Friday, February 27, 2009

Art Teachers Out of the Classroom

Yes, I happily wear my art snobbery on my sleeve (actually on my vanity plate), but there are times when I really have to put it in check. This morning I visited Parallel Visions VII at the Studio San Giuseppe Art Gallery at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. This is an exhibition of works by art educators at various area schools. Determined to make a quick stop before lunch, I found myself taken by not only the number of artists in the show, but by the various techniques and rage of subjects that make up this show.

My interest was really to see the work of one of the artists, Cathy Herring. She is the art teacher at Mercy Montessori. I’ve worked with Cathy on a few different projects and know her as an art teacher. But I’ve not seen her own work and like many parents, I was really interested in knowing not just her work with her students, but this side of her creativity. Her work in this show includes framed textile collages of kimonos. The ordered combination of geometric shapes and organic fabric designs both highlight the Japanese kimono form and texture. Ms. Herring’s work seems to capture what I saw throughout the show; a combination of styles, media, and techniques that really celebrate the wonderful breadth of creativity infused into our schools.

It is usually pretty easy to prepare myself for a number of shows I visit throughout the year. Too many times I approach an exhibition seemingly so well prepared that if you look closely you can see a rather large chip on my shoulder. This biennial and many other exhibitions focusing on our schools art teachers always catch me off guard. Here I am forced to put away for a moment my own theoretical approach to art criticism and simply recognize the range of creativity filling the lives of Cincinnati’s school children. And I hope others recognize it too.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Local Artist/ Writer Wins Award

Mark Harris, Director of the University of Cincinnati School of Art is one of a 27 awarded by the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant Program. The program is designed to encourage and reward writing about contemporary art that is rigorous, passionate, eloquent and precise, as well as to create a broader audience for arts writing.

The subject of Mark Harris’s essay is Cincinnati's artist-run space Publico that closed last year. In his article, he will focus on Publico’s 5-year history by comparing it to similar organizations in and outside of the U.S. Not only is it exciting to find a Cincinnati writer recognized for arts writing, but the recognition of a local organization makes this award extra special for our city.

Congratulations and thank you Mark Harris.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking Back Art’s Mission

It saddens me that much of the art discussion these days is about money. Between the controversial closing of the Rose Museum at Brandeis to the struggle to keep arts funding in the stimulus package, the art world finds itself on the defensive. Of course we in the arts are always fighting for more money. This is particularly true now and in Cincinnati as the city has eliminated more of its funding for the arts. For these last years, we’ve allowed our city’s strong corporate instincts to determine and promote the value of the arts. However we find again that viewing art as a means to financial success is not a sustainable approach. Artists need to speak on their own terms. It is time to take back the art’s mission.

The Fine Arts Fund recently recognized an interest in promoting the arts not as a promise for financial growth in the city, but as a vital component of the cultural health of our communities. This change of focus is probably my greatest source of optimism. Though I think this change involves more of a cultural shift in priorities that are unfortunately ingrained in the city. This is not only about changing the language of our missions. Defending the cultural value of art is rather easy. In fact, I know no one who disagrees with the importance of access to the arts in our schools and other public spaces. If the Fine Arts Fund wishes to succeed in shifting their focus, they may want to require local arts organizations to employ not only business but art professionals.

This is not to say that many administrators of our local arts organizations are not interested in art. In fact, I trust many of them have a sincere passion towards the arts in Cincinnati. Their skills in business administration are valuable to the art community. However, the caretakers of the core mission of the arts should be artists, historians, or educators.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CAM 3rd Floor Makes Changes

Since I suggested Carl Solway Galleries and not the Cincinnati Art Museum is our local venue for seeing modern and more contemporary works of art by well-known artists, the CAM has made some changes.

The Solway maintains a strong and dynamic exhibition calendar. Up until now, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s galleries of modern and contemporary works have remained static. This was especially true for the 3rd Floor gallery. With the enticing Nam June Paik installation at the top of the stairs to the 3rd floor, the gallery seemed to invite us to see what is new in the history of art. But once we passed the wall of video screens, we’ve been quickly disappointed to find most of the works on the floor almost 2 decades old.

This week City Beat’s Matt Morris reports that Jessica Flores, CAM's Associate Curator of Contemporary Art has made some welcome changes. Perhaps now the CAM can learn from Solway how to invite the public to celebrate modern art. These much overdue changes are not noted on the museum website. Will there be a gallery opening inviting the public to see these changes? In the meantime, we’ll have to continue to find our own way up to the 3rd floor.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Branding Local Art

After thinking more about a previous post regarding art in retail spaces, I began to focus more on how and why this practice has infiltrated Cincinnati’s local art scene. While I enjoy seeing the work of local artists displayed in coffee shops and the like, I cannot help but to suspect that decorating with local art has developed into more of a branding strategy than maintaining a loyalty to local art and artists.

I do not doubt the interest in a thriving local art scene by the owners of these businesses, but I do suspect the motivation is merely monetary. Almost no one argues against the notion that art and culture is good for the community. Though I expect that nearly every successful grant from the Fine Arts Fund in the past five years convincingly pointed to specific commercial rather than cultural benefits towards a developing neighborhood. Recently, this infectious practice has become much more pronounced in Over-the-Rhine.

In this week’s City Beat, leaders in the art community discussed the wealth of art in OTR as well as the challenge of maintaining sincere patronage from the area’s commercial developers. When asked about their relationship with the developers in Over-the-Rhine, both Jason Bruffy, Know Theatre's Artistic Director and D. Lynn Meyers, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's Producing Artistic Director said the commercial developers have never visited either venue. Yet it is the mere presence of these art organizations that seem to make the area marketable. Like the paintings of local artists on the walls of a coffee shop the art organizations of OTR lend to these businesses and this neighborhood a label of authenticity, a culture, a flavor, a brand.

Why do Cincinnati art organizations insist on adopting a corporate business model to run their non-profit? This business model of Cincinnati, home to Proctor and Gamble is to brand, label, and commodify anything and everything to satisfy the bottom line. This is not to accuse P & G of being Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. P & G is a business. Instead, mine is a call to artists and art organizations to step up and demand recognition in their communities. Whining about the economy is the song of the corporate world not the non-profit sector. Everyone knows non-profits can and do thrive on a shoestring budget. I certainly understand the dilemma in which Bruffy, Kenny, and Meyers find themselves, but as the “soul” of OTR, they sound rather defeated. People do in fact honestly support the arts, but artists and art organizations cannot allow themselves to be branded.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Winds of Change in the Local Arts Scene?

Is it possible the Fine Arts Fund has figured out that the arts serves not only the pockets of the private sector but also benefits the cultural health of the community?

Mary McCullough-Hudson and Margy Waller, President and Vice-President of the year-old Arts and Culture Partnership of the Fine Arts Fund lay out this vision in a column in today’s Enquirer. They seek to “live in a region with vibrant arts and cultural offerings that provide value to the entire community.” Speaking about the importance of the arts in the community, they make a solid argument for supporting the arts in Cincinnati to benefit the community culture; an argument arts and community advocates have expressed for years.

Of course we’ve seen these changing trends in the arts before. After years of viewing art as a mere commodity, and now with a threatened economy the adoption of a new language of culture and community is immediate. Somehow we must keep the coffers healthy and this shift in focus from financial needs to “the role of arts and culture in serving the interest of the community” may be a strong step in this direction. However more steps must be taken. For over the last 5 years, too much of the city's art scene has been in control of development officers, pr professionals, and art educators who admit not being concerned about educating patrons as much as just getting them to walk through the front doors and enjoying their visit. I’ll allow that these individuals like art. Heck, they may even love art, but too many of them know too little about it to advocate the change in focus for which McCullough-Hudson and Waller seem to advocate in their column.

To have a productive “conversation about the role of arts and culture for a vital community,” the Arts and Culture Partnership of the Fine Arts Fund must seek out those who can speak to those who are community advocates and organizers who understand that the value of art is not on a price tag or the size of the patron’s wallet. This, and not just the language, is the fundamental change that needs to happen in Greater Cincinnati.