Past Comments

August Issue 2006
by Tom Starland

On The Cover

On the cover this month we have a work by the late William Halsey (1915 - 1999). He was one of my favorite artists. I had always promised myself that if we ever went color - I would put one of Halsey's works on the first cover. Six months later, I finally fulfilled that promise to myself. It's like the Rolling Stones' song - "You can't always get what you want...But if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need".

Ever since I heard that line, I felt - you know, they have something there. And, I think that's the way William Halsey felt too.

Halsey, who was born in Charleston, SC, could have made it in New York City, but he decided to stay in Charleston and make the best of it. He and his wife Corrie McCallum, an artist in her own right, did what it took to raise a family in Charleston and make a career in art. Sometimes that meant teaching art, doing portraits, selling art for less than it was worth, whatever...

Halsey's legacy remains with us in his art and he produced a lot of it over his sixty year career. He produced some of his works two and three times - because he never stopped looking at what he did. At the age of eighty - he said he was just getting it right. I think he always had it right.

If you want to see more of his work, head to the Eva Carter Gallery in Charleston or check out ( or (

A Spoleto Update

Last month I said there was nothing to report on about the Spoleto Festival USA - since they offered no visual art events this year - this just in.

It has been reported that the Festival sold 85,000 tickets this year at the tune of $2.9 million - that's over $440,000 more than last year. The year before that, the increase was only $2,000 over the previous year. So these are big numbers.

I'm not presenting these figures as "official" as they didn't come from Spoleto to me in a press release - that's not gonna happen. They know how much I love to debunk some of the statements they tend to make.

The numbers are good for Spoleto. They mean the Festival will stay in the black - which is great for an arts festival - much less any festival. But the numbers also reveal a little truth about Spoleto - a truth they would prefer you not pay much attention to.

The figures are - 85,000 tickets - $2.9 million. That makes the average ticket price $34.11. But don't expect that to get you a ticket to many of the Festival's events that are not in the nosebleed seats or behind an obstructed view. But, that's OK - people attending the Festival know the prices and they pay it. The important figure is the 85,000.

The Festival's leaders once told the SC Legislature that according to a University of South Carolina economic survey, the festival attracts 100,000 people to SC. The 85,000 figure is still 15,000 short of that, if everyone who comes to Spoleto only goes to one event. That 100,000 figure was used to justify the support Spoleto receives in SC taxpayer monies.

Attracting 100,000 people to Charleston over the 17 day run is quite a feat - if it was true, but it's not. No one going to Spoleto goes to only one event. If they take in two events that reduces the number to 42,500 visitors. If they take in 3 events it goes down to 28,333 visitors and if they do 4 - it's 21,250 visitors attracted to Charleston. But do the people of the Charleston area all visit France during those 17 days - of course not. Many people from the Charleston area buy tickets and they go to many events. So what does this mean?

Well, the numbers in the survey don't really matter - especially since they are not accurate. If only 10,000 people came to Charleston and had to stay in a hotel and eat at a restaurant for a few days - the Festival is good for Charleston and South Carolina - especially when they are able to stay in the black financially. Of course that depends on how much taxpayer dollars they are getting, but...

So why do they have to streeeetch the truth? Unfortunately that's what it apparently takes to convince members of the legislature to give them the money. And, unfortunately they had to bring the USC Business School into the stretch too. So this causes other organizations to streeeetch the numbers about their events - as far as how many people they attract and the economic impact they have on the area where they take place and for SC.

The men and women in the state legislature are not all accountants or number crunchers, but they're not going to buy what's being stated in these economic impact surveys either.

Remember - an economic survey said the SC Aquarium would attract 500,000 people to Charleston and be an economic juggernaut in the area. We're still waiting.

The point is the arts don't do themselves any good by serving up the public bogus surveys about the impact their activities generate.

The folks at Spoleto should be happy with the boast that they attract 10,000 - 20,000 people who enjoy their festival enough to drop $2.9 million on it - and some of that money stays here and a lot more gets spent at the same time. That's worth some of the taxpayers' money.

The visual art community (commercial & non-profit) in the Charleston area pumps a lot of money into the general community in many different ways. It's not as much as some surveys imply, but they generate more taxes than the state gives back in taxpayer dollars - much more. They deserve some credit for it - not the myth that the arts always have their hand out for a donation.

Lazy reporters are also responsible for this myth of the 100,000 visitors. They tend to read press releases as facts - without thinking or checking them out. And, before you know it - the statement is a media mantra - repeated without thinking over and over every time the name Spoleto Festival is mentioned - even if the Festival PR folks had dropped the statement years ago. Like they seemed to have dropped the phrase - World's most comprehensive arts festival. Duh! When there is no visual arts - how can it be comprehensive?

Big Changes In The Newspaper Biz

Some big changes in the daily newspaper world in the Carolinas is about to take place. The State (Columbia, SC), The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC) and The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC) - now owned by Knight Ridder - will soon join The Herald (Rock Hill, SC), The Island Packet (Hilton Head, SC), the Beaufort Gazette (Beaufort, SC) and The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) in the McClatchy newspaper fold.

The Knight Ridder empire has fallen on hard times and the sale of their three papers in the Carolinas will end up in the hands of the folks at McClatchy.

What will these changes mean?

An article in The State talked a lot about better coverage of local sports and local politics - shared stories between the papers. McClatchy's policy will be that these papers will be "local" papers - not papers in a chain.

Of course we can look at The Herald, The Island Packet, the Beaufort Gazette, and The News & Observer, to see what we might expect in the future - from The State and The Sun News, and The Charlotte Observer.

I went online and checked out the Sunday, June 25, 2006, News & Observer - to see how they were covering the visual arts. (It should be noted that not all papers include all printed articles on their websites - much less include all articles in regional press runs. So, if you live in Raleigh - you may have seen different things in your Sunday paper.)

WOW! There were four articles about the visual arts. Story number one was about a Monet exhibition in San Francisco which will travel to the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh this fall. Number two was about an exhibit of contemporary works at the New York Historical Society based on the impact of slavery. Story number three was about the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, adding a Wyeth painting to their collection, and number four was about the NC Museum of Art getting a new work purchased by a "contemporary" support group - folks in the 20-40 age group.

Four stories about the visual arts - that's great considering their local competitor - the Sun Herald had no stories about the visual arts (on their web version of the paper). But three of the stories were about events taking place in CA, NY, and GA. Is that local coverage? I guess one could be considered a preview article about things to come. The one local story was about NC's state-owned visual art facility. I bet the folks in Raleigh read a lot about the NC Museum of Art when it comes to visual arts coverage. And, rightly so, but what about the other half of the visual art community - the commercial community? Of course there is the calendar of events list - if you can figure out how to make it work, but there was no coverage of exhibits taking place at commercial galleries - that I could see on the web.

It's not much different at any daily newspaper these days. The big non-profits get what coverage space there is and nothing is left for much of the commercial side of the visual arts. That's why most communities of any size now have an alternative "arts & entertainment" paper. But many of these are owned by newspaper chains too - some by the same "daily" paper - in the same town. And, their focus seems to be on the funky side of the visual arts or they pick their own favorites they like to cover, and cover.

So what do the readers in Columbia, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, and Charlotte, NC, have to look forward to - as far as visual arts coverage? Perhaps less than what they are getting now - especially with increased space going to more sports and politics. Perhaps folks in Raleigh will read more about exhibits in Charlotte or Myrtle Beach or the other way around. Oh boy!

The Alternative To The Alternatives

Enter the folks behind the Arts Ramble of the Triangle - an online site created to give the visual arts community in the Triangle area of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, Durham & Raleigh) a place, "for artists, critics, gallery owners, curators, art students, readers of art history, and all of us interested in the actual 'seeing' of art" - to express their views, if they have any. Of course we can all peek in too, since the site is posted on the Internet at (

I don't want to speak for these folks, but I think they started this effort because it is not being offered anywhere else in the community. Much like we started this effort 18 years ago due to a frustration over not being able to get publicity for galleries we were involved with in local media.

Face it - the daily newspaper media in this country is in crisis. When it comes to coverage of the arts - the visual arts are getting the short end of the stick - some because they don't purchase ads in those papers and because other non-profits in the visual arts always seem to get what space is allocated. And, that space isn't growing, but shrinking.

The folks at Art Ramble of the Triangle realize that online (newspapers, e-zines, whatever you want to call them) sites are an inexpensive (they do cost time & money) way to offer such a medium - compared to printed versions. But they take work and depend on participation from the visitors. You get what you pay for and contribute to on these sites.

We support their efforts as we do not cover that area of North Carolina in our printed version of the paper and they are doing some things we can't offer. Our online version has always included the Triangle, but it has always been limited by what we receive from people in that area. Some send us info about their exhibits every month.

In July we received articles about exhibits at Gallery C, Lee Hansley Gallery, Tyndall Galleries, Gallery of Art & Design at North Carolina State University, and at Artspace - gallery spaces in both the commercial and non-profit sectors of the visual art community in the Triangle. You can see them on our website ( There are many more listings about exhibits in that area included in our Institutional & Commercial Gallery Listings - 53 gallery listings.

Arts Ramble has just been up since the middle of May, so it is very new. Time will tell where it goes and what kind of impact it will have in filling the void in the area. Reading the offerings there will remind you of what is going on in your own community - so don't be deterred by wondering why you should be interested in what's going on in Raleigh, Chapel Hill or Durham. You can also participate by just registering and adding your own comments or contributions.

So why don't we cover the Triangle area in our printed version of the paper? Well, we're a newspaper - not unlike those other newspapers - we depend on a bottom line and we can only do so much. Unlike them, we can't carry losses. We did cover the area back in 1997 when we first became Carolina Arts, but due to a lack of support and our lack of financing - we pulled out in order to save the paper we could do. We have continued for almost ten years. And, during those years we have received numerous invitations to come back and cover that area, but no support was offered nor has any materialized.

We continue to support the visual arts community in the Triangle area on our website and by supporting Arts Ramble. We'll do whatever we can to include all the visual arts in the Carolinas, but we have limitations.

People in that community, as well as you readers, need to realize that they have to meet the media halfway. They are going to have to stop waiting for someone else to provide buzz for them. Last month, five exhibit spaces in the Triangle did that by just e-mailing us an article about their offerings by our deadline - info on how to do that is available on our site under the heading "How the Paper Works". Info on how to participate with Arts Ramble is on their website at (

The good folks at Arts Ramble are just waiting for you to participate. Don't wait to see what's in your next Sunday paper.

Artisphere Revisited

In the June commentary I defended the Artisphere Festival from criticism that there were not enough local artists selected to participate in the Festival. One of my simple solutions at the time was for more local artists to apply to participate. So here's the info on how to do that.

The Third Annual Artisphere, The International Arts Festival of Greenville, SC, announces the 2007 call for visual artist entries. Artisphere is a 3-day open air street festival located in the historic west-end district of downtown Greenville, taking place on Apr. 20-22, 2007. There will be 100 artist booths, $10,000 in cash awards, and over $30,000 Patrons Program purchases. There is a $20 jury fee. Applications must be postmarked by Oct. 20, 2006. For a prospectus contact Liz Rundorff, Visual Artist Manager 864-271-9355, e-mail at (, or visit the Artisphere website at (

The other, not so simple solution, is to find a way to participate on the fringe. Be creative.

Fundraising With Art Auctions

It seems that one of the major headaches of artists in the Carolinas is also a major pain for artists in the Big Apple - according to an article published in the New York Times by Carol Kino on May 28, 2006.

It can be hard enough to deal with a call for a donation from the local heart fund or for some children's camp, but imagine being an up and coming artist or an established one, for that matter, and getting a call from the Whitney for a donation. Can you say no to them?

Art collectors in New York are also catching on to the bargains that can be had at art fundraising auctions - to the point that some items purchased at a significant discount at a fundraising auction can show up at a real auction house - offered at the full market value. Some dealers have been forced to attend fundraising auctions to bid on works from their gallery artists, just to protect their market value. And, even New York artists are in fear that no decent bid or none at all will be made on their donation.

Some hopeful signs mentioned in the article also point to organizations that are beginning to share proceeds with the artists and in a turnaround move - one organization is going to be asking collectors to donate a work from their collection to be auctioned. In this case - a work valued over $5,000. That's payback for you.

Of course the real tragedy of this whole situation is that artists who donate works to these fundraisers can only take a deduction for the value of the materials used to produce the work - not market value. If I buy a work and give it to a fundraiser I get the full market value deduction.

After reading this article - the light bulb in my head clicked on - showing a way around this injustice for artists.

Let's say the next time a fundraising auction knocks on your studio door or calls - you get together with another artist targeted for a donation - you each purchase the other's artwork and donate it to the cause. Since you are no longer donating your own work - you can get the full deduction. You just need to make sure you both select works of equal value so neither artists comes out on the wrong end of the exchange of checks. It's a way of making the best of a bad situation. You become John Q Public, instead of an artist with the burden of society on your shoulders.

It's not a bad idea - if I say so myself.

Of course it still doesn't solve one of the big problems surrounding these fundraisers - lowering the market value of art. There are occasions when a bid is made for more than a work's market value - especially if two wealthy bidders want the same work, but most of the time winning bids are much lower than market value. And, some artists talk about collectors who now only buy at fundraisers.

Gallery owners are not happy with the fundraising scene either. The growing number of organizations using this method of fundraising has eroded their market of customers too.

Now, I don't want you to go away with the impression that I'm against all art auction fundraisers. Not true! The problem is more with the sheer volume of organizations using them. There are some that I think are more logical for the visual art community.

The Charleston Fine Art Dealers' Association uses an art auction to benefit Charleston County High School Fine Art Programs. Many two-dimensional artists donate works to an art auction for Brookgreen Gardens, in Pawley's Island, SC, which features one of the largest collections of outdoor sculpture in America.

There are many more examples other than these two, but even if all art auctions benefited art related programs - there could still be a problem - if there are too many. And for artists who create work that is highly in demand - every organization wants them to participate.

Some of you have told me - enough is enough - we get your point. The problem is, artists are constantly telling me this is one of their biggest problems. They are tired of being forced into a bad position by saying no.

Another easy solution to this problem is if people who attend these fundraisers start bidding above market value. Artists won't feel so bad if they know the work they donated generated twice the market value for the organization. Gallery owners will be happier that these auctions could end up raising the market value of some artists' work.

After all, the people attending these auctions should be giving generously instead of thinking of gaining a bargain on art.







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