Editorial- Issue 5

Dear Friends,

Spring is always a busy time, particularly for the arts in Columbia. There’s Indie Grits, Open Studios, Artista Vista, Color the Arts, and Runaway Runway. The South Carolina Arts Commission, the Contemporaries of the Columbia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Art itself all have their annual galas. Various exhibitions are opening and closing, the local theatres all have runs of plays, many that they’ve been saving especially for this time of the year. It’s exciting.

But this year, while Bob and I were frantically dashing back and forth from one thrilling event to another, several questions kept presenting themselves. To start with, why did we have to frantically dash back and forth in order to properly support and celebrate the various artists and their organizations? What is so magical about sixteen days in April that all eight of the annual events listed above must take place on them? I’ll be the first person to argue that in a strong arts community one will often have to make choices about which performance or concert to attend, but when it comes to annual events, I don’t think picking and choosing should be necessary – particularly when the mission of these events is to, once a year, unite and celebrate the arts community. Scheduling annual events on top of one another dilutes the impact of the events and pits them against one another in an unnecessary competition for attendees.

The overlapping of events begs the question – who benefits from this practice? It certainly isn’t the patrons who have to make the difficult choices of what events to attend and which artists to support. (I still feel guilty for not visiting artists who worked so hard to prepare for Open Studios – but like many people, I had committed myself to Indie Grits by purchasing a film pass.) And it certainly isn’t the artists, some of whom found themselves alone in their studios because their patrons were elsewhere at other events.

And speaking of the artists, a second questions presented itself as we dashed from one gala to the next – where were they? Now that answer is easy. With ticket prices ranging to $150 and above it’s no surprise that many artists could not afford to attend the events being held to celebrate the very life-enhancing, culture-creating work that they do. Most artists, even those who are older and established, live on modest incomes. Three hundred bucks for a night out with a date, not to mention the fancy clothes the night would require, is out of the question for most people – especially artists. So while patrons were out on the town oohing and ahhing over the artists’ work, the artists themselves were either at home in the studio or, at best, at the Whig drinking a PBR.

Of course, photographic artists were visible, as were various designers and creative types whose contributions are essential to pulling off successful arts events. Unfortunately, rather than being the guests of honor, as by all rights they could be, they were on the clock, working the event for little to no money and a thank-you-very-much. Certainly, voluntary services are critical to putting on events. And when everyone volunteers and no one but the non-profit organization takes home cash that’s one thing. But if any one individual or business – especially a for-profit business – makes money off the volunteer services of artists, then these artists should be taking something home as well, lest the arts community undergo an epidemic of “volunteer fatigue,” as one photographer told me he fears may happen soon. Isn’t that fair?

So as we plan our events for next year let’s keep these questions in mind and answer them honestly. If we can’t honor our artists, treat them fairly, and include them in the celebrations of their work, then what’s the point? A business or patron-driven arts scene serves to distance the artists from their art. An artist-driven arts scene serves to unite the community so it can grow healthy and strong.

Take care,


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