Archive for May, 2008

The Complete Story

Friday, May 30th, 2008

On a recent visit to the North Carolina Arts Council’s (this is NC’s state arts agency) website (www.ncarts.org) under the Headlines heading I found a piece titled “Asheville in American Style Magazine” dated May 6, 2008. The short article informed me that in the June 2008 issue of American Style Magazine, Asheville, NC, was ranked second on the magazine’s annual Top 25 Art Destinations in small cities and towns category (populations of fewer than 100,000 people).

The article went on to describe Asheville’s art community and at the end suggested readers that for more info visit (www.americanstyle.com). Good thing I did.

I’m sure this news was sent to the NC Arts Council by someone from Asheville, but I’m surprised before posting this news that Jessica Orr, who posted this item for the Arts Council’s website, didn’t visit the magazine’s website and check out the lists. I’m assuming she didn’t because there was good news there about other cities in North Carolina and I can’t think of why she wouldn’t post that info along with the info about Asheville.

Also, it should be noted that this ranking of top art destinations is a readers’ poll. Only readers of American Style Magazine vote. We are also never told how many votes any of the cities on the top 25 list got. So we don’t know if a city got thousands of votes or twelve to make the list.

The poll is broken down into three categories – Top 25 Big Cities
(Populations of 500,000 or greater); Top 25 Mid-Sized Cities
(Populations of 100,000 to 499,999); and Top 25 Small Cities & Towns (Populations of fewer than 100,000).

Asheville came in 2nd on the Top 25 Small Cities & Towns list, but Chapel Hill, NC, came in 9th. I think that’s worth mentioning and I’m sure the folks in Chapel Hill think it is too. The top ranked city in this category was Santa Fe, NM.

There is more good news. Raleigh, NC, came in 24th on the Top 25 Mid-Sized Cities list (Buffalo, NY was number 1) and Charlotte, NC, came in 17th on the Top 25 Big Cities list (New York, NY was number 1). Why Orr didn’t include this news – I don’t know, but I think it’s great that Asheville was only second to Santa Fe, but I also think it’s great that three other cities in NC made the three lists.

And, since we cover the visual arts in both North and South Carolina, I’m happy to tell you that Beaufort, SC, came in 14th place on the Top 25 Small Cities & Towns list and Charleston, SC, came in 6th on the Top 25 Mid-Sized Cities list.

So the Carolinas have six cities on these lists – not bad considering many states had no cities on any of the three lists.

If you want to see the other cities on these lists, visit (www.americanstyle.com).

Good Bye “Triennial” – Good Riddance

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Good Bye Triennial – Good Riddance (parts printed in the Editorial Commentary from the June ’08 issue of Carolina Arts)

Let me warn you this is going to be a long piece – there is a lot of material and a lot of years to cover.

On Apr. 14, 2008, Jeffrey Day in The State newspaper offered what can be only seen as a “whine” piece on the loss of the SC Arts Commission’sTriennial exhibition at the expense of the SC State Museum’s 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition – which wouldn’t open at the time until Apr. 25, 2008. While Day cherry-picked comments by artists (shown in past Triennials) and curators around the state on their feelings over the loss of the Triennial or their dislike of juried shows, he almost implied that this upcoming exhibition just couldn’t be any good – before he or anyone else saw it in place. Well, he wouldn’t say it – he got others to say it for him and his buddies at the Arts Commission.

While the Triennial was always dished up as a survey or snapshot of contemporary art being made in SC – it was always a picture with the lens turned toward the SC Art Commission and how they wanted people to see art in SC. It was never really a view of the wide spectrum of art being created in SC. At times it was just a look at what college and university art professors and their favorite students where doing in SC – before many left the state for greener pastures.

If a juried exhibition is such a flawed format for a statewide exhibition – tell me why 500 artists from throughout SC, hauled 1000 works of art to the State Museum for a chance to get in the exhibit? Why would they do that?

And, the funny thing is – many of the artists who have been lucky to be selected to be in past Triennials entered their work and many got in the exhibition. The good thing – the really great thing is – many other artists who would never get a chance to be in a Triennial – also got in this exhibit. And, in my opinion – this juried exhibit is one of the best views of the type of art being created in SC. It doesn’t represent every aspect of SC’s visual art community, but like all juried shows – the jurors could only select from the works entered.

The exhibition might have drawn more entries if the jury process was done by a digital process – after all this is 2008. And, a wider variety of artists working in mediums and subjects which have been “deemed unworthy” by the SC Arts Commission might have entered work if they knew that the Arts Commission had taken their bat and ball home since the State Museum no longer was willing to let them dictate what art was going to be seen in SC. That’s why there will be no 1/2 inch full-color catalog for this exhibition. The State Museum doesn’t have the deep pockets the Arts Commission does.

The really sad thing for artists around SC is that the State Museum doesn’t have any plans for doing more statewide juried exhibitions anytime soon.

Jeffrey Day’s article seemed more like a warning to the art community than newspaper reporting. The warning is – if you don’t play ball the way the Arts Commission wants – you might get chewed up in the press. It’s not the first time he has acted as an attack dog for the Arts Commission.

The whole piece was also designed to mask the real issue – that the Arts Commission had dropped the Triennial from its project list – not the State Museum. The Museum was still offering opportunities for SC artists – all its artists.

Go see the exhibition – you’ll be glad you did. I was. And, don’t forget – most of the works in the exhibit are probably for sale. So you could go home with some great art and a piece of history, from the show that couldn’t be any good, but was.

One final thing – Jeffrey Day offered a – surprise – negative review of this exhibition on May 11, 2008. The headline was, “Too much to see, too little to appreciate”.

New comments for this blog.

With a headline like this – “Too much to see, too little to appreciate” you have to wonder why Day is an arts reporter working for one of the state’s largest newspapers. He should just go to work directly for the SC Arts Commission.

Day, like me, has a large body of opinions he has written about art in SC. I keep copies of most of his articles about the visual arts. This review is one of the strangest – it contradicts many things he has said in the past about the Triennial.

It seems his goal is to tear down the SC State Museum for substituting this statewide juried show in place of a sixth Triennial exhibition – his favorite type of exhibit. As I said earlier, the death of the Triennial can only be blamed on the Arts Commission – they pulled out of this project on the State Museum. They took their funding with them too.

You have to read the entire review to get the full impact, but you’ll have to pay The State to see a copy from their archives or go to a public library in SC – or maybe do a Google News search. The article was on Apr. 13, 2008. But let’s start with the headline, “Too much to see, too little to appreciate” .

“Too much to see”. The SC State Museum’s 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition has 122 works by 116 artists (6 artists have two works each in the show). The last Triennial, shown in 2004 in the same gallery space had 128 works by 29 artists (11 only had 1 work and 3 had only 2 works). Most of the Triennials had at least 100 or more works on display.

So as I get it, according to Day – more is less. More works to see in theTriennial was easier to see than less works in the juried show. I guess because they were made by fewer people.

Day also offers early in his review this statement, “But this first-time exhibition (named for the 20th anniversary of the museum) has little to offer after the initial surprises – no depth, no context, no concept and, when it finally comes down to it, not all that much good work.”

In the State Museum’s juried show, 25 of the 116 artists included have been in one or several of the previous 5 Triennial shows. That’s 21 percent of the exhibit. And since these artists represent most of the positive comments in his review – we get the point that he really likes theTriennial. And, we get the point that he doesn’t care for a lot of the other artists’ work presented in the exhibit. They’re clearly not his kind of artists, clearly not producing the kind of art he cares for and not the kind of art which a major museum should be showing in this state – in his opinion.

Day ends his review with this statement, “As it is, this isn’t really an art exhibition. It’s a display.”

So between Day’s preview article and his review – it’s clear he doesn’t like the juried show format and the art presented in this exhibition. OK, all art is subjective. I didn’t fall in love with every work I saw either, but it also didn’t make my skin crawl as I can imagine Day’s skin was doing as he moved throughout the exhibit – seeing works by artists he didn’t know or knew but didn’t care for. After all, he knows all the important artists in the state.

Where I have a real problem with his two pieces is the comparison factor. Even though the State Museum’s show is clearly a juried exhibit – Day keeps comparing it to a curated exhibition – to the Triennials. But, I don’t see where he is coming from when he says this exhibit has – “no depth, no context, no concept…”

About half of the artists in the Triennial 2004 exhibit had only one work or at best two works in the show. Where is the depth in that? Jane Nodine had one work in the Triennial 2004 and one work in this juried exhibit. How is that different – other than Day’s point that curators pick artists’ work better than the artists do – meaning a curator would be more familiar with the context of Nodine’s work than she would. And, as you’ll read later – Nodine is a perfect example of a perfect Triennial artist.

I’ve seen these Triennial shows and even after reading the in-depth comments written in the catalogues offered – I still didn’t see any connection between what I was looking at and what was written about it. Then again, I’m not as educated as Day is on the arts. I know I can’t compare art degrees with him. It should also be noted that the SC Arts Commission didn’t offer to fund a catalogue for this exhibit like they did for the five Triennials. Perhaps that would have offered the context and concept for this exhibit.

In fact, Day makes a lot of complaints and comparisons about this juried exhibit which I haven’t seen in many exhibits offered in a lot of art museums – except when it comes to major retrospective exhibits on individual artists. And, he’s made the same complaints about otherTriennials in past reviews.

Day also offers the following questions he claims are unanswered in this exhibit, “What are the artists’ backgrounds? How many make a living from the art? How many are teachers? How many are students?” As if all those things really matter on deciding whether art is good or not.

Is Day trying to tell us he thinks that the artists who are making the most money are the best artists in this state? I never got that impression before from his writings. Do only art teachers make good art? That would be a message you would walk away with after reading the Triennial 2004catalogue. And, I guess no student art can be good enough to be in these exhibits – even though you couldn’t tell who was or was not a student by looking at the work in the exhibit. Do these questions really matter?

I have always thought that the art works should speak for themselves. Why should we have to read something to get the artists’ meaning or intention. Shouldn’t it be there in the art?

In an Apr. 19, 1992 article about the first Triennial, Day offered this criticism, “A serious omission is the lack of any text panel explaining the show. A few lines would help the viewer – and the exhibit – considerably. As it is, the viewer has no way of knowing that the artists are even from South Carolina. While the work speaks for itself, as it should, the lack of a basic introduction shows the museum and Arts Commission making too many assumptions.”

This exhibit had work included by people who have had no formal training in the arts. Should that matter? And, if it’s a factor that should count – how did they fool the jurors? They had 1000 works to select from. Should we wonder what kinds of works were in the 878 not selected – whether those works were made by artists who made a living by selling their art or teaching art, whether they were made by students or teachers, or whether they were ever in a Triennial exhibition before. Would it matter if some of the artists were former convicts, made a living as a plumber, or worse – were voting democrats?

Doesn’t the work speak for itself – as it should?

In the past we are told by the Arts Commission that the purpose of theTriennial format is to show works by “contemporary” emerging artists or artists who are not often seen. Yet many of the artists whose works have been included in the Triennials – were neither emerging or hardly artists not exposed to SC’s exhibition scene.

I’ll cherry pick one artist who represents this hypocrisy – Jane Allen Nodine – she’s sort of an Arts Commission superstar. She also entered and was selected to be in the SC State Museum’s 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition. She has also been in four of the five Triennial exhibitions. Nodine has also been awarded two SC Arts Commission Fellowship awards. She’s in the State Art Collection and has benefited by many programs sponsored by the Arts Commission. Nodine is an art professor at the University of South Carolina – Upstate in Spartanburg, SC, and is also the director of the USC-Upstate art gallery. She is a well exposed artists with a lot of connections.

Nodine is also a very good artist. I’m not attacking her as an artist or someone who has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her. My problems is that she is one of a very small group of artists which the Arts Commission seems to be focused on – at the expense of many others who just don’t seem to get the same exposure.

Just to show you how well exposed Nodine was in exhibitions, I went to her website and copied the list of exhibits she has participated in from 1978 – 2004, the last year the Triennial took place. Among this long list are 32 exhibits which took place in SC alone. And, as you will see there are many more – all over the region, nation, and out of the country. She was hardly a case of being either emerging or not often seen.

2004
traces, solo installation, University of South Carolina McMaster Gallery of Art, Columbia, SC

Figure 8; Lee Hall Gallery, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Southeastern Louisiana University Invitational, SLU, Hammond, LA

SECAC 2004 Members Exhibition, Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, Jacksonville, FL

TRIENNIAL 2004, South Carolina Arts Commission & South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

2003
Digital Exhibition, WomanMADE Gallery, Chicago, ILL

SECAC 2003 Members Exhibition, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Tribute to Trees, Outdoor Sculpture Invitational, Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC

2002
traces, solo Installation, Thompson Gallery of Furman University, Greenville, SC

traces, solo installation, Milliken Gallery, Spartanburg County Museum of Art, Spartanburg, SC

Vision’s International Competition, Art Center Waco, Waco, TX

Photo-Based Competition Exhibition, WomanMADE Gallery, Chicago, IL

A Sense of Place; Continuity and Change in the New South, Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, Augusta, GA

SECAC 2002 Members Exhibition, Gulf Coast Exploreum, University of Alabama, Mobile

2001
Spartanburg Views Winterthur, Artist Photographer Exchange, Spartanburg Museum of Art, Spartanburg, SC

Spartanburg Views Winterthur, Artist Photographer Exchange, Alte Kaserne, Winterthur, Switzerland

SECAC 2001 Members Exhibition, South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

TRIENNIAL 2001, South Carolina Arts Commission & South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

Winterthur Artist Photographer Exchange; Alte Kaserne, Winterthur, Switzerland

2000
American Identities, Gibson Gallery, The Art Museum of State University of New York College, Potsdam, NY

What is Drawing Now, Weber State University, Ogden, UT

34th Annual National Drawing & Small Sculpture Show, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

SECAC 2000 Members Exhibition, Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville, KY

Upstairs Photography Biennial, NC & SC competition, Upstairs Gallery, Tryon, NC

Views from the Edge, Computer Art-Future Art, Florence Museum of Art, Florence, SC

1999
USC International Digital Works on Paper Competition, McKissick Museum of Art, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Sanctity of the Family, Hunger Artist Gallery, Albuquerque, NM

33rd National Drawing & Sculpture Competition, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

Womanscape ’99 National Competition, Collier County Arts Council, Village Galleries, Naples, FL

SECAC 1999 Members Exhibition, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA

Southern Visions Photography Competition of SC and NC, York County Museum of Art, Rock Hill, SC

100 Years; 100 Artists, South Carolina State Museum & South Carolina Arts Commission, Columbia, SC

SELECTIONS from 100 Years; 100 Artists, Bank of America Plaza, Columbia, SC

Potent Figures, Views from the Edge of the Century, Winthrop University Galleries, Rock Hill, SC

1998
contentions, solo exhibition, Slocumb Galleries, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN

Paper Constructions, solo exhibitions, Georgia Southern University, Statesville, GA

Manipulated Photography, solo exhibition, USC Spartanburg
Americas 2000, Works on Paper, Minot State University, Minot, ND

Women’s Art Works 7, Bausch & Lomb Inc., Rochester, NY

Paper Works: On and of Paper, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

32nd National Drawing & Small Sculpture Exhibition, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

Mixed-Media National, Slidell Cultural Center, Slidell, LA

Drawn from Nature, Dalton Galleries, Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, GA

98 Photography Biennial Exhibition of NC & SC, The Upstairs Gallery, Tryon, NC

VOICES, 701 Gallery, Columbia, SC

TRIENNIAL ’98 South Carolina Arts Commission & the South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

TRIENNIAL ’98 Satellite Exhibit, NationsBank Plaza Gallery, Columbia, SC

1997
connections, solo exhibition, Appalachian Center for Crafts, Smithville, TN

BANG! The Gun as Image, 621 Gallery and Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

1996
connections, solo exhibition, University of Arkansas, Monticello, AK

Scissors, Paper, Stone, Lexington Art League, Lexington, KY

Women’s Art Works 6, Women’s Foundation, Rochester, NY

Lagrange National XIX Biennial, Chattahoochee Valley Art Museum, Lagrange, GA

Visionary Women National, WomanMade Gallery, Chicago, IL

Icons National, 800 East Gallery, Atlanta, GA

Rutgers National ’96 Works on Paper, State University of New Jersey, Rutgers, Camden, NJ

Women by Women Invitational, Salem College Art Gallery, Winston-Salem, NC

A’ LA ALBERS, Black Mountain College in CONTEXT, Context Alternative Space, Charlotte, NC

KY/SC/nyc Invitational, The National Arts Club, New York, NY

1995
Wichita National 1995, Wichita center for the Arts, Wichita, KS

Through the Looking Glass National, Photography Exhibit, Fuller Lodge Gallery, Los Alamos, NM

Texas National ’95, Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX

Texas National ’95, Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX, Second Place Cash Award, Leon Golub, Juror

1994
28th National Drawing & Small Sculpture Show, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

LaGrange National Biennial XVIII, Chattahoochee Valley Art Museum, LaGrange, GA

Visual Voices; The Female, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

Dakotas International Exhibition of Artwork on Paper, University of South Dakota, Vermilion, SD

1993
Wichita National 1993, Wichita Center for the Arts, Wichita, KS

27th National Drawing & Small Sculpture Show , Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

Americas 2000: Works on Paper, Minot State University, Minot, ND

14th Annual Paper In Particular, Columbia College, Columbia, MO

Revising Boundaries: Southern Women Artists, 1993 CAA Conference, Seattle, WA

1992
Jane Nodine Solo Exhibit, Meteor Gallery, Columbia, SC

Art by Women in the South, Havens Galleries, Columbia, SC

Kentucky/South Carolina Exchange Exhibition, South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

TRIENNIAL ’92, South Carolina Arts Commission & South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, SC

TRIENNIAL ’92 Traveling Exhibition, Gibbes Museum, Charleston, SC & Stanback Museum, Orangeburg, SC

South Carolina Expressions, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC

Southern Exposure, 101 Wooster Street, DNC Exhibition Space, New York, NY

1991
Kentucky Exhibition of South Carolina Artists, Owensboro Museum, Owensboro, KY

This Year’s Model: Upstate Artists, Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC

1990
Southeastern Juried Exhibition, Fine Arts Museum of the South, Mobile, AL

40th Annual Exhibition, Guild of South Carolina Artists, SC State Museum, Columbia, SC

South Carolina Arts Commission Artists Fellowship Retrospective, SC State Museum, Columbia, SC

1988
Ten Years of Southeast Seven, SECCA Fellowship Retrospective, Winston-Salem, NC

1985
5th Biennial Paper and Clay Exhibition, Memphis State University, Memphis, TN

Gallery Artists Exhibition, Heath Gallery, Atlanta, GA

South Carolina Arts Commission Annual Competition, Gibbes Museum, Charleston, SC

1984
Rutgers National Works on Paper, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ

Women in the Mainstream, National Women’s Art Exhibition, 1984 Worlds Fair, New Orleans, LA

31st Arts Festival of Atlanta, Traveling Exhibition, Atlanta and Southeast

25th Annual Springs Mills Traveling Exhibition, North and South Carolina

1983
SPAR National Art Exhibition, SPAR Gallery, Shreveport, LA

4th Biennial Paper and Clay Exhibition, Memphis State University, Memphis, TN

11th National Exhibition of Works on Paper, Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VA

Second Annual Spoleto Arts Competition, Marble Arch Gallery, Charleston, SC

2-D National, Angels Gate Cultural Center, San Pedro, CA

Drawing Southeast, Arts Festival of Atlanta Invitational, Atlanta, GA

1982
Southeastern Spectrum, R.J. Reynolds Gallery, Winston-Salem, NC

On of and About Paper, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC

Magic in Art Invitational, Spirit Square, Charlotte, NC

23rd Annual Springs Mills Traveling Exhibition, North and South Carolina

Anuszkiewicz Shows and Selects, Marble Arch Gallery, Charleston, SC

1981
5th National Drawing Exhibition, State University College, Potsdam, NY

9th Annual Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VA

Southeast Seven IV NEA/SECCA Artist Fellowship Exhibition, SECCA Winston-Salem, NC

Southeast Seven IV, Traveling Exhibition, Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL

WEEA Project Invitational, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

22nd Annual Springs Mills Traveling Exhibition, North and South Carolina

1980
Mixmaster National Mixed Media Traveling Exhibition, Kentucky Arts Commission, Louisville, KY

Appalachian National Drawing Competition, Appalachian State University, Boone NC

1979
Art on Art of Paper Art, Illinois State University, Normal, IL

Southeastern Invitational Paper Exhibition, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Mint Biennial Exhibition of Piedmont Painting and Sculpture, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC

1978
SECCA 46th Drawing, Photography & Print Competition, SECCA, Winston-Salem, NC

12th Dulin National Print and Drawing Competition, Dulin Gallery, Knoxville, TN

Nodine is just one of the many reasons I’m glad the Triennial is dead, but I’m concerned that they are already drawing up new plans for a new format to feature the same group of artists – over and over again. Frankly, I don’t think the SC Arts Commission should be presenting any exhibitions.

I know this is upsetting to Jeffrey Day, as it seems like he has lived from one Triennial to the next – as if he was a part of them himself. Which he may have been.

In an article Day wrote for The State on Dec. 14, 1997, he describes what it was like to be the only other person to view the slides entered forTriennial ’98, other than the jurors and Arts Commission staff members. He goes on to say he made a list of 88 artists out of the 270 who had entered – who were “worth looking at more”. Once the 35 artists were selected to be in the Triennial – Day gives readers his 2 cents worth and gives the exhibit his stamp of approval with this statement, “Looking at the list makes me feel very good about art in South Carolina”. That’s the list the jurors made.

It just seems to me Day has just too cozy a relationship with the people he is supposed to be reporting on objectively.

But, like most of us who follow Day’s writings know, his mood can change quickly. When he gets around to reviewing the Triennial ’98 exhibition in an article on June 21, 1998 in The State, he offers this final summation: “The exhibit provides a look at artists who haven’t shown much in South Carolina; it also brings back artists we’ve seen often, who aren’t doing much new; and introduces some who aren’t ready to be seen. While this year’s show is stronger than the previous three, it is still amazing how much undeveloped work finds its way into the exhibit. It’s always difficult for anyone who is intimate with the state’s art scene to view shows like this without a little cynicism and frustration about the good artists who didn’t get in the show. In the end, what this exhibit shows – which is what it should show – is that regardless of what anyone may say to the contrary, there’s good art being made in South Carolina.”

I think this statement says a lot about Day. First, he would like to be in the position to select who would be shown and who wouldn’t. After all, he made his list of 88 worthy artists. He also feels he knows all the good artists out there. And, it also shows he doesn’t keep track of things too well. This Triennial was the third version – there were only two previous exhibitions in 1992 and 1995. And, you have to wonder what happened between the day he looked at the entry slides and when he made the statement that this was a good list of artists. Perhaps the curators selected the wrong works to show. Could that happen?

The thing is, Day’s mood changes and he has been inconsistent in his support of this exhibit format. He’s currently in the – I can’t believe there will never be another Triennial and there will never be anything worthy of replacing it – mood.

By the time 2001 rolled around Day’s mood about the Triennials was still cool and the public’s taste for them had soured too. In an article titled, “ATriennial Simply Isn’t Enough” written for The State on June 17, 2001, Day states: “With the dearth of venues in South Carolina where the state’s best artists can exhibit, the once-every-three-year survey of the state’s art at the State Museum – the Triennial – just isn’t enough.”

Day goes on to write, “The current Triennial is refreshing with much srong work, but enthusiasm for it has not been high. This might be because the museum and the co-sponsor, the SC Arts Commission, did almost no promotion.” Adding, “It might be because there are so many new artists in the show. Those who have long supported the show, be they artists or patrons, stayed away because the work is unknown and everyone is more comfortable with the known.”

Now there’s a couple of gems. The show is failing to attract viewers due to a lack of promotion and the show’s regular supporters stayed away – because they did not know the artists or the work being presented. So people have to be sold to go see this show with a big promotional campaign and supporters are not interested in seeing it unless it includes the same old artists they like and know. This is the Triennial he’s talking about. The greatest show on earth.

Day offers his review of the exhibition in another article offered that same day on June 17, 2001. That’s because at The State – they seem to only offer arts coverage in Sunday’s paper. In this article Day writes: “As is usually the case, this year’s Triennial is not sharply focused. Still the exhibit at the State Museum provides a fair representation of our art at this particular moment.”

Wait a minute – “As is usually the case, this year’s Triennial is not sharply focused.” Isn’t that one of the complaints Day makes about the current juried show being featured at the State Museum? But in 2001, Day says that up to that point (four Triennials) they have not been focused either.

In Day’s review of the SC State Museum’s 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition, one of his main complaints it that the exhibit has – “no depth, no context, no concept”. So what, apparently neither have the Triennials – according to Day.

He goes on in the 2001 review to say, “If all the works are not tightly connected, one nonetheless can find webs of continuity throughout the gallery.”

Well, here’s another revelation – if you go to see an exhibit that you already have negative feeling about – you won’t see anything positive. But, if you’re trying to find something good about an exhibit format that you want to support – you’ll look hard to find the silver lining – the webs of continuity.

This is the core reason readers of art news presented in The Statenewspaper have a hard time figuring from article to article where Jeffrey Day is coming from – hot then cold – about the same issues – never a bit of consistency to hold on to – other than his desire to protect the Arts Commission, promote contemporary art (his version of it) and keep happy what few friends he has in the art community in SC. It’s not easy being an arts writer – you never know who your friends really are. I know – believe me

Newspaper Spin

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I think you used to be able to count on newspapers for objective reporting on events taking place, but then maybe that was just big city newspapers that had competition or just when they were dealing with important national issues. I’m not sure if that was just a myth and the idea of a newspaper just reporting the facts was always an illusion.

These days, when it comes to local newspapers without competition and when it comes to local issues – I don’t know if you can really count on objective reporting or even factual reporting. They all seem to have an agenda and reporters and editors are instructed to tow the company line or are just told to soften things up – for the community’s sake – and advertisers.

When it comes to the SC Aquarium in Charleston, SC, and its financial well-being the Post & Courier in Charleston has decided to take the soft touch in reporting. They seem to be down-right protective at times – hoping readers will be able to read between the lines for the truth, but most won’t get it unless they are hit over the head with the facts.

The headline for an article posted on May 10, 2008, states, “Aquarium posts ’07 loss” and the subtitle is “Rise in admissions was offset by increases in development expenses”. The short story is – by increasing the aquarium’s admission price they were able to bring in more money than last year, but they lost money on bad fundraisers – so 2007 will record a $ 225,886 loss.

The reporter also said that this loss, “sunk the facility’s plans for a third consecutive year in the black.” This would imply that 2007 was just a bump in the road on the way to financial success. But, the “in the black” that he is talking about in 2005 and 2006 was gained by industrial titan board member, the late Jerry Zucker, getting the banks that hold the debt of the aquarium to restructure loans and in some cases write them off completely.

Debt is the name of the game – the aquarium lost $1.22 million in its first year of operation (2000-2001). That’s not bad, in 2003 the aquarium lost $2.3 million. In Aug. 2007, it was reported that the aquarium lost $5.4 million in its first four years of operation and has had its $11.75 million bank loan restructured five times. They currently have a deal with the banks to write-off a dollar of debt for every dollar paid on the debt – through 2010.

So “in the black” for the SC Aquarium means that if you can’t make your loan payments – you just get the bank to write them off and make them go away. How nice that would be for us all. Apparently the banks just can’t write the debt off as fast as the aquarium makes it. The debt write-offs have been as high as $500,000 at a time.

Back in 1984, the City of Charleston commissioned an aquarium feasibility study. After that report was made Charleston’s Mayor Joe Riley told area taxpayers that if they approved this aquarium – it would pay for itself by attracting 750,000 to 1 million visitors a year and become an economic engine for the area around the aquarium. To this date the only year visitors topped the 500,000 mark was during its first year of operation – and many of those numbers are based on free admissions and a special $1 admission weekend.

As far as being an economic magnet – the only commercial development – Fountain Walk – right next to the aquarium has had to close the doors on its I-MAX theatre, opened the year the aquarium opened its doors. I guess they couldn’t find any friendly banks to help them stay profitable. Nothing else has opened up around the aquarium except the Federally funded Fort Sumter Visitor Center and a parking garage. And, if the aquarium keeps raising its admission price to generate more admission revenue – attendance will just keep dropping from year to year – as it has since the day the doors first opened.

Hey – so what’s all this got to do with the arts – or the visual arts for that matter?

Well – in many ways this aquarium has robbed the public of many more worthwhile projects that could have taken place in the Charleston area. Like a major arts facility mentioned in my second installment of this blog. The $64 million plus (more like $70 million) that was wasted on this failed project could have gone towards a waterfront convention center which would have brought in conventions that now go to cities like New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Baltimore. That convention center would have helped the local art community more than an aquarium has. All those write-offs could be contributions to art groups. A lot of money from the local private and business community that goes into propping up the aquarium every year could be going to the cultural community – which draws more people and visitors to Charleston than a fish tank. These fish tanks can be found in almost every state. South Carolina has a private one, built with private money, which is one of the most visited attractions in SC. And, it’s just 80 miles away in Myrtle Beach, SC.

But, lets come back to 2008 and the newspaper report of another year in the red for the SC Aquarium and how that happened – even with the bank debt write-offs. The newspaper article reported that the aquarium spent 77 percent more on development or fundraising (an additional $248,286) but posted only an additional 21 percent, ($200,228) in contributions. Two projects alone apparently were real duds. One was a plan for the aquarium to give out yearly Environmental Stewardship Awards. The newspaper didn’t say, but it seems the gala awards ceremony cost more than it brought in. And, the other project which lost money was the “Turtles on the Town” project. This was supposed to be like the famous “Cows on Parade” project in Chicago, IL.

“Turtles on the Town” was supposed to be a fundraising project for the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue and Hospital. Here’s the basic idea. The aquarium was hoping to find 50 sponsors who would pay $5,000 each to sponsor a fiberglass sea turtle to be decorated by school children, amateur artists and professional artists. They ended up with 34 sponsors – 8 were funded by groups with taxpayer money (cities, counties and non-profit agencies). So right off the bat they took in $170,000 from sponsors. I’m sure the blank fiberglass turtles cost something and the artists were probably given some money to do their thing. Let’s say we subtract $2,000 each – that leaves ($170,000 – $68,000 = $102,000). The exhibit of the decorated turtles was part of the City of Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival so I’m sure the City of Charleston picked up the tab on installing the turtles around town. The Post & Courier was probably a media sponsor for the project so there should have been no publicity cost to the aquarium. The P &C did so many articles about the project that even their own reporters were sick of writing about it.

The turtles were later sold at an auction which took in another $104,000. That means the aquarium should have seen somewhere in the amount of $206,000 – more or less. Unless they threw another costly party to go along with the auction spending more than they took in. So the question is – how did something that took in over $200,000 from the public – help the aquarium lose money in 2007? Unless the project cost $250,000 to produce and I can’t think of how that could be. Fundraisers are supposed to make money. And, if this money was to go for a sea turtle rescue program and a hospital – what would that have to do with the aquarium’s general operating fund? I would think that the people who supported this project thought they were doing something extra for the aquarium.

This reminds me of the SCETV Endowment (a group which helps raise money for SC’s public TV and Radio station’s programing). You know, the folks who come on your public radio station, two or three times a year interrupting programing to beg for money to pay for the programing – as if the State of SC just purchased the equipment for people to look at. They say the money is to pay for programs like Car Talk, All Things Considered, and the classical music they play. I’m sure because of the name (ETV Endowment) contributors think they are paying into a real endowment and the station buys the programing from the profits the endowment earns every year, but guess what – there is no endowment fund – it’s just their name. Clever name isn’t it.

So, was the “Turtles on the Town” project really a fundraiser for sea turtles or for the aquarium? It doesn’t matter – somehow they lost money doing it. At least that’s one of the excuses they offered the Post & Courierreporter as to why they were in the red for 2007.

I just can’t get my head around this. The public gives the aquarium $272,000 in sponsorships and auction purchases for “Turtles on the Town” and they lost money. The aquarium tries to give out conservation awards and they lost money. They raise their admission prices so that they can take in more money for doing the same thing they did for a lesser admission cost and they lost money. Banks are writing off a dollar for every dollar they pay towards their debt and they lost money. That’s some kind of organization.

And, at the end of the article the executive director of the aquarium, Kevin Mills makes these two statements in discussing their accomplishments in 2007, “It’s a very good picture altogether. We’re substantially ahead of where we expected to be.” I guess that’s being optimistic – for sure. I guess they expected to be less successful.

Perhaps if they stopped doing fundraisers they would have more money at the end of the year. Maybe if they lowered their admission, more people would go to the aquarium bringing in more money. And, maybe they can find another rich and powerful board member who can “convince” the banks to give them a two-for – reducing their debt $2 for every dollar paid against the debt. But, frankly, I don’t think anything can help this bad idea turn into a good idea.

A past audit report done on the aquarium expressed concerns that the facility is wearing down and their is no money budgeted for upkeep and replacement. Another long term problem they don’t seem to be able to address.

This is all on Mayor Joe Riley’s hands – he alone doubled the size of the aquarium and took several decades to build it so that by the time it was opened – aquariums were not so special anymore. But then again – there’s nothing that Joe can do wrong, according to the good taxpayers of Charleston. But then that’s another installment – at another time.

Here’s an update.

The same reporter offered a business item story on tourism in the Post & Courier on May 12, 2008, about the Georgia Aquarium which is the world’s largest aquarium – built with private funding by the owner of Home Depot. The land was given by Coca Cola – unlike all the public funds that went into the SC Aquarium.

It seems the Georgia Aquarium, opened just a few years now (2005) is already adding on a new facility for a dolphin exhibit. The add on will cost $110 million. The entire SC Aquarium cost about $70 million.

Here’s the kicker, the Georgia facility has sold 7.3 million tickets since they opened – in 4 years – that’s twice as many as the SC Aquarium has sold in 7 1/2 years.

There is no way the SC Aquarium is going to be able to compete in the region for aquarium visitors – even if Charleston is a better place to visit than most other aquarium cities.

It’s just another example of one of Mayor Joe Riley’s “World Class” facilities he has built in Charleston which don’t hold up to close inspection or comparison. It just shows Joe doesn’t get outside of Charleston much to see real “World Class” facilities.

Please – no more fiberglass turtles or anything for that matter.

Bury My Heart in Downtown Charleston

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Downtown Charleston, SC, is where you’ll find a trail of broken promises and shattered hopes of generations of artists looking for a glimmer of hope and respect.

How many times do I have to go listen to a group of artists voicing their frustrations about the lack of a decent space for artists to create and show art – in the heart of historic Charleston? Too many.

This time it was, Creative Spaces: A panel discussion addressing the lack of artistic production and presentation space in Charleston, held Apr. 24, 2008, at the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston. The powerhouse panel included: Jeanette Guinn, SC Arts Commission; John Paul Huguley, Founder of the American College of the Building Arts; Todd Smith, former director of the Gibbes Museum of Art; Seth Curcio, Director of Redux; Sharon Graci, Director of Pure Theater; Mark Sloan, Director of the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston; Linda Fantuzzo, local visual artist; and Ellen Dressler Moryl, Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, City of Charleston. The panel mediator was Marian Mazzone, Dept. Chair of Art History at College of Charleston, and President of the Redux Advisory Board.

This was a wonderful panel of people who have carved out their own niche in Charleston – except for one (Todd Smith, outgoing director of the Gibbes Museum of Art), but they were not the people who had much to offer in the way of solutions to the – Charleston space problem.

The conclusion of the meeting was that a task-force might be formed. Wait for it…

The Harsh Reality

Charleston is a small city with no throwaway spaces left for artists who want cheap rent. Those days faded after Hurricane Hugo came in 1989. The first half of the 1990’s was the opportunity to carve out a multipurpose home for Charleston’s art community, but the city leaders blew that chance. Now, here we are in the last years of the first decade of the 21st century and no one has figured out that they just are not making anymore downtown Charleston.

A few artists seem to want their cake and eat it too. They want to stay in downtown Charleston where they can create and show their art, but they want to do it for less than everyone else who pays to be in downtown Charleston. Some feel Charleston may owe them this – because they make the city the cultural wonder that it is. If they are forced to leave – the city will become just streets, buildings and sidewalks. I’ve heard that before if the community didn’t bail out the Charleston Symphony Orchestra when they get in financial trouble – which is often.

Funny thing about that view of Charleston, this opinion has probably been voiced for over 300 years, but the city just seems to keep on getting by with what it has. If you’re the new kid on the block you better be ready to fight the old guard for every inch you get. And, if you survive long enough – soon you’ll be the old guard fighting off the new kids.

Opportunity in this area can be found in North Charleston, SC – up at the old Navy Base, but many of the artists at this meeting couldn’t hold their noses long enough to wrap themselves around that concept. But, if they are the cultural engine that drives downtown Charleston – why can’t they move that culture to the Navy Base – then those seeking culture will follow. It’s not going to be that long before downtown Charleston will be extended all the way to the Navy Base anyway. The old worn out industrial “neck” area of Charleston will soon be a thing of the past. This will be the new Charleston and developers have already carved up the spoils between themselves. That’s another opportunity lost. So the Navy Base will soon be at the gateway to the emerald city.

Being Positive

It was suggested at the meeting and during following discussions about the meeting that venting old frustrations wouldn’t get the group anywhere – positive thinking was called for to solve this problem. So I’ll offer a positive solution based on my years of working with the local and state Sierra Club and other observations.

You can spend years lobbying leaders to protect the environment and you just might win a battle or two, but if you really want to protect the land – you better own it. Leaders change and so does policy. The Nature Conservancy has a better plan to protect land – own it or tie its future up in easements.

So if artists want a space to work, a space to show their work, a place to practice their music, dance steps, or theatre craft – you better own it. If someone else gives it to you – they can take it away.

Oh wait – a lot of these artists don’t have money or they say they don’t. So how are they going to own anything?

Where I live in Berkeley County, SC, it seems like you can’t throw a stone without hitting a church. People are building churches everywhere. People with not a lot of money themselves. If the arts are your religion – build yourself a house of worship.

You form a congregation, you find a spiritual leader, members of the congregation pledge money to the church on a yearly basis, that spiritual leader and some congregation leaders go to a bank and get a loan to build their church – a church of the arts. You pay your pledge and practice your religion.

That’s pretty much what commercial gallery owners have done in Charleston. They find their flock, pledge their financial future and practice their trade in art. Also, there are a lot of organizations with lodge facilities all over the area. Lodge members build these lodges – together.

Nobody hands you anything on a platter that’s worth having and without strings attached. That’s life.

So artists of Charleston – don’t look for anyone else to solve your problems. Help yourselves and forget about downtown Charleston – it’s sold out. The Charleston Symphony has wanted a new concert hall for over 20 years. They’re on the top of the list along with the African-American Museum. Have they broken ground for either of those projects lately? Don’t put yourselves on that list – you’re not that young.

A Change in Attitude Needed

I agree with comments made by John Stoerr writing about the arts forCharleston City Paper (5/7/08) about the undertones expressed by people at this meeting dealing with entitlement, victimization, and a preference for space in downtown Charleston or nothing. The artists with these feelings will have to come to terms with the reality that – they are the only people who are going to hold those feelings – especially in today’s economy.

Artists will get nowhere with the general public or business community expressing these attitudes or trying to convince them that the arts are necessary, economic generators, more popular than sports, or comparing Charleston to what’s been done in other cities. There is no other city that can be compared to the space situation in Charleston.

Most things they want are possible and possible with the help of the community – once the artists – like commercial gallery owners – are willing to put their own money and futures on the bottom line. Money makes the world go round and it’s the mother’s milk of the arts. Once artists stop waving around pumped up economic surveys about the impact of the arts in front of the community and adopt a healthy respect for other people’s money, they will find that many are willing to become partners with them on sound projects. Don’t continue to delude yourselves or insult the intelligence of the public. The call for this movement – if there will be a movement, should be – get real, get serious and you might just get what you want.

Carolina Arts will do its part – if presented with a sound proposal, but then we have to fight to survive everyday to keep what we have.

First Blog

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I am constantly amazed at technology – especially the Internet. We started posting parts of our paper (Carolina Arts) and extra articles which we didn’t have room for on a companion website in June 1999. Not long after we were posting pictures of each page of our paper – every month so everyone who visits our site could see the printed version of the paper. Now I’m writing my first blog. Not that blogs are a new thing, but I’m usually far behind the curve when it comes to taking advantage of new technology. It’s not easy for this old dog to learn new tricks. I thank my lucky stars that my better half (wife Linda) is able to pick up new technology fairly fast and then bring it down to my level – which takes months if not years in some cases.

Linda and I purchased our first computer in 1983 – an Apple IIe. It cost us a fortune back then, but it was well worth the cost and time spent learning how to take advantage of all the things it could do. Within years we had paid, what was at the time equal to a house payment to get an external hard drive with 30mbs of memory and another house payment for a 1/4mb of ram memory. Today, I can buy a laptop computer for the same price of those two items with 40 gigs of memory and 1 gig of ram – with CD/DVD players and burners, internal cameras, wireless internet connections and a host of other features – not even dreamed of back in 1983. Now, many versions of Apple computers later, we’re still trying to learn about all the things computers and the Internet can do to help us spread the word about the visual art community in North and South Carolina.

Although expressing my opinions about issues taking place in that art community is not a new thing – being able to do so without waiting for the latest issue of the paper to reach readers is – for me. It will now be possible to make comments on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis. That just blows my mind and concerns others who know me, but don’t worry, I’m pretty careful to make sure my opinions are based on solid ground. And, I have learned that those who talk when they are angry or emotional about issues – make mistakes and often end up saying things they didn’t mean to. Also, you are writing to a worldwide audience – you just can’t talk like your sitting in a local bar or in some friend’s living room. You have to bring your readers along with you on an issue – they need to know what you know and they need to know where that opinion is coming from, and that’s the beauty of a blog on the Internet – space is not a limitation – except for readers with a short attention span.

So, I hope you’ll join me on this journey and keep up with my postings. And, e-mail me your comments at (info@carolinaarts.com) – just make sure you put the word “blog” in the subject line.