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- September Issue 1998
- Commentary by Tom Starland, editor / publisher
- A Melberg Update
- Unless you have opened a business in Charleston,
SC, it would be hard to understand just how slowly the contractors
and the city can move. There are a lot of obstacles thrown in
your path that keep you from opening the door for business. It
can be a trying experience, but it's Charleston and just one
of the things that make up that love/hate relationship that keeps
people in that city. I've heard some say it's just as bad in
Asheville, NC, but I can't imagine that.
- Mary and Jerald Melberg have been living
through this unique experience with a pretty positive attitude
- everyone else can't wait. Believe me, the Melbergs would like
to be open too, but all good things take their time and when
that time comes, they will throw a big bash to open those doors.
- The current projection is for mid-October.
Que sera, sera - what ever will be, will be. But, you're also
going to have to wait until our next issue for the whole story
on why the addition of the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charleston
is a big deal - at least in Charleston.
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Last month, people in Columbia, SC, who make
up that city's art community met for three days to conduct a
public hearing on the arts. These people were called together
by the Columbia Arts Task Force - a group of well meaning people
appointed by Columbia's Mayor, Bob Coble, to solve the problems
of Columbia's art community.
- I was invited to this hearing, but fortunately
I was engaged elsewhere on the day I was invited to attend. On
that day, I took my son and one of his friends to tour the guided
missile cruiser USS South Carolina. Believe me, my son and his
friend got more out of that trip than I would have gotten attending
another meeting about what's wrong with the arts. And, after
reading newspaper reports of those three days of meetings I was
really glad I didn't waste my time by going. It was just another
bitch fest about what's wrong with the arts.
- I can't wait to read the final report of
the Columbia Arts Task Force and compare it to the one the Lowcountry
Arts and Cultural Council released in 1996. It was called, "Creating
Perspectives - A Vision for the Arts and Culture in the Lowcountry".
It was a blueprint to solve all of the art problems in Berkeley,
Charleston and Dorchester Counties in SC. Or better yet, I'll
dig out my copy of the, "Ten-Year Plan for the Arts,"
authored by my favorite state arts agency. This was a plan to
fix the arts in SC by the year 2,000. I keep them both in the
Fiction section of my archives. These reports make inspiring
reading for those who are reality challenged, and they represent
what's really wrong with the arts - too many middlemen - too
many unattainable goals. These plans also seem to never be followed.
- What did the good folks in Columbia come
up with at this public hearing portion of the Arts Task Force?
Some of the usual complaints were as follows: no leadership,
no coordination between groups, audiences that are too small,
not enough free publicity in local newspapers, not enough funding
- that's free money, and not enough subsidized facilities (in
other words, cheap or free facilities for groups to use).
- The funniest complaint I read came from William
Starrett, director and founder of the Columbia City Ballet. He
complained that out of his 2,000 ticket subscribers, only 79
are contributing to the group above their ticket price level.
I hope that sounded as stupid to him as it did to me as he read
it in the paper in stark black and white. Starrett is another
good example of what's wrong with much of the art community -
they never have enough. Here's a guy with 2,000 paid ticket holders
and he's unhappy that only 79 are willing to pay more to subsidize
his performances. Starrett's group also receives government funding,
corporate funding, free and subsidized publicity, use of subsidized
facilities, and on top of it all - a non-profit tax status. Get
real, Mr. Starrett, you should have showed up at that hearing
with a big smile on your face thanking everyone in sight for
your good fortune, but you could only find your half empty glass.
I hope you can hold on to those ungrateful ticket subscribers.
- Another thing - about my invitation - I didn't
like what I saw. The agenda for the three days was broken up
into separate and unequal meetings with Columbia's big arts organizations
and then general open meetings with nondescript groups. Was the
Task Force afraid to get everyone together to hear what they
would say in public - in an open forum? I also didn't see one
visual arts group listed for a private meeting or any mention
of the commercial art galleries. At the end of the third day
one of the Task Force members was going to give a general wrap
of the three days of hearings. I also don't trust anyone to interpret
people's opinions and complaints for me - I've seen that happen
too many times before. I suggest the Task Force meet with the
commercial arts owners before they make any final report.
- In the end, the process came up with the
predictable observations: a need for inclusive, coordinated marketing
of the arts; equal access to funding; examining the process for
determining who gets funding and how much; developing better
leadership; involving more young people; and the real kicker,
establishing a city office of cultural affairs - more middlemen.
They referred to the person who would run that office as an art
Czar, and this is supposed to be an improvement.
- Back to the Lowcountry. During the years
between 1992 and 1996, the Lowcountry went through a similar
process of solving the problems of the art community and coming
up with a plan for the future. In Feb. of 1996, the group heading
this effort released their plan mentioned above. The plan would
be put into action by the Lowcountry Arts and Cultural Council
(formerly the Charleston Area Arts Council). By July of this
year, that arts council was throwing in the towel, just two years
later. Their reasoning? A lack of support and interest. So much
for the plan - any plan. And, now the Charleston area doesn't
have an arts council.
- What about that idea of setting up a city
office of cultural affairs? Be careful what you wish for Columbia!
Charleston, SC, has got one and it hasn't solved any of the problems
mentioned at the Columbia hearings, except the Czar part. In
fact, it's one of the reasons Charleston has never had a strong
arts council. Just remember that a city run office of cultural
affairs can become a political animal, run by the party currently
in power. Politics have never been a model for fairness. Before
you know it, funding and programing can become based on what
brings in the most votes during elections.
- When I think of the list of wants mentioned
at this hearing I don't get a picture of the Charleston City
Office of Cultural Affairs. I've been covering the arts in Charleston
for twelve years and I can't remember ever seeing a public notice
about applications for city funding or notice of who got funding
and how much they got. What I do know is that some groups get
everything from the city and others get meetings, and meetings,
and meetings - until they forget what they were after in the
first place. Some groups get loans from the city and some don't
have to repay their loans - it's just another form of funding
without an application.
- The Charleston City Gallery is the smallest
in the Carolinas, yet the city maintains three performance spaces
at a loss of $500,000 yearly, and still lets local performance
groups use them for next to nothing. The Mayor wants to build
another performance space and recently convinced City Council
to approve a $1 million donation to the local school system to
renovate two more performance spaces so local groups can use
them. Yes, an Office of Cultural Affairs can do wonders for some
arts groups, but is that what you want Columbia?
- The only other observation I have about the
Columbia arts hearing is that there wouldn't have been a need
for a hearing if the Richland/Lexington County Arts Council was
doing its job of serving the entire art community. Frankly, most
arts councils remind me of your local chamber of commerce - you
pay, you play organizations. If you're a dues paying member you're
on the radar screen, and the bigger your dues are, the more attention
you get. If you're not a member you're off their radar screen.
I always thought that these arts councils and chambers were here
to serve the entire community, but most are only interested in
serving certain members and their own agendas. It's not as if
everything the R/LCAC does is wrong, but they do have their critics
in many sectors of the Columbia art community. One thing I have
never liked is their monthly community arts calendar - it's not
very informative for the public, as it only lists items offered
by its members. All other events don't exist.
- Columbia and Charleston have similar and
different problems as far as their arts communities go, they're
not much different from anywhere else in the Carolinas, but none
of them are going to be solved by pampering non-profit groups
who have already had their glass filled over and over and by
bringing more middlemen into the picture. I don't have all the
answers, but one thing I know is that nothing will change for
the better until the commercial sector of the arts is brought
into the picture. These people have already learned to stand
on their own and survive in the world of reality. They have developed
more opportunities for artists and benefit the community everyday
by paying taxes, creating jobs, attracting tourists, and doing
it all with their own money at their own risk. They don't have
seasons either - they're on the job 365 days a year. And, do
you know what happens when they fail to attract a big enough
audience or can't pay the bills? They don't get to call a Task
Force for help - they go under. Perhaps that's what should happen
to some of our non-profits.
- We also need to rethink the whole arts council
thing. They're not working except in small communities and I'm
not sure they're working so well there either. Charleston needs
something to replace the old art council, but it doesn't need
another arts council -- in the traditional since. It's time for
a paradigm shift.
- Columbia might need something different too,
but folks there should try to change what they have instead of
adding more middlemen into the mix.
- That Two-Year Shuffle
- Some of you longtime readers might have picked
up on the habit I have of taking a look at the paper every two
years to see how the paper is doing and what changes need to
be made. It can be pretty radical and surprising at times. It
has meant going statewide and jumping state lines.
- For some people it means wondering where
they can get a copy of Carolina Arts. After January, we may have
to withdraw from some areas that have not been responsive or
supportive to our efforts to bring a regional visual arts newspaper
to the Carolinas. You know, we're not like those non-profits,
our only source of funding is the advertising we receive from
the various areas we cover. We give an area two years to develop
that support, but after that it's on to somewhere else where
folks have been calling for our paper.
- I've decided that after twelve years we're
not going to be missionaries for the arts anymore. We're into
partnerships. So, take a look at the paper and if you don't see
any ads from your area, you could soon be looking far and wide
for a copy of Carolina Arts and coverage of your area.
- If that seems unfair or hard on our part,
you can accept my regrets and apology now. I wish we could be
everything that everyone wants -- for free, but that's not going
to happen. Over the years I have received many a call from someone
in an area we once covered wondering what happened to us. Usually
what triggers this kind of inquiry is a recent trip by the caller
to some city that is still receiving the paper. They thought
we had stopped publishing, but we didn't, and now they want to
know why we are not covering their area anymore. In most cases,
this is six months to a year after we pulled out for lack of
support. My question is -- why did it take them so long to miss
what they say they are missing? Good question!
Mailing Address: Carolina Arts, P.O. Drawer
427, Bonneau, SC 29431
Telephone, Answering Machine and FAX: 843/825-3408
Subscriptions are available for $18 a year.
Carolina Arts is
published monthly by Shoestring Publishing Company, a subsidiary
of PSMG, Inc.
Copyright© 2000 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston
Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan.
1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright©
2000 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the
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