Posts Tagged ‘SC Arts Commission Canvas of the People’

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.


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.


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.


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.

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!

SC Arts Commission Talks the Talk for Grant

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

We’ve seen it before – many times. The SC Arts Commission snags a grant by talking the talk, but never delivers results. This time it’s a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation for a program called – Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national initiative to improve conditions for artists.

Here’s the first two paragraphs of the press release the Commission issued on June 17, 2008.

“Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national initiative to improve conditions for artists, has awarded the South Carolina Arts Commission a $100,000 project grant. The Arts Commission will use the funds to implement practical strategies that address key concerns of S.C. artists.”

“We are very excited to receive funds to implement this valuable initiative,” said S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Suzette Surkamer. “This is a great opportunity to help expand South Carolina’s creative economy and offer new resources to artists throughout the state.”

That’s as far as I can go before I start feeling nauseous. You can find the rest of the press release on their website.

And, before the naysayers start on their calls – did you participate? No, I’m way past wasting my time with the Arts Commission. I’ve made the effort in the past and the results have never been worth my efforts. But, you don’t have to participate to see the process unfold and judge the results. Simple observation can do that.

Well, let’s start with this – it only takes $100,000 to improve the lives of artists in SC. Why did they have to wait for an outside grant? If that’s all it is going to take – even if that’s a $100,000 a year – why didn’t they just put that in their multi million dollar budget – say 10 or 20 years ago?

This reminds me of the Open Studio: The Arts Online project. It was a five year national project to help individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations become effective information providers on the World Wide Web. From 1996-2000, Open Studio: The Arts Online, a national initiative of the Benton Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts provided funding for Internet access and training to artists and nonprofit arts organizations ensuring the communications environment of the 21st century thrives as a source of creative excellence and diversity.

What happened in SC? Workshops were held, money was distributed – lots of artists and organizations got shiny new websites and in a few years it all fizzled away. The community didn’t really build a resource that would continue to teach organizations how to launch and maintain their websites, so as the few who learned something during this period faded away – so did the future benefits of the program. The results today is that many of these organizations have websites that can barely tell you what is going on currently in their organization. Many are just web address books. You’d have to call them to find out what is going on.

The turnover of staff at these organizations is so bad that anything invested in one person usually walks out the door with them in a few years. As soon as the money for the project ran out – the SC Arts Commission had no further interest in helping SC’s art community effectively use the Internet to communicate.

The way most of these projects, programs, initiatives work – you get some people together to express their needs, you write up a report, you publish some goals and strategies – the money runs out and it’s all forgotten. There is never any follow-up to see how effective the program was and what impact it had. That’s not important. What’s important is talking the talk.

You can get a good idea of how effective this LINC program is by looking at the blog ( the Arts Commission set up. The blog was started in Aug. 07 and it really never took off – by Jan. 08 it seems to be dead in the water and there wasn’t much interaction going on. Another successful Arts Commission effort.

Why didn’t more people participate – well maybe some expected more from the Arts Commission than what they were getting, maybe the Arts Commission expected a surge of participation and when it didn’t come they grew uninterested, or maybe most people are like me – they won’t be fooled again.

But maybe I’m jumping the gun – maybe the real push hasn’t even taken place yet? What should we expect for a year’s worth of effort? After all the state goal is simple – “The Arts Commission will use the funds to implement practical strategies that address key concerns of S.C. artists”.

What does that mean? Write up a report? Make some suggestion as to what they think artists should do to improve their lives? Post some links to what other organizations that receive this same funding did?

I’ve seen what happens when the Art Commission conducts one of their Canvas of the People programs to find out what the Arts Commission and the art community should do in the next 5 or 10 years. They get some people together. They direct them through a pre-programed process. They publish the observations. They gather some more folks together to come up with goals and strategies for a 5 or 10 year plan. Publish another “final” report. And, whammy – problem’s solved.

It’s like George Bush and company – they published the road map on how to get from here to there – for leaders in the Middle East. If you get lost along the way, just can’t follow the map, find that the map leads to nowhere, or even find that the word “map” doesn’t mean the same as you think that word means – it doesn’t matter. They tried.

Does the Arts Commission ever call those same people together to see what went wrong or if anything was achieved? No, that’s not important. Why? Because the people giving the money for these programs don’t care either. They did their part. And if a report is required on the results and impact of the program – who do you think makes the report. There’s nothing like self-analysis to find success.

I know I’m still waiting to benefit from some of those goals stated in some of those Canvas of the People 5 or 10 year plans. I’m sure a lot of other people are too. LINC looks like another display of smoke and mirrors and I wouldn’t expect any changes to come out of it. I wish there would be some positive results, but I’m not banking on it. Unfortunately some artists out there will believe change is just around the corner.