Past Comments

June Issue 2002
by Tom Starland

The Spoleto Scoop!

There isn't much of one - yet. The annual schedule of the Festival and our deadline for publication doesn't exactly offer an opportunity to comment much about something that has barely started by the time I'm writing this. But, I've seen some early exhibitions.

I hope the big hit of the combined Festivals will be the Larger Than Life: A Second Story Show, featuring large-scale paintings hanging from some of Charleston's major buildings - historic and new. I've seen a few and they look fantastic. A lot of cities have had public art exhibitions with cows, pigs, wolves, palmetto trees, chairs - you name it. Charleston, the city famous for old building should have a larger expanded exhibition with its buildings dressed up as art. But, don't ask Linda Fantuzzo to organize it - not just yet. She's probably had her fill of organizing artists and dealing with a city that doesn't cotton to such new fangled ideas like hanging big paintings from its buildings. Fantuzzo and the participating artists deserve a big hand for sticking with it and perhaps giving Charleston a start on its own public art program. I'm not talking about lip service and meetings. I'm talking about artworks throughout the city - year round - in the parks, in the alleys, on the buildings - everywhere. Charleston is a historic city crying for a chance to show its contemporary side.

The other big show - Spoleto's The Memory of Water - looks better on paper than in reality. Of course it relies heavily on conceptual art. That's only my opinion. It might not be an educated opinion, but then you can read what a learned fellow had to say about it. On Page 1, we offer the opinions of Paul C. Figueroa, former director of the Gibbes Museum of Art. But above all, go see it for yourselves.

I saw the Piccolo Spoleto 18th Annual Juried Art Exhibition, housed at the Visitor Center. I can't say much for the venue, but there was a lot of good art there, being shown in very bad conditions, but I'll give the City of Charleston credit for one thing - something you won't hear much from me. There were nudes in the exhibit and although they were placed where only people looking at the exhibition would see them - they were there. At least I hope they stay there. If they do, I can only figure that the City has finally come to the conclusion that art is art - nudes or not. They shouldn't be excluded from public exhibitions in public places.

Well, that's about all I got to see in one quick run through Charleston before deadline. So, hold your horses until July - then we'll let it fly on the rest of the visual arts scene.

Some Differences Between the Visual Arts & Performing Arts

Have you ever noticed that when a performing arts group gets into financial trouble they do one or two things, and even both at times. (1) The board decides to operate with a deficit - which means they just end up owing money to people who have provided them services or they take out a bank loan to pay their debt and then owe the bank money, which is paid back over time - sometimes over a long time and sometimes if they can get one of the bank's officers on their board - they don't pay it back at all. Operating with a deficit means nothing to performing arts groups.

(2) Or, they get members of their board and other supporters to write letters to the local newspapers begging the community for more funding. Sometimes it's to match funding offered by an "anonymous" source - that reminds me of tactics used by public broadcasting fundraisers. At other times they are just fishing for further funding from cities, counties, and state agencies - for more taxpayer dollars. Sometimes they get loans from these kinds of public sources and sometimes those loans are forgotten or forgiven.

But, when it comes to visual arts organizations - it's a whole different thing - heads roll.

Two of SC's major art museums - the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC, and the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC, have had troubles with shortfalls in their budgets. Both boards of these museums have looked for solutions to their problems with staff cuts. Sometimes it's by resignations (forced and unforced), outright firings, and in both cases - resignations which are the results of the first two methods.

The Gibbes is operating without a qualified director. An interim director has been brought in from the business community, a former banker. It's not so unusual - the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, has been operating with an interim director from the business community for almost a year. I hope that's not going to be the case in Charleston.

The Gibbes also lost their communications person, membership person and an accountant.

And, recently the Columbia Museum of Art has announced that due to their severe budget shortfall, the Museum was cutting the entire staff of (3) of its Marketing & Communications Department and replacing it by hiring the services of an outside marketing and communications firm - owned by a SC State legislator. Now there's someone I want in charge of my image. The Museum must be looking for some of that 6 o'clock national evening news audience. SC legislators have brought us headlines like: Votes Sold for Price of New Suits, NAACP Boycotts State Over Confederate Flag Waving, and let us not forget all the good press we get for being at the bottom of all national rankings on education, health, poverty, incomes, etc., etc. Yes, these are the kind of folks I want creating my image in the media. Woops! That may have cost me some advertising revenue. Darn!

The Columbia Museum of Art has also lost its chief curator and their development person.

Who's next?

The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, SC, is having financial problems too - but that would take an entire issue to cover their problems - including EdVenture which, if built, will become Columbia's "blackhole" of funding like Charleston's aquarium.

Slashing jobs is easy for the boards of these organizations, but it puts more stress on remaining personnel. Perhaps the board members of these two groups need to take a lesson from their counterparts at performing arts organizations. Or better yet, put some of their own money into the kitty. And, in both situations, consult their membership more about problems and solutions.

Then again, perhaps some of these staff losses are not really due to funding shortfalls. Perhaps some of these institution's problems lie directly on the shoulders of the board members of the organizations.

I remember when the board members of the Lowcountry Area Arts Council just decided to throw the towel in and bring that organization to an end without asking its membership. Now Charleston has no independent arts council.

Board members should be at least one or more of the following: knowledgeable, proven community leaders, financially generous, actively involved, and representative of the membership and staff of the organization. Otherwise they could be made up of people who just get off on being on a board - any board.

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