It’s Not a Wave, It’s a Conversation

When I launched the Cincinnati Art Snob blog in 2008, it was an attempt to open up honest communication about the arts throughout Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere. Since moving to Cincinnati a few years before, I was excited about the enthusiasm for the arts in Cincinnati and wanted to be a part of it.

However, the local arts scene seemed to enjoy a cloistered existence with interesting conversations happening within, but seldom beyond the city limits. Even Covington and Newport in Kentucky were considered “the other side of the river.” Social media seemed perfect tools to correct this seclusion. Through my blog, Twitter, and Facebook I set to help redefine the parameters of the local art discussion. I hoped to introduce local artists to larger audiences, but more importantly to make sure our artists and art lovers were aware of a larger art conversation. My goal was not to be the city’s art authority, but simply help bridge those who were.

This larger art conversation is filled with reviews, criticism, praise, disagreements, and questions with right, wrong or sometimes no real answers. Social media allows all of us in the arts to share these ideas and perhaps develop new ones. This exchange of ideas feeds creativity. Controlling this discussion by suppressing ideas and silencing voices is deadly to the art community.

In February, 2010, I posted about a phone call I received warning me not to engage the Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave) publicly. Ms. Margy Waller told me “no one (in the arts) is interested in speaking with you.” I laughed at how absurd this sounded coming from an organization claiming to support the arts. In fact, this back alley approach to speaking with me seemed only to confirm my belief the FAF had everyone “by the balls.”

I continued to laugh this off until earlier this year, when the director of local arts organization contacted me to pick my brain about a grant for a future project. The organization was interested in having me write the grant and possibly lead the program. Assuming they would seek funding from ArtsWave, I lightly, though sincerely informed the director of my relationship with ArtsWave. The director brushed it aside and told me not to worry about it and to think about leading the project.

Later that week, I emailed my interest and initial thoughts about the project and possible language for a successful grant. The director responded with an apology. The director met privately with an ArtsWave board member and was advised to restrict my work towards the project to the background in order to secure a successful grant. In other words, I was not to include my name or in any way mention my contribution to the project.

The fact I did not have the opportunity to work on a project I really believed in enough to put my own business on hold was not as upsetting as the apology. The director apologized for “going at this all wrong.”

The implication this director of an arts organization and presumably all directors seeking funding from ArtsWave must obtain permission from a board, that fails to adopt an original name, before making hiring or project decisions is not only arrogant but oppressive.

There are a couple of reasons why I waited until now to mention this last exchange. First, I want this art organization’s proposed project to succeed and any immediate mention of what had transpired may have poisoned the well. As much as ArtsWave refuses to engage in a public conversation with me, the organization pays close attention to this blog. Also, after allowing a few months to pass, the sting sort of wore off. Besides with the beginning of the ArtsWave capital campaign, focusing on this one example of poor arts planning seemed counter-intuitive. As you may know, my emphasis during the campaign is to encourage art lovers to support our arts organizations directly, rather than making donations to ArtsWave.

Finally, I mention this now and not earlier because this event really is not about me, but about collapsing the bridge of communication we all use to share ideas. The 2010 phone call from Ms. Margy Waller was no idle threat. That no one wants to have a public conversation with me seems to have been adopted as an ArtsWave policy. If you follow me and ArtsWave or Ms. Waller on Twitter and Facebook, you will see my recent questions seem to be ignored. These are not criticisms but simple questions like asking Ms. Waller where she shot one of her many photos or information on an upcoming arts program. If ArtsWave refuses to answer these queries, how can we trust the organization to deal honestly and openly about bigger issues regarding their leadership in the local arts community?

Is ArtsWave using Facebook and Twitter to control a larger art conversation? Well, from these experiences you can be sure they are doing their best to eliminate me from the discussion. And I’m really nobody. My goal remains the same as it was in 2008: to help bridge the somebodies.

What is the ripple effect to the community of suppressing art’s conversation?

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One Response to “It’s Not a Wave, It’s a Conversation”

  1. After reading this, I sent the following email:

    Dear ArtsWave –

    Recently I signed up to have quarterly payments made to your organization. Since that commitment was made it has come to my attention that you are allowing personal differences with people influence decisions about how grants are to be distributed. If you cannot put these types of differences aside and make decisions based solely on the merit of the proposed project, then I cannot in good conscience allow my money to be used in this fashion. Please discontinue collection of my pledge so that I may instead donate it directly to a local arts organization or facility of my choosing.

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