Past Comments

June Issue 2003
by Tom Starland

Spoleto Anticipation

I have none. At least while Spoleto Festival USA - the main show - isn't offering any credible visual art offerings. It's amazing that no monumental visual art offering is being presented to the Spoleto or Piccolo Spoleto audience - said to be regional, national and international in its makeup. What better audience will any presenter have? What better opportunity for national attention? But yet, nothing is happening on that kind of scale.

It's been going on now for 27 years and Spoleto has mounted only two serious exhibitions of their own making. But, alas, why pine... thinking something will change.

Anywho, Charleston's visual art community is offering plenty of visual delights for visitors to enjoy - we'll have more about them in next month's issue. As I write this, the two festivals haven't even started yet.

With Spoleto Comes Change

One thing is constant about the Spoleto season and that is it's a marker of change in the Charleston gallery scene. While some are looking forward to opening new spaces, some usually hang on hoping that the Spoleto season will bring new hope. This year, there's an added twist. Several galleries are closing by retirement. Meaning that the folks who are running them have decided that they would like to do something else with their future than keep a gallery open to the public.

For some it means spending more time in their garden - for others it more travels and time with grandchildren.

Last month, after 19 1/2 years Billie Sumner closed her gallery in Mt. Pleasant, SC, where she had moved just a few years ago from her space on Chalmers Street in downtown Charleston, SC. Billie was one of our first supporters when we started 16 years ago. And, she's been a supporter ever since. Billie even talked me into restarting the paper after I shut it down after Hurricane Hugo shut Charleston down for a year. The paper wouldn't be what it is today without supporters like Billie.

Now, Billie will have more time to travel, paint, see a movie during the day, and devote more time and attention to the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show which she coordinates each year. You'll still be able to buy her work in other galleries that carry her work and at her studio in Mt. Pleasant by appointment.

Billie might even be able to travel to some of the national exhibitions which she gets work into. Like the recent Hilton Head Art League's 2003 National Juried Art Exhibition held at the prestigious Walter Greer Gallery in Hilton Head, SC, or the Challenge of Champions exhibition part of Watermedia 2003 held in Houston, TX. Works by Sumner were selected from hundreds of entries from around the nation for inclusion in these shows. Now Billie could actually travel to these exhibitions, instead of opening her gallery at 10am each day.

Another long time Charleston artist closed her gallery in May after 13 years - Marty Whaley Adams. First at #2 Queen, then at the corner of Meeting and Queen Streets and then back at #2 Queen again - the Marty Whaley Gallery is no more. Marty will now spend more time restoring her mother's famous garden, writing her garden column for the Post & Courier and painting by commission.

Marty was another longtime supporter and, like Billie Sumner, was one of the founders of the French Quarter Gallery Association and Charleston's popular ART WALKS.

Charleston will miss their galleries, but both will still be active - just in other ways. I know we'll miss their support. You can never get enough support.

Another gallery that has closed its doors for the last time in Charleston is The Morris Gallery at 151 East Bay Street. This gallery closed for some of the same reasons the others were closed, but also due to a growing problem in Charleston.

Marilyn Morris, the gallery owner, closed her gallery because of rising rents and a desire to travel more. She's moving her work over to the Hamlet Art Gallery at 7 Broad Street - letting someone else open and close the gallery.

If you've never been tied to a gallery - day in/day out - you just don't know how restricting it can be on your life.

So here's to the three artists and their new lives and here's to all those who'll be opening their galleries again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Thank you for everything.

Somewhere out there, someone is planning on opening a new gallery in Charleston. It never fails. As some galleries close, others step forward to open new spaces.

The 2% Solution

The City of Columbia, SC, and Richland County have recently passed a new tax of 2% to be added to meals purchased in the Columbia area. The 2% tax revenue will be used to support Columbia area cultural institutions - Columbia Museum of Art, the still-being-built EdVenture, Historic Columbia, Riverbanks Zoo, etc. Between the city and county, it is said that $3-$7 million could be generated.

The tax is seen as the golden solution for the targeted groups' budget problems, but I think it's the beginning of "Cultural Wars" in Columbia. How long will it take before other "cultural" organization start crying foul that they are not on the receiving end of such a booty of tax dollars? How long will it take before those creative minds on the respective councils start stretching the meaning of "cultural" and spread the money around to pet projects? How long will it take before the organizations involved start thinking they can just expand their budgets? After all the good folks of Columbia can just eat more! The more they eat - the more culture they get!

OK, here's another question for you. If the public is now supporting these organizations directly with this special tax on eating - why are these organization going to still charge admission? Shouldn't the public get in free to the Museum, EdVenture and the Zoo? At least those who chow down in public in Columbia and Richland County.

What added services will the public get from these organizations next year that they didn't get last year?

And, where does this taxing for the arts thing stop? Perhaps next year the Theatre groups in the Columbia area can get the respective councils to pass a 2% tax on commercial movie theaters to support their efforts. The next year the dance groups can get them to add a 2% tax on the people going to see the ballet on ice performed at the hockey games in Columbia. How about a 2% tax on concrete supplies to support sculptors in Columbia.

The thing is, the public has already been taxed all along by the counties, cities, states and feds to support the arts and "cultural" organizations - it's just never enough! And, to add insult to injury - they all charge admission to boot.

I don't see any solutions to any problems. I just see a big passing of the buck to the public.

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