Past Comments

March Issue 2003
by Tom Starland

If you're like me, the word change is a dirty word. There is nothing more that I hate more in this world than change, but when it's forced upon me I'll eventually surrender. That's not to say I won't go kickin' and screamin' all the way, but I'll change.

Well, change has come to two groups in Charleston, SC - one by necessity and one by force. In the case of the Tidwell Art Gallery and Tidwell Art Supply Center, it's a victim of the market economy, free enterprise - capitalism.

King Street in downtown Charleston, between Calhoun and Broad Streets has become the hottest ticket in the retail market. Landlords are on a feeding frenzy. While national chain retailers are willing to out bid each other for choice locations - long time renters are taking it on the chin. After being in the same location for several decades, Patsy Tidwell has had to move both of her locations from the corner of King and George Streets on King to 343 King Street.

This location may be a little closer to the Simons Center for the Arts at the College of Charleston, Tidwell's main market, but it's a smaller space which will have to house both art supply and art gallery.

If you haven't been to Tidwell's for art supplies in some time, now would be a great time to stop by and show your support.

Charleston leaders are going to have to make a decision if they want the City's main retail street to look more like a mall in Ohio or remain one of the most unique shopping areas in the South.

Print Studio South, long time promoters of the fine art printing process in Charleston has joined forces with a new group, Redux Studios, in forming the Redux Contemporary Art Center. Print Studio South has moved from its former location, upstairs, at 77 Wentworth Street to 136 St. Philip Street, where the new Art Center is developing.

Years ago, the founders of Print Studio South took it upon themselves to open their own facility. Today, they are joining forces and resources with Redux Studios, founded by another group of independent minded individuals who are again doing for themselves instead of waiting for "government" to deliver the goods.

Think of it - when you're sitting around with a group of artists thinking - I wish there was a contemporary art space around so we could show our work - and someone says let's do it ourselves. Why not! I mean actually do it.

We've had groups in Charleston who for years and years had taken funding in the name of starting a contemporary art center, but never delivered on laying one brick or hammering one nail. Here's a group that did it within the span of a year or less.

The Redux Contemporary Art Center will open its doors with a grand opening on Mar. 14, 2003, at 8pm - the party begins an hour after I've given a talk about the art climate in the Carolinas and artistic promotion.

That's 7pm to listen to me talk about self promotion and what's going on in the Carolinas - as far as the visual arts goes. You might even see lightening strike. Then at 8pm, come and celebrate the opening and tour Charleston's first contemporary art center, housing Print Studio South and Redux Studios. Check out the exhibitions, the studio spaces, and the schedule of classes, workshops & lectures being offered. If you can't come, check them out on the web at (

I'm all for people who make their dreams happen all on their own - with a little help from friends. It's really possible.

Speaking of Changing - Your Mind

You have to wonder what's going on behind closed doors at the board meetings at the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC. I for one, would like to know what board members said to persuade director Margaret Skove to resign after 11 months on the job. Of course we won't as they bought her silence.

They didn't even give Skove a year to make a difference in what has to be one of the most difficult financial climates for non-profit institutions. That's cold. Somebody in power really took a disliking to her - fast. But you have to wonder, Skove was selected for the job over others by a special selection committee of the Board with the help of a paid consulting firm. I would think if they made such a blunder in hiring Skove - why aren't they falling on their swords and being asked to leave the Board? After all, they've wasted a lot of money making one wrong decision - that's if it really was a bad decision or was it just a case of someone on the Board taking a dislike to Skove. And, if that's the case, for whose interest are these Board members really working?

Think about it. In the private sector, if you made a mistake this big you'd be looking at a pink slip. Which brings me to a bigger question. Who are these board members anyway? I mean all board members of non-profits.

Who are they and why are they serving in such important positions? Do they know what they are doing? Do they care? As far as I know they carry no financial responsibility for the positions they hold. To whom are they answerable?

It has always been my opinion that people are asked to serve on boards for two reasons - to give money, big money and offer expertise valuable to the institution they serve. But, here again, my ideals are a bit off from reality. Some people collect positions on boards like some women buy a new pair of shoes and some men buy a new golf putter. For some it's just the thing to do - like climbing the social ladder.

I know of one woman in Columbia who applied to be on a board by listing one of her qualifications as being voted one of the best dressed women in Columbia. Is that the kind of people we want serving on these boards?

During the dark days of the Spoleto Festival USA - during the big break up with Spoleto Founder Gian Carlo Menotti, we in Charleston, got a sign of how important a good board is. Menotti and his "adopted" son Francis became disenchanted with the Spoleto Board, who at the time was thinking about Spoleto's future and replacing Menotti as artistic director.

Menotti got the support of Charleston's mayor - Mayor for Life - Joseph P. Riley, so Nigel Redden, the Festival's general manager, and 23 other board members resigned. In the next four years Spoleto almost went bankrupt - artistically and financially. The board members who were left were just some Charleston socialites. They didn't have much money or expertise to offer.

Today, Redden is back in charge and the board members deliver the bacon - there is no more fluff on the board, and the Festival is as healthy as it can be.

Charleston also lost its arts council to bad board members who couldn't find a purpose or focus for the council. They grew tired of going through the motions, so one day they just threw in the towel and closed the arts council down. They didn't step aside and let others try - they figured if they couldn't do anything - no one else would get to show them up, so they just shut it down. Charleston's art community to this day suffers because of their decision.

What's really crazy - these same people keep getting selected to sit on cultural boards.

Unfortunately this is the kind of person we have serving on many boards (not all) of important cultural institutions. Since they elect themselves I don't know what can be done about it. It's kind of like incest and inbreeding - with each generation you're diluting the genes. And, if the genes were not that good to begin with - what do you expect?

Board members need to be held more accountable for their actions or lack of actions. Here's another good case for term limits!

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