Here is an explanation from my friend Susan Jennings, Roanoke's arts and culture coordinator, about the failure of her group to have a Roanoke artist participating in the Roanoke City Market art displays. Because it's my blog, I'll have a word at the end. Anyhow, here's what Susan has to say:
First, look at the city's public art catalogue on line (www.roanokeva.gov/publicart) and you will see that the vast majority of the works in the city collection are by regional artists. The city has purchased regional art every year for many years from the annual City Art Show. We could not purchase any works from City Art Show in 2010 because for the first time in over 25 years the Arts Council dropped this show as well as the High School Art Show. You are on The Arts Council board so can perhaps explain that decision. Meanwhile, the Arts Commission Collections Committee is looking at how to fill that gap so we can continue to build the regional collection without City Art Show. (Dan speaking here: This is nice information, but it has nothing to do with what we're talking about. Nothing. The city has a good art program. I like it. I like its director. It is to be commended for the program.)
Second, here are the facts on the market building public art project and public art projects in general. The call for artists was sent to artists throughout the Roanoke region through the Arts Council and other sources. (The response from local artists was extremely low.) The city is prohibited by state purchasing law from giving favoritism to any class of artists, local or otherwise. (Dan's response: Find a way. Local artists responded with little enthusiasm, I'd venture, because they didn't feel any support on this. That state law is probably good for some things, but for art it needs to be changed and my bet is that if Roanoke was committed to having local artwork in the Market Building, it'd be there.)
Selection panels which always include arts professionals choose the best work for the particular site, not the other way around. When we produced our public art plan in 2006 (with lots of community input) the public asked for public art that was diverse and showcase nationally known as well as regional artists. As a writer would you want our public library to only purchase locally written books? Would you want other local museums and attractions to show only locally produced items? Of course not and that is what the public said about the public art program as well. (Me again: We're not talking about museums or libraries; we're talking about a city, which uses tax money from me and represents me. The city should be Roanoke-centric because of what it is. Again, we're off the subject.)
Third, because we have so many talented artists in the area The Arts Commission is working to recruit more local artists to the public art field. Outdoor public art production with all the nuances of materials, fabrication, installation, etc. is a different genre for many of our regional artists. One of the first things we did (before we commissioned the first piece) was hold a workshop for artists on how to become involved in public art. The city received support from the Virginia Commission for the arts to do this. We have had some great results: two bus shelters designed by local artist Ed Dolinger with high schools students, Ann Glover's Trojan Dog now at the fire station on Memorial, Charlie Brouwer's Happy Wanderers back for a second run in AIR. (Not on topic, again. We really need to talk about the Market Building and its artwork, not bus shelters and fire stations. By the way, I love Ann Glover's dog.)
However, we are constantly exploring ways to increase local participation. Last year I offered to host a series of Web workshops produced by the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network for regional artists on this topic and did not have enough takers ( three total) to make it worth the expenditure. I would love to hear from any regional artists who are interested in this type of workshop and would certainly try again. I am also constantly expanding by own e-mail list of artists interested in receiving information about our public art projects. I can be reached at email@example.com. (Good offer, but off topic again.)
OK, now back to me. This is pretty much the explanation I anticipated, but it does not get down to the simple fact that the city is buying art from artists for one of its most historic and most important buildings and none of those artists is from this area. Not a one.
I think it is incumbent on Roanoke to solicit Roanoke artists to make bids here and however it is managed, to make sure somebody from Roanoke is on the walls or floors of the City Market Building. I don't care how many reasons and excuses there are, they are wrong. Roanoke should be represented in this place at this time by Roanokers and I will not be convinced otherwise by a bunch of bureaucratic bullsh ... uh ... rules.
One more thing, lest we forget: I love Susan Jennings and think the job she has done with city art is exemplary. But that doesn't have anything to do with the City Market art.
(Note: My friend Arnette Crocker posted this on Facebook about the above exchange and I think she has nailed the problem: "Same old Roanoke inferiority complex; if it is from Roanoke it can't be all that good. Roanoke has had this kind of complex as long as I can remember, with art, music, writers, all types of talent. I think that is why there are no monuments or statues of leaders. As though "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member". Little acknowledgment is given to Roanoke talent who have left the area and enjoyed national and international acclaim. First example that comes to mind, photographer Peter Harholdt, Smithsonian photographer, internationally respected, and published. Roanoke began attracting artists in the late '60s and '70s because of the beauty of this area. There are plenty here but most area artists must take their art elsewhere for real recognition and financial support.")