Past Comments

January Issue 2006
by Tom Starland

18 Years Behind Us

In 2006 Shoestring Publishing Company will be entering its 19th year of publishing an arts newspaper - first as Charleston Arts, then South Carolina Arts, and now as Carolina Arts. That's 18 years as an arts newspaper - not five year's printing a real estate newsletter, three years of delivering a daily paper in rural SC, and then ten years of doing an arts newspaper - 5 + 3 + 10 = 18. That's 18 years of doing the same thing - although under three different regional names, nonetheless - the same thing. Not like some people who manufacture their history. Our loyal readers know what I'm talking about.

We hope to be bringing our readers new and different things this year and in the future. Thanks for all your support - from our readers and advertisers. We couldn't have done it for all these years without your help - so you're partly responsible too. It's not just my fault.

2005 Business

Before we head full blast into 2006, we have a little unfinished business from 2005 to take care of.

In our Dec. 2005 issue - where we seem to have fit everything and anything people sent us in the paper - by publishing deadline - as always - someone got left out.

Conn Gallery in Landrum, SC, is presenting an exhibit entitled, New Year's Eve Bash, which will be on view through Jan. 27, 2006. Boy, that's a long party.

In their press release an artist was left out and I hate that when it happens. There's nothing worse than having your name left off of a list you should be on.

We can't reprint that entire article or fly around the world real fast to turn back time, so we're doing the best we can by including the section that was left out here.

"Werner Haker of Brevard, NC, newly represented by Conn Gallery, Chattanooga will exhibit his abstract paintings. Haker states, Painting challenges me to confront and critique the totality of human existence generously and without compromise. This is the way I share my world and share in the world."

So there, Haker has something the others who were mentioned last month didn't get.

Wait - that's not cool either.

Artists participating in the exhibit at Conn Gallery also include: Richard Conn, Page Davis, Fred and Kato Guggenheim, Dale McEntire, David Isaac Schultz, Katie Walker, and Martin Webster.

That's fair and for those who are confused about the reference to Conn Gallery, Chattanooga - the owners of Conn Gallery have opened a second gallery in Chattanooga, TN.

But now I can't help feeling there are some artists out there reading this who were in last month's issue thinking that some of these artists now have been mentioned two months in a row. And, now they are feeling left out of this issue. I guess we could try and reprint all the names of all the artists - so no one is left out, but I guess it's just easier to tell that artist to just pull up last month's issue on our website. We have PDF's of every page of the paper there - going back over a year.

You can't please everyone and there is no reason to start here or in the future. I'm finished.

Some Observations

The South Carolina Watercolor Society is presenting its 2006 Regional Gatherings. See that article on Page 9. I noticed no gathering would be taking place in Charleston, SC. What's up with that?

Oh that's right, Charleston has turned a cold shoulder to the Watercolor Society by not offering any location to them for their annual members' exhibition - especially not at the City of Charleston's City Gallery at Waterfront Park - which by the way, is the proper name of that gallery. Waterfront Gallery is a commercial gallery on East Bay Street. They've had that name for 10 years, So when people refer to the City's gallery space at the Waterfront Park - use the correct name - City Gallery at Waterfront Park.

That's right - the city of watercolors - although most painters in Charleston have switched to using oils, has no room at the inn for the Watercolor Society's exhibition. Not the City or the Gibbes Museum of Art.

And now they can't even find someone in Charleston to host one of their organization's regional gatherings.

The shame of it all.

I noticed that other institutions including the Columbia Museum of Art, Spartanburg County Museum of Art, Florence Museum, University of SC - Aiken, Anderson County Arts Center, Rock Hill Center for the Arts and others around SC found room for a gathering - lasting only a few hours, but not Charleston.

Another observation - although related somewhat, I've been noticing how the Columbia Museum of Art seems to be involved with many other aspects of the local visual art community in SC - showing itself as a true leader in the visual arts.

I've never met or talked with the Museum's new director - Karen Brosius, but I don't have to. I can see what the Museum has been doing under her leadership - getting involved with other visual art groups and ventures within their region. They're being supportive. I hope they keep it up.

I never met or talked with Betsy Fleming - "wonder girl" of the Gibbes Museum of Art - during her short stay at the Gibbes, but I know what she did or didn't do during her stay in Charleston.

Say, I think that's the first time I've mentioned her in my commentary. That issue is coming, but I'm going to need much more space to do that commentary. And, I'm waiting to see what direction the Gibbes is headed in - as far as a new director goes. Perhaps Fleming will just be a flicker of an eyelash in the history of the Gibbes.

It seems we're attracting some attention in the Wilmington, NC, area. Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash, NC, has been supporting us for a few years and now we have added Walls Fine Art Gallery in Wilmington.

We used to include Wilmington in our paper ten years ago when we first crossed the border and went into North Carolina, but then we had to drop areas that couldn't or wouldn't support our efforts. Same thing goes in South Carolina.

We can't include all areas without some kind of support. We can't do the bang up job the SC Arts Commission does supporting the entire art community in SC - not without the big bucks the State and Feds gives them. It's just not possible.

So if a few more folks in Wilmington jumped on the bandwagon of support - we could bring that area into the family.

Continuing on last month's theme of how the commercial art community supports the non-profit art community, we have the results from the Charleston Fine Art Dealer' Association's Seventh Fine Art Annual's Gala & Auction, selling paintings created during CFADA's popular "Painting in the Park" event.

The Association will donate $27,000 worth of art supplies to Charleston area high school art programs. Each of the following schools will receive a $3,000 gift certificate for supplies from Artisan and Craftsman Supply - Burke High School, Charleston County School of the Arts, Clark Academy, James Island Charter High School, North Charleston High School, R.B. Stall High School, St. John High School, Wando High School and West Ashley High School.

That will make a big difference in those classrooms and it will hopefully help some art teachers from digging into their own pockets to provide supplies for students.

You can read more about this on our website ( under the heading ART NEWS and then Artists & Administrators. It's where we post a lot of info that we wouldn't have room to include in the paper.

And, one final observation after mentioning the website - as of the writing of this commentary we have had 4,235,093 visitors to the site since going up in cyberspace. In the last 90 days visitors have accessed 5, 638 pages of content. There are over 10,000 photos, articles, and graphics on the site and more going up by Jan. 1.

The website has become a full time job along with doing the monthly printed version of the paper - which as mentioned earlier, can be seen on the website - page by page - with all the ads included.

Non-profit Nightmare

OK, again for the record, I am "not" saying all non-profits are bad or mismanaged. Nor am I saying that "all" board members of non-profits are blind, deaf, dumb and dumber, but we're seeing an example in Columbia, SC, how everything can go wrong under this loosely regulated sector of the art community.

Last month I was hoping to fit in an update or correction to something we mentioned way back in our June 05 issue, but ran out of room.

Back then, I told you about how one of the SC Arts Commission's 2005 Artist Fellowship winner, Jack Steven Gerstner, Jr., was probably going to be spending most of his $2000 award on lawyer fees as he was headed to jail on the weekends - due to a judgement made by a Columbia Municipal Court Judge for letting the building known as Gallery 701 rot.

Last month I learned that Gerstner hasn't spend one minute in a jail cell, much less any weekends. He's appealing that ruling - a ruling he asked for himself. Gerstner had told the Court that instead of fines, if he didn't repair the roof of the building by a certain time - put me in jail. He did no repairs to the building. So they sentenced him to spend time in jail - now he says it isn't fair. And, he still hasn't done any repairs to the roof.

Well I'm kind of glad I ran out of room last month because now we have learned more about Gerstner and his dealings as a non-profit.

In an article that appeared in The State newspaper in Columbia, SC, on Dec. 12, 2005, staff writer Jeff Wilkinson wrote:

"The city of Columbia has filed suit against Gallery 701 executive director Jack Gerstner, asking a court for permission to tear down the former Olympia Mill village community center.

Meanwhile, the S.C. secretary of state's office is investigating irregularities in Gerstner's fundraising for Gallery 701 and a group called Friends of S.C. Cares.

At the same time, Gerstner is fighting a jail sentence handed down in May for not repairing the building, which has been sitting without a roof since 2000."

I have to give a lot of credit to Wilkinson for handling such a complicated story with such skill and I hope more is yet to come, because there is much more to this story - than what has reached print to date.

You'll have to go to The State's website and pull up this article - even if you have to pay for a copy - it's interesting reading. There is a lot of insight on how "some" non-profits operate in SC and how "some" board members of non-profits take their positions - oh so seriously.

So, Gerstner never spent any time in jail - but he may be spending much more than weekends after all this mess is sorted out.

Another item I needed to make a correction on is that in June I said I doubted Gerstner's claim that he was the owner of the building, which was supposed to be in the hands of the Carolina Pacific Community Foundation, but it turns out that he does own the building - another slick move on Gerstner's part.

The article in The State also reports that a limited liability corporation Gerstner controls purchased the Gallery 701 building for $160,000 in 1997. It doesn't state from whom Gerstner purchased the building. I guess that's a mystery. Then that corporation sold the building to the Carolina Pacific Community Foundation that Gerstner controls for $750,000 in 2001. The foundation still owes the corporation $475,000.

So, a non-profit that Gerstner "controls" purchased a building from a corporation that Gerstner controls for 3/4 of a million dollars and it doesn't even have a roof on it.

That was a heck of a deal for Gerstner - the corporate whiz-kid and a heck of a mis-judgement by Gerstner the non-profit executive. Go figure!

I wonder who did the appraisal on that job?

Of course all this could be fiction as Gerstner has not proven to be the best at keeping records or doing things - legally.

You see, the article also points out that SC Secretary of State, Mark Hammond's office is investigating Gerstner's fundraising for Gallery 701 while suspended as a charity. Fundraising that I guess might be going toward paying Gerstner's corporation for the purchase of the building. Of course he says he's raising funds to fix the roof of Gallery 701 - a vital art center in Columbia.

Records show Gerstner has not filed proper financial records with the state since 2003, and his Carolina Pacific Community Foundation, which controls Gallery 701, repeatedly has been suspended as a charity and fined.

Gerstner also apparently failed to file as a non-profit to raise funds to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

I guess Gerstner has problems with little details like that.

Board Members?

During this whole affair there have been a number of people identified as being board members of the Carolina Pacific Community Foundation, which is said to control Gallery 701 - it's impossible to keep up with who is what and what is a building or an organization. Many say they may have been a board member at one time, but that no board meetings that they know of have taken place in years or at least if they have - they didn't know about them and have not attended any meetings. But, one person takes the cake as the kind of board member executive directors like Gerstner prays for. That is State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, who is listed as a board member and vice president.

In the article Wilkinson wrote Neal said that he was surprised by news of the building's sale and was unaware of Gerstner's fundraising problems. Neal admitted to being a board member for about six years, but went on to claim that he never attended a board meeting, has never received any notice from Gerstner about foundation business and has rarely spoken with him.

Yet, Rep. Neal still thought of himself as a board member of this non-profit. I guess he didn't ever think he would have to actually be involved in the operation of the non-profit at all - at least not in six years.

I can just imagine a conversation passing between Gerstner and Neal - Hey Joe, you want to be on the board of my non-profit? Sure, why not - do I have to do anything? Don't worry, I'm not going to pester you with a lot of details - in fact, you can be vice president. Sure, why not. The first meeting is in six years.

Now, are you asking yourself - Who is in charge here? How can one individual control a non-profit? How can board members of a non-profit not be aware of the sale or purchase of a major asset - like a building? How is this guy not in jail?

And, it's all about a building that was a rat-hole from the start and passed off as a vital arts center. This building hasn't had a roof on it since 2000 - that's five years of being exposed to Mother Nature's elements.

The public and the authorities have blinders on when it comes to non-profits. They are thought of as organizations that do good things for the public, and in the majority of cases they do, but even those that do - many are run by people who do pretty well for themselves. Most people working at non-profits make more money than I do.

The volunteers are the real heros of non-profits!

So you can see why I get burned up when people at government agencies say that none of their "public money" should go to commercial enterprises where they will profit from public support.

A lot of non-profits wouldn't be in the trouble they are today if they were run as commercial ventures.

Something has got to change.

An Idea

This is probably the third time I have floated this idea since doing this paper over the last 18 years, but here it goes again.

The other day someone was lamenting to me about how there is not enough critical writing being done in SC and how important that could be to artists and readers. I agreed.

The hint was - couldn't Carolina Arts offer reviews? Well we did at one time, but the process developed several problems - all at once it seemed. First, it was costing us money - to pay the reviewers. We tended to pay better than most publications - so the costs added up fast. Space for reviews took away from space for ads or more articles about exhibits. Secondly , there was a shortage of qualified reviewers willing to put themselves on the hot spot - and believe me that spot gets hot. We quickly developed a policy that wouldn't let reviewers do shows in their own area - for everyone's protection - adding another problem - transportation. Then there was the burnout factor - two few writers get tired fast of the month after month pace.

Our third problem was timing. I didn't want to offer reviews of shows that had already come and gone - although there is some value to that, I wanted people to be able to match reviews with seeing the actual exhibitions. As a monthly paper that would mean shows would have to be on view for several months or be staggered from the middle of one month to the middle of the next. This was no problem for many institutional spaces, but commercial galleries would have a problem with that and I don't want to just offer reviews of institutional shows.

Problems, problems, problems...

Now here is the off the wall suggestion.

Wouldn't this be a perfect time for the SC Arts Commission to step in and use their "connections" with qualified people in setting up a network of reviewers, paid with public funding and made available to the media of the state. It doesn't just have to be Carolina Arts - heaven forbid that, but a lot of weekly and daily newspapers out there could use some "free" reviews to fill space - instead of grabbing articles about someone who does art with a chainsaw in Georgia off the AP wire service. (Not that that's bad.)

Arts coverage in print media all over the country is shrinking.

All reviews done could be posted on a website so all could see them and they wouldn't disappear after the papers hit the recycle bin or the landfill.

I can think of a lot worse places the Arts Commission could put the taxpayers' money. Like giving a $2000 award to Jack Gerstner. And, an educational twist could be planned so that each review actually educated the readers about art techniques and art trends.

I can't see where it wouldn't be one of those win-win situations - except for one thing. Someone like me would "profit" from this program. Taxpayer money going to a commercial operation - I'm sure that has never happened. Like helping high-powered law firms help select artwork for their offices.

The Arts Commission would also not be happy with including reviews of shows at commercial galleries - they would profit too.

It's not that crazy an idea - not too many years back (actually 25 years) the Arts Commission spent $20,000 getting reviews written in a Chicago-based publication that was hardly ever seen in South Carolina. But I'm sure that publication was a non-profit. What did that money get anyone except for a few people in SC - writing reviews and the person at USC doling out the writing assignments.

And, of course there is the problem of working with a publication that is so critical of your actions or lack of action.

It's all in the way you look at the glass of water - is it half full or half empty? You can be assured that if I think the glass is half full, the Commission will see it half empty. And I'm sure they would say the same about me.

All I know is that I'm still taking the visual art community's message to the public on a monthly basis (both non-profit & commercial) - they are not. They plunk their money into expensive publications that get seen by too few people - every third year.

And, if you want to know something about the Arts Commission and their programs - you have to try and get someone on the phone or go search their website for clues.

Speaking of Reviews - Views - Interviews

Back in 2000 I did something a little different for our website (while the roof was falling in at Gallery 701) - I interviewed myself. It was actually pretty fun and informative. I asked the right questions.

The interview can be found on our website ( under the heading Special Features.

I'm working on Part II for those who care. The first interview was more historical in nature. Part II will be more informative about how the paper works, about the crazy things people send us - expecting us to print them and who knows what. I just don't know what I'll ask myself and I'm not sure how I'll answer some questions. After all, my high school German teacher said I was the most facetious person she had ever met.

Hopefully it will be up on the internet by the time you are reading this. Just think of it like a presidential press conference - where the questions have already been discussed and answers have been prepared.


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