Past Comments

August Issue 2003
by Tom Starland

Revolution #9

Columbia, SC, - Capital City of South Carolina - revolution runs rampant in the streets. At least that's what it may seem like to a few individuals - or at least one individual - Dot Ryall - a.k.a. Iron Maiden of the Arts Community in Columbia.

Last month, just as we were turning in our July issue to our printers, we started hearing wild rumors of the demise of Dot Ryall, head of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties. Being a cautious man, I did not order the call to stop the presses - as if.

Powerful people like Ryall don't just roll over and give up easily. When someone like Ryall takes a fall you better go to the "mattresses" as they would say in the movie The Godfather. It's a time to put your back against a wall and wait to see how things fall out - get your alibis in order - stock up on food and ammunition. You get my drift?

A month later it looks like Ryall got on the wrong list of someone more powerful than she - at least they hope they are more powerful.

At first, it looked like she was being muscled out, but then as time went on it became apparent that she still had power to exercise. Ryall will receive her full salary through the end of the year, including allowances for auto - for doing little if no work - all in exchange for her not bad-talking the Council. So, apparently she knows things they would not want the public to know - why else pay her to keep quiet. And, if I was one of the people who was on the team who muscled Ryall out of office - I'd keep a close eye on her. After all, wounded animals are the most dangerous. And, as they say, "Keep your friends close - keep your enemies closer."

I, for one, hope she is down and out for good. At least I'm hoping she is. But then again, I never needed anything from the Cultural Council anyway. And, I knew that she knew that I knew that she was - well enough of the wiseguy talk. In plain english - she was bad for the art community in Columbia. In fact, she thought she was the art community in Columbia and did everything in her power to make that so. We didn't see eye to eye.

Now I could go on and on about this lady - telling you stories that I've heard, but that would be spreading gossip and I would just end up writing a novel, and I don't want to cut in on Ryall's future book deal - "I Was the Best Dressed Woman in Columbia, and I've Got a Billboard to Prove It".

Now, before all you who tend to think I go a bit too far at times - remember this woman received $90,000+ a year - for many years, so she can take it - she dished it out enough. And besides, I'm not going to waste more time on her - at this point. We've probably not heard the last from Ms. Ryall yet.

The big question now is - where does Columbia go from here? Will the UN bring in peacekeepers to restore order? Will expatriated arts leaders return to Columbia? Will democracy be restored? I doubt it!

There is already crazy talk about the City of Columbia establishing their own Office of Cultural Affairs - like the one in Charleston, SC. Is that what the good people in Columbia want - to turn every arts issue into a political football; to have everything run through the political filters to see how many votes each dollar in the "arts" will generate?

They don't even have an arts council in Charleston because of the power of that city's Office of Cultural Affairs. And, I'm no fan of arts councils to begin with, but at least they tend to have a wider voice than city run agencies. Is that want you want?

In the heat of a revolution it's easy to grasp at anything new, anything different, but be careful what you jump into. If you don't, you can find yourself charging the ramparts again in a few years.

Now is the time to ask yourself what you really want and stand up for it - that is - if that's what you want to do. Most artists I know tend to like to talk about what they want - they don't tend to do much about it. It's sad, but it's the truth.

In reality, all of these arts organizations are set up as middlemen/women who are supposed to serve the artists and the public, but many - not all - end up serving themselves or serving the people who give them money and services. The artists (or select artists) are usually pretty low on the totem pole and the public for the most part could care less about the arts - until they learn about the money involved. I'm sure when most people in the public heard about the $90,000 plus salary Ryall was getting they were shocked and amazed that she wasn't even a coach of a women's soccer team - much less a college football coach for that kind of money.

Unfortunately, visual artists, unlike dancers, actors, and musicians, tend to perform as loners and as loners they are not very good at collective bargaining. They should expect nothing out of the revolution taking place in Columbia and nothing is probably what they will get.

When you take a close look at the Cultural Council it served the visual art community in Columbia very little. The only visual arts organization it funded was the Columbia Museum of Art. It didn't help create any others. Besides its self-serving public art projects and that stupid street gallery, which was nothing more than billboard pollution, what did they do for visual artists?

Oh I'm sure there are a artists out there who got to do a door and a palmetto tree who think they were being well served - but can you make a living out of that? What was the Council doing to support the growth of a healthy art market in Columbia? That's how visual artists make a living - by having people buy their work. Where was the Council's gallery - to showcase art on an everyday basis? Do you think the art auction fundraisers were helping artists make a living or providing great parties for Council members?

Dot Ryall had fashioned the Cultural Council to reflect her own image of what she thought the arts community should look like and to make her the most powerful - if not the one woman wearing the most expensive clothes in Columbia. She did this while the Council consisted of 68 board members and 23 community representatives - although non-voting members. That's 91 community leaders who were nothing more than yes men and women - until now!

Whether it's a revamped Cultural Council or a new Office of Cultural Affairs, visual artists in Columbia and everywhere else need to ask themselves and community leaders what do I need to help me make a living at my art - not be dependant on the handouts of such agencies. And, when it comes to dealing with such agencies or organizations - don't you want to be represented by a wide variety of people who all have a say at what's going to be done for artists and the public instead of a few "power hungry" individuals? That's Revolution question #9.

I'm sure this continuing story will be as bizarre as the Beatle's tune was. Now just keep repeating - #9.

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