May Issue 2004
by Tom Starland
My Favorite Subject
Yes, it's the SC Arts Commission - again. Or, if SC's Governor Sanford gets his way in reorganizing SC's state government - the Division of the Arts - part of the new Department of Literary and Cultural Resources.
I always save my May commentary for the best issues and I can't think of anything better then shedding some light on what the folks at the Arts Commission have been up to in the last year - besides keeping their heads above water and holding on to their retirement packages.
When is the last time you read a story in any
paper in SC where the Arts Commission has announced staff layoffs?
Unlike other state agencies - the Commission prefers to cut programs
and funding instead of staff - although they have one of the largest
staffs of state arts agencies in the country - yet we're one of
the smaller and poorer states.
They did however cut their PR director this year. It seems that person didn't have much to do since most of the Commission's publications had come to a halt over the last few years and the Arts Commission never did do too much PR anyway. At least I never saw any here. But, much like when the Columbia Museum of Art cut their PR staff when they started operating in the red - it was the last person they should have cut. The public needs to know what the Arts Commission is up to.
Earlier in this year I was bitchin' about how the Art Commission had left Carolina Arts and the rest of the arts community in the dark about a major exhibition, Thresholds: Expressions of Art and Spiritual Life, which took place at the City of Charleston's new City Gallery at the Waterfront Park and at churches around Charleston, SC. This was an exhibition organized by five regional state arts agencies taking place in Charleston during a national convention of arts agencies in Charleston.
When I first heard about this exhibit through the rumor mill I contacted Harriett Green, the Commission's visual art director to make sure we knew about this when the exhibit would take place. She said she would keep me informed when everything was set. I never heard back and before I knew it the exhibit was taking place in Charleston. We never received a word about the exhibit.
When I wrote my first commentary about this snub I hadn't even seen the exhibit. Once I saw the exhibit and picked up one of the exhibition catalogs - I was even more angry about the lack of promotion of this exhibition.
The exhibition was a wonderful contemporary display of works - the kind not often seen in Charleston. It was almost to the level of those exhibits we used to see in Charleston when the Spoleto Festival was producing visual arts. But you have to promote exhibitions to get people to see them. Of course, in my opinion from past experience, the SC Arts Commission was probably only interested in impressing the people gathering for the arts agency convention. Who cares if anyone else sees the exhibit.
What really amazed me was the 1/4" thick
4-color exhibition catalog I picked up at the City Gallery. At
one point I was thinking that Harriett Green had just run out
of time getting such an exhibit up - but the catalog proved they
spent lots of time and money working on creating an image for
this exhibit. Too bad there are boxes and boxes of these catalogs
sitting somewhere in Columbia - as no one - at least hardly no
one saw this exhibit. It was Charleston's and the Arts Commission's
best kept secret.
The Arts Commission's exhibit publications always amaze me too. When you see some of the supporting advertisements you wonder how these people ever found out about the opportunity? There were four ads for individual artists - all from SC including: Paul Bright, Phil & Marge Moody, Ed Rice and Paula Smith. How did they know about this great promotional opportunity. I don't remember seeing any notice calling for advertisements to support the catalog. I guess no artists in the other four states saw a notice either. How did these people know about this? Did someone call them directly to give them an invitation?
Paul Bright helped with the exhibition, so there is no mystery there. But I guess this is just another case of insider trading. Certain artists in SC are on Green's speed dial. Of course, I guess they didn't get their money's worth since the catalogs didn't get seen my many people.
Some people would say that it was the City of Charleston or the Office of Cultural Affairs duty to promote exhibition taking place in their galleries, but last year we talked about that problem and nothing seems to have changed on that front. After bitchin' about that last year Ellen Dressler Moryl promised to sit down with me at the gallery and discuss these problems, but the meeting never happened. I still don't know who is running that exhibition space and selecting exhibitions and who is in charge of their promotion.
I still blame Harriett Green for dropping the ball on the Thresholds exhibit, especially after I requested info on it well ahead of time. The catalog mentions that this exhibit will travel regionally. It says in the back of the catalog to check the Arts Commission's website for info - but none is to be found. I've even had an artist who has work in the exhibit - if I had heard about any traveling locations. A search on Google on the Internet gave no results of following exhibitions. Was the talk of a traveling schedule all a front to make the exhibit even more important to sponsors?
Greens' name has surfaced in another incident.
I've come across a letter which is addressed to Governor Sanford
complaining about how Green, as an employee of the SC Arts Commission,
has been retained to provide artworks for a Columbia office building.
It seems the Arts Commission is competiting with interior designers
and art galleries across SC for providing art to several building
projects in SC. I'm sure this is against state law. And, if it's
true - Green and other at the Arts Commission should be fired.
It's hard enough for art galleries to survive in this economy - they don't need to be competiting with state agencies to sell art. Of course the Arts Commission does have a lot of artists in SC under their thumb - there's nothing like the threat of losing your funding if you don't set the right price on your art - whether it's a spoken threat or a silent one. Those artists used to working with the Arts Commission know how the game is played. We hope to know more about this by our next issue.
Museums In Trouble
It seems the Columbia Museum of Art is in financial trouble again with a $160,000 shortfall in this year's budget. I'm sure they're not the only ones in SC, but it makes you wonder why this state is thinking about building new museums, such as the African-American Museum ($60million) and Hunley Museum ($40+million), when museums we already have are in financial trouble. The state needs to help these museums before we build more. Or, we're going to have a lot more facilities in trouble.
A Few Last Mentions
OK now - take a deep breath. There were a few more exhibits taking place during Piccolo Spoleto that were left out of our main article that we want to point out. (See our Gallery Listings for complete listings.) Redux Contemporary Art Center on St. Philip Street will be offering their 3rd annual Portrait Knockdown, on May 29 & 30, where artists will compete head to head, round after round, until the Portrait Grand Champion of the World is crowned. This event should be interesting to see - or even compete in.
The Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon at East Bay and Broad Streets, will house the exhibit, Dance, images where each is done in four different mediums by Charles Ailstock, from May 29 - June 13.
The Halsey Gallery at the Simons Center for the Arts of the College of Charleston on St. Philip Street will present, Perhappiness: the art of Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, from May 14 - June 12. The two artists were among the leading figures in the underground conceptual art movement in Russia during the 1970's. In their photographs, they use their own faces to explore the nature of thought and what lies beyond it.
And, finally at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street the exhibit, Nature: Soul and Splendor, features photography by Carmela Haklisch, from May 28 - June 13.
That's it! We couldn't fit anything more into this issue. Check us out next month for the follow-up of what came in after deadline.
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