Archive for March, 2009

The Check is in the Mail for the SC Arts Commission

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Take back everything I have said about the SC Arts Commission being forced to live with the reality of an economy that can’t support their pet projects anymore. The check is in the mail. Just like with AIG, get ready to learn about the silly and needless ways SC’s non-profit arts community uses (possible funding) provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act which provides $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), to fund projects and activities that preserve nonprofit arts sector jobs threatened by the current economic downturn.

We as taxpayers will be funding the distribution of this $50 million throughout America’s art community to protect jobs – not create jobs. And most of the money is only available to those who have already received funding in the past from the NEA – a very small group of organizations in SC.

Of course all this money has to be applied for, but my past experience with how the NEA awards money and verifies how it is used gives me no confidence that this money will be used in a sound and needed way. The fact that it can only go to previous recipients means their is no plan or vision for recovery of all of the art community. It’s more a protection plan for the current and past players – whether they were good stewards of public funding to begin with.

I saw what happened with recovery money provided by the NEA after Hurricane Hugo hit SC. The City of Charleston held on to money years after the money was supposed to be used, unknown to the NEA, and in violation of several federal laws, and eventually had to give it back – instead of really giving it to artists and art organizations who could have used it – at the time of the disaster. This kind of money tends to go toward pet projects of the people holding it. In talking with officials at the NEA about this event I learned they have no enforcement division, they trust recipients to file truthful reports as to how the money was used. There is no follow-up. And, in the end, the NEA just said match the money and use if for – whatever. But, the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor Riley didn’t want to make the effort to raise the matching dollars and just sent it back.

Don’t forget, this recovery money can only be used for non-profits. To hell with helping any commercial parts of the art community that have suffered or are suffering. And, to top it off, this money has to be matched with other money and where will those non-profits look for help in raising that matching money? Why of course their favorite cash cow – the commercial sector of the art community. They’ll ask artists and galleries to donate works of art for auctions, frame shops to donate services, media to provide free promotion for such events. It’s usually the first place they go to raise funds. Corporate money for the arts has dried up. Matching free money is a bitch because you have to get someone to give you an equal amount, and that takes work. These people like free money. Wouldn’t you?

Of course $50 million is such a small amount of money to people in Washington that they didn’t put a lot of thought into what they were doing. Someone probably just suggested as they were writing up the massive bill – “What about the arts?” and they just relied on old habits of throwing them a bone and leaving it up to the NEA to do the right thing.

This is not the kind of change I was hoping for, but hopefully time will still provide that change from doing the same old, same old. Of course maybe Governor Sanford will tell the SC Arts Commission to send it back. Right!

Oh, and you folks in North Carolina – don’t laugh, your state arts agency will be getting a check too. And, it also will possibly go to the same folks who have already gotten funding from the NEA.

Another Blow to the Coverage of the Visual Arts in the Carolinas

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Long before McClatchy newspapers bought out Knight Ridder’s newspapers in the Carolinas they operated the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. Folks in the visual art community there were not happy with the coverage they were getting. That should have been our first warning of what was to come from McClatchy – and I said as much when it happened.

Top management at McClatchy must think now that top management at Knight Ridder – knew something they didn’t. Newspapers all over the country are in financial trouble, but McClatchy seems to be in free-fall. It seems arts coverage is falling off faster than most other sections of their newspapers. First, they did away with the Arts Sections. The arts are now included in either Life Styles or Entertainment Sections.

Within the last year, at the Charlotte Observer, (Charlotte, NC) Richard Maschal, long-time visual arts writer/critic was said to have retired, but I’m not sure that was the real story. But, the arts coverage there seems to have also retired. The non-profits might still get coverage, but what about the quality of that coverage and rest of the visual art community? A recent article about an exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte in the Observerwas an AP story – short, with no texture. That’s a growing trend. That was the first blow.

Not too long ago, the Post & Courier in Charleston, SC, (not a McClatchy paper) laid off some staff members including Dottie Ashley, long-time arts writer, who once worked at The State in Columbia, SC. But, two weeks later she was back writing her column as a freelance writer. That was the second blow. Not that she was let go, but that they brought her back.

Last week, during another round of cuts of over 100 staff members around the McClatchy chain, The State’s arts writer Jeffrey Day was laid off. That’s the third blow.

Now, loyal readers of my commentary in Carolina Arts and on this blog know that Jeffrey Day and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things in the visual arts community, but I don’t like to see anyone lose their job and I don’t like the loss of arts coverage. (Well, maybe I’d like to see some people lose their jobs – you know who and at what State agency.) Plus, I’m more able to say what I want and Day wasn’t as free to express his opinions as often as some might think – so we may have agreed on more things than it would seem. Maybe – maybe not, but there just isn’t enough people in print, or any media, offering arts criticism – something the art community needs more of – not less.

Before the McClatchy takeover of The State, Day used to write articles about exhibits taking place in all over South Carolina and even in Charlotte, NC, and Augusta, GA. But, as McClatchy tightened the reins – Day’s ability to reach out of the Columbia shrunk – as did overall arts coverage in South Carolina.

And, this brings me around to my favorite punchin’ bag – the SC Arts Commission. They say it’s one of their long-term goals – to build up arts coverage and art criticism in South Carolina, but they haven’t done one thing about it. They stopped producing their own publication years ago.

Do they have a program which pays qualified writers and art critics to review exhibits in this state that could be sent to various media for publication? No! Do they even have a resource list of such people? No! Making it a goal – as the cable guy says – don’t, get ‘er done. But, then again, they don’t do a lot about their stated goals – they just like making them. They’re good at that.

Hey, if anything, the SC Arts Commission just lost one of their friends – one of their protectors. I’m sure they’re thinking hard about the loss of Jeffrey Day and wondering what they can do about it. He’s done so much work for them in the past – perhaps now they can give him a real job there.

Eye to eye or not – I hope Day finds another opportunity, but losing a job is something a lot of us are faced with during these times. I could lose mine. But, I’m the kind of guy who if I lose one job, I just make another one. I’ve done it three times now. But, I’m happy with what I’m doing now.

In my upcoming editorial in the April ’09 issue of Carolina Arts I suggest that people in the Carolinas who subscribe to McClatchy newspapers, and there are a lot of them here, send a message by dropping their subscriptions – give them blow for blow, but we need to do more. We need to let them know that arts coverage is more important to them than they think it is now.

I’m not exactly sure how we do that, since I don’t think these are the smartest people to begin with. Their business model over the last couple of decades is to turn their newspapers into something the under 30 would flock to – because that’s what they say their advertisers want. What a load. People under 30 don’t read newspapers. They read text messages on their phones, they read headlines and pop up ads on the internet. The majority of the population that reads newspaper on a regular basis is way over 30 and they don’t feel served by newspapers. I know I don’t. Of course some would say a lot of the problem is the tanking economy, but the problem newspapers are having started long before last September when the market and banks crashed.

And, as I mentioned above, with less writing and reporting staff, newspapers are grabbing articles from AP and other newspapers to fill space. I just love the way my Post & Courier now carries articles about art events taking place in other cities and even other states – to fill space that could of been about the local art community. Why not fill the spaces in our local paper with local stories?

Hey Tom – are you forgetting that these people are your competition? Why are you being a cheerleader for these other papers? Isn’t this good for you?

Well, yes and no. I never claimed to be able to do it all, nor could Linda and I do it all or want to. We have our niche and the arts community is too big – even if all the media gave it coverage all the time. Yes we are in competition for advertising – which in most cases we get more than they do from the visual art community, but they don’t do what we do and we don’t do what they can, beside we’re talking about daily newspapers. Get real!

I wish arts coverage was more than just a weekend section thing or Sunday thing. It should be an everyday thing. There is a lot going on out there that never gets any press. At The State alone – there could be a lot less coverage of USC’s football team and coach. And, I love football, but come on – it’s not like this team is ever a contender – even in its own conference. But I bet you no one is thinking of cutting any sports writers at The State.

What kind of coverage will the future bring? As things are going – a lot less. And, the internet is still a ways from being a complete substitute for most other media. Not really far off, but not totally there yet.

Where Has the Mad Blogger Been?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

I guess it’s starting to be noticeable – I haven’t been adding entries at my normal pace. When you start getting e-mails that are like picadores in a bull fight – drawing blood – you get the impression that some people feel I’m taking too long between entries. There’s a good reason for this delay or pause.

Linda and I have been very busy trying to keep Carolina Arts afloat and part of that process is a refinancing of our home – a process that is much different than the last time we went through this endeavor. Thanks to the wizards of finance who sold mortgages to just about anyone who could sign X on the spot, bringing our economy crashing down around us – mortgage guidelines have now gone to the far extreme. We have a good credit rating and have never missed or been late on a payment, but are now being asked to jump through hoops of fire to take advantage of lower mortgage rates. Besides our regular jobs which don’t leave us with a lot of free time we are now working overtime 24/7 to complete the tasks we have been given to close on this new opportunity at owning a home in America.

So, rest assured – the mad blogger will be back – soon I hope. There is a lot of stuff going on and I’m collecting info as it happens to comment on at an opportune time.