The last two weeks require a Wikipedia not a column, but I’ll make my best First-Class-Girl-Scout effort to hit the highs and lows, starting with the latter. The SA art firmament glitters a little less brightly now that two of its supernovas have flickered out. On Tuesday, November 7, multimedia provocateur Mister Danny Geisler abruptly went on to that great grandmother’s attic in the sky, where he will never run out of plastic beads nor lack for assistants who are willing to endanger their equanimity for his cause. Playwright and artistic shepherd Sterling Houston followed Danny on November 8 after a slow decline during which he never stopped writing and inspiring his compatriots — and the public, most recently through the Church Bistro & Theatre’s well-received production of Living Graves. Our Last Words this week is dedicated to their memory; if you’d like to learn more about these two influential artists, you can read the Current’s recent profiles at Sacurrent.com.
But a universe is a volatile thing, and Danny’s and Sterling’s vacancies will be counterbalanced (if not filled) by the arrival of new sparklers. The McNay Contemporary Collectors Forum (of which this writer is a dues-paying member) rolled out the welcome wagon on November 9 for new Artpace Executive Director Matthew J.W. Drutt, new San Antonio Museum of Art Contemporary Art Curator David Rubin, and Scott Sherer, gallery director and new assistant professor of art at UTSA. (Artpace threw its own red-carpet reception for Drutt November 2; Rubin will give his inaugural lecture, Birding in Contemporary Art, at 6:30 p.m. at SAMA Wednesday, November 29.)
MCCF also added two new works to the McNay’s contemporary collection at its annual View and Vote November 7: “Gathering Paradise,” a large Cibachrome photograph by Sandy Skoglund; and “Vision Catcher,” a wall-mounted tapestry by Lesley Dill. The works are purchased through membership dues and fundraising.
Earlier this month, SAMA held a release party for its much-awaited At the Edge of the Sky, the catalog that accompanies the museum’s new Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Wing, co-authored by SAMA curator Martha Blackwelder and scholar John Vollmer. The gorgeously photographed book forefronts the images and gives them plenty of white space in which to breathe, and you’ll find the essays a good companion for a trip through the Asian collection.
Artpace also had additional reason to celebrate this month, although their good news came with strings attached. For the first time, the City awarded Artpace a significant chunk of the arts-funding operation monies divvied up by the Cultural Arts Board (in the quarter-million range), but the CAB made an unusual amendment to Artpace’s award — and Artpace’s only, although City staff and peer panelists ranked Artpace third out of the seven visual-arts applicants: half of the funds must be used for education outreach in underserved school districts (this after CAB lopped a little off the top to redistribute to groups who have a longer history with the City-funding process).
The original motion was made by CAB member Bettie Ward, who says that “the `CAB` really cares about education,” and this seemed like a good way to demonstrate it. But the CAB
didn’t restrict any other organization’s funds this way, and Artifacts for one thinks that Artpace already shows more ingenuity and commitment to arts education and outreach (Exhibit A: student projects at Fox Tech. Exhibit B: brown-bag luncheons. Exhibit C: Chalk It Up!) than some other arts groups that receive funding (i.e. Blue Star Contemporary Art Center). Ward did allow that “one small” factor was that Artpace landed a huge grant recommendation in what was essentially its first operational-funding outing with the City, which irked some of the organizations who’ve been doing this for years. “Disgruntled” was actually the word Ward used.
Artifacts would like to express admiration for Ward and her fellow CAB members, whom Artifacts believes are trying to do their very best in a tough situation — but people, either the peer-panelist scores and staff recommendations mean something or they don’t. If we play politics with the City arts monies to mollify unjustifiably disgruntled people, we will not get the best art services — we’ll get the art services that offend the least number of people, or that make people with friends in high places happy.
City Council must still approve the final CAB recommendations this fall, so perhaps process will rule the day on the dais.