Past Comments

May Issue 2002
by Tom Starland

Riding the Truth Train

Well, no train starts out of the station going 100mph - it chugs along until it builds up steam. And, that's what we're going to do. Plus, if we went too fast, we'd quickly run out of track in this issue.

A Tale of Two Cities - Two Art Museums

In April of last year, Sal Cilella, former Director of the Columbia Museum of Art wrote an article for "FreeTimes" newspaper in Columbia, SC, entitled, "Can South Carolina Overcome Its Arts Legacy? Parting Words From Columbia Museum of Art Director Sal Cilella." Included in this parting statement Cilella revealed some information which I found shocking. He was complaining about the seemingly "lack" of support for the art museum by the City of Columbia and Richland County compared to the support they were giving for a new baseball stadium for Columbia's semi-pro ballteam and a weekend music festival.

The statement went as follows: "Unfortunately, one appears ungrateful when one compares city support for the three-day Three Rivers Festival ($430,000) to annual support for the museum ($410,000). County support is at roughly the same level ($400,000). At one time, total municipal support was equal to more than half of the museum's budget - it is now only 36 percent."

Wow, what a crybaby! At one time city and county leaders gave the art museum more than half their budget - now they only give them a third. Could it be that the museum increased its budget dramatically by building a new facility! The Columbia Museum of Art's annual budget is roughly $2.5 million.

I mean, it is amazing that the city of Columbia would give $430,000 for a weekend music festival compared to $410,000 to the museum which is open all year long. But, that's not what bothered me about Cilella's statement. It's normal for people who feed out of the public funding trough to be outraged that someone would get more money then they do. How dare they!

No, what I was shocked about was the reality that the Columbia Museum of Art was getting $810,000 annually from the City of Columbia and Richland County - compared to what I knew the City of Charleston and Charleston County was giving the Gibbes Museum of Art - roughly $130,000 - $90,000 from the City and $40,000 from the County. What's up with that?

The Gibbes Museum of Art's annual budget is roughly $1.6 million - almost a million less than the Columbia Museum. Of course the Gibbes is using an old facility. My calculations add up to total city/county funding from Columbia was 33 percent of their art museum's budget and total city/county funding for Charleston's art museum is 8 percent of its budget.

There's something wrong with that. Isn't Charleston supposed to be the city of art, with a Mayor who gets awards and recognition for supporting the arts? Where's the beef?

Of course then there is state funding. Some people in the art community seem to think that if the State of SC cut the total budget of the SC Arts Commission, all art activity would stop in the state. Take a look at these numbers. The Carolina Art Association (that's the Gibbes) was awarded for FY2002, $35,805 - roughly 2.2 percent of the museum's budget. The Columbia Art Association was awarded $33,880 - roughly 1.3 percent of the Columbia Museum of Art's budget - almost meaningless. I used the word "awarded" because the Arts Commission never gave out the total amount of this year's awards due to state budget cuts.

Don't get me wrong, neither museum is ready or willing to send the Arts Commission their money back, but neither would close without it.

We're not even going to get into the area of money received from local arts councils. Columbia has one and Charleston doesn't.

What have we learned here?

We've learned that Sal Cilella didn't know how good he had it in receiving a third of his budget from city and county taxpayers, and he wanted more, much more. And, we've learned that the City/County of Charleston has been shortchanging the Gibbes. It also shows that Paul C. Figueroa, former Director of the Gibbes Museum of Art was doing a hell of a job keeping the Gibbes fiscally responsible, with a budget which was hardly a burden on taxpayers. It's all a matter of perspective. And, some people just don't have any.

Now, the City of Charleston likes to compare themselves to other cities in the region when it suits them to justify some financial disbursement for something the public is not so in favor of. But, that weapon should be double-edged. Shouldn't we expect the same level of support - percentage wise - from the City of Charleston. I mean, I don't expect Charleston's city/county leaders to fork over $810,000 to equal the contributions of their equals in Columbia. I'd be happy to see them provide the same percentage - 33 percent would equal a $528,000 contribution to the Gibbes.

Of course one factor we may be overlooking is that perhaps city/county leaders in Columbia may be just that more supportive of the arts than their counterparts in Charleston. And, some people would complain that I'm comparing apples with oranges or in this case apples with lemons.

The Gibbes has a membership of about 3,500 - that's about half the amount of people who voted in Charleston's last election. If they all wrote a letter or called their city/county council members, the Gibbes might see more funding. But, we all know that's not going to happen. Holding membership in any organization doesn't translate into responsibility in America. And, of course if the Gibbes membership had been that active, the museum might not be looking for a new Director.

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