Past Commentaries

May Issue 2000
by Tom Starland

The Annual Explanation

As always, I have to apologize for the shortage of articles in this issue - otherwise known as the Spoleto Festival issue. This is the issue where we try and fit in all the ads that artists, galleries, and institutions in Charleston, SC want to catch the attention of the largest cultural audience to hit the Carolinas for 17 days in late May and early June. The official schedule is May 26 - June 11. You might not believe it, but we actually had to turn some people down due to a lack of space. Some say just add more pages, but it's not that simple. To add more pages we would have to change printers and personally, I don't want to do that for a couple of issues a year. So, we live with it and hope you can too. Next month there will be plenty of articles about all that is going on - all over the Carolinas - both of them - North Carolina and South Carolina. (That was for the benefit of the national press.)

Don't Forget!

Before you start reading our cover story about all the visual art offerings planned for the Spoleto Festival season - don't forget that the cultural activities this month start with the North Charleston Arts Festival, running from May 5 - 13. The Main Event takes place May 6 & 7 at the North Charleston Performing Arts & Convention Center Complex - offering lots of performances, art exhibits, and art activities. And don't forget that there will be lots of other interesting exhibits and events taking place elsewhere in South Carolina and North Carolina. We don't mean to imply by this issue that Charleston is everything. Besides, read on!

What's Wrong With Charleston's Support of the Visual Arts?

As promised last month, I've decided to express my disgust for the way the City of Charleston treats the visual arts -- as second class citizens. That would be a step up. The treatment is more like -- who cares? Perhaps they're just taking my advice to heart when I suggested that the visual arts would be better off if the City just left them alone. Anyone who does get involved with the City and its Office of Cultural Affairs eventually learns that you can get lots of smiles and suggestions out of them, but you'll never make any progress or headway on your own goals. And, in the end, they'll list you on their grant application as someone they are assisting at great lengths and take credit for everything else you accomplish on your own. And, we all know that those good folks at the SC Arts Commission and the NEA only care about what you say on your grant application - not what you really do.

So what's wrong? Well, in a nutshell -- It's a lack of leadership, lack of vision, lack of knowledge, and a fear of people who act independently. And, if those aren't enough reasons -- it's because they can't carry the performing arts on their backs and deal with the visual art community at any level at the same time. And, we all know, without the constant backing of the City, most of the performing arts groups would have gone under a long time ago.

Now I could wear out this keyboard listing all their failures and lame attempts at trying to control the visual arts in the name of lending a helping hand. I'm saving that for the book! For now, I'll just concentrate on the latest issue.

The City of Charleston is getting a new gallery space by way of making its construction a requirement of developing valuable property alongside Waterfront Park. This new exhibit space will be the greatest addition to Charleston's pathetic excuses for public gallery space in decades. It's an important issue to every visual artist in Charleston and the surrounding area - but they have no voice in how the facility will be used or function. The Mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., in all his wisdom, has decided that the space would be more useful to him as another City "party" palace, like the Visitor Center, Maritime Center, Exchange Building, and new Aquarium, which is already booked for two years worth of parties. Apparently the City never has enough party space. The Mayor is making the developer put in glass windows along the entire wall of the gallery space facing the Waterfront Park so the VIP's can sip champagne and look out over the harbor - in the cool air-conditioned gallery, virtually making one whole wall of the gallery useless. We already have that at the City Gallery which is all windows and doors. This is how the City treats the visual arts in Charleston.

I wrote a letter to the editor of our local daily newspaper, asking that the city hold a public meeting, but they didn't publish it. The Mayor said he has discussed the gallery space with leaders in the visual arts community, but I bet he never discussed the glass wall or any other details about who will get to use the space, who will run it, and who will select what is shown there. The entire visual art community should have an opportunity to give their input into this important - once in a lifetime development. But as usual, the Mayor will be making all the decisions - things will be done his way - just like the $30 million > $50 million > $70 million aquarium. Like the $15 million baseball park which serves an average of 2,500 people. A Maritime Center which serves no function as a maritime center.

Of course the Mayor would say, "I wish Mr. Starland would offer more constructive and positive input into such matters instead of always tearing the City down for its efforts." Been there, done that - got nowhere! I just wish for once the Mayor would listen to someone besides his usual cronies and do what the community needs - not what he wants.

Charleston needs a decent exhibition space for artists who live and create here, but are not commercially viable, to show their work. You can call them "contemporary" if you have to, but we have a great need for decent public art space and the City is blowing, what seems to be its only chance in recent history.

If the Mayor goes ahead with the glass wall, we need never ask ourselves again, "What's wrong with the City of Charleston's support of the visual arts". We'll know!

Sadly enough, the local chamber of commerce, local media, and local tourism officials don't regard the visual arts any better. They just don't get it and it seems they never will.

Web Site News

There are several people who are offering web sites to promote local and regional art - for sale, in both North and South Carolina. I'm a gallery person myself, but I do realize that everyone can't come to all the galleries we cover - nor would every gallery want everyone in the world coming to their city and gallery. The world wide web is the new frontier for showing and selling art.

Several sites have become known to us which are offering such services. Workshop Creations at ( is a worldwide market place for selling artworks. Another site featuring artists from North Carolina is the Tarheelgallery, which can be found at ( And, in Charleston, Penny Jordan is offering the site ( to promote works by Charleston artists. Jordan says that there is no charge to be on the site, she will just take a commission from works that are sold through the site.

Established galleries are also jumping on the internet bandwagon, so check them out and see which ones might work for you. Ask questions and make sure you know what you're getting into. Too many artists already don't understand the relationship between them and the people who sell their art.

An Interview With Myself

I've played with this idea for several years, but I always put it off due to a shortage of space or wondering how people would view an interview conducted on both ends by the same person. But now with the seemingly unlimited space of the internet and our website, I've decided to do it.

Starting on May 26, the beginning of the Spoleto Festival, you'll be able to go to our web site at ( and find the interview with me - by me. Who else will asks the right questions? Who else knows where the bodies are buried? Who knows me better than me?

It should be an interesting and entertaining read, or at least I hope it will be. Log on, and learn all you hoped you never would about the guy behind Carolina Arts.

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