Past Commentaries

February Issue 1999

by Tom Starland

February Commentary +
Asleep at the Wheel

There is so much to comment about this month that the only way I can get it all in is to try and be brief - a trait not common to me. So I'm trying with a series of shorts, sandwiching in the good with the bad - you try and figure out which is which. Due to tight space this month, you may have to get the full story on our web site, which I'll say again, has much more on it than what you'll see in any of our printed versions.

First off, last month I messed up one of our advertisements by leaving what most people think as an essential part of any ad, the logo of the client. You could see the name Peggy Rivers. You could see a photograph. You could even see the dates of the exhibit and the date and time of the reception. But, you couldn't see where this exhibit was to take place. I'm still speechless as to how this happened in our bread & butter section, but I've been trying to make up for it ever since. The Peggy Rivers exhibit at City Art Gallery in Columbia, SC, has the distinction of being our first ad on our web site. I bumped up the size of the ad at my expense, and now have asked for penance by coming clean right off the bat in our most read section, sometimes referred to as the Bitch-a-torial.

Now remember, the exhibit is titled, IN-FORMATION, featuring paintings by Peggy Rivers, showing at City Art Gallery, - see page page 12 for the rest of the story.

Yes Virginia, There Will be Visual Arts at Spoleto

The good folks over at Spoleto Festival USA have filled the gap in reaching its, or at least my goal, of having a comprehensive arts festival. When the final schedule of events were released, there was Visual Arts! A limited edition program, but nonetheless, enough to make an editor of a visual arts newspaper smile. The final brochure of events includes an exhibit entitled, Rue, Rooks & Robin Eggs, a small site-specific exhibit by Martha Jackson-Jarvis, who participated in the 1997 visual arts offering, Human/Nature. The exhibit will be at the Gibbes Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden. Spoleto has also included the Gibbes' major blockbuster exhibit, In Pursuit of Refinement: Charlestonians Abroad, 1740-1860. These two exhibits should satisfy both ends of the art consumption sector. I also noticed an ad for Jerald Melberg Gallery in the back of the program brochure - perhaps some financial support from the visual art sector helped Spoleto see the need for visual arts - something the entire commercial art community should think about. Maybe it's true - what you get out of something depends on what you put into it.

Is it ON or IN

A recent ad by the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau featured a headline which stated: Look Who's Drawing on Tourism. The ad features a picture of Marty Whaley Adams, owner of the gallery with the same name, looking through a big picture frame. The copy reads as follows: "Local artist Marty Whaley Adams sees the big picture. She knows visitors support our local arts, helping to keep Charleston's cultural scene thriving. By attending performances and purchasing art, visitors share Charleston's talents with the world. Tourism enhances our quality of life, no matter how you frame it." Man, they said a mouth full there, but I have a problem with the wording of the headline and the slant of the copy. It's sort of like defining the meaning of the word "is". I think another ad should state, "Look Who's Drawing "in" Tourism". I hope the folks at the Visitors Bureau understand that at this point, Charleston's commercial gallery scene is drawing "in" tourism as well as drawing "on" tourism. It works both ways and it would be nice if we got the credit for once.

A Month for CERF

The Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) invites craft galleries throughout the United States to join together for the third annual A Month for CERF. The goal of A Month for CERF is to unite craft galleries around the country in their support for CERF, an organization which helps professional craftspeople suffering career-threatening emergencies in their lives such as: natural disaster, fire, theft and illness. Last year, galleries participating in A Month for CERF raised over $12,000 for professional craftspeople in crises. The event also raised CERF's visibility throughout the US because many galleries from around the country helped CERF get the word out about its programs and services to craftspeople. There are many ways to participate in A Month for CERF. The important thing is that galleries join together and support CERF and by doing so, demonstrate that they care about craftspeople suffering emergencies in their lives. For more information on how you can support CERF and participate in A Month for CERF, call Cornelia Carey at 802/229-2306 or send an e-mail to: (

I don't see why any gallery can't participate, craft gallery or not. It's a great cause, where the proceeds actually help other visual artists.

Being a Critic in Your Own Community

A few months ago I attended the Art On Paper exhibit at the Weatherspoon Art Gallery at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in Greensboro, NC. Besides seeing an interesting exhibition of works done on paper - any form and idea of paper - there was another component of the exhibit I found equally interesting - it was called "Greensboro Responds". Before the show opened, the gallery brought in a diverse group of people from the Greensboro community - perhaps the first time in an art gallery for some - to respond to the art and make comments. The comments were written down and placed on cards so that as you viewed an artwork you could also match your response with that of another person. The cards also told you info about the person responding. What their job was, age, and position in the community. Subsequent viewers were also asked to make responses. I found this a very informative addition to just viewing art and responding to my inner-self. Although I'm just not sure I would want a lot of my responses written down. What's that? The editor doesn't just love everything offered by every artists? Get real! This process might help some artists get real too!

Update on Funding Disclosure or the Lack of One

A while ago I wondered aloud about the fact that in the last report of yearly grants from the SC Arts Commission I saw there was no grant for the Charleston Theatre Ballet. I was amazed because the ballet company was a pet project of the Commission. The Commission has guaranteed the company's financial success even if they can't fill a performance space larger than their studio. Well, anyway, I found it strange that there was no grant listed. I wondered if they didn't get one, which would have shown the Commission was wising up, or that it was so big, they were afraid to list it. I knew there is no such thing as a smart pill, so I suspected the latter to be the case. I was right. After someone at the ballet company saw my comments they e-mailed me bragging about the $25,000 grant the company had received from the Commission. It was one of those rare two-year grants that the Commission reserves for their pets. Why wasn't it listed? Like they say, out of sight, out of mind. The Arts Commission doesn't want to have to justify such out of proportion grants to groups the public doesn't support. But, then again, that's the a way of life in the non-profit sector.

Where's the Report?

A few months ago, we also told you about a group of Columbia, SC, businessmen (known as the Arts Taskforce) who were working on collecting information about the Columbia art community to report to Columbia's Mayor, Bob Coble. The Mayor wanted to know if the city needed an Office of Cultural Affairs to organize the arts community, or should I say act as referee. Some people called the position the "Art Czar". In Nov. 1998, William W. Starr, cultural reporter for the State newspaper said the report was due out the following Monday. Monday came and went and I still haven't talked with anyone who has seen a copy of this report. I'm sure it was meant to be a public document, but where is it and why haven't people in Columbia seen a copy of it? I'm sure the big groups saw the report, but then that's part of the problem - dealing with just the big boys and girls. All I know is what I read in the State from another article by Starr, telling us that the Mayor was making the art community an offer they couldn't or shouldn't refuse - according to Starr (Here's another Starr interpreting the facts for us). The article said the Mayor was ready to give the art community more money if they would just come together. "Can't we all just get along?" What, does Rodney King advise the Mayor? Give me a break! If that's the result of the Task Force's work - and the Mayor bought it - Columbia needs another Mayor. Sure, the big organizations will make moves to "come together", until they don't get the check they think they deserve and then it's back to dog eat dog. Is this leadership? This is just what the art community needed - another person to grovel to for funding.

Another Mayor's Story

At the recent US Conference of Mayors, Charleston, SC's, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, was awarded the 1999 Government Leadership in the Arts Award for Outstanding Local Arts Leadership. What better group to recognize the Mayor's abilities to use the arts to sure up political support and votes than a group of top politicians. Don't get me wrong. I admit that I am no longer a fan of the Mayor, whom I think is myopic when it comes to the arts and is ruining one of the South's most wonderful cities by over-developing it.

The Mayor loves the performing arts, but knows little and cares even less about the visual art needs of Charleston. Charleston has the smallest and worst visual art space of any town in the Carolinas. Here's some recent examples of how well the Mayor and the city deals with the visual arts in general. Due to a lack of interest and financial support the Camden Towers Cultural Center, supposedly the future home of the LOCUS Center for Contemporary Art is a year behind schedule. March 1, was planned to be the beginning of construction, but the Cultural Center doesn't even have a master lease from the city yet. The Mayor's new idea on providing needed cultural facilities is to require developers of city-owned property to build those facilities. Knowing that developers have to count every penny to make a profit, we can expect the least when it comes to those required facilities. First Night Charleston, an idea to give people a non-alcoholic way to celebrate the New Year, is just another way to highlight and fund the area's performing arts groups. But, in its second year it already showed signs of importing most of the entertainment from outside the area and forget about any visual arts participation. After Charleston area taxpayers revolted about the county offering a local high school marching band $50,000 to go to the Orange Bowl Parade, the city of Charleston decided not to give the band the $10,000 it "loaned" the band, but instead will hire the band to perform in the City's Piccolo Spoleto Festival and MOJA Arts Festival at $2,500 a pop. That's another $10,000 that won't reach the real arts community, but will count big at the election booth since the high school is a minority school. Yes, the Mayor deserves the award from our cities mayors. He really knows how to use the arts to benefit his political future.

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