Past Comments

December Issue 2006
by Tom Starland

Check This Out

For the last couple of months I've forgotten to mention that we have created a special feature on our website version of Carolina Arts ( showcasing the outdoor sculpture exhibit in North Charleston, SC. See the Special Features section on the site.

The City of North Charleston is presenting its first annual Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition, which is on display at the City's new Riverfront Park, on the old Navy Base in North Charleston, SC. The exhibition and competition, organized and presented by the Cultural Arts Department, will be on view through Mar. 30, 2007.

You can view color images of the sculptures included in the exhibit, courtesy of photographer Larry Watkins, read about the exhibit and see statements by the participating artists. There are sculptures there by artists from throughout the country and some by artists from the Carolinas - such as: Wayne Trapp from Vilas, NC; Adam Walls from Spartanburg, SC; Ted Pickering of Wadmalaw Island, SC; and Jason Blalock of Anderson, SC.

The noteworthy fact about this exhibition is that we don't get to see many exhibits of sculpture in the Charleston area. Yes, there is the display of sculpture in Azalea Park placed by the folks behind the annual Sculpture in the South Exhibit & Sale, which takes place in May. The park is located off Main Street in Summerville, SC - but not many people venture out of Charleston to see art. Now here is another display of sculpture within a few miles of downtown Charleston and I bet most art lovers there are clueless that the exhibit is there just waiting for viewers.

I'm glad the City of North Charleston hasn't put up billboards along I-26 to promote the exhibit, so I'm hoping to help get some people to go see it by making these comments here, and then hopefully those folks will tell others. If you need encouragement - check out our Special Feature on our website.

Take the main entrance on to the old Navy Base, then follow the signs for the Riverfront Park to the left.

Now I'm talking real sculpture - not one of those fundraising exhibits of cows, pigs or even turtles that artists are asked to decorate.

A Sculptor Leaves Charleston - Again

Sculptor Tom Durham is leaving Charleston - again - looking for greener pastures. He once left Charleston and went to New Orleans, but luckily he returned before that city's disaster struck. It's not the first time he's left and he might return again. Why can't Charleston be his home sweet home? Several reasons.

One is a matter of space. Charleston is a small town that has been being revitalized since the 1970's. There is not much space left that isn't generating a pretty high dollar per sq. ft. price. That means there is no real "old" warehouse space that can be converted into cheap "studio space" - at least not in the downtown area. What space there is that is undeveloped is being converted into high-end retail space and expensive condos. Durham stated in a departing note that "most cities have a program that helps subsidize artist studios of proven artist". He also points out that the City of North Charleston is working on such a program for space on the old Navy Base, but no program exist in Charleston and I know of none that is on the drawing board.

Durham also offered the following about the level of support Charleston and the people living there give to the arts - specifically the visual arts. "Individuals do support the arts but it is always the same handful of individuals that bear the financial burden of the theater, symphonies, and arts. It is not fair to them to bear the full burden of the arts for the entire city and surrounding area. The city does support the performing arts during the Spoleto and MOJA festivals, but there is more to the arts than those two festivals. Individual artists are constantly asked to support various fundraisers by donating art, which we cannot even write off as a donation with taxes, since the rules are that we can only write off the cost of materials. Then artists are insulted at these events by individuals buying the work with a concerted effort on their part for as little as they can at a less than market value. I love this city of arts but as Charleston grows it needs to grow in its support of the visual arts and the artists."

This story is the same in most cities - some are different, but America as a whole is not that supportive of the arts - let's say in comparison to college football or even high school football. So some artists turn into nomads looking for the perfect city - the perfect gallery - the perfect market - somewhere they can call home.

I don't know if there is one place better than another. I always figured that a place - any place is what you make it or at least any place can be as good as the next - as long as you adjust your expectations and do the best with what you have. It's like making lemonade out of lemons. But it helps to work in a positive and supportive environment.

Some would think that Charleston is such a city, but in many ways it's not. Don't get me wrong - Charleston is a great city and it does support the arts. It's just that some sectors of the arts get more attention and support than others. Some sectors of the arts are more needy than others and constantly need a helping hand to perform their community service.

The reality is - there is not much help left for the visual arts after the community bails out the performing arts - again and again.

I hope Tom Durham finds a home or even better - Charleston one day becomes a place he can call home, but changes will need to take place in the city's attitude toward assisting the visual arts community - both the non-profit and commercial community.

One More Comment About Charleston

While we're on the subject of Charleston, although the comments made here this month seem to be universal to all art communities in the Carolinas, the local daily newspaper, the Post & Courier, has just discovered the practice of "copycat" art showing up in American art markets (Nov. 12, 2006 issue). This is a subject most in the visual arts community have known about for years.

The writer of the article and its editors point out businesses in Canada and China that are copying artworks produced by US artists but fail to point out local, regional, and national businesses who act as retail outlets for this "copycat" art. Some of these businesses may even be running ads in their paper.

I can only hope that the Post & Courier and other Carolina daily newspapers will use their considerable resources to investigate this cultural theft - where ever it may lead - even to advertisers in their own papers.

I have seen ads promoting "Charleston" or "Lowcountry" artwork without the mention of Charleston or Lowcountry artists. Knowing how much artists like to see their names in print, I have to be suspicious of artwork not attached to an artist's name - especially one I've heard of before.

I'm not saying I know all artists, but when I do a Google search for an artist and the name doesn't come up anywhere - I have to wonder how this artist created such marketable art, worthy of such promotion, overnight - unnoticed by their peers. They could be a newcomer to the art scene, but they could also be a name taken from a local phone book or internet whitepages. Some are bold enough to use the names of known artists.

We can't expect that the US government is going to do anything about the duplication of domestic artworks - paintings, sculpture, and even crafts, in light of their lack of inability to stop other forms of pirating of music, films, books - you name it.

The best defense against this kind of cultural theft is education and identification of violators. We can only hope that our government will one day deal with foreign governments but we are in the best position to deal with the dealers of this "copycat" art right here in our own communities. But, be careful - don't set yourself up for a lawsuit. There is a lot of money being made in producing and selling "copycat" art and a lawyer can defend even the guilty to a point that it can cost you the farm. There are laws on the books involving the sale of stolen property. Let the respective authorities know about any suspicions you may have about bogus "local" art and hope they can do something about it.

For the art buyer - good art costs good money! Be suspicious of art that is way cheaper than that found throughout the community. Do some homework about the galleries and artists you are dealing with. The people in this business of selling you "copycat" art are very good at disguising themselves as being legitimate dealers of authentic art. It's easy to create fake artist's bios and offer resumes that seem on the surface to be real. They can even offer you certificates of authenticity from bogus organizations.

Good art is sold by established galleries and established artists - it is also sold by new galleries and beginning artists - so you can't make assumptions. You have to check things out. Be careful when you're spending your money. You wouldn't buy a Rolex from a kid on the street, so why buy art from a used tire store that recently started acting like an art gallery.

The word is - buyer beware, be smart and be educated in your purchases. For the visual art community - work together to set standards, educate the public, and report those to the authorities who are selling bogus products.

Of course there is nothing we can do about people looking to pay next to nothing for "copycat" art. They just don't care - it's all about price.

But don't look for me or Carolina Arts to take on these "copycat" pirates. We don't have the resources or financial backing to do the job. We can remind you of the problem, but it's the general public and authorities who need to tackle this problem.

I know I haven't purchased any art in the last 15 years where I didn't know the artist, their history and the gallery I was dealing with.

I know one thing - the more questions you ask and the more defensive the person you are asking gets - that's a sign of something. Some people with something to hide are ready for your first few questions, but when they just keep coming and you show you're not willing to just accept the answers they offer - it won't be long before they go on the offensive. That's the time you need to take your money and go.

Over the years, we have been presented with a number of schemes people wanted us to offer to our readers. Some proposed events, offers to "help" artists, and even galleries who wanted to be included in our paper, but some things in their proposals just didn't add up on the surface. I started asking questions and before you know it I've lost thousands of dollars in advertising these people were going to do with us - but not now - just because I questioned what they were offering. Apparently I just don't know when to shut up and take the money. I guess they think all publications will do anything for advertising.

Buy Art For The Holidays

Now that I've totally bummed you out over another thing you have to be worried about - here's a positive message. Buy art for the holidays! They make some of the most memorable gifts - given and received. It can be artwork, lessons, memberships, supplies, or even art books. And, buy from our supporters.


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