First Event of SC Arts Commission’s 2010 Canvas of the People Draws 20 People in Columbia, SC

I couldn’t be in Columbia, SC, for the first event of the SC Art Commission’s 2010 Canvas of the People on Feb. 22, at 6:45-8pm. It seems many others couldn’t either with only 12 days notice – even those living right there in Columbia. In Jeffrey Day’s blog, Carolina Culture, he reports that only 30 people showed up for this important meeting and 10 of those were with the SC Arts Commission.

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I posted notice of this call for public input within hours of receiving the e-mail from the Arts Commission. In fact, I did a follow-up blog entry on Feb. 18, 2010, encouraging folks to go to these Canvas of the People events. Day posted info about the event in his blog and The State newspaper serving the greater Columbia area offered an article about the gathering on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 – the day before the meeting.

The fact that it took The State newspaper eleven days to offer its readers notice of this event is a whole different issue – assuming they got the same notice the rest of us got. But, then Jeffrey Day could address that issue better, since he was The State’s former arts reporter – let go last year in a staff reduction move by McClatchy Newspapers – owner of The State.

So, 20 people will have made their voices heard in the Columbia area – our state capital – for this ten-year planning process.

What are we to make of this?

Should we think that folks in the Columbia area don’t care what the Arts Commission plans – that it has no effect on them? Should we think that the art community and community in general in Columbia is happy with the way things are going in the arts? Should we think that sending an e-mail out to media outlets 12 days before an event is all you have to do to notify the public – regardless of when they will post that info – if they even do? Should we think that 20 people is enough to represent the Columbia area?

There are 16 days before the next meeting in Bluffton, SC – more days in between the 1st and 2nd meetings than the initial notice to the folks in Columbia. The folks in Spartanburg, SC, the location of the last meeting will get 51 days notice and the benefit of all the hub bub (they’ll like that reference) about the previous meetings.

Was this process fair to the folks in Columbia? I don’t think so.

When you look at the schedule of the meetings you see that most are less than a week apart – except for the first meeting – 16 days apart from the second. Was the Arts Commission in a rush to get the Columbia meeting over for some reason?

Here’s the schedule again:
Monday, Feb. 22 – Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia
Thursday, March 11 – Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort area (Bluffton, SC)
Tuesday, March 16 – Governor’s School for the Arts, Greenville
Monday, March 22 – Black Creek Arts Center, Hartsville
Thursday, March 25 – Aiken Center for the Arts, Aiken
Monday, March 29 – North Charleston City Hall, North Charleston
Thursday, April 8 – Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg
For more information about exact locations visit this link (www.SouthCarolinaArts.com/canvas2010).

What’s the hurry? This is a plan for the next ten years. Let’s don’t rush through this process – leaving most of the people behind – only to hear about the process – after the fact.

I don’t know about the folks in Columbia, but I would be asking for a do-over if I was from there. Sure, they can go to any of the other meetings – all are welcome, but that puts the burden back on the public.

OK – let’s look at the darker side of things. Maybe 20 people is all that would show up anyway – even after a do-over. Maybe even less would show up a second time. Maybe less people are going to show up at the other meetings. Perhaps at the end of the process a total of 150 people show up for these meetings. What then?

The reality is, the SC Arts Commission will say that the people have spoken and they will write up their plan – based on what they heard? based on what they thought they heard? based on what they wanted to hear? based on what they wanted to do all along. What’s the difference?

What I hoped and hope people will do is show up to these events and tell them they have the whole process wrong. This is no way to plan for the future – not this fast and not without proper notice to the public.

Think about how much publicity – over a billion dollars worth – is being spent to let people know the US Census is coming. We’ll be so sick of hearing about it before it’s over – but it is so important to each state, yet a lot of people ignore it and many hide from it. In some ways you just can’t win when it comes to the public’s input, but you can make a better effort for people to know about it and see why it counts.

This is what Ken May, the acting executive director of the SC Arts Commission had to say in that article offered in The State the day before the meeting in Columbia. “While the economy has certainly presented challenges, the arts in South Carolina are still strong, and they still have a lot of community support,” May said. “The need for creative expression and aesthetic experience is a basic part of human behavior.”

In the article it also offered, “He pointed to a 2009 poll by the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research showing that 67 percent of S.C. adults participated in the arts in some way during the past year. The poll revealed that, on average, South Carolina residents participate in the arts 14 times a year.”

So, if participation is so high in South Carolina – why did only 20 people show up for the Arts Commission’s important planning meeting? Just twice as many people as staff members there.

I don’t believe or put much stock in such polls about the arts, but every time they have to stand next to reality – they look more fantasy and fiction – than research. They always say what the arts groups asking for the poll want. I hope the folks at USC were not counting football games as an art event.

So what percentage do you think 20 people is to the greater Columbia area art community? Not much.

Of course the explanation for such a low turnout might be that this is not the first Canvas of the People the art community in SC has been through and showing up didn’t seem to matter much to those who have participated before. The results of the process just didn’t justify a second or third trip to participate. It could be the old fool me once – fool me twice effect. And, it’s the same people doing the fooling too.

We need better ideas, better leadership, and a different group of folks calling the shots in South Carolina. But there doesn’t seem to be much chance of getting them any time soon.

P.S. – If you want to read what Jeffrey Day had to say about the Canvas event in Columbia, you better do it fast. He has announced his last posting on Carolina Culture as of Feb. 28. His comments about the Canvas process can be found in his Feb. 23 posting. His dealings with Carolina Culture may be finished, but I’m sure it’s not the last we’ve heard from Day.

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