Past Comments 

December Issue 2007
by Tom Starland

Art For The Holidays

How about doing something really special for someone or yourself this year - buy art for the holidays. You can get some really good art for the same price of whatever this year's new electronic gizzmo is - and it will probably last longer too. And, don't forget to shop at our supporters.

Charleston Art Auction +

Last month about this time (as you're reading this) Charleston, SC, was abuzz with visual art activity with the 9th Annual Fine Art Annual hosted by the 16 members of the Charleston Fine Art Dealers' Association (CFADA) and the 2nd annual Charleston Art Auction (see article in Feature Article section).

I had finished my deliveries just in time to attend the art auction - my first - that is professional art auction - not to be confused with hundreds of local charity art auctions taking place every minute in the Carolinas.

The auction put up for bid 125 works of art - some old and some so very new - just painted in Washington Park that very morning of the auction by artists representing the CFADA galleries.

After the final bid was taken the auction took in a total of $608,148 exceeding the first year's auction total - bringing in $30,000 for CFADA's Charleston High School Art Program. This total also included the price of admission to the auction which was also a donation to the school art program.

That's one heck of an evening of art sales and what a windfall for the Charleston County School District's art programs, not to mention all the artworks purchased that weekend at the CFADA galleries, but that's a big news story for the IRS and state tax agencies. That's right - unlike charity auctions - art sold by commercial galleries and businesses generate taxes paid to support government services.

So let's let this little factoid settle in. Those "greedy" commercial galleries and their "greedy" artists are going to pay taxes on the sale of their art - supporting local, state and federal government services and they are also donating money to local school art programs.

How dare they!

Don't get me wrong, the word "greedy" is not my word or description of these folks - it's the prevailing attitude expressed toward the galleries and artists who sell their art for a living, by those in the non-profit side of the arts - artists who apply and use tax dollars to make art and the agencies who distribute tax dollars to support that art - tax money they got in part from those "greedy" galleries and artists.

And, those charities that hold art auctions - where do they get their art from? Commercial gallery owners and commercial artists.

So you see - what we have here is a very generous part of the art community that is most often vilified by the very group who benefits from their activities. What is it they say about biting the hand that feeds you?

And, just in case you thought I was going to pass up an opportunity to take a jab at my favorite arts "supporting" agency - the SC Arts Commission - I looked up the amount of money they contributed to art programs at the Charleston County School District. Their total FY 2008 funding for all arts (dance, music, theatre, visual arts, etc.) in Charleston came to $28,781. $13,497 of that money was actually being given to two other non-profit art groups to serve Charleston schools (beware of the trickle down effect here) and the remaining $15, 284 was going to only two schools.

To this date, the CFADA folks and the art auction folks (for two years) have raised $100,000 to buy materials for Charleston County art students - materials they wouldn't normally have.

As Martha Stewart says, "That's a good thing!"

The thing is - governments should give more support for arts education in schools so more students can learn to make a "living" as artists - putting more tax dollars into supporting government services.

Where To Put Those Tax Dollars

I read recently in the Post & Courier that a number of museums located near Meeting Street in Charleston, SC, were granted $100,000 to promote something called the "Museum Mile". This would include the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, the Charleston Museum, the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the South Carolina Historical Society, Colonial Dames (a.k.a. the Power Magazine), the Washington Light Infantry and the "finally" opened Old Slave Mart Museum.

The 100 grand would go toward paying for a website, brochures, new signs, and advertising on CARTA buses and in regional publications - all in an effort to boost attendance.

It seems to me each of these organizations already have lots of that stuff. How will the combined effort be more effective? A combined effort linking the SC Aquarium, Imax Theatre and the Fort Sumter Tours didn't save the Imax Theatre or increase attendance at the Aquarium. And when people around here mention regional publications - it usually ends up being local publications - read by people who are already here in Charleston. And, do we really need more money to tell people we've got historical stuff in Charleston?

The Gibbes attendance is reportedly down 12 percent - from already being down.

The City and County would be better off promoting the commercial art community in Charleston. They'd see more return for their investment and the folks they would be helping out - pay taxes. Why do we keep bailing out non-profits that don't seem to ever care about being profitable or fiscally responsible?

This plan smells like a few museums surrounding themselves with others to get a quick fix or should I say - another fix.

Public funding of the arts is a good thing, but let's just not keep throwing money down a hole - again and again.

In an earlier article, the Post & Courier reported on how US Representative Henry Brown is trying to get $150,000 of Federal pork for the SC Aquarium - the project that Mayor Joe Riley said in the 1980's would stand on its own and not need further public funding - by attracting 1 million visitors a year. The aquarium hasn't generated half that amount in paid admissions since its door opened.

The aquarium would close tomorrow without continued public funding and board members getting banks to write off its loans.

Good attractions don't have problems attracting visitors.

If you don't agree with me - go buy some art for the holidays - because the non-profits are gonna need more tax dollars.


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