts groups that have been living off the public and corporate feed bag, just can't decide on how to split up the spoils of Mayor Bob Coble's attempts to consolidate the arts in Columbia.
I hope Task Force members, Bob Howard of NationsBank and John Hall of SCANA, have gotten an eye and ear full of what these groups are all about. No matter how hard they work, how reasonable they are, they will never bring these groups together, (not without the spilling of blood) because it's all about power, money and ego. I also hope they are seeing what they are getting for their corporate money and what the real artists of the community are not getting. There's not much left for the artists after the middlemen are finished showing their donors how wonderful they are and how much they serve the art community.
Tynes suggested in her commentary that perhaps the artists should form a Task Force and come up with a list of changes to present to the business community of Columbia. We can leave the SC Arts Commission out of all this because they never listen anyway. My first suggestion would be for the business community and the artists to cut out the middlemen. Let's talk about "free trade". Business donors should demand more for their money and more of the money should go directly to the artists who create the culture. Let's get rid of the middlemen.
Mr. Howard, Mr. Hall, I hope you kept your day jobs and can get back to them soon!
Columbia is lucky to have Teri Tynes reporting on its art community and watching with a close eye and sharp mind. I feel lucky to not be a lone voice anymore. All you get from the "Big" newspaper is "Can't we all just get along?"
Charlotte - You've Come A Long Way, Baby!
At one time, when we first moved into North Carolina, I began to worry if our new venture wasn't going to fall victim to "wrong timing". It seemed that just as we were entering this new territory, cities in North Carolina were under siege by major right-wing conservative groups slashing public funding for the arts in Raleigh and Charlotte. The whole thing was about one group trying to control the flow of money to another group in the art community whose lifestyles didn't match theirs. This was bad business for the arts and the images of the respective cities, especially Charlotte, which is in the process of becoming a major cultural center. I was more than a little concerned about our future there.
I'm glad to report that today, at least in Charlotte, the picture of the art community is a whole lot better. County voters have sent four of the "Gang of Five" Mecklenburg County Commissioners who cut the arts funding packing. Now they're free to run for Congress. Maybe they'll be future House Managers -- they have the qualifications.
The arts funding that was once cut, has now been restored. And, Charlotte business and community leaders have broken records in raising funds for the Arts & Science Council's annual fund drives in the last couple years. Charlotte has responded loudly that they support the arts and artists in Charlotte, all the arts and all the artists.
Now, with all that said, I hope the artists
in Charlotte realize how lucky they are to get such support. I
would hate to see some artist or organization blow it all by trying
to push the artistic envelope a little too far trying to make
a name for themselves or to see how far they could go. Don't bite
the hand that feeds you!
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