Past Comments

January Issue 2007
by Tom Starland

Looking Back Over 20 Years

In July 1987, we launched the first issue of Carolina Arts - a newspaper which covered the arts in the greater Charleston, SC, area. The paper was published by Shoestring Publishing Company which is a division of Photo Systems Management Group (PSMG) which was the parent company of IF Labs, a custom black and white photo processing lab my wife Linda and I had been operating since 1979.

It took months getting ready to print that first issue - skipping the Spoleto Festival USA that year thinking it would be too much to handle for our first issue. That was a good idea, as we soon learned after printing that first paper that we then had to distribute it and start the process all over again for the next month's issue - repeating the process again and again for 19 years and again this month.

Of course these days the Spoleto Festival USA doesn't offer enough visual art events to make a blip on our radar screen. Too bad.

Meeting deadlines was nothing new to us. Back in the 1980's - before digital cameras - custom black and white printing was an art form in itself. We were working for the business community in Charleston - ad agencies, corporations, commercial photographers, art museums, historical museums, state agencies, federal agencies, real estate companies - you name it. And, the cry from the other side of the counter was - "I needed it yesterday!"

We were good at what we did and we delivered our service on time. But, we could see the future. Color film manufactures were making black and white film that could be run by one-hour processors. There was talk of digital cameras which didn't even use film and we were spending way too much time in darkrooms. We started looking for something else to do.

By the mid 1980's we had decided to get more involved with the local and regional fine art photographers with whom we were dealing. Advisors always say do what you know. We knew the work of the better photographers and we opened a gallery, with a couple of our friends, next door to our lab. The experiment was interesting, enriching, even enlightening, but a financial drag every day the doors of the gallery were open. So much for the glory of owning and operating an art gallery. In Charleston, a city with over 300 years of cultural history - a fine art photography gallery was still ahead of its time. There weren't that many art galleries in Charleston at that time either - compared to today.

One of the lessons I learned during that experiment was that the arts in general didn't get a lot of coverage in the media and there was a pecking order in Charleston - performing arts first, then visual arts, then photography. It was hard to reach out to the general public to let them know what we were offering - at least in the mainstream media. Over the last 20 some years that trend hasn't changed much.

The mid 1980's were also watershed years for publishing. The advent of the Apple computer had spawned the age of desktop publishing. We had purchased an Apple IIe to do our bookkeeping and before we knew it a publishing opportunity feel in our hands.

In the 1980's we had time to be involved with the local and state Sierra Clubs. They needed someone new to publish their statewide newspaper. We volunteered and learned what it took to produce a newspaper and distribute it throughout SC.

At that time an Apple IIe was nothing more than an over-glorified word processor, but it eliminated the need for typesetting - a costly process in publishing. We could send our text in columns to a local printer by modem - no e-mail back then. And then you could cut and paste up your text on a layout page for printing. It seems like the dark ages now, but it was pretty cool back then. When the first Macintosh came along and it could do word processing and page layout with graphics - a revolution began. Next the laser printer did away with sending files to printers for printouts. You still had to cut and paste, but you could produce publications on your own - on your desktop at home or in your office.

Up until this time the power of publishing was in the hands of the big newspaper and magazine publishers. They also controlled the content going into those publications. And, as I said earlier - the arts - the visual arts - photography, was not receiving ample coverage. The light bulb in my head went off.

For those of you who know me or have met me - that shine that comes from my head is not the lack of hair - it's the ideas exploding inside.

Well anyway, the idea was to produce an arts newspaper than only covered the arts - all the arts in the Charleston area. We could do the nuts and bolts - others more knowledgeable about the different aspects of the arts community would contribute content. At least that was the plan. It sounded good reading it all on paper. But like most ideas on paper - reality soon showed up.

First, while this idea of getting into the publishing business was being researched and planned - we learned that Linda was expecting a baby that turned out to be our son Andrew. He was born two months after we launched Carolina Arts. We had our black and white photo business, a newspaper to publish every month and a new baby - how much time could a baby take to raise?

If you don't know the answer to that - I can't tell you here. There is not enough space. Andrew is now in his second year at college and the caretaking continues and continues. But then, an arts newspaper takes a lot of caretaking too.

We also quickly learned that those experts in the art community would expect to be paid to deliver content - month after month. That was fair, but we started and continue to operate on a shoestring. Adjustments were made.

Millions and millions of years worth of evolution brings us to where we are now. Linda and I do the nuts and bolts and the people providing the exhibits write the articles that we offer our readers.

It's not a perfect solution, but it seems to work - for now. We've made it to our 20th year - so something must be working.

How we became just a visual arts newspaper and covering both North and South Carolina - well that's a story you can probably find on our website somewhere. Frankly, it's too embarrassing to the performing arts community and those big newspapers and magazines.

Besides, we have a whole year to celebrate and look back at our beginnings. And, as usual - space for articles about exhibits and ads come first. We're still working on a shoestring.

Changes In The Wind

Of course when you meet a milestone you tend to look back and forward at the same time. You ask yourself - where did I come from and where am I going. Frankly, I hate change - it's a real pain in the rear. Just when you get used to what you're doing - change comes a calling. But change is a natural order of life.

As you start looking at this issue, you'll begin to notice that we have made some changes in where and how things were placed in the paper. We have taken those people who have been in the back of the paper and moved them closer to the front and those from the front to the back - they're all still in the same paper. Those who were in the middle - didn't see that much change - but they might!

We've reversed the order of the gallery listings. For ten years North Carolina has come after South Carolina, but now they are listed first. We've also keep the listings running from beginning to end - so you won't have to flip four or eight pages over to find the end of some of the listings.

That's about all the change I can take in one month, but there will be more changes. You can even have an impact on how or what we change - by just telling us what you'd like to see different, added or done away with.

No, that doesn't mean that if you call and say, "Stop the commentary!!!" that it's going to happen. That's not going to happen.

We're still adjusting to the color cover. The shock is still not over. The process to accomplish them is still not easy. But, thankfully - the reception to our new look continues to be very positive.

We hope to be adding more color pages this year, so if you are interested in advertising in color - give us a call now. We're still dealing with people who missed the first opportunity - explaining that they should have contacted us right away - when we first announced it. But then again to do that - people have to read this commentary on a regular basis - when the paper comes out.

So let me say it again. If you are interested in doing color advertising on a regular basis - not just one ad a year - call us now - 843/825-3408. Don't wait. There are various opportunities. Let's talk.

Another change we're exploring "again" is how we can offer "reviews" of exhibitions - on a monthly basis. Offering reviews of both commercial and institutional exhibitions presents several problems - how do you do it in a timely fashion for shows that are up less than a month - where do you find qualified and interesting reviewers, who are willing to travel outside their own communities - how do we justify the space these reviews will take up - how do we pay the reviewers?

If you have suggestions or answers - give us a call. Perhaps these problems can be worked out.

Still Ramblin' On

Arts Ramble, an online destination for those who are looking for something more than what is being offered in the mainstream media of the Carolinas, is now inviting participation - beyond the Triangle area of NC. For those who don't know, the Triangle is Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, NC.

If you want to participate in an ongoing discussion about various topics involving the visual arts - check out (

For those who say they enjoy my commentary and can't get enough of it - whoever you are - visit Arts Ramble and you'll find occasional comments being offered by me.

You can also post information about exhibits, opportunities, and show your artwork - directly to the site - once you register. A process that if I can do - anyone can do. And, if you can't - you can e-mail your comments to the site administrator who will post it for you.

But here's a challenge - the site has plenty of viewers - it needs more people with an opinion and ability to express them.

I like the site and process because when I want to express my view on something I read there - within minutes I can and it's there for everyone to see once I finish typing.

One word of advice - before you post a comment - write it out first - read it over - check the spelling and read what you are responding to again - before you post. Once your words are up there - it's out there.


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


Carolina Arts is published monthly by Shoestring Publishing Company, a subsidiary of PSMG, Inc.
Copyright© 2007 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© 2007 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.