Past Comments

July Issue 2004
by Tom Starland

Correction or Update?

In my May 2004 commentary I wrote, "It seems the Columbia Museum of Art is in financial trouble again with a $160,000 shortfall in this year's budget. I'm sure they're not the only ones in SC, but it makes you wonder why this state is thinking about building new museums, such as the African-American Museum ($60 million) and Hunley Museum ($40+ million), when museums we already have are in financial trouble. The state needs to help these museums before we build more. Or, we're going to have a lot more facilities in trouble."

After reading about CMA's projected budget troubles in Columbia's The State newspaper I was wondering why we are proceeding to build new museums in SC - while others are struggling. The point is - why build these others in an environment where current facilities are having trouble raising funds to operate?

The story in the The State was probably a warning to the Museum's supporters and the community at large. I know my comments were directed towards state leaders who will be asked for funding for these new projects and taxpayers who will be asked to carry the burden of their daily existence.

Well, it turns out we have good news to report. Ellen Woodoff, head of Marketing, Public Relations, and Publications at the Columbia Museum of Art has sent us an update on the Museum's health stating, "The museum is actually looking good - one month from the end of our fiscal year. Although final numbers are not yet in for the year, we are cautiously optimistic that our revenue will end in the black. In regards to revenue - membership, sponsorships, and grants are all up and exceeding our goals for the year. The Museum is definitely on an upward swing, and our new director is a huge asset that has already made a positive difference and done much in her short time on the job (since Feb)."

Well, I'm always happy to bring you good news from Carolina Arts.

Another Grand Champion

David West of Columbia, SC, an active member of Columbia's About Face group, has been crowned the Portrait Grand Champion of the World, as winner of the Portrait Knockdown 2004, the 3rd annual event sponsored by Redux Center for Contemporary Art in Charleston, SC. Beyond the yearly title of Grand Champion, West returned home to Columbia with $1,000 in his pocket after two days of elimination rounds of creating superior portraits of his fellow competitors, from around SC, including a student returning to Charleston, SC, from the Ringling School of Art in Florida. West is also our cover artist this month, where you can see his winning portrait of (student) Lane Arthur from the Knockdown finals.

Artists who participated in the semifinals included Lori Starnes from Columbia, SC, (also a member of the About Face group) and Russell Jewell from Easley, SC.

Last year's Grand Champion was Fletcher Crossman of Charleston and the first Grand Champion was Max Miller of Charleston. Perhaps you'll be next year's title holder.

If you would like to contest David West's title of Portrait Grand Champion of the World, you can provide us with official documentation of your claim to that title or wait until next year and enter your skills in Portrait Knockdown 2005 - otherwise, you'll just have to live with it.

Staying with the Columbia, SC, Scene

Things are getting hot in Columbia - SC's capital city. And we're not just talking about the daily temperatures.

The issue which we have been commenting about for the last two months is the case of a state funded agency competing with the private sector in providing services usually provided by commercial galleries, interior designers or art brokers.

In this case, it's the SC Arts Commission working with a Columbia law firm in selecting art works to be purchased and displayed in their offices. The law firm went to the Arts Commission to seek their advice on purchasing art. The law firm also was given a proposal from a commercial gallery in Columbia.

In the law firm's words to the owner of the commercial gallery - they had "retained" the services of the Arts Commission, although they were not going to be paying for these services. But, while they are getting these services from the Arts Commission, nor would they be paying anyone in the commercial sector. The law firm also handed the commercial gallery's proposal over to the Arts Commission - which as of this writing, has not been returned, although its return has been requested. What is the Arts Commission doing with that proposal and why are they not returning it to its authors?

Here are some of the problems I see in this issue. The Arts Commission claims that it is in their "mission" to assist people in identifying important SC artists. Is it? Did someone elect them to say who is important? They've been doing it for years, but who says they are the authority on who is important and who is not. Does the Gibbes Museum of Art, Columbia Museum of Art, or Greenville County Museum of Art call up the Arts Commission before they purchase new works for their collections? I don't think so. And, how much of this kind of service can the Arts Commission provide and to whom? I'm an art collector. How much time are they willing to spend with me over my next purchase? Is the general public aware of this free service the Arts Commission is offering all of SC's citizens?

If this is truly a free service they are willing to provide - where does the line form?

Another problem is the Arts Commission's narrow vision of who is an artist and what is art in their minds. We have seen from their presentation of exhibitions, purchases for the State Art Collection, and who is awarded grants and fellowships that they have an interests in only a select few. Their vision of the visual art community is nowhere near being representational of the overall SC visual art community. They have written off entire mediums as not being important. And, the State Art Collection is full of works purchased by "important" artists - who are nowhere to be seen today. There are works in that collection by artists most people wouldn't be able to remember and by artists who have long left this state behind. It's more shocking who is not in the State Art Collection than who is in it.

Artists who are extremely popular with the general public in SC are not even on the Arts Commission's radar screen. In fact, they are too popular to be considered "important".

Another problem is that SC has no shortage of commercial art galleries, interior designers, and art consultants and brokers who can assist this law firm with filling their walls with important art. And our state is not that big that the people in those professions don't know most of the artists or who to call to find out about artists.

In these shaky economic times - the commercial sector doesn't need to be competing with state agencies - who exist by our tax dollars. There is already enough competition to go around.

And, above all - if you are an artist in SC, ask yourself if your name is going to come up when someone asks the Arts Commission if they know any "important" artists worth purchasing their work.

I think the legislators when they first organized the SC Arts Commission had an agency in mind that would help all artists in SC - not be a friend to some and enemy to others. What we have now needs a major rehaul and new leadership.

The real problem here is that the budget of the Arts Commission is so small compared to other state agencies that no one there really cares one way or another what they do. It's pocket change to most legislators. And, the Arts Commission makes sure that the few legislators who serve on a joint committee that oversees the agency are happy and that their constituents are well taken care of.

The other problem is that people who are not being served by the Arts Commission gave up hope a long time ago. They don't even bother to talk to their legislators about their problems or what they think the Arts Commission should be doing. Apathy is the problem with most people who don't need the Arts Commission, while fear is a factor in those who do need them, and their money. They know that if you oppose - you lose, you're cut off, and maybe even attacked in the press.

What's been going on

Well, as I said earlier - things are heating up. Since our last issue, Jeffrey Day, of The State newspaper wrote what I call an attack piece about the commercial gallery owner who brought this issue to light. He only used supporting comments to favor the Arts Commission's defense in the article. He based the whole article on the point that the Arts Commission was being paid for these services - a point never made by the commercial gallery or me. It is the law firm's word "retained" about which people are confused.

Just another case of objective journalism. I guess it was in retaliation to my editorial commentaries. Day has been a great friend and protector of the Arts Commission in the past. They can always count on him to toe the line. Day also has an agenda as far as determining what is identified as "important" art in SC. In the past he's written articles about how there are no "important" commercial galleries in SC - at least none that represent the artists he feels are important.

I'll clear up the record right now. I'm no friend of the SC Arts Commission and they are no fan of me or my paper. I would see the Commission shut down and rebuilt into a real agency which assists artists and art organizations in SC - without making judgments as to what is important and what is not.

This is my opinion - not a subjective article or news. I'm not a reporter for a newspaper taking sides on an issue, but I am taking sides. Someone has to take the side of everyone left out of the Arts Commission's agenda, and that's a lot of people in SC.

The State newspaper should stick to reporting the facts of an issue reporting comments on all sides of the issue. I wonder how many calls Day had to make to find the comments that fit his point of view and how many people's comments that didn't fit - were left out of the article? If you only know what your read in the paper - you only know what the reporter wants you to know. That's the truth these days. And, I'm just as guilty. I'm presenting my views on things as I see it. Editorials are not meant to show both sides of an issue and daily newspapers provide their opinions everyday - not once a month. Only difference with mine - I put my name on mine.

The Arts Commission is trying to organize a quick meeting with selected gallery owners, artists, Commission Board members, staff, and "others" to "review the role that for-profit galleries play in the larger visual arts environment, to assess current conditions within the commercial gallery sector, and to advise the Arts Commission on how it can best interact with commercial galleries for the benefit of the visual arts community, art consumers and the public at large."

I know this as one of the gallery owners selected to attend this meeting sent me a copy of the invitation which was dated June 15 (sent by e-mail), for a meeting in Columbia which would take place at 11am on June 23. Boy, that's fast shuffling. I guess the Arts Commission is getting heat from somewhere.

If this meeting takes place, a handful of gallery owners will be asked their opinions of various issues - which will then be formed into policy by the Arts Commission. And, you can bet the results will be favorable to them - it always is.

I feel that the Arts Commission - if they are really interested in dealing with the for-profit gallery owners of this state - should have called for a general meeting to be held where any gallery owner interested would be able to voice their opinion. And, they should have the meetings in regional areas and at times and days that are more convenient to gallery owners. I wrote that and tried to send an e-mail to those who were invited, but many of the e-mails came back undeliverable.

I hope "this" meeting doesn't take place. Why is the Arts Commission rushing, all of a sudden, to meet with commercial gallery owners to talk about their relationship and role in the "larger" visual art environment in SC? Why are they only willing to talk to a few, selected, gallery owners?

I'm going to show up for this meeting - if it takes place. Since the Arts Commission is a public agency the meeting should be open to the public and press. I bet you Jeffrey Day got an invitation.

If you're a gallery owner in SC, don't you have an opinion on what you'd like your relationship to be with the Arts Commission and what role you can have in the larger visual art community? I know I do!

And, by the way - the commercial art sector - the for-profit sector - is the largest part of the visual art community in SC.


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