Archive for September, 2008

What Was Your Politician’s Grade in Supporting the Arts?

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Besides all the other issues at stake in this upcoming election – what’s at stake when it comes to the arts? They say most people vote their wallet. If you’re in the arts, you should know how the people who represent you in Washington stand when it comes to supporting the arts.

On Sept. 16, 2008, the Americans for the Arts Action Fund PAC issued its Congressional Arts Report Card, covering the 110th Congress (2007-2009). That’s House of Representatives members only. The entire Report Card containing letter grades and numerical scores on arts issues of every Member of Congress based on his or her voting record and grades and ranking for individual states. A complete report can be found online at (www.artsactionfund.org/stay_informed/special_reports/).

The report says that the 110th Congress is decidedly pro-arts. Congress voted to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from $124.4 million to $144.7 million. This $20 million increase by Congress lays the foundation for a full restoration of NEA funding to its 1992 level – $176 million.

So, progress is being made in taking us back to funding levels of 1992. Gosh, who was President then?

The Report Card assigns each Member of Congress a letter grade and numerical score based on his or her voting record on specific arts and arts education policy issues. Four separate congressional actions are covered, and each is weighted based on its importance to the arts – with the greatest weight given to four votes on funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). A perfect score equals 100 points, and the points are correlated to a letter grade of A+ through F. The Report Card also includes a detailed arts voting record for each Member.

So, how did our Congressional members do here in the Carolinas? Let’s see.

North Carolina by (party) and (grade)

G.K. Butterfield (D) B+
Howard Coble (R) C
Bob Etheridge (D) A
Virigina Foxx (R) F
Robin Hayes (R) D
Walter Jones (R) D
Patrick McHenry (D) A
Brad Miller (D) A
Sue Myrick (R) D
David Price (D) A+
Heath Schuler (D) B
Melvin Watt (D) A

South Carolina by (party) and (grade)

J. Gresham (R) F
Henry Brown (R) B
James Clyburn (D) A
Bob Ingles (R) C
John Spratt (D) A
Joe Wilson (R) F

Let’s look at how the Carolinas stack up as a State and those States where the people running for President and Vice-President come from.

State (score)(grade)(rank)

North Carolina 54 C+ T-30
South Carolina 48 C T-40

Alaska (Palin) 20 D T-49
Arizona (McCain) 45 C 45
Deleware (Biden) 92 A T-4
Illinois (Obama) 76 B+ 17

T – tied for ranking

What can we make of this info?

Basically, the arts do better under Democratic support.

When you vote on Nov. 4th – ask yourself if you’re satisfied that Congress is just about getting back to 1992 art support levels or would you like to come up to the 21st century?

Your Presidential Choice, A Simple One

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

I could spend a lot of time listing all the ways Sen. John McCain has changed his views, to get the nomination by his party and to be elected President, on what used to be the principles that made him a maverick politician. The list would include tax cuts for the very rich, drilling for oil off-shore and in our national parks, bowing to the religious right, compassion for immigrants, sucking up to President Bush while at the same time trying to deny he ever knew him before the cock crows three times, and being Mr. straight talk express – to name a few. Now he’s just another Washington politician – his home for 26 years – lest he forget that point when he talks about Washington being broken.

His selection of Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate alone shows he’ll do anything to be President. The good Governor sees herself as another maverick – fighting against big business, their lobbyists, and government earmarks – while Alaska lives off sucking on the teat of big oil and government earmarks to the tune of $400 million plus in her two years in office. She turned down the bridge to nowhere after it was unpopular, but kept the money that was to pay for it. The only fighting she did against big oil was to get a bigger share of the profits for Alaska while her followers rant – drill baby drill. Were they talking about dentist? Gov. Palin is nothing more than a poster child for the extreme right.

We’ll go back to the question Ronald Regan asked when he was running to be President. Are you better off after the last four years or worse off and I’ll add – are you better off after the last eight years – under Republican leadership or the eight years before under Democratic leadership?

Ronald Regan gave us deregulation of the airlines and the Savings & Loan bailout (John McCain was one of the Keating Five); George H.W. Bush gave us the first Iraq War for nothing and high inflation; and George W. Bush has given us Enron, IqWII (the search for WMDs), and the worst economic disaster since the depression. Republicans have made the government bigger, made our debt bigger, deregulated everything so greedy stockholders and CEO’s can profit while the companies fail – making the rich richer and foreign oil a dependency we can’t live without.

Bill Clinton – although he couldn’t keep it in his pants – gave us a balanced budget and a surplus, no wars, millions of new jobs, and more money for the working class. The rich didn’t do so badly either. Was the meaning of “is” that big a deal?

The choice is simple for me. I need a tax cut – daddy Warbucks doesn’t; I need universal health care at a reasonable price; I don’t want my future grandchildren’s children fighting in the Middle East and paying for IqWII and the bailout of greedy financial corporations; I need a can-do country that can say “screw big oil” and turn to alternative energy sources (not using corn for energy driving up food prices); I want a President that is smarter than me (I’ve got plenty of people to drink a beer with or go fishing with); I need a country that can get over the color of someone’s skin; I need a press corps that can stand up to their corporate handlers; I need people to stop being so lazy that they refuse to register to vote or stand for jury duty (although jurors are also selected from driver’s licenses and ids issue by the state); I need an America that welcomes all comers with open arms; and I want the America my parents and their parents enjoyed and the world respected.

Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin can’t deliver what I need. They don’t even want to. I don’t even know if Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden can deliver what I need either, but I’ve got a better chance with them and the leadership they will bring to Washington. I can’t take eight or even four more years of Republican leadership.

What do you need?

Near the end of the election season Sen. McCain will promise you everything – he’s shown that. And no matter what happens Gov. Sarah Palin will turn on him like the barracuda she claims she is for being taken on a ride. I don’t blame her – she’s being used. And, I won’t feel sorry for her, because she is enjoying the limelight.

I’m not saying vote a straight ticket – that’s stupid, but Obama and Biden will need all the help they can get in the US House and Senate.

Just ask yourself – How much more of this can you take? and What do you need? If you’re truthful with yourself – you’ll do the right thing.

If you’re not voting – forget about you and stop reading my blog.

A Slice of the Arts Commission’s Ten Year Plan

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Back on Aug. 20, 2008, I posted my opinion on the future of the SC Arts Commission’s Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) program. I wasn’t too optimistic – based on my experience. In that posting I mentioned the Canvas of the People process. Some readers didn’t know what I was talking about. Surprise! Here’s a little sample.

This is one of the sections from the Ten Year Plan which deals with the part of the arts I’m involved in. Our paper, Carolina Arts, promotes the visual arts in North and South Carolina – in SC, in NC, and around the world on our website. So we’re into marketing the visual arts in the Carolinas.

As far as arts advocacy goes – many say I’m no advocate, but I dare to disagree. I wouldn’t be doing this – all that I do – if I didn’t love the arts and wanted others to love them too. But, I’m not the love em or leave em type. Not everything is good about the arts. Some people just don’t like you to draw attention to that – so when I do, they say I’m against the arts. Next they’ll question my patriotism.

So here’s one slice of that Ten Year Plan. I’m sure you can find the whole report somewhere on the Arts Commission’s website. My copy is from eight years ago.

Taken from the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Ten Year Plan – Canvas of the People 2001 – 2010 report.

Marketing and Advocacy

In order to build an environment in which the arts can thrive, we must deliberately raise the profile of arts providers and supporters in South Carolina. We must increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of the artistic process and gain more and better coverage and criticism of the arts through all media outlets. We must build understanding of the relationship between community development and the arts until the arts are regarded as a vital resource for prosperity and health by the businesses, citizens, and government leaders of South Carolina. We must keep the arts on the public agenda at the local, state and national levels and influence public policy in favor of the arts.

Objectives:

1. Develop marketing and information systems that help citizens easily identify and connect with arts resources that fit their needs and interests.

2. Train artists and arts organizations in professional marketing techniques, and build skills throughout the arts community in obtaining press and media coverage.

3. Build public understanding and appreciation of the “behind-the-scenes” creative process through which works of art are produced.

4. Monitor and communicate the public’s opinions and values regarding the importance of arts in the schools and communities and their desire for public funding to support the arts.

5. Understand and document the economic impact of the arts themselves and the influence of the arts on general economic development. Share this information with all potential partners, and publicize it broadly.

6. Develop ongoing relationships with local, state and federal legislators and legislative staff, and cultivate two-way communication that increases their understanding of the arts and the legitimate role of government in their support, while providing arts advocates with greater access to and better understanding of the legislative process.

7. Engage business leaders and other influential allies to advocate for arts and arts education.

8. Influence public policy at all levels including city, county, state, and federal, in support of the arts and public funding of the arts.

OK – so let’s take a look.

On the Marketing and Advocacy statement, I’ve seen none of this in the last eight years directed at me or our paper. We are the only publication covering the visual arts in both North and South Carolina. They may have spent a lot of time developing a relationship with other media outlets in SC, but not with us. But, I also haven’t seen any increase in arts coverage in the media. The Arts Commission no longer has a publication of their own so they have done little other than setting up Arts Daily, a website used by some arts groups throughout the region and artists around the country – because they make no effort to make it a SC only resource.

As far as making the arts regarded as a vital resource – even the media is cutting back on arts coverage while they try to keep their readers and viewers.

I love this statement, “We must increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of the artistic process and gain more and better coverage and criticism of the arts through all media outlets.” Have we not provided enough, if not the most criticism of the arts – mostly the SC Arts Commission – in South Carolina. I don’t know where they have done anything on this goal.

I have suggested in the past that they could have started a program where they would make funds available for art critics to write reviews of the visual arts that would appear in our paper. They would also have to pay for that space, but that was a none starter because it might benefit me or our paper (a commercial enterprise), but they had no problems doing that many years ago – paying a publication based in Chicago to include reviews of exhibits in SC. The problem there was that this national publication wasn’t available many places in SC. But they paid the money for years. And, have you ever seen an ad about any of the Arts Commission’s exhibits in our paper?

They don’t even send us press releases about exhibits they are involved with. We found one on the official SC Press site about an exhibit of ceramics from the State Art Collection taking place in Clemson, SC. We posted it on our website. Their idea of improving relations with the media and arts coverage is to have them go find it on their website or the State’s website. At least that’s the case with us. Again, I don’t know how they are treating others in the media. Well, I know they have a very good relationship with an arts reporter at The State newspaper in Columbia, SC.

On the part of the statement that says, “We must keep the arts on the public agenda at the local, state and national levels and influence public policy in favor of the arts.” They may be doing that in Columbia, SC, where they all live and work and by going to lots of national arts conventions and gathering, but they have little if any presence on the local level in SC – other than hanging arts grants over the heads of local arts groups. They don’t reward grassroots movements in South Carolina like they do in North Carolina.

What about the Objectives?

Under Number 1

They created Arts Daily and maintain a website. That’s it on this objective. The artists of SC don’t know what resources are available, nor does most of the public know what’s being offered – by their efforts.

Under Number 2

A few days ago I received a press release about an art exhibit from one of SC’s medium sized art museums, by snail mail – after our deadline. The press release had only the reception date (no ending date making the info unusable for our readers) and no phone number to call about further info. I was referred to a website address for press images.

The year is 2008, most of the information we receive is sent by e-mail so it can be received almost instantly. Images are sent with the press release so I don’t have to take time requesting them or searching for them on a website. Obviously this museum has fallen through the cracks of the Ten Year Plan. We received a press release about this same exhibit, a month earlier, from the commercial gallery who represents the artist presented in the exhibit.

But, they are not the only arts organization unable to communicate to the media. I’m shocked at how much info I have to pry out of some of these groups. Most are lucky that their cultural offerings may be the only events taking place in their own hometowns and cities. So they get coverage in small hometown media, but they can’t compete in the wide-world of arts media coverage – which is in decline in the Carolinas. So you have to be very competitive to get coverage.

Over these last eight years, I haven’t seen the Arts Commission do much to improve this situation in SC. They have a hard time communicating themselves. That’s my experience.

On our website we offer opportunities to all in the visual arts in every part of North and South Carolina, but when some learn that some things won’t be included in our printed version of the paper – they lose interest in sending information. How short sighted can they be? Apparently the Arts Commission hasn’t gotten across how useful a website and the internet can be in spreading information – since that’s all they use for communications. But then again, many of the arts groups who don’t send us info, don’t send it to Arts Daily either. So how should we judge the Arts Commission on their plan to increase arts coverage and communication? Poorly in my opinion.

We have exhibit spaces in NC that never miss a month in sending us press releases about their exhibits – and some have never been printed in our paper. But they keep sending them and they take advantage of our worldwide readership. They appreciate our efforts in including them.

Under Number 3

I haven’t seen much done on this objective. The Arts Commission started an audience building program for some arts groups in Columbia, SC – their own backyard. But I don’t think it really covers the behind the scenes process of creating art. And, when will they get around to the rest of the state with this program?

Under Number 4

I wonder how they have been doing this monitoring of the public’s opinion and communicating it to anyone, but I bet you they tell everyone who matters that the public really is BIG on supporting the arts – especially on the issue of increasing the funding for the Arts Commission – so they can trickle it down to the artists.

Under Number 5

This one they work on all the time. They’re always releasing any report that claims to know the economic impact the arts have on the economy – national, regional and local. Unfortunately they tend to use formulas that are so outrageous that most people don’t believe them. They usually tell people that for every dollar put into the arts, it generates 3, 4, or 5 dollars into the economy. Sometimes it’s 6, 7 or 8 dollars. What they never tell you in these reports is that the dollar is being subtracted from the economy to begin with. That dollar is a tax dollar. Some taxpayers might feel that arts funding is having a negative effect on their economy.

The other thing that is very funny about these “economic impact of the arts” is that these reports always use money that is generated in the commercial sector of the arts, but these same commercial enterprises never get to benefit from public funding. Commercial money is good when it’s needed to pad the total figures, but they don’t want to give any money to those greedy commercial people. Nice!

Under Number 6

Here is another objective the Arts Commission spends a lot of time doing. Kissing up to and whispering in the ears of the people who control their funding.

Remember the 40 list – part of the Arts Commission’s 40th Anniversary celebration. Somehow State Legislators from most counties in SC got nominated to be on this list – even though there weren’t that many people participating from those counties contributing items for other lists. And, their names were just given – no one seemed to have any comments to offer about these supportive legislators. It’s like the names just appeared out of nowhere.

I bet you they spend more energy on this objective – more than all the others combined.

Under Number 7

How would we judge their efforts on this objective? Should we check out the list of Verner Awards winners? Or, try and find out how many consulting jobs they have done for businesses – helping them select art for their offices? Should we ask for a list of which businesses are donating to the SC Arts Foundation? Or, count up the number of press releases they have issued about partnerships with businesses in SC? How do we learn about how well they have done with this objective?

When it comes down to it – they don’t really like talking about this subject at all.

On Number 8

Well, we know they influence State policy on the arts, after all they are a state agency, but I don’t know of any dealings with city, county or federal policy – unless you’re talking about being involved with governments in the Columbia, SC, area again.

Actually, I’d like to see some disclosure on this issue. I’d like to know all the boards and committees staff members of the SC Arts Commission sit on.

So what can we say about the Arts Commission’s leadership in pulling off some of these Ten Year Plan objectives.

Marketing

In my opinion the overall marketing of the arts in SC is substandard – especially when I compare it to what’s being done in NC. Artists and arts organizations know very little about marketing themselves. Of course the LINC programs will solve this – right.

When these people and groups get public funding from the state of SC – they should be required to do statewide marketing of their events – not just local promotions.

Advocacy

Well that’s kind of simple – has funding for the arts increased or decreased in the last eight years?

Most daily newspapers are cutting back on arts coverage – so they must think their readers are not interested in the arts – or why would they be making cuts there?

Of course I’m sure they would give themselves a higher grade on these objectives. And why not? Isn’t that what people do when they get to self-analyze their own efforts.

How about the idea of an outside audit or a public survey on the results of the Ten Year Plan. Of course you’d have to explain to most people who and what the Arts Commission is first.

Well, this leaves a lot of work that has to be done in the next two years. But remember – this is just one slice of the Ten Year Plan. There are a lot more objectives.

P.S.
Hold the presses. I’ve just discovered a press release which informs those who visit the SC Arts Commission’s website that Suzette Surkamer, Executive Director, South Carolina Arts Commission, has just been awarded the 2008 Gary Young Award at the latest NASAA gathering – by her peers – the 2008 Gary Young Task Force. Made up of other state art agency Executive Directors from Vermont, Maryland, Alabama, Ohio, and Washington State. I’m sure all are very well versed on what’s going on in South Carolina – by what they read in the report made by whom? SC Arts Commission staff?

NASAA is the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

The Gary Young Award recognizes the individual who makes an extraordinary contribution to public support for the arts in his/her state or region. Ideal candidates exhibit exemplary leadership, innovative thinking and dedication to diverse artistic expression.

The press release notes that, “Guided by her vision, the Commission has achieved success and national recognition in areas such as arts education reform, arts advocacy, and public participation.”

Darn – I might be way off base in my comments about the lack of such things taking place in SC. This award proves it. I’m sure these objective observers from across the nation are more aware of what’s been going on here in South Carolina than I am. I mean come on. You don’t think a group of executive directors giving other executive directors awards is bogus – do you?

What’s that thing about putting lipstick on a pig?

Oh and please don’t try and accuse me of trying to smear the Governor of Alaska or Sen. John McCain. I’ll do that in another posting. I’m saying the SC Arts Commission, the 2008 Gary Young Task Force, and NASAA – are the pigs in a poke here.

We’re the suckers!

The Skinny on Saving the NC Pottery Center

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I last posted info about the effort to save the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove, NC, on Aug. 18, 2008. So it’s time to update you readers on what has happened since then.

The last time I gave an update on money raised it was on Aug. 11, 2008, and at that time $30,000 had been raised. As I post this the current amount raised is $41,983.89. That’s almost half way to their goal of raising $90,000. The remaining $10,000 will be donated by a NC couple to cap off the goal of raising $100,000. That’s a glass half-full view. See, I can be positive at times.

A whopping $2,325 of that money was raised by Mark Hewitt’s raffle for a 2-gallon jar, of his creation. 116 tickets were purchased for the raffle, (if you’re doing the math – one person paid $25 instead of $20 for their ticket) with all the proceeds to benefit the NC Pottery Center. The lucky winner was Greg Sims of Durham, NC. Sims now has helped save the Pottery Center and won a jar worth $350. If he only purchased one ticket for $20 – that’s a very nice investment – on both levels.

Another development is that Meredith Heywood of Whynot Pottery has started a new blog for information about the effort to save the NC Pottery Center – it can be found at (http://pottersforncpc.blogspot.com/). You’ll get the very latest info on this blog. You can learn about other raffles and opportunities to purchase pottery and help the NC Pottery Center keep it’s door open.

The BIG event taking place this month will be a benefit auction hosted by Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales (www.llauctions.com), on Sept. 28, 2008, in Hillsborough, NC. Dr. Everette James, an eminent NC pottery collector and Board member of the NC Pottery Center, has generously donated a substantial collection of NC pottery to be put up for bid. Other noted collectors from around the state have joined the effort, donating treasured antique NC pots for this auction. A second auction, held at the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove, will be held in the spring of 2009. It will feature contemporary North Carolina pottery.

On a good news/bad news event, Denny Mecham, who was the executive director of the NC Pottery Center has been hired as the new executive director of the future Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS. “This is a new Frank Gehry-designed museum”.

It didn’t take long for the search committee in Biloxi to select Mecham out of 40 applicants. Seagrove’s loss is Biloxi’s gain, but I’m sure the folks in Seagrove are happy Mecham was discovered to be the talented and experienced asset – they knew.

Let’s just hope that the powers that be in NC realize, before it’s too late, what could be lost if the NC Pottery Center is also allowed to slip away. Of course you people out there can have a lot to say about that possibility too. You can make a donation toward the $90,000 goal, you can become a member of the NC Pottery Center, you can participate in one of the benefit auctions, raffles, or by purchasing a piece of pottery where the proceeds will be donated. You can also help by spreading the word about the effort to save the NC Pottery Center – knowledge is power.

Paying for Awards

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

About a month and a half ago I received a press release from an art gallery in Charleston who had just received the 2008 Best of Charleston Award in the Art Galleries & Dealers category by the US Local Business Association (USLBA). We receive a lot of press release about all kinds of things, but this one had a few items which caught my attention.

First, I never heard of the US Local Business Association, but I don’t know every organization out there and second, the gallery winning the award wouldn’t be my first choice as the “Best” gallery in Charleston. But, then again I didn’t know how the award was selected – what factors were involved.

I checked out the website given for the USLBA. That didn’t reveal too much info about this organization or the award process. Unlike other groups that give out awards I couldn’t find a list of all the winners – all I found was a place where you would put in a code to see about your award. Another flag when up in my mind.

So I e-mailed the gallery and asked if they knew anything about how they got this award. They responded that the USLBA surveyed 25 galleries in Charleston and they had received the highest level of customer satisfaction. Another flag was shooting up. There are a lot more than 25 galleries in Charleston. Now I really wanted to know who came in second.

I e-mailed the USLBA and asked if they could supply me with the names of the galleries surveyed and what was involved in the process. Their site said they would respond within 24 hours. It’s been more than a month and I haven’t gotten a response. Now I know why.

I read in a Post & Courier article submitted by Michael Buettner on Aug. 25, 2008, in the paper’s Business Review section that no one he has contacted has ever heard of the USLBA and he’s still waiting for a response to his e-mail too.

The USLBA is a website that sells businesses awards. You get an e-mail from them telling you that you’ve been selected to received an award – just go to their website, put in the code associated with your award and it will tell you how much your plaque will cost. You can also select how big you want your award to be – at various price levels.

The USLBA is probably nothing more than a great cover for a company that makes awards – even if you get your award after sending in your money. Very clever – banking on people’s pride and stock in receiving awards.

I get calls at least once a week and sometimes more often from people who say they represent certain companies trying to sign me up for a service. What’s funny is that many of them are representing people we already have services with and they don’t know I’m already a customer. It doesn’t take long to ask a few questions to get that special click! When they realize I’m not fooled.

After 20 years we’ve heard a lot of different pitches – some sound real, but we always run into a snag when I ask them to send me the pitch in the mail. They never seem to come. Sometimes if I’m not real busy and they seem to think we talked on the phone about this before or at a party – I play along taking up their time and running up the cost of their call.

When it comes to awards, I would at least like to have heard of the organization giving it and I would always want to know who came in second. And, I’m sure not going to pay for it.