What Didn't Get Printed

March 1, 2000

 Final Comments on Lucky 100 Exhibit

I hope these are my last comments about the exhibit entitled, 100 Years/100 Artists: Views of the 20th Century in South Carolina Art, currently showing at the SC State Museum in Columbia, SC, through Mar. 19. I've dubbed the exhibit the "Lucky 100" show, but that may have been a little premature. Some of the artists who have work in the exhibit may not feel so lucky since the exhibit has been criticized by many for its shortcomings and outright failures. I guess it's not too lucky to be associated with an exhibit which might be considered one, if not the worst, major exhibitions mounted by an institution in South Carolina.

No one should blame the artists. They just created the works presented in the exhibition and as I've said before, all, with the exception of a few, are deserving of the honor of representing the best of what is being created in South Carolina. The problem is, so are a lot of other artists.

One of the major problems with this exhibition is the concept behind it - an attempt to select 100 artists who represent the best of SC art in a 100 year span or 100 artists who have made the biggest impact on SC's art community in the 20th century. Frankly, I don't think there is any way of pulling off this concept without coming under fire - it's so subjective. If you change the panel of curators, you come up with a different 100 artists. As I said before, I would have chosen to make more people happy by selecting 1000 artists and present them in 10 focused exhibitions. Selecting 1000 artists would have also given a broader view of SC's visual art community compared to the narrow view presented in the "Lucky 100" exhibit. As it is, the exhibit is SC's first bad impression of a new Millennium.

The curators chosen to select the exhibition were also a reflection of what has been going on in SC for the last two decades. The panel was made up of the same people who have been selecting Arts Commission exhibits for years - they are myopic in their view. They like the Arts Commission want to portray SC's art community to be something it isn't. That's why the exhibit only represents about twenty percent of SC's real art community.

Another major problem with the exhibit is the lack of support materials presented with the exhibition. As I have said before, there were plans for an exhibition catalog for this exhibit, but it would not have been printed until after the exhibit was over. I asked - why bother? Now I've learned the catalog won't be printed after all - there is no money to fund it at all. I guess the pressure is on about wasting tight monies. The organizers of the exhibition, the SC State Museum and the SC Arts Commission, also failed to present adequate text materials for viewers of the exhibition - even to the point of having no instructions to inform people to start their viewing on the Museum's upper floor first, in order to gain a historical time-line view of the exhibit. Viewers are left asking themselves - who are these folks and why were they selected? Maybe they thought people would be inspired to go out and learn such details. Instead of providing support materials for the exhibit, money was spent on so-called "marketing" materials, such as mouse pads distributed to media around Columbia and to participating artists in the exhibit. A brochure was also printed outlining exhibits included in the overall Views From the Edge program, but it was distributed so late that only the final one or two planned events had not already passed in 1999 and none was prepared for events taking place in the year 2000 of this two-year program. A lot of money was wasted. It would be interesting to see a spread sheet on expenses for these exhibits - just to see where the money went.

Special programming in conjunction with the exhibit wasn't offered until after the exhibit came under fire for such shortcomings and when it finally was offered, not enough advance notice was given for those who might have been interested in attending. This concept of advance notice seems to be a regular problem for our state institutions which are supposed to be serving all of SC, not just Columbia residents.

On my first attempt to see the exhibit I drove to Columbia only to learn that on that day, and that day only, the exhibit, and the art exhibit only, would be closed due to the Museum's participation on "World AIDS Day" on Dec. 1. A worthy effort, if only they had closed the entire Museum. It was hard to understand how supportive they were being by keeping the rest of the Museum open and charging full admission. They didn't have any problem keeping their gift shop open on World AIDS Day. They were sorry I came all the way from Charleston, a distance which is meaningless to me, but they explained that they had sent notices of the closure to local Columbia media. A lot of good that did me in the Charleston area. I also learned that day that Carolina Arts, the only paper covering just the visual arts in North and South Carolina wasn't on the proper media list to get notices about closure of the Museum's visual art galleries. After recent events I'm wondering if I'm not on the Museum's "Not Until After Their Deadline" list.

The reason I bring all this up is that we received a notice from the SC State Museum, dated Feb. 7, about a program bringing the exhibit's five curators together to discuss their selections on Feb. 20. Our Feb. issue hit the streets in Charleston on Feb. 1 and it took that week to finish the delivery throughout the two states we cover. Other notices I got on other programming events planned for Feb. 1 & 2 were useless for me to even waste space on in the Feb. issue. No one would be able to see those notices and respond in time to the events. I guess the Museum's timing just left our readers out in the cold about these events. Good thing, our readers might have asked some of the hardest questions to answer.

I just hope that this exhibit is nothing more than a big bump in the road for the State Museum and its presentation of the visual arts in SC. I know people will really be taking a close look at what comes after this current exhibit. The whole disaster has made me wonder aloud if the SC State Museum should even be in the business of presenting visual art exhibitions. If they don't have the needed budget, adequate support staff, and willingness to deal with the entire art community of SC - why should they be doing it halfway? In some respects the Museum's gallery facilities have been co-opted by the SC Arts Commission which doesn't have an exhibit space of their own. The Arts Commission has funding that the State Museum doesn't have which gives them undue influence on what the SC State Museum can show in their galleries.

Many others think like I do that the SC Arts Commission shouldn't be in the business of presenting visual art exhibits either. But, here again, they have the funding to control any and all exhibits presented by people they give funding to. In the past the Arts Commission has been critical of other organizations in SC as to how they presented exhibits. They were not only critical, but they withheld funding and discouraged other facilities to not cooperate with the threat of cutting their funding too. With this "Lucky 100" exhibit we have a "do as we say, don't do as we do" situation. This "Lucky 100" exhibit was poorly conceived and poorly executed - something the Arts Commission accused others of. Unfortunately, there is no independent oversight group that overlooks the actions of the SC Arts Commission which could cut their funding. There are groups that should be performing this function, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the SC Joint Legislative Committee on the Arts, but neither are interested in doing anything except rubberstamping everything the Arts Commission does. Under their "enforcement" programs or the lack of any, the Arts Commission is allowed to assess their own performance - what a deal!

What we have here is two state agencies which are supposed to be serving the entire community of South Carolina, but in reality, are serving a small part of the community or in the case of the Arts Commission, serving themselves and their own agenda. What can we do about this situation? Not much, other than blow off steam. Unfortunately, both agencies amount to so little money as far as the overall state budget goes that the State's Legislative leaders don't care what goes on there. And, unless you want to join forces with the political forces far to the right, who want to do away with all government funding of the arts, you don't have much recourse to do anything other than complain.

So, they get away with it all. They know they can get away with it and they don't care if you or I don't like it. So why bother? I agree, long ago I stopped letting myself get all worked up over their actions, but it doesn't mean I have to stop caring about it.

Some time ago, I stopped using up my editorial space to constantly hammer away at what I thought was wrong with the Arts Commission and their policies, but others encouraged me to return to my old ways, if just for those readers who enjoyed hearing someone give them heck - as if reading my commentary would lead to change. The point is they (at the Arts Commission) don't care what I say, and reading my words won't make any changes. When those who agree with what I say start complaining to the Arts Commission, local Legislators, and write letters to editors of newspapers, then and only then, will something begin to change. But, for now, no one in this state, in power to make change, gives a darn about what goes on at the Arts Commission and the State Museum.

And, before long, many of the people at the Arts Commission will be retiring on your tax dollars laughing all the way to the bank - just like they do every payday.


January 31, 2000

More About the Ten-Year Plan and the "Canvas" of the People

by Tom Starland

If you haven't heard about the SC Arts Commission's "Ten-Year Plan for the Arts in South Carolina 1992-2002," I'm not surprised. Very few people are aware of the "Plan" and no one really talks about it anymore. You would think that a document this important would be referred to more often and be available at every arts organization in the state. But, the Plan is never referred to in any of the Arts Commission's publications or anywhere else in SC's art community. It would make you think that the main purpose of the Plan is to make one to satisfy some federal grant process and then just store it on the shelf. If not, we're in year eight of the ten-year plan. When are they going to start working on those goals?

If you didn't come to the conclusion I have, well then I'm not sure you know much about how some state and federal arts funding agencies work. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the SC Arts Commission will from time to time ask an organization requesting funding to make a five to ten year plan of what that organization plans to do in that time frame. No plan means you probably won't get the funding you're asking for. You would think that making this plan would be like a map of the organization's future making them ask themselves - what do we need to do, where do we plan on going, how to we plan on getting there, what will it take to accomplish our goals, and finding out if our constituents agree with the plan. A plan like this would make it easy for an artist to know what they could expect from an organization. With this kind of plan, anyone should be able to tell where an organization is going at any time. That's if the organization sticks to the plan after they get the funding they made the plan for. But, what really happens? So far, I haven't seen much movement on the goals I was most interested in when it first came out or much movement on any of the other goals.

A Little History

This isn't the first Plan. The Ten Year Plan is the fourth that the Arts Commission has presented through its famous "Canvas of the People" process. This process has taken place in 1980, 1984, and 1987. I guess the rule of thumb of doing a "Canvas" every three to five years has fallen by the wayside. I guess any day now they will be announcing the new Millennium Canvas of the People - surely things will be different in the new millennium. We must need a new Plan.

One Plan Begets Another

The deal with these plans is that when someone is asked to make a plan the first thing they may do is look to see if the agency they are asking for funding has a plan of their own. The experienced grant writer knows to find out what that agency's goals are for the future and match their group's goals to theirs. Let's say one of their goals is to create more culturally diverse programming. Then that should be one of your goals. These agencies tend to look favorably upon groups that look more like themselves - it's a lock-step mentality. You search for catch phrases like, rural outreach, cross-discipline, and serving "Special" audiences. It's the old "talk the talk" and "walk the walk" system. And, when those catch phrases fade, you grab hold of the new "in" catch phrases. Whatever they want - you give it to them.

After you learn the system you'll find that it's easy to create a plan that will be viewed very high on the funding ladder. And, what's wonderful about this process is that you don't have to worry about follow through - after all it's only a plan. There's not going to be an audit later on. Five years later, the Art Cops aren't going to be showing up at a board meeting to go over your plan, line by line. No one else follows their plan, why should you follow yours?

These plans are like having an Arts Summit - you put everything down on your wish list knowing that you're never going to be able to accomplish most of the plan. Things change with time and no one keeps track or score of your goals. The most import thing is that the Plan says all the right things to all the right people.

Look, it's been eight years since the "Ten-Year Plan" was written and it's not being used much as a map of the future. Let's take on the usual political measuring stick - Are you better off now compared to eight years ago because of the SC Arts Commission's efforts and the strategies laid out in their Plan?

A Closer Look

Here's their basic plan in a nutshell with their goals in three areas:
Artist Development:
Encourage, nurture, and support the artistic growth and personal and economic well-being of South Carolina artists.
Arts Education:
Establish the arts as an integral part of South Carolina's educational systems and the lifelong learning process of our citizens.
Community Development:
Stimulate the development of South Carolina's culturally-diverse arts resources and organizations and promote creative partnerships to improve the quality of our lives, preserve our cultural heritage, and enhance our economic growth.

As vague as these goals are, they were written in a way so that by the next day after they were issued, the Arts Commission could have claimed that they have accomplished their goals. But, the real problem comes with the meat of the document when you get into the Objectives and Strategies. I'm not going to waste my time and yours going through all of the Objectives & Strategies found in this "pie-in-the-sky" document, but we will go through just one as an example. Just remember, my focus is the visual arts community and those points that deal with me as the publisher of the "only" arts publication in SC, that is not a publication of the SC Arts Commission.

Artist Development:
Encourage, nurture, and support the artistic growth and personal and economic well-being of South Carolina artists.
Objective 1. Increase the Number of Opportunities for Artists to Publish, Exhibit, Distribute, and Perform.
Suggested Strategies:
Assist South Carolina artists to develop markets outside our state. (As if there are so many markets here or meaning that we don't have any market here so we need you to look outside the state for real opportunities.)
Encourage the development of alternative presentation spaces in South Carolina for all art forms. (I haven't seen any development on this at all unless you count hanging artwork in restaurants, which was going on long before ink hit the pages of this plan.)
Encourage outlets for artists that address cultural diversity in sensitive, non-exploitative ways. (This one flies right over my head altogether. Do they want to create "separate but equal" exhibition spaces? I thought art is art. I guess now some art is culturally diverse and some isn't.)
Encourage South Carolina arts organizations to expand exhibition and performance opportunities for South Carolina artists. (Since this Plan came out, the Lowcountry Area Arts Council, serving the Charleston area, dissolved in mid-air; the Metropolitan Arts Council serving the Greenville area is currently imploding; and the Cultural Council of Richland/Lexington Counties, serving the Columbia area went through a cultural war last year. That's three of the top art councils serving the majority of SC's population and artists. Needless to say - not much progress has been made here in expanding opportunities in the last eight years.)
Establish an international arts program to promote South Carolina artists and global artistic awareness. (Here again, they can't do anything instate so how do they expect to establish opportunities in other states or other countries. I've seen nothing on the radar screen that would show any movement on this goal.)
Establish retail centers for South Carolina-produced arts and crafts in several locations around the state. (The SC Artisan Center in Walterboro was already on the drawing board when this plan came out and nothing has opened since then which the Arts Commission had anything to do with. Establish would mean to fund.)
Help communities develop subsidized artist studios in downtown locations, community centers, and ethnic neighborhoods. (Funny thing here, the only city I've really seen this happen in is Columbia where the Arts Commission is headquartered. Vista Studios is older than the plan and Gallery 701 is a poor excuse for anything. Since the Commission can't fund capital expenditures how will they help this - with encouragement? Well that's easy enough.)
Provide additional incentives for culturally-diverse artists to publish, exhibit, distribute, or perform. (I don't get this one. I guess culturally-diverse artists not only need special funding, special programs, but they actually have to be given incentives to do these things.)
Provide additional incentives for sponsors to present South Carolina artists and/or their work. (I haven't seen any of this being developed in the non-profit sector, but if the Commission didn't think all commercial galleries were scum and offered them some funding "incentives" - you'd see a lot more exhibit opportunities develop for artists in SC.)
Study the feasibility of creating a State Folk Arts Center to educate the public about folk arts and provide an outlet for indigenous art. (NC has the Folk Art Center in Asheville. I don't ever see us having one in SC that would even come close. If you eliminate the Arts Commission we might be able to afford one that good - anything less, why bother?)
Support culturally-diverse grassroots heritage festivals as an outlet for artists. ( I really don't want to see anymore development of things in SC using the word "heritage" in it. Enough said. They haven't done anything here anyway.)
Work with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to appoint a Joint Task Force to identify strategies to provide more outlets for South Carolina artists in conjunction with the state's tourism industry. (Not much going here. PRT's budget was gutted by the last Republican Governor and tourism is taking a hit on all points. I've never heard of any Task Force forming either.)
Work with local arts agencies to develop local opportunities for artists. (Local arts agencies have a hard enough time holding on to what they had eight years ago - another no show on the radar screen.)
Work with the Southern Arts Federation to increase market opportunities for South Carolina artists throughout the South. (Who are these folks? I only heard from them twice in ten years and it wasn't about any opportunities for anyone. The SAF is just another middle-man siphoning off funds from its member states. The Arts Commission is always looking for someone else to do their job.)

There are five more Objectives on just this one goal of Artists Development and they list just as many silly and non-obtainable Strategies for each objective. It's all just wasted ink on paper. That's why we never hear about this Ten-Year Plan.

Of course the SC Arts Commission would see things differently. They could probably tell us how they have reached many of their goals with many of their partners across the state. I'm sure many individuals and organizations have benefited from a one-to-one relationship with the Commission, but the goals in the Ten Year Plan were for the entire state's art community.

It states in the Plan that the Arts Commission will monitor the Plan annually with assistance from organizations and individuals who helped formulate the plan. Now, that would take a pretty big meeting since the Commission claims that so many people participated in the Plan. But, such a meeting would be noticed. There would have to be some announcement - where and when does this annual monitoring process take place?

Here again, it could be taking place with their special partners. There's no need for the public to bother themselves with details of this process. I'm sure reports are made of the meetings conclusions of how well the Commission and the arts community are sticking to or straying from the plan. Those reports I guess would be private internal documents not available for inspection of the public. Why should we know how well or badly the Plan is going? And, after all, there are still two years left to reach these goals.

It's a lot like the old Soviet Union - Five Year Plan, Ten Year Plan - what's the difference, as long as you have a plan the people are happy.

If you really want some good reading and to have several evenings of hard-core laughs, call up the SC Arts Commission and see if they can send you a copy of the Ten Year Plan. It's interesting to know where we will all be in just two years.


October Issue 1998

This web site now offers me an opportunity to conduct a running commentary on issues that due to lack of space or a priority of subject matter, didn't get printed in the newspaper. During the month as issues pop up, I put them in a folder called "Commentary". At the end of the month I look for what's the most important issue and throw in my $120 - $200 opinion. That's what the space would generate in advertising revenue, which at times has replaced the value of my opinions. After all, we are a for-profit enterprise. So much for putting your two cents worth in.

Here's a couple of issues that didn't make the cut.

State Arts Publication

by Tom Starland, editor/publisher

Since we publish an arts newspaper we are always interested in other publications that cover the arts in the Carolinas and over the last two years we have had the opportunity to make a comparison of the SC Arts Commission's Artifacts publication and the NC Arts Council's ncarts. Frankly, there isn't much to compare.

Artifacts is a tabloid format (11" x 13"), four-color, 24 page publication. It is printed four times a year for a total of 80,000 copies (20,000 an issue) at a total printing cost of $31,987. That's $.339 a copy.

ncarts is a letter format (8 1/2" x 11"), spot color (usually green in '98), 12 page publication. It is printed three times a year for a total of 125,000 copies (40,000 - 45,000 an issue) at a total printing cost of $31,184.64. That's an average cost of $.249 a copy.

Each state is spending about the same amount of money, give or take $800., which doesn't make much sense - either one is paying too much for printing or the other is getting a super deal from someone - but regardless, the publications are very different and reach different amounts of people. They both are self serving in that they are geared to tell readers what their agencies are doing with their tax dollars. SC does it with color in a bigger size, but they reach 20,000 less readers an issue. NC updates their mailing list and SC doesn't. Once you're on the SC list you're on for life and throughout death. I get three copies myself - two to papers that haven't existed for over four years.

SC also tries to let people know about events going on around the state, but this effort has been mostly futile in that by the time the quarterly arrives in people's hands most of the events have taken place or are too far in the future to be of use to most people. There also isn't much information given about the events either.

Here's an example of some of the listings for exhibits: At the Museum of York County in Rock Hill, SC - Thru Nov. 8: Bilda Zoo, Thru Aug. 22: "Bears!", and Thru Oct. 22: Teapots and Quilts. You also get the address and phone number to call for further information. It goes on like that - Columbia Museum of Art - Thru Sept. 20: Heroic Painting and Greenville County Museum of Art - Thru Aug. 2: John Acorn.

What do we know about these listings? Sometimes no information is as good as a little. These listings take up seven pages of the SC publication. That's a lot of wasted space for useless information. I gave them a taste of their own medicine by listing their big exhibit at the SC State Museum as: Through Sept. 7 - Triennial 98. I wonder how they liked that kind of listing?

The NC publication doesn't waste space on these kinds of useless listings. Perhaps they think that's the job of NC's daily, weekly and monthly newspapers? I know these same events are being covered better on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis by SC's newspapers than they are by Artifacts - so what's the point?

In my humble opinion, the big difference between these two publications is what you find inside. When you start reading about the different programs for artists or the lack of them and amounts of money being distributed to them.

For instance, the SC Arts Commission made two Fellowship awards of $7,500 to two visual artists for FY:98, while the NC Arts Council gave eighteen Fellowships to nineteen visual artists (two are sharing one) at $8,000 a piece. Is NC nine times bigger or nine times richer than SC? Or are they that much more supportive of their artists?

My point here is that when I try to make comparisons between NC's and SC's state arts agencies, I find it hard to make any comparisons. Yet, during my ten years of dealing with the SC Arts Commission I've always been told that the reason SC is doing something a certain way is because this is what their neighboring states are doing. But, now that I've seen what is being done in NC during the last two years I don't find the comparison. SC is so far behind its neighbor to the north that it is silly to make any comparison.

That's why I don't understand why the SC Arts Commission isn't concentrating on providing what SC's artists need instead of trying to keep up with the Tar Heels.

Since you are on the web right now, you might want to check out the two state art agency's web sites after you finish traveling ours. They are a world of difference. In NC they share information and resources and in SC, they just tell you what they want you to know - they don't share much of their resource info. Frankly, I'm not sure they have much that is up to date or useful. Also keep in mind that the SC site has been operational for more than two years before the NC site.

SC Arts Commission at: (http://www.state.sc.us/arts/)

NC Arts Council at: (http://www.ncarts.org)

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