Past Comments

July Issue 2001
by Tom Starland

The Spoleto/Piccolo Spoleto Low-down

Every July, I sit down and give my views, my humble opinions, of how well or not so well the exhibitions went that were offered by the Spoleto Festival, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, and others in Charleston's art community - the commercial galleries and the pseudo "contemporary" art groups. It's a demanding task - it's a difficult duty - it's what I live for. There should be some perks in owning an arts newspaper and this one is mine, but then - who cares?

Let's start with the big guys at Spoleto - the folks who really did offer a series of site-specific installations - although they forgot to put that fact in their press releases. At least the ones sent to me. Of course, hardly anyone else in Charleston knew about the installations - unless they ran across a last-minute brochure produced to highlight the two-day presentations. That's right, these installations were planned to be up in locations for just two days each.

There was a small exhibition at the corner of King and Calhoun Streets in downtown Charleston, but by the time I discovered this brochure, I was in the middle of this July issue.

Like I always say, if you're not going to publicize an exhibit - why have it? That seemed to be a common problem of several exhibitions offered this year.

The publicized exhibition claimed by Spoleto was at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Frank Stella: Imaginary Landscapes, started a month and a half before the Spoleto Festival started and will be on view until July 29, a month after the Festival ended, but it was a Spoleto exhibition (wink). Now that exhibition was publicized - it got (5) lines in an 11 page press release and who can forget the hundreds of "official" Spoleto posters of a work of Frank Stella's - most placed sideways in storefront windows throughout Charleston. I guess the people handing out the posters for Spoleto forgot to tell willing merchants which way was up. You see, the designer had put the Spoleto Festival USA name down the side of the poster, so most people hung it with the writing upright - just another example of Spoleto's respect for the visual arts and merchants who volunteer their windows for promotion of the Festival. Maybe some were embarrassed, maybe not.

By the way, the Frank Stella works are wonderful. Go see them. It's the cheapest Spoleto ticket you'll ever buy.

One last thing about Spoleto - it seems the media finally got it right this year in using the more accurate figure, that the Festival attracts 30,000 visitors, not the 100,000 used when they were fishing for SC taxpayer dollars for a loan to keep them afloat. That study was done by a University of South Carolina research group. I want to hire them when I need a loan.

OK, on to the Piccolo Spoleto exhibitions - all sixteen or seventeen of them, if you count the (unpublicized) "Print Studio South Juried Exhibition" on view at the Old City Jail where The Missing World exhibition was presented - the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Contemporary Art Exhibition, produced by Print Studio South.

Well, I've got to tell you, when I saw this exhibition, the first thing I asked myself ( We interrupt your normal editorial commentary to ask you to send us more money - we didn't make as much money as we thought we would this year and we're facing a fiscal shortfall. So please call in a pledge so we can bring you the kind of editorial commentary you can only find in "Carolina Arts". We know we should live within our means and budget better, but what the heck - we need more money, so we're going to interrupt your reading to make this plea for money - over and over again, until you shell out the bucks.

How much money are we talking about? Well, we'll tell you when you've sent enough and you'll know when we stop interrupting your normal reading.

You all know or should know by now that most state governments are facing a budget shortfall, as a result of the downturn in the economy or maybe it's the election results - whatever - we just don't have enough money to continue at the level we prefer. I know we're not a state agency or even funded by any local, state or national agency, but if the SCETV (and radio) Endowment can get away with using the state of SC's shortfall as an excuse for fundraising - why can't we?

Even though the South Carolina Educational Television (and radio) Endowment - not a state agency and not a real endowment fund - have already conducted two scheduled fundraising events this year and another previous "shortage of funds" drive for money - here they are again telling their supporters that they again need more money to continue programing. Programming they have claimed before that the state of SC doesn't pay for - that the Endowment (not a real endowment) pays for with funds that listeners contribute for "thank you gifts" and memberships. Somehow the Endowment fell short some $300,000 of unexpected expenses just before the end of the fiscal year - even though the Endowment has no connection to the state agency. SCETV just owns (with taxpayer funds) all the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities in Columbia, SC - HDTV and all. Not many people in SC have HDTVs , but SCETV can broadcast HDTV. We're #1 as far as public TV goes.

What does this have to do with anything? Anything pertaining to the visual arts in the Carolinas? Not much, but I hate these, so-called Endowment (not a real endowment) fundraisers. I listen to a lot of public radio - when I'm delivering the paper, when I'm working on the paper, working on my computer and sometimes for entertainment. The broadcasts come through my radio just like all other radio broadcast - free. I don't mind all the commercials that are now on public radio - radio - commercials - it's a given. And, I've already supported public radio with my state and federal tax dollars, so why should I pay more? Especially to people who call themselves an endowment, but are not a real endowment and don't operate like one. I'll never donate money to people who hold my listening pleasure hostage while trying to embarrass me into giving them more funding, since they can't live within their financial means.

And, as far as this having to do anything with the arts... Last year, the Endowment (not really an endowment) used artists to fundraise $80,000 by selling artwork valued probably two or three times that figure. I tried to get some answers from the Endowment about how much the fundraiser costs and where the money was going and totals on the value of the donations. The day before the person who was handling my request was leaving the Endowment, they called to tell me they would be handing it over to someone else - this was already six months after my request was made. They couldn't tell me anything and couldn't understand why I was asking so many questions. A month later I got a letter which just told me they raised $80,000. They only answered one of my questions under SC's Freedom of Information request, but then again, they're not a state agency and seem to be answerable to no one.

The problem is - $80,000 from the sale of donated art was sweet money for the Endowment, and like all their other fundraisers - they'll do them again and again as long as the artists are willing to give and they can think up plausible excuses. I just wish the artists giving those artworks were better informed as to what they're giving for and to whom. Now back to our regular editorial commentary, which has been in progress.) And finally, one of the pleasant surprises of all the Piccolo Spoleto visual art offerings was an exhibition at the Saul Alexander Gallery at the Charleston County Library's Main Branch by Lucia Johnson of Columbia, SC. Her acrylic paintings were like snap shots of friends - quick renderings of moments in time. They reminded me of times spent with friends in younger days.


We have another installment of "A View From Down Under" by Judith McGrath on the word "contemporary". It's a word that seems to be used as a dividing line between artists these days - them and us or that group and the other group - fine art and commercial art - good art and bad art. The problem is figuring out which group you're in - are you outside looking in or inside looking out?

Let's say I take the side of the so-called "not contemporary artists", what some call - commercial artists - artists who get their work shown in commercial galleries and sell there work for money - real money. What is it the other guys have that I want? Do I want respect? But you can't eat respect or pay your rent or mortgage in the case of most of these artists with respect. Do I want a grant? Even major grants are less money than some of these artists make in a month, but grants are free - even tax free. But there are usually too many strings attached to grants. Am I attracted to showing my work in dungeons vs. well lit, secure spaces on the right side of the tracks? Right! Maybe I feel left out when it comes to all those fancy state art agency exhibitions? Of course they tend to tie up your work for long periods of time and not many sales are made during these shows, but is it always about money? It's hard not to consider it after you've tasted the sweet smell of success - financial success. So why am I always looking over the fence? Most of the public likes my art. What's wrong with making art people like and can recognize what it is?

Now, if I put myself in the shoes of the "contemporary artists", why would I look at the other guys as foes? Well, there's all that money - money for art I don't think is very good or challenging. I could use some of that money. And, I don't understand how they can sell their artistic souls for money - what a cop-out. Another thing, they get all the attention - in the commercial galleries, in "Carolina Arts", and other publications. My shows hardly get noticed, except in the alternative world. Plus, I have to spend so much of my time making fun of them, when I could be getting on with my serious work, and then there's all that money they get for their art, but I'm not willing to sell out. I really don't know a thing they have that I would really want. I've got my respect and my art - that's all that really matters.

Gee, it's hard to see why either group would be envious of the other - standing in each others' shoes. So why does there seem to be so much friction out there? Could it be artists want it all, don't most people want it all - isn't that what the American system is based on - wanting it all? And, could it be that some people in the media like stirring up the pot? I think some state arts agencies like to use the word contemporary to give themselves an excuse to ignore most of the real art community when it comes to services and funding.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know you're not going to get too far in life with your goals while your standing at the fence daydreaming. I don't spend a lot of time looking at the Post & Courier, The State, or the Charlotte Observer - why would I?

I also know that many artists who are pointing a finger (usually their middle finger) at other artists who they say have sold out are still too close to the unrealistic universe of the university and college. Many are too dependent on their partner's income or a working spouse. If they weren't being propped up by someone else's funding, whether it be family and friends or local, state and federal tax dollars - they wouldn't say stupid things like money doesn't matter. Money always matters, especially in the arts.

Very few artists are in a position where money doesn't matter - that's why there is a lot of friction and envy out there - it's over money and opportunity - one in the same. How you go about in the pursuit of money and opportunity is your individual struggle and choice. I know artists who are nothing but whores for that next grant or their next sale. We all make compromises every day of our lives and if you want to call it selling out - so be it. I know I've sold out, but I make the most of it and sleep well at night - very well.

Public Art Projects

As promised last month, we have details on the Chairs on Parade exhibitions taking place in Charlotte & Hickory, NC, and the Big Pig Gig on Vacation in Beaufort, SC, on Page 19 of this issue. But, we've learned there is more.

Last year, Beaufort, SC's Cows on Vacation partnership helped the Beaufort Arts Council and City of Beaufort forge a nice, ongoing relationship with Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and its Public Art Program. Part of the follow-up included staff exchanges between the participating organizations, which lead to Beaufort being adopted as a cultural sister with Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs. This relationship resulted in another partnership between the Beaufort Arts Council, the town of Port Royal, SC, Chicago's Public Art Program, and the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. That relationship resulted in the exchange of another public art project - the River of Art, a project commissioned by the John G. Shedd Aquarium, to celebrate the opening of a new permanent Amazon Exhibition at the aquarium. This brought 16 public art objects dealing with the Amazon River to Port Royal. All 16 objects are on exhibit through Dec., 2001, and a full color brochure is available from Port Royal Town Hall, the Beaufort Arts Council, and the Beaufort Visitors Center.

The Law

A few folks have asked me for legal advice after last month's article about copyright law - which I didn't write. The article was submitted by M. Jordan Denning who is an associate in the Charleston, SC, office of Moore & Van Allen, PLLC. Denning is the expert, not me. But, it's my fault for forgetting to mention in last month's commentary that Denning would be willing to take on a few "general" questions - he's not interested in foregoing his fees for specific advice. If you have a general question about something which could or has been a problem in the area of copyrights of artwork - send us your question and I'll forward them on. Our lines of communication are on page 2 in the upper left corner - every month. I know some of you have never noticed them there.


We offer two kinds of publicity here at Carolina Arts - paid display ads and free opportunities to send us info about exhibitions taking place in the Carolinas - in the form of written articles, press releases and gallery listings. Both require meeting certain deadlines for publication. Whether it be paid or free - you still have to send it to us for us to present it to our readers.

If you don't send us stuff about your exhibitions, you've got no reason for complaint. If you're sending your info late - you need to get more organized and meet our deadline. We don't determine most of what goes in the paper - you do.

If you're not going to make an effort to publicize an exhibition, don't expect people to make an effort to see it. Almost 99% of what you see in this paper was sent to us as a press release and although we do make changes when important items are left out - what you send us is what people read.

I know what you're saying - I can't write a press release or article worth reading - maybe so, but then many paid professionals can't either. You just have to try your best and meet our deadlines and the more you do it the easier it will become. Like I said earlier about The Missing World exhibition and Ellen Dressler Moryl's support of the visual arts - you just have to do the best you can and no one is asking for more. Your best is always best! (??? whoops, I guess we missed that part during our fundraising interruption - sorry!)

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