V7N6: August 2001
Volume 7 Number 6
cover art by Ricardo Acevedo
Table of Contents
When faced with abstract paintings, some viewers are content to dismiss minimalist works with an "I could do that."
Historically, the Cultural Contracts Program has been under scrutiny over its mission, administration and requirements, most notably receiving criticism for prioritizing larger, more established arts organizations over smaller, emerging ones and individuals.
Austin: you're too hot and congested. You're a nasty little polluted college town turned down a one-way dead-end alley named after a deceased poet.
The peculiar place of artists in the United States means we (the artists) are often both disgruntled and gruntled. Compared to other first, second and even third world countries our social position is often insecure. Governmental funding for the arts lies in priority somewhere below basic human services and sprinkler systems for the lawns abutting government buildings.
My first official act, once moving to Austin, was acquiring a job. I was a fresh college graduate, full of energy, eager to work and experience the Austinite way of life. My search became two and a half weeks of street-pounding hell.
Austinites do not pay for public art funding in Austin. There is no "arts tax" built into our tax bills. Funding for public arts in Austin comes from a tax levied on hotel occupancy. Tourists and conventioners pay the City's share of funding for the Symphony, the Ballet and DiverseArts.
American artists do not need a ministry of culture. Our writers and painters and dramatists and musicians have flourished when government has ignored them.
Adolph Gottlieb and the Blanton Museum of Art by Sean Denmark
The other day, I was staring at a postcard of Adolph Gottlieb's 1959 painting "Cadmium Red over Black," a piece which belongs to the wonderful Michener collection of UT's Blanton Museum of Art, wondering why I so dislike it. It's a red circle over a black splotch on a white canvas, an image the painter was obsessed with later in his life; he produced a myriad of variations on the theme. When faced with abstract paintings (the Michener collection includes paintings by such important artists as Hofmann, Kline, Frankenthaler, Newman and Louis), some viewers are content to dismiss minimalist works with an "I could do that." Yet after seeing the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston's Menil Collection, I can't say that. I didn't want to like Twombly; the man just scribbles and scratches. However, the problem was that a couple of months after visiting the gallery, I would see scratches on the wall at school and be reminded of him. Reality resembling art. Townbly had had the gall to invade a corner of my perception, and I couldn't be rid of him.
So I don't dismiss abstract and minimalist work completely. And this is why I found myself at the Blanton, studying the abstract, attempting to develop some sort of criteria for evaluation.
Has everyone heard the history of the Blanton Museum of Art? Here's the down, well-publicized, and dirty. The Blanton's varied collections are being displayed temporarily in two different campus buildings, the Harry Ransom Center and Art Building, while a permanent residence is being constructed.
With generous donations behind the project, an architecture advisory committee picked a big-name Swiss firm, Herzog and de Meuron -- those mod, square minimalists -- to design a new site for the collection. I confess, I think they're peachy keen and prestigious. In fact, this project would have been only their second US building. (The first, Dominus Winery in California, does not really suit my taste, but their 1992 design for a Munich gallery floats my boat).
In 1999, Herzog and de Meuron presented a design including five one story pavilions, defiantly low key for a building set on MLK. At the meeting, UT Regent Board member Rita Clements worried about the flat roofs. Regent Tony Sanchez honed in on the disparity between H&deM's proposal and the original one, a plan conceived long ago by Paul Cret. Sanchez even commented, "Why doesn't your museum look like this?" as he held up a picture of Cret's design. Thus, it was back to the drawing board, with H&deM devising a response to the Regents' concerns. The Board of Regents turned down the redesign. According to Lisa Germany (Architecture, Jan. 2000), Sanchez stole de Meuron and partner Gugger away to a kitchen after the meeting and showed them the plans he had ordered from another architect, apparently to provide a guide of sorts. H&deM resigned a few weeks later, feeling the differences to be irreconcilable.
The Regents' rejection of H&deM's designs created such a stir that UT Dean of Architecture Larry Speck resigned his own position in protest of the situation. But soon after, the whole selection process began again, producing a more conservative list of choices, from which the firm of Kellmann, McKinnell and Wood was culled. They'll probably produce a fine museum, but the thrill is definitely gone.
Back to Adolph Gottlieb's painting. It's as though someone asked for his autograph, and he grabbed for the nearest piece of canvas. If the dot-over-scribble image held any deep meaning for him, it was lost in the translation. Rather, the end result of his repetitive stamping of the d-o-s image was simply a menacing reminder that "this belongs to Gottlieb."
And I don't like how the paint lies on the canvas either; the proportions seem all wrong. Some of his less iconic statements of the theme are nice, but much of Gottlieb's popularity is based on the "oh yeah, I've seen this guy before" factor.
And I don't like how the paint lies on the canvas either; the proportions seem all wrong. Some of his less iconic statements of the theme are nice, but much of Gottlieb's popularity is based on the "oh yeah, I've seen this guy before" factor. Gottlieb = d-o-s; Pollock = dribbled paint; Louis = poured paint, etc.
As for the Blanton controversies, if you take the time to notice, the UT campus as a totality is ugly. A mishmash of big buildings currently hoard UT's sunlight and open areas. It seems designed to impede public gatherings: half of the West Mall is boxed in by shrubs, and walls line the Drag. And why has the courtyard of RLM been so useless for so long? To steal from an idea of Michael Sorkin's, I wonder if all this fuss over the museum is really disgust redirected from a mess of a campus that can't be fixed.
The H&deM design promised a breathing space which would have coupled a heady mixture of art with an escape from the PCLUGLRLM... In addition, it would have provided a gentle bridge between the twin monoliths of the state complex and UT. But one building can't fix a campus's problems; we've all been trained too long to accept ugly spaces.
Clements and Sanchez merely were abiding by the letter of UT's Campus Master Plan, a surprisingly foresighted 7-step program towards diminishing campus chaos, adopted by the Regents in 1996. It contains a pledge to, and I quote: "use the architectural language of Paul Cret's original works as the point of departure for the design of new structures." Furthermore, it assures us that "Red tile roofs are a positive identifier of the UT building character... [and] are considered appropriate for all new structures."
While H&deM kept the Cret Tradition in mind, it also recognized and sought to balance the effects of later campus additions. Mike Clark-Madison has pointed out how few of UT's recent constructions abide by these master plan ideals anyway ("Naked City," Austin Chronicle, Dec. 31, 1999). Does anyone bother to look at these buildings after they're actually built? Perhaps Sanchez and Clements are simply confusing whatever is currently on campus with what should be on campus.
Has this anything to do with Gottlieb? It would certainly help to tie together this review if it did, wouldn't it? If a parallel could be drawn between Gottlieb's work and the Blanton design, minimalism would be the scribbly line. Gottlieb strips his art down to easily recognized and monolithic images. But H&deM strip away door handles that are too easy to grab hold of. Maybe Sanchez preferred some conservative and easily recognized Platonic ideal of Cret architecture, too redundant to trouble us anymore.
Art Wars by Elizabeth Stanard with Daniel Davis Clayton and Dana Oliver
Every year hundreds of local arts organizations and individual artists compete for city and state funding through the City of Austin's Cultural Contracts Program. Administered by the Austin Arts Commission (AAC) and the city employed Cultural Contracts Staff, the program, according to its guidelines, is designed to provide those who "produce, present, promote, exhibit, record or support" the arts with monetary assistance ranging anywhere from $1500 to 10% of the total funds available to the AAC annually.
Since most Cultural Contract contenders are arts organizations with 501(C)3 status, also known as non-profits, and emerging arts groups and individuals, they rely heavily on financial support from government sources. Each year they participate in an extensive application process in order to attain grant* money from a variety of local and national sources, Cultural Contracts often serving as the primary one. Therefore, it is no surprise that such groups and individuals are personally invested in the efficacy of the program.
Historically, the Cultural Contracts Program has been under scrutiny over its mission, administration and requirements, most notably receiving criticism for prioritizing larger, more established arts organizations over smaller, emerging ones and individuals. While the program has attempted to address this disparity by striving to equitably allocate funds in proportion to Austin's diverse demographics, one incident this year involving artists who applied for funding in the Mixed Arts category, a category designated for those who specialize in multi-disciplinary arts, has caused artists to again question the underlying motivations behind the program and unfortunately, each other.
The Cultural Contracts Program groups all of its applicants into one of the following disciplines: Dance, Music, Literature, Visual Arts, Media Arts, Theater/Performance and Mixed Arts. Each one of these disciplines has an Advisory Panel, a panel which, according to the program guidelines, is comprised of 4-10 individuals who have expertise in their particular discipline. In addition to reviewing the grant proposals in their discipline, each Advisory Panel is expected to evaluate artistic presentations made by applicants and accordingly make funding recommendations to the (AAC), who in turn make recommendations based on those of the panel to the Austin City Council for final allocations.
In the case of Mixed Arts, the Advisory Panel only had 3 members, instead of the minimum 4. It is quite possible that this glitch would have gone unnoticed by the Mixed Arts applicants if the panel's written scores and funding recommendations had accurately reflected the quality of the applicants' presentations. However, a number of Mixed Arts applicants noticed that: the panel's written scores were strikingly less favorable than were their verbal comments at the presentations; one of the panelists scored the applicants markedly lower than did the other two panelists; or the panelists' funding recommendations were dramatically less than last year, even when applicants scored high.
In the routine public hearing that followed the release of the Advisory Panel's results, many Mixed Art applicants expressed their outrage over the glaring inconsistencies in the panel's judgement to members of the AAC. In order to expediently remedy the situation, the AAC preserved the panel's score and ranking recommendations but overturned their monetary recommendations and redistributed the money to all of the recommended applicants, a total of thirty-three, in a period of about thirty-six hours. While a few applicants were pleased because their allocations increased significantly, almost bringing them up to the same level as last year, other applicants were shocked that the AAC had taken money away from their already paltry allocations.
The questions then became: Why did the AAC choose to immediately take money away from certain Mixed Arts applicants in order to monetarily mollify other applicants? Did they thoroughly investigate and reevaluate the Advisory Panel's actions and the applicants' qualifications before reaching any conclusions?
When Austin Downtown Arts (ADA) posed these questions to AAC Chairman Andrea Bryant, her response was, "That is our job. And the official name of the panelists is the 'Advisory' Panelists. And while we certainly regard them as those who do the greatest front-line work in this process, the situation this year was such that we couldn't just take those [recommendations]..."
Maybe so. But did the Commissioners have enough information at their disposal about the Mixed Arts applicants to make drastic changes in their levels of funding? Bryant answers, "We get the applications way back in April, shortly after they are turned in and you know, probably recorded. That's why each applicant has to turn in so many separate copies of his or her application. And of course the Arts Commissioners themselves get copies of all of the applications."
Assuming that the AAC had actually read all of the applications, it is still uncertain how many, if any of them, attended the applicants' presentations and sponsored events. (Traditionally, Advisory Panelists are expected to attend applicant sponsored events to better familiarize themselves with their work, although this expectation is not printed in the guidelines.)
Giving the AAC the benefit of the doubt, even if they had comprehensively researched all of the applicants, conducted their background checks, did that give them the right to throw out the panel's decisions without notifying the applicants beforehand or creating a new panel altogether?
ADA interviewed three Mixed Arts applicants to give them the opportunity to voice their opinions about the affair. In talking to Texas Folklife Resources (TFR), Progressive Arts Collective (Pro Arts) and Austin Latino/Latina Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization (ALLGO), organizations coming from very different perspectives and positions on the decision, ADA discovered that there are many deeper issues underlying this singular incident.
A fundamental issue that the applicants addressed is simply why they think the AAC acted so quickly in overturning the Mixed Arts Advisory Panel's recommendations without taking more time to review the applicants before they started reallocating out money. Executive Director of ALLGO Martha Duffer argues that "there was no way to review all of them equally. There wasn't time." Pro Arts Director Boyd Vance speculates that "because they [the ACC] are so deadline driven. They're so hyped up and jacked up about getting the scores in, having a process, that that [reviewing all of the Mixed Art applications] was not an issue for them."
Expediency aside, why did the AAC take money away from some Mixed Arts applicants in order to allocate more money to others? It is my guess that in a perfect world the AAC would have allocated as much money as was requested to all applicants whom they deemed qualified. Unfortunately, the Cultural Contracts Program, primarily funded through the city's Bed Tax, the hotel/motel occupancy tax, only has a budget of 3.6 million this year.
When divided among over one hundred arts organizations and individual artists, a number of whom have million dollar budgets themselves, there just is not enough to go around. And it is quite rare for any of the applicants to get all of the money that they ask for.
That being said, why did the AAC ostensibly favor some organizations at the expense of others? Before I answer that question, it is important to acknowledge which applicants received substantial increases and decreases in funding upon the AAC's reallocation recommendations. Of the thirty-three total recommended applicants, those who received substantial increases include: La Pena, DiverseArts Production Group, Center for Women & Their Work, Sally Jacques, TFR, Austin Children's Museum and Leadership Educational Arts Program. Those who received substantial decreases include: Access Arts Austin, Oralia Diaz, Center for Mexican American Cultural Arts, Donnelle McKaskle, ALLGO, Margery Segal and Benne Rockett.
Boyd Vance states that the favoritism occurred because "there were four groups in that room [at the public hearing that followed the release of the Advisory Panel's results] that were majors, that significantly got [allocation] cuts [this year]. And I can say who they were." And he does. Later in the interview, Vance states that the Mixed Arts "majors" include Center for Women & Their Work, Austin Children's Museum, Texas Folklife Resources and Sally Jacques.
"Because they felt jeopardized more, because they had the most to lose, [they] got together that evening after eleven o'clock and then railroaded Bruce Willenzik and Bobbie Enriquez." He adds, "Those are the two Arts Commissioners who went back and reallocated the money and came up with a proposal for the next day."
When I asked Vance if he could prove that these four applicants had contacted the Arts Commissioners to ask for more money after the hearing that night, he replied, "Well, somehow between eleven o'clock that night and the next morning those things changed. That's what I feel. All they would have to do is pick up the phone."
Although Vance admitted that his allegations were merely speculative, it is important to mention that both Duffer and Pat Jasper, Director of TFR, evaded the issue of whethermor not these four applicants lobbied the Arts Commissioners that night or not. But even if they did lobby them, it is completely within their rights to do so. Although the guidelines fail to mention anywhere that lobbying is a part of the Cultural Contracts Program, Andrea Bryant states, "It's an open process." The applicants can contact whomever they want.
Whether these four applicants contacted the AAC or not, they all received "major" increases, increases amounting anywhere from ten to forty thousand dollars. In fact, among the thirty three applicants, it was these four applicants who received the highest increases across the board. Center for Women & Their Work, who was allocated $43,567 by the Advisory Panel, was given $82,500 by the AAC. Austin Children's Museum, who originally received $48,296, was allocated $79,500. Sally Jacques, who was given $12,667 by the Mixed Arts Panel, was awarded $37,000 by the AAC. And TFR, who originally received $51,333, was increased to $60,125. However, it should be noted that even with these increases, the applicants, excluding Sally Jacques, still did not receive as much money as last year.
Although TFR Director Pat Jasper would not comment directly on whether it was equitable that TFR and the other three applicants received such high reallocations at the expense of their colleagues, she argued that it was the Mixed Arts Advisory Panel, not the AAC, who was poorly advised in affording "emerging artists and their organizations a chance at the expense of or in exchange for [larger organizations]" without telling "DiverseArts, TFR, Women & Their Work, and the Austin Children's Museum that was going to be the basis on which things were decided."
Many applicants agree with Jasper in holding that such increases were called for, even at the expense of smaller organizations, as TFR, Women & Their Work, Austin Children's Museum and Sally Jacques are simply larger and require more money because they serve more people. Yet other applicants contend that while it is important to support and reward these larger organizations, it should not in effect curtail the efforts of smaller ones.
Duffer states, "When you are comparing an individual artist to the Austin Museum of Art or a tiny organization that produces one folk art event a year to the Paramount Theater, you just end up with apples and oranges. And when these groups are competing with each other, I think it ends up being an injustice to both. I mean, I can understand million dollar organizations saying, 'How can you compare us? We're not being funded at the level that we need.'
"At the same time, if you continue to leave those huge organizations in there, individual artists, emerging artists, developing organizations -- the breadth of the artistic community that these funds are meant to support, can't happen because the truth is that the symphony and the art museum and the ballet could use all the money. So I think there needs to be some way to separate that out. They don't need to be competing against each other. That doesn't make sense," she adds.
In addition, Duffer believes that continuing this practice of pitting larger and smaller organizations and individuals against each other forces the Cultural Contracts Program to address "what kind of arts are most valuable to the Austin community."
Duffer asks, "Are traditional arts like the Ballet of Austin and the [Austin] Symphony [Orchestra] and the Austin Museum of Art more valuable than cultural arts, folk art, new and emerging artists? I think that we can't say what art or work is more valuable. [But] when you have a very small pot of money, it's like, what's your priority?"
Duffer admits that this question "gets into very deep philosophical issues that the city's going to have to confront." She believes that "the people who are in the position to get the money are the strongest organizations [and] are of course the white organizations who have the art that has been valued overall by society." And she asks, "Do I think it's critical that people of color be supported in producing their own art? Of course."
Vance agrees, "When you look at our art, Pro Arts, you have to look at the state of black people in Austin. And you can't not look at that. Because you have to look at where we are, how far we're behind, why there are no theaters, why there's no galleries, why there's no poetry. You've go to look at us, which is very different from looking at Sally Jacques."
So what now? As far as the AAC goes, according the August 3rd edition of the Austin-American Statesman, the Texas Commission on the Arts is conducting a formal investigation of the AAC and withholding $158,000 in grants due to possible irregularities and impropriety.
Perhaps the moratorium of the Cultural Contracts Program will enable the Mixed Arts applicants to focus on remedying their internal discord. When Vance was asked if he had a solution, he replied, "I think all these people need to get together, and the person that they need to be lobbying is the damn City Council to give us more money."
∗ The Cultural Contracts Program does not allocate grants. It allocates contracts. But in this sentence, the two are synonymous.
[Many thanks to AndreaBryant, Pat Jasper, Martha Duffer and Boyd Vance for contributing their thoughts and time to this article.]
History Burps by Thom the World Poet
In 1968, I was a member of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art & Technology)
It was a New York based group of experimental artists
Who were willing to take risks both in content and style
For the free expression of their chosen creative projects.
I made two films out of discarded 16mm B&W newsreel footage
I screened them backwards. The show went for 32 minutes.
The length of a reel through a Bell & Howell borrowed University projector.
I hired a band -- Lobby Lloyd and the Colored Balls
To play on Jimi Hendrix's Birthday -- not knowing exactly when Jimi
Was born -- but knowing his name would draw more audience
Than Lob by Lloyd (who incidentally, knew no Hendrix songs at all)
I presented a donkey to the governor of Queensland
In honor of the gerrymandered electorates, our police state
And the subliterate (Floridian) donkey votes
I started a club on campus called the FEDOR CLUB
Named after a fictitious Russian writer -- Feodor Vladimir Lanovitch.
I had 200 members (membership was free)
Including the President of the student union.
Eventually, I became Editor of the student newspaper --
Through news agencies in the city. It lasted a year, successfully
When we started the first Austin poetry festival in 1993,
A poet called Joseph Colin Murphey -- distinguished academic
Who left the University life for a more liberal lifestyle
That is how he found us. That is how he gained new material/fresh visions.
That is why I mention him. A seed of such rebellion lives in Billy Cope
Who treads these same Austin streets as a young writing rebel
When he could easily be ensconced as a tutor with an MFA.
No one is as they appear these days. Not even me.
Magnetism by Justin Davis
Austin: you're too hot and congested. You're a nasty little polluted college town turned down a one-way dead-end alley named after a deceased poet. The California Gold Rush Fever has set in and beautiful things are disappearing all in the name of little slips of green that people with big pockets can use to control their microscopic piece of the universe. I wish I were a computer chip; everybody wants one. You're like a three-bit whore computer chip: everybody can use you and can afford you. You're an addiction along with money, caffeine and bad blues. Austin has fallen from the ranks and is being trampled in the mad rush to grab that postage stamp size lot on top of that hill 20 minutes from a view of Lake Travis. All the cool people have left. Any one who looks cool isn't. They are trying to fill the gap before anyone notices. Fuck you, Austin...You're making me depressed. No it's not me, it's your fault; I'm a victim of circumstance. Feel sorry for me like you want to feel sorry for yourself. I am sorry I can only dwell on your faults. Show me something besides friendliness; give me a real reason to leave.
I didn't have a real reason to leave but I left anyway. I had a fake reason. Any magazine, book or folklore of the west coast is filled to the brim with all the great things out there. Stunning dramatic scenery, modern cities and progressive people. The green pastures of California and northward were calling my name louder than they have at any point in my lifetime, so I finally listened. I left and by the second day I felt like I should return home. I felt like I had turned a huge page in the book of life. On the third day my clutch went out two hours east of the interstate in New Mexico. I limped into a town that evening and had pangs of homesickness. But the desire to see the unknown out west kept me wanting to progress onward. But I was stuck in Socorro, New Mexico, the suckling of interstate 25.
Walking around 98 degree Socorro, I began to wish I were a ten-minute bike ride from Barton Springs. Nothing like that here. Why did people stay here? What was the draw to Socorro?
The dude fixing my truck told me. I honestly expected him to say that he wanted to leave as soon as he got caught up on his child support payments or something irresponsible like that. I had zero faith or trust in the human race at this point. This person wasn't familiar and neither was the scenery. I had left Austin to perhaps go out on my own and that's how I felt there. On my own, my own being, nothing to base myself on. I was friendly to people but not revealing my feelings at all. I was afraid of the unknown. This dude was my first step toward viewing everything in the world in the same eyes as I view everything at home. Familiar but not comforting. His answer was full of pride, but not boasting; full of happiness, but not overbearing. He reasoned, "There's fishing down at the nature preserve, hunting, traffic's good, the mountains are right there, I know a lot of people." I explored after that and found Socorro had a nice little square, a few odd shops and a killer library. Not a gem, but not the interstate suckling I had first perceived.
I met a lady in Springerville, Arizona who looked, talked and acted like a native. She was a tour guide. I mentioned to her the immediate change from the massive barren flat valleys of Western New Mexico, mountains fifty miles away, roads straighter than Abe Lincoln, to the red sandy toughness of the womanly water shaped boulders of eastern Arizona. I told her it was like the people of Arizona had chosen their state borders with that in mind. "I'm kind of particular to Arizona myself," she said with all the swagger of John Wayne. She liked it here. The lakes, the river, the mountains, the people. There was something peaceful here. Yet I either wanted to stay for a while and get to know the town or go and keep going. Alas, the green pastures of California that a lifetime of books, television, and magazines has planted in my head pushed me onward. I didn't stay to swim. I didn't stay to hang out. I didn't engage the town. I just drove across the desert towards the relief from sitting and myself.
The desert is like a mirror on your soul. Your deepest fears about your inner self are put on full display.
I saw myself searching for something to take away my responsibility. I searched for something to change my life. I searched for a more certain humanity as well as self. I was looking for support from something I couldn't see or hear but which I knew existed. I could feel it. It was the reason for my trip.
San Francisco, I went halfway across the United States for you, and for rather vague reasons. The reasons didn't really matter as much as the motivation. I had to go San Francisco. What did it hold? Opportunity? Why not? Every other generation that has endured the torture of the great desert that keeps our nation's fruits safe has found opportunity out there. Perhaps because they had to. They couldn't go back. They made something from what they had. I couldn't go back though. To the something I already had. But did I want to? That would be the easiest path, or would it? San Francisco was a different, intriguing city. It had maintained its small-town feel somehow. I thought that the hills helped. And the lack of highways piercing the gentle heart of the cold city kept people walking and biking, kept people together. What was I looking for here? I wandered the first day and found myself exhausted at the pace of the new unfamiliar scenery. There was no rest for my mind here, no familiar park where I could lay my head up against a giant live oak. Hey, there were live oaks in Austin. Austin was a long way, but I couldn't go back yet. I was searching for something. What it was I didn't not know yet. I would know it when I saw it.
San Francisco, city of hills, city of the cold breath of the Pacific breathing down my Texas tanned neck, you chilled me to my Austin bones. Elusive, shifting San Francisco, quilt of many patterns. Your surrounding hills were tan, sharply curvaceous, speckled with dark green large oak trees with solid wind from the omnipresent Pacific.
You romanced me with your people, your hills and your water. The same familiar thing I found everywhere. The same thing was everywhere. There were interesting people everywhere.
Eugene, Oregon was a magician just as Austin. In a little sociological experiment of a magazine called Comet Bus, I read: (speaking of people who have left their share in the collective coffee shop) "If they're not engaged in those other things the way they were engaged here, they miss it." The events, people, objects to be engaged with were everywhere. I didn't engage them for various reasons, so I missed Austin.
In the cold wet blanket of the Northwest, I could not engage any real heat. I was not engaged in any friends. I was not engaged in riding my bike. I was not engaged in swimming. I did not find anything comforting out in the West. I could have but I didn't. I was longing for Texas and the opportunity and life I already had there, specifically Austin.
One could find what Austin, Texas has but they would have to search pretty damn hard. Perhaps in my frustration with myself and my rush to be somewhere that appeared to be better, I exaggerated the faults of Austin. I went to eight states over thirty days. Upon viewing the West with eyes longing for familiarity, friendliness and craziness, I found Austin to be the prime destination.
So here I am, Thor's day (Thursday), July 12, seven-thirty-something in the evening on a tall hill in Rhome, Texas. This is the end of my journey. This is the edge of my intimate familiarity with the world. From this point on I will feel comfortable with my surroundings: they are familiar and known. Fourteen years familiar. I have been to this hill twice before in my lifetime. One can see for miles to the Northwest all the way to the South. This is truly one of the most beautiful spots in my journey. Sure, there's a bank to my right, a convenience store behind me, and a small new development of houses down the hill, but the beauty, the essence of the place, still shines through. Is it true beauty or just familiarity that romances me here on this hill? Well, to tell you the truth Texas is the most beautiful state of any I've seen on my journey. As soon as I crossed the state line, I received more waves, smiles and nods than on my entire trip. Seriously, no typical Texas exaggeration here. For no apparent reason people were glad to see me.
Texas is old, solid. These hills were mountains at one time. They have seen it all and are probably indifferent to it all by now. That's Texas. Indifferent, on it's own, lawless, crazy. People are crazy here. But it's a good crazy, doing things your own way. People are possessive about their land, their guys, their girls, their trucks, tractors, sunsets, boots, beer and state. It could also be called pride, crazy insane pride. I love it. Why did I come back? Is this truly the most beautiful place in the universe? Or is it just familiarity? Call it insane pride, but I think it would be just as beautiful if I had never been here before.
I find that really I could feel this way about any place if I had stayed. The same things attract people to their places. There is a distinct charm about the familiarity, the comfort and the friendliness of home. There is a magnet towards familiarity, comfort and friendliness in all of us. We are drawn to what we know. The nest. The cave. Our home. My magnet draws me to Austin.
Fuck you, Austin...for being so good.
You're warmer than California. You might be more polluted than some other places that don't have your indescribable charm. Gold Rush Fever is just a phase. Computer chips would be good with salsa. Austin has fallen from the ranks to create it's own language. It is itself. Anyone who looks cool probably is. The people who fill the gaps soon are hypnotized by the spell of Austin. You made me depressed but so can a million things. You made me very happy last week as I cruised into your city limits, my Dark Side of The Moon tape unreeling itself, dying, playing it's last words. If you feel sorry for yourself you're stupid. You haven't lost anything. You're maturing. You're changing but so do I. You are the lighthouse on my shore, the oasis in the desert, the Austin in my Texas.
So don't go anywhere, Austin. You're my kind of town.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
The peculiar place of artists in the United States means we (the artists) are often both disgruntled and gruntled. Compared to other first, second and even third world countries (and one could argue there are pockets of all three within our national borders), our social position is often insecure. Governmental funding for the arts lies in priority somewhere below basic human services and sprinkler systems for the lawns abutting government buildings. Arts programs are among the first to be eyed for cutbacks in public schools during funding crunches, and overall the governmental philosophy toward the arts has always been one of enlightened pragmatism. That is, the arts should be supported if there are some real economic gains to be realized, gains such as enhanced status and legitimacy among rival governmental power or the potential to generate income and/or lure investment to the area within a particular regime's base.
Similarly, private sector support for the arts usually is pragmatically motivated, to enhance status, legitimacy and visibility for a corporate name (how much has Mobil's underwriting of PBS programs helped mitigate, in the public's mind, that company's execrable environmental impact?). The exception would be donations from wealthy individuals who see the arts as generally beneficial to humanity, rather than pragmatically useful. In defense of large and faceless corporations and governments, it is hard for them to treat people as other than statistical groups.
So much for the disgruntled view; what of the gruntled side of things? I have been frequently told, and have seen for myself, that the fact American musicians have to flail around as wage laborers (rather than as pampered recipients of state or private patronage), makes us hungrier, stronger, more vital than, say, our European equivalents.
Maybe folks are just stroking our egos while we play for peanuts and half-priced drinks, but in some real ways this is true.
A number of jazz scholars make the case that the vitality of jazz, blues and other African American based art forms resides in large part in the self-sufficiency of the artists and their loosely knit communities. These arts have survived and blossomed in spite of official social institutions, rather than because of them. While this may historically be true, should it continue to be the way things work?
Artists have become more organized over the decades, bringing a humanizing agen da to their local, state and national governments, advocating art as a basic need and right for all people, not just the affluent. Arts advocacy goes along with groups with similar social agendas, groups that care about the quality of life for all citizens, a quality that can't be measured in income and growth statistics alone, but has more to do with mental and physical health. Arts advocacy has an essential affinity for human rights advocacy. At its best and clearest level of organization, therefore, arts advocacy isn't just about increasing the rights and resources of artists, but about raising the quality of life for everyone. This is a good thing since artists can be among the most self-centered anarchists a society has to offer (though I do brush my teeth regularly).
The problem at this point is that artists by their nature encourage a pluralistic, multicultural society.
When an art form doesn't challenge, contradict and grow beyond existing ideas and practices, it becomes decadent and stagnant, resulting in kitschy artifacts destined for yard sales and thrift stores. Yet arts advocacy seeks to institutionalize arts patronage through governmental bodies which, with very few exceptions, enforce conservatism, standardization and statistical evaluation of worth. It is an apples-and-oranges situation. Not that it can't work, but it will require a high level of efficient grassroots organization and imaginative governmental flexibility to find a workable middle ground.
Section 8 by Daniel Davis Clayton
My first official act, once moving to Austin, was acquiring a job. I was a fresh college graduate, full of energy, eager to work and experience the Austinite way of life. My search became two and a half weeks of street-pounding hell.
I applied high. I applied low. I memorized my entire work history due to regurgitating it countless times. "Sorry, we're not hiring." or "We pay minimum wage." Minimum wage in Austin? Yeah, like I can live off that. "We'll call you in a few weeks." A few weeks? Hello, I'm running out of grocery money here, I need employment now! I went to Adecco, Job Finders and considered prostitution. So finally I crafted a sign of cardboard, threw on my old dirty country work clothes and panhandled for a day yielding $7.28 of pure gross income. Uncle Sam gets none of that. Ha!
I measured the amount of money I had remaining by food + gas prices multiplied by my consumption rate of both, divided that by my bank account holdings, and decided to write home to mom and dad. Geez, at 24 I'm writing home to mom and dad.
I struck pay dirt when I happened upon an ad for Toy Testers. Cool, I thought, I need a no-brainer for a while, and applied. The owner asked me to return the following day for an eight-hour interview. A daylong interview? Is this going to be paid? "No, but hey, I'll spring lunch." Ok, I thought, what do I have to lose? At nine a.m. the next morning I sat in a small room with eight other applicants, "the chosen ones, the smartest and the brightest," as we were called, and awaited our day's begin. While waiting I introduced myself to a UT student and asked him, "Have you ever heard of a day long interview? That struck me as a little strange." "Yeah," he said, "I was thinking the same thing. I hope this isn't some sort of scam."
We were quickly separated and whisked away by different "teams" of "crack businessmen" to the "office buildings" in which we were to "work" while employed with the company. After driving for twenty minutes, my "team-members" stopped at some obscure shopping center, popped the trunk and produced their wares. They were solicitors and I had been kidnapped and forced to bother people against my will. As my cousin Harold later explained to me, I had experienced the Austinite rite of passage. "Welcome," he said with a warming smile. So back to the streets and I was running out of steam.
My third week I applied at the local HEB, another rite of passage, and was immediately hired. Yesss! Maybe next week I can have processed cheese with my Ramen Noodles. The training went well; we learned to deal with drunken customers and how to properly sack groceries. I made a few friends and we decided to create some HEB pickup lines, since we'd be working there as cashiers and all.
1. Hey baby! Is that a WIC voucher you got there?
2. Whasup girl? I got a HEB Gift Card and a lunch break.
3. If you're in my line, I got the time.
4. What's up with you, me and H.E. Butt gittin' busy.
Or, just plain old...
5. I'll be your nasty man.
And it's true. The guy's name really is H. E. Butt. The common joke is that his first name is Hair (which it is not) but I choose to call him HeButt. Over the next several weeks, I learned to effectively grope attractive women's hands while handing them their change. Hundreds of unsuspecting women were molested that way as a result. I also learned that one of the most difficult jobs in a grocery store is getting the shopping carts from the parking lot. It's an all day job and very tiring, especially in this heat. So please, respect those guys.
I was sacking groceries the other day and thinking... this is fucking ridiculous. I've got a BA in Art Direction and a minor in Writing and I'm sacking groceries for a company that hired me on as part time just so they didn't have to divvy out benefits. But as luck would have it, I got an internship with Participation 2000, a national political program, and a chance to leave Austin, and Texas, for the next several months. Darn, and I was just getting settled in.
So hello Austin and goodbye Austin. Since a sophomore in college I've wanted to come here, and as soon as I do I'm whipped away in another direction. But I'll be back in the city by the end of the year, and I'll be here every month giving it to you from the road. I've got a lot to learn about Austin, like the music, art, poetry, and political scenes, and I hope you don't mind seeing your city through my eyes.
Oh yeah, I love the place I live. It's an interesting neighborhood. It lies somewhere between the East and the North side, the West and the South. Somewhere between being educated and living on welfare. I like to call it Section Eight.
Untitled by Saundra Fleming
My feet were higher than my head
When I dropped, edges touched all around me
Diamonds must have framed this sparkly
Meaning was clean in the space between a
voice and its moving away
Later this forest ape read
She read things
Smoothly the world spun its lakes and
ranches around itself
Superballs, fridges, soap suds, and little
kiddles formed the x and y axis
When truth was love
And kids were then always dreaming
Kids over there, everywhere
Kids flying in the cool air
Dreaming in god and in the grass
And when it all happened, it was an
That same voice drafted and architecture of
"If you remember, come to me," somebody
Who could forget so completely?
A place of blood with love
A place where desire is not particle, field
nor form anymore
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Austinites do not pay for public art funding in Austin. There is no "arts tax" built into our tax bills.
Funding for public arts in Austin comes from a tax levied on hotel occupancy. Tourists and conventioners pay the City's share of funding for the Symphony, the Ballet and DiverseArts.
This system is fairly common in most cities in America.
If you are a first-time novice playwrite/director who seeks city funding for your new play production on Hispanic lesbians in Central Texas, you compete in the same funding panel with Zach Scott for city funds.
If you have a new initiative to offer jazz history classes to West Lake high-schoolers or to East Austin sixth-graders, you apply to the same fundng panel as the Austin Symphony and the Lyric Opera.
Although tradition, political/financial clout, artistic merit and need dictate the city's responsibility to annually fund the Paramount, Zach Scott, Austin Museum of Art, the Lyric Opera, Symphony, and the Ballet, each year they have to go through the formality of presenting proposals for funding (along with first-time applicants) in the same process with groups/individuals who might only want to seek funding for one season of productions.
Now, what if one season there is an activist block on the music panel who think that European classical music has enjoyed too much of a priori privilege in this process in the past? The panel votes to deny all city funding for the Lyric Opera and the Symphony.
And what if on the theater panel, there is a block of voters who have a mission to deny all applicants who do not either do European Classical repertory or mainstream kinds of productions because they are bent on promoting an African American militant nationalist agenda?
Now, when it gets down to lobbying the final arbitor, the Austin City Council, for city funding for these projects, which do you think will have the most influence in swaying the Council's budget decision?
It's pretty clear to me which side will win this battle. So, why even bother putting the Hispanic first-time lesbian applicants, the African American militants, and the CineMaker Coop's request for $3000 in the same panel with groups that are actually "politically protected" city institutions who request and receive $100,000 annually?
Don't even bring into this argument the Children's Museum, Texas Folklife Resources, or Women and Their Work. Are they more like the "major" institutions or the first-timers? What do we do with Epsitropy Arts and the Creative Opportunity Orchestra?
These are examples of some of the questions. I don't pretend to have all of the answers here. What I know is that frank discussion, re-evaluation and change -- yes, change -- are needed in this process. The time for defending the status quo has long since passed.
We all agree that those groups and individuals who present nonprofit arts to the Austin community need support. Now is a good time to re-examine just how that process works. No blame, no bad guys are necessary here. It's just time to do the right thing. The right thing is to let go of some tradition and ego investment and reassess how the system works. Or doesn't.
The militant Black nationalists, the Hispanic lesbians and the Symphony really do have more in common than you might think. They all want a supportive and nurturing community for the arts in Austin. Really!
At the front of this issue Elizabeth Stanard offers a glimpse of the latest edition of Austin's annual arts funding lotto. We attempted to present her piece in such a way that it was not another opportunity for me/DiverseArts to climb up on the soap box and spew Haroldisms. I have my ideas about all of that. I am not shy about presenting my thoughts and happen to know that much of what I think is shared by many folks out there in the the nonprofit arts community. I also know that not everyone sees eye-to-eye on all of the issues surrounding how we go about funding public art in Austin.
After many conversations, interviews, reads and re-reads of City of Austin policy statements and comparisons with models from other cities, it became crystal clear to our writers that our coverage of this season's hoopla would only scratch the surface of the issues involved in funding the arts in Austin. Yes, we did notice that while we were working on our monthly edition, the Austn Chronicle (weekly) and the American Statesman (daily) have published pieces on the current controversy. Elizabeth, who is our new managing editor and not a veteran of previous art wars, initialy wanted to back off of our focus. "We've been scooped," she warned.
I asked her to continue with the work. We are not, and don't aspire to be, the Austin Chronicle or Statesman. More than that, what I know about this situation is that discussion of how the arts are funded n Austin is a topic that has currency for a lot of folks year in, year out. What I also know is that the current situation is far from being resolved. Even if Danceworks is reinstated. Even if the Mixed Arts Panel fiasco is rectified. Even if the guidelines are re-written to satisfy the groups with the most political/lobbying clout. The major issues will not find long-lasting resolve given the current model for funding the arts in Austin.
One of the lessons for me in all of this is the reaffirmation of DiverseArts' unique postion in the arts community of Austin. We are, at one and the same time, an annual participant in the funding lottery and the only publisher of a publication that deals exclusively with Austin's arts scene. That grants us some perspecitive that other media outlets lack. That gives us a level of comradery with arts groups that the Statesman lacks. It probably also gives us a level of self-interest suspicion that the Chronicle and Statesman are not plagued with.
For the record, our self-interest here is informed by our want to aid in having the various voices in the argument heard. What is also true is our knowledge that the current system for arts funding in Austin is flawed and needs work. To be absolutely clear, I did not say that the current system is terrible. It isn't. It is flawed and needs work. It is better than what exists in a lot of cities. The problem here, and I suspect in other cities too, is that the system for funding the arts in Austin makes adversaries of individuals and groups who really should be on the same side of the fight.
Come on, to assert -- as some of my colleagues have done recently -- that the Arts Commission is not concerned with artistic quality is arrogant and absurd. Likewise, for the Arts Commission to continue to assert their faithful representation of the arts community when the members of the art community repeatedly tell them that we want a change is wrong headed and hypocritical. If the contituency says it ain't working for them -- and they are really the ones who work, live and die in the arts trenches -- maybe it's time to actually listen to the constituency.
Verities by Ricardo Acevedo
Suckling or Sucking Up
The Founding Fathers never envisioned government sponsorship of the arts; notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 do not even mention the possibility of such aid. The first direct government subsidization of artists occurred in 1935 through the Federal Art, Music, Theater and Writers projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The emphasis was on relief rather than art. "The people who ran the project," recalled artist Meyer Wolfe, "took just about everything- some really bad work." At its peak in 1936, the WPA had 45,000 artists, writers, actors and musicians on its payroll.
But even then many artists were leery of government involvement, seeing the potential for control as threatening. Sculptor Wheeler Williams told a Congressional committee, "The true artist is perforce a rugged individualist and does not want to be kept poodle by the government with dilettante experts as nursemaids."
Underground artists, particularly the Beats, also opposed the merger of art and government. Painter Larry Rivers warned, "The government taking a role in art is like a gorilla threading a needle. It is at first cute, then clumsy, and most of all impossible." And Lawrence Ferlinghetti- Beat poet, publisher, bookstore owner- ridiculed "cooperating poets and publishers" who tied themselves to a government tether. "They just won't let you be," lamented Ferlinghetti's Bay Area compadres, the Grateful Dead; many avant-garde artists have learned that lesson the hard way, in the courts, with the First Amendment as their palladium.
Plus, as taxpayers, why should we support activities that only a small minority of taxpayers enjoy?
Take art museums, a favorite government beneficiary. According to 1990 statistics, 84% of art museum visitors had attended college; less than a third of the entire population had. Blue-collar workers constituted 47% of the work force but just 7% of the art museum audience. African-Americans, 12% of the population, made up one-half of 1% of the clientele. And high-school dropouts were three times more likely to "never" visit an art museum than are college graduates. The art public is overwhelmingly upper-middle class, prosperous people who would probably enjoy art just as much in the absence of government influence.
Government influence has historically failed to increase the representation of low-income people in audiences. Taste, not money, is the obstacle to a cultural integration.
Admission to most art museums costs about half of what a movie ticket does. Yet a visit to a Ricky Scaggs concert or a rap show suggests that rural, working and African-American people are willing to pay handsomely for entertainment. But of course that's the wrong kind of entertainment, at least from the perspective of the arts establishment. So the taxpayer is forced to subsidize those cultural expressions deemed worthy by so-called experts.
For example, the Rockefeller brothers were among the nation's most munificent arts patrons and wished humble taxpayers across this land to join them. To this, artist-critic Richard Kostelanetz noted that "public/government funding of large arts institutions has taken private philanthropy off its increasingly expensive hook."
Yet arts organizations in this country were founded and thrive on the patronage of well-heeled philanthropists. The rich, to use a biblical terminology, will always be with us; so will philanthropy. A populist museum, by definition, will attract an audience large enough to make subsidy unnecessary. And museums celebrating regional or particularistic culture are, properly, the concern of local communities and governments.
Besides, why should the struggling young artist be entitled to government subsidy when the struggling young mechanic or accountant is not? Let's take a specific case. In 1972, poet Erica Jong received a $5,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Creative Writing Fellowship to revise her novel. Ms. Jong was a teacher and published poet from an upper-middle-class background. She was "struggling" only in the way that all artists struggle: trying to make sense, to give form to her creation. So why did the NEA give her $5,000? What philosophy of government makes an advantaged woman like Erica Jong eligible for government subsidy?
According to popular novelist E. L. Doctorow, "An enlightened endowment puts its money on largely unknown obsessive individuals who have sacrificed all the ordinary comforts and consolations of life in order to do their work." Thus, artists should be driven, dedicated people who make a conscious choice: art over security.
Yet, the government has always had curious attitudes towards artists. They are administrators and bureaucrats, not belletrists, and Artists intimidate them. They defer to panels of "experts" and never, but never, challenge an artist to defend his work. Nancy Hanks, NEA chair under Presidents Nixon and Ford, is a good example. She asked an aide to review a grant application from an artist who proposed to "make a loop tour of the Western US, dripping ink as I go, from Hayley, Idaho, to Cody, Wyoming." Mystified, the aide requested elaboration. The applicant explained that this proposal was in the tradition of "the great painter Marcel Duchamp, who, when he moved to New York City, brought with him a bottle labeled 'Paris Air.'" The aide was unimpressed. But Hanks approved the grant. The shrouded Cult of The Artist -- sage, mantic, inscrutable -- had triumphed over common sense.
To their credit, successful artists do have to display the skills of grantsmanship. They must fill out mind-numbing forms; they must kowtow to those who sit in judgment of their application. They will, if they are adept at this art, glad hand (in a dignified way, of course). And this supplication is exactly what the government has come to expect.
In one NEA publication, I found, "Direct support for the individual artist is almost non-existent. Financial aid is necessary to buy time for them to create." That's ridiculous, a bureaucrat's fancy. You mean to tell me that without government, no one will paint or write or sing again? Yeah, right!
Edward Villella danced with the New York City Ballet for a paltry $100 a performance before the onset of government programs because he loved to dance. Poet Robert Lowell turned down an invitation to read at the Johnson White House in 1965. "Every serious artist knows that he cannot enjoy public celebration without making public commitments," Lowell explained. And in 1963, when the IRS raided the Living Theatre for refusing to pay its income taxes, the legendary Paul Goodman set them straight. "Artistically," he lectured, "official support of new theatre would be positively damaging."
And unnecessary, as any rock & roller or blues man could attest to. Rock & roll, the blues and jazz receive not a penny of government money; yet they thrive on the radio and in clubs. The punks of the late 1970s had a slogan -- DIY, or "Do It Yourself." They did not ask the cultural establishment for a handout, or even a place to play. They founded their own clubs, bought secondhand guitars, paid the bands out of the gate proceeds, recorded in cheap studios and disseminated their message through tapes and hand-stapled little magazines.
One of the angriest, most intense broadsides against government moneys comes from writer Richard Moore. His stinging critique, published in 1980, still pierces:
It isn't just that the money we give to artists is being wasted. It's doing positive harm. An arts bureaucracy has grown up in the last few years to formulate the applications, select the judges, and give the right sort of ballyhoo to the recipients. There is no other way for such a system to work. And there is no way to make such a system honest. But supposing that it is honest, it cripples nevertheless. Only mediocrity can destroy art. And in every bureaucracy, mediocrity luxuriates. Where do the judges come from? The writers' union, of course. The solid citizens of art who have enough of reputation to be chosen and nothing better to do than such hackwork. And they will reward those who are like themselves. They will constitute a self-perpetuating and endlessly stultifying organization that will ensure the banishment of all true talent to madness and outer darkness. Precisely that, I suspect in the depths of my heart, is the true purpose of such a system: to stamp all creativity out of a society which has grown too brittle to endure it.
American artists do not need a ministry of culture. Our writers and painters and dramatists and musicians have flourished when government has ignored them. We don't want subsidy. We don't want censorship. We just want to be left alone.
JFK is quoted as saying, "I do not believe federal funds should support symphony orchestras or opera companies, except when they are sent abroad in cultural exchange programs. Otherwise our funding should help our communities as a whole, laying the ground work for freedom of expression as the test of our nations cultural goals."