Past Commentaries

December Issue 1998

by Tom Starland

PSS Fundraiser

Print Studio South, Inc., a nonprofit resource and working facility for fine art printmakers, located in downtown Charleston, SC, is holding one of its annual fundraisers on Dec. 5, 1998. Between 6:30 and 9pm that evening, PSS will present, "Object d'Art", a silent auction including individual prints, paintings, art objects, and unique gifts, donated by member artists, including works by Mark Abrahamson, Charles De Antonio, Kim Alsbrooks, Susan Avent, Linda Fantuzzo, Jill Hooper, Peggy Howe, Grace Humphries, Kristina Montvidas Kutkus, Robert Pizano, Lynne Riding, Krysti Ryba, Mary Walker, and many more. Admission is only $5 for the auction which includes an open wine bar, hor d'oeuvres (what a word), and lots of fun. The event is taking place at 75 Wentworth Street, next door to the PSS studio facility.

This is an organization founded by artists, run by artists, and supported by artists -- helping themselves. They could use your support and you could end up with the winning bids on some great art. I have some gems in my own collection from a previous silent auction. It's a great way to help artists, the organization and end up getting something yourself.

Being Critical, Can It Get Results, or Just Make Artists Feel Good?

Once in my life I'd like to contact one of our Carolina arts agencies that are supposed to be helping the arts and artists with an idea for change and hear, "Well, that's an interesting idea, I'll get with a few people and see if we can't change the way we do things." And, then they would call back and say thanks for the idea and make the suggested changes. But, that hasn't happened yet.

My suggestions have usually gotten different reactions. Once I wrote a SC Mayor about how poorly his city was treating an artist during an exhibit. That city was conducting a garage sale in the middle of the exhibit space during the ongoing exhibit. When I wrote that the person responsible had done similar things that did more harm than help to the art community that Mayor told me to mind my own business and do something positive for the community. He said he had total confidence in that person's ability. A year later, he was forcing the person responsible for that mess out of their job. He didn't call me back and say I was right.

I've been called a gadfly, a complainer, and a real pain in the rear, but I have to tell you nothing gets the job done better than a little public bitchin'. I always try the nice way first, but you get patted on the head and sent your way -- nothing changes. Others tell me of the same treatment and eventually they are encouraging me to let the beast within loose.

Back in September's issue I did a little bitchin' about a couple of SC's less than cooperative arts agencies -- the City of Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs (Charleston, SC) and the Cultural Council of Richland/Lexington Counties (Columbia, SC). They both practice exclusionary policies keeping some artists and arts groups from participating in the Big Picture, while receiving grants on the basis that they serve the entire art community.

They both must have heard the bitch and felt that others would hear it too, so they both made some changes. Not much of a change, but a least something for the good. I won't be getting any credit -- none wanted, but it was the public bitchin' that did the trick. They won't ever admit it, but it works every time.

What are we talking about? Well, about six to eight months ago I wrote the Rich/Lex group about adding commercial galleries to their monthly calendar of art events. Why not give the public all the information about what was going on in the visual art community? It was explained to me that they just include listings by members of the council -- it's the Chamber of Commerce syndrome -- no pay, no play. In May, the council added a notice in their calendar calling for commercial galleries to participate -- for a fee. I think for a $70 membership, a commercial gallery can be included. There was one commercial gallery listed in September's calendar. I bitched about this policy again while the Arts Council was on the hot seat of public opinion and by November's calendar there were six commercial galleries included.

I still don't think it's right that the commercial galleries should have to pay to be included. They offer their exhibits to the public for free and these galleries offer visual artists the most support within the community. They help them make money from sales of their work, making them more independent verses dependent on government grants.

We at "Carolina Arts" don't charge nonprofits or any gallery spaces a fee to list their exhibits as long as they are in our area of coverage and send the information to us by our deadline. And, we don't receive grant money to provide services to the artists or community.

If the Rich/Lex arts council is going to solicit funding for serving the art community and the public, why should they turn around and charge those people they say they serve a fee to participate? That's double dipping isn't it?

Listing a commercial exhibit doesn't put money in the hands of the commercial gallery owners, believe me, I know, I used to own a couple of those profitable establishments until they bled me dry. No, listing the exhibits doesn't benefit gallery owners, but it does give the artists' a chance at making some money and the public information about what is being offered. So, what gives?

Well, the real problem here is that arts councils are in competition with commercial galleries. How so? Arts councils usually use artworks donated by visual artists in their fundraising efforts. Everybody does it and the artists tend to think that they benefit from this process of letting their works be auctioned away for less than market prices to raise funds for the good of the community. Artists would be better off making donations of cash to the cause instead of taking work that should be sold in galleries and dumping it on the market at lower prices which devalues their work.

I hardly ever see an arts council auctioning off a performance by the local symphony for 1/3 of its market value. When have you seen a dance company donate a performance to be auctioned for whatever price it would bring. Can I get a beginning bid of $50 for a performance of the "Nutcracker"? How about $25?

This is why there is so much friction between arts councils and commercial galleries -- the arts councils are in competition for sales of art. And, if artists think that they are better off selling works through arts councils, because there are not enough commercial galleries to go around, just think how many healthy galleries there would be if arts councils and artists stopped auctioning off art.

Look at Charleston where there are lots of galleries, many owned by artists. There is no arts council. Look at other areas where the arts councils are dominant and you will find few if any commercial galleries -- Anderson, Camden, Rock Hill, and Spartanburg, in SC, and Greensboro and High Point, in NC. Where ever there is a powerful arts council you will most likely find a weak commercial art community, if any.

Now, arts councils selling art isn't all bad, but it is harmful and there are better ways for the commercial sector to work with the nonprofit sector, together -- not at odds with each other. In fact, in my opinion the problem is solely with the arts councils because I know the nonprofit sector receives lots of assistance in the way of donated cash, artwork, materials, services and publicity from commercial galleries. The problem is that it's been a oneway street for way too long.

I'm not just talking about the Rich/Lex arts council. They are just one of the targets of the day and I'm talking about one policy -- charging commercial galleries to be listed in arts calendars. I don't want to use a broad brush in pain ting arts councils as bad for the arts, but the Rich/Lex arts council should be ashamed for asking for money to list exhibits -- twice. And, they should spend some time thinking about what they could do to help the galleries, not just themselves.

If they get huffy, let's just start looking at their budgets and where all the money goes. It's a good thing FOI requests don't cover salaries.

Now, let's move on to our other target. When it came to the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, the common complaint was about a lack of notice of opportunities with deadlines. Whether it came to annual juried shows, annual calls for applications for city gallery exhibits, or for annual city art grants -- notice the key word here is "annual" -- the city gives, at best, two weeks to ten days notice to respond. I mentioned in my September bitch that I've never seen a public notice for Charleston City arts grants.

Now, in the Nov. 8, 1998 issue of Charleston's "Post & Courier", there was a notice for making applications for arts grants. Is this the result of the power of bitchin'? Maybe, who knows, but the only problem is, some people don't get the whole point all at once.

The deadline for application mentioned was Nov. 15, 1998, which is a Sunday. Wow! That's a whole week to respond. But, don't be confused, this isn't a notice for the City of Charleston grants. This is a carry-over of the failed Lowcountry Arts and Cultural Council. This is a notice for the sub-grants from the SC Arts Commission, that the Cities of Charleston and North Charleston agreed to take over -- last July. The City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Office is involved here, but I know who held up the notice.

In between that time, we have also received a notice for the competition for the 1999 Piccolo Spoleto Poster from the Office of Cultural Affairs. The notice was dated Nov. 17, 1998. We received it long after that date and after our Nov. issue was at the press, so this notice with a deadline of Dec 11, 1998, will give readers another week to ten days to respond.

This isn't adequate notice for artists to respond. But, then maybe that's the plan. The best way to keep artists, who mostly tend to be slow responding to opportunities, from competing in juried events is to give them a short response time. Perhaps this is a good way to control who gets to participate in public programs? I don't know, but I know it's taking many artists out of the competition. There should be a national or statewide policy about notices for programs that are funded with government money.

I guess it will take a little more bitchin' to get decent advance notices and that notice for City of Charleston grants to show up in public, but I've got lots of time and our readers like it better when I'm raggin' on someone verses being positive about something.

Spoleto Festival Misses The Boat Again On Visual Arts Offerings -- It Has None!

I'm sad to report that the Spoleto Festival USA has once again missed the boat on offering a visual arts component with its lineup of upcoming events for its 1999 Festival, which takes place in Charleston, SC, from May 28 through June 13, 1999. I guess they can't use that word ""comprehensive"" again in describing the Festival. How comprehensive can it be without a visual arts offering?

The folks making decisions didn't even take advantage of past Spoleto practices of listing whatever the Gibbes Museum of Art is offering at that time period as a Spoleto offering in visual arts. They missed a big opportunity this year by not embracing the Gibbes' upcoming ""blockbuster"" exhibit, "In Pursuit of Refinement: Charlestonians Abroad 1740-1860", which will run from Apr. 9 through July 3, 1999. Then again, I guess the exhibit is not contemporary enough for Spoleto. It's probably not cutting edge. Yet, most of the works that will be exhibited were produced about the same time many of the operas Spoleto is so famous for presenting were produced. I guess you can't offer old music and old artworks at the same time.

Something Smells Fishy

In an effort to be more well-rounded in talking about the arts and not wanting to leave out the performing arts sector in my monthly commentary -- I saw a couple of interesting items in the last month concerning two of my favorite arts groups -- the SC Arts Commission, which is really not an arts group, but one of those arts "supporting" agencies, and the Charleston Ballet Theatre, supposedly SC's only professional dance group. That means they pay their dancers some sort of salary.

Well, in the fall edition of the Arts Commission's "Artifacts" publication that lists the agency's art grants for the time period from July 1998 to June 1999, there was "no" grant to the Charleston Ballet Theatre. The Arts Commission didn't list one penny that they were giving to the ballet company. This was very strange to me since the Commission has given that company grants that were way too big for the group's possible contributions to the Charleston community or the state for that matter. They were getting money comparable to the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and the entire grant for Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs. That wasn't right, but maybe this year the grant panel at the Arts Commission came to their senses, or some wonder like me, if the Commission was giving them so much money they were afraid to list it for the outrage it would cause. I don't know what the real deal is, but when I started asking around about this situation, all I heard was a rumor about the CBT having troubles with the IRS. I hope that's just a rumor -- I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but something is fishy since the CBT is still listing the Arts Commission as a supporter in their current ads for their annual performance of the "Nutcracker". Perhaps it's just moral support?

[ | January '99 | December '98 | November '98 | October '98 | September '98 | ]

[ | What got printed | What didn't get printed | What no one would talk about | Past Commentaries | Home | ]


Mailing Address: Carolina Arts, P.O. Drawer 427, Bonneau, SC 29431
Telephone, Answering Machine and FAX: 843/825-3408
Subscriptions are available for $18 a year.

Carolina Arts is published monthly by Shoestring Publishing Company, a subsidiary of PSMG, Inc.
Copyright© 2000 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© 2000 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.