First, the sagging economy has made corporations less willing to bank on culture. But there is evidence that pocketbooks closed to the arts open up when less edifying but more profitable projects come along.
Atlanta corporations have dumped a small fortune -- $10 million to be precise -- into an Olympics "museum" project on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center. I use the term museum in the most abstract sense, as in "rock 'n' roll" museums or Cracker Barrel as a "museum of eating and Southern knickknackery." Rather than enlightenment, one imagines the goal of the 1996 Olympics museum will be to capture tourist dollars like the Guggenheim's 1998 Art of the Motorcycle show or San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's show dedicated to the sneaker in 2000.
The Olympics museum demonstrates Atlanta's continued neurotic agenda of self-promotion of the most uninspiring sort. For those who didn't get enough of the Olympics the first time around, the 20,000-square-foot wing of the Atlanta History Center, which begins construction in March, will allow Atlantans to experience the 1996 Olympics again, and again, and again ... and again. Some people's paradise is other people's Sisyphean hell. There are some advantages to the expansion plan, however. It will include 6,000 additional square feet for traveling, non-Olympics-related shows, too.
The second reason is another indication that the art world has been overtaken by dollarocracy values.
After recently filling out a letter of recommendation for a local artist applying to graduate school, I was distressed to read this statement by contributing editor Dennis Cooper in the January issue of Artforum magazine: "If a young artist hasn't attended one of the big-time grad schools, his or her work needs either a miracle or a very catchy hook to make any impact on the art world."
It used to be that the art world recoiled from such institutional confirmation of merits. Apparently no longer.
While the prospect of artists actually making a living from their work is grim enough, now experts advise that a crushing post-grad debt should be added to their troubles.
Sadly, Cooper has a point.
Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, senior editor of the New York art journal Parkett, echoes Cooper's estimation of the importance of a top Master of Fine Arts program.
Rabinowitz rightly points out that time at a school like Columbia, Yale or Cal Arts gives artists invaluable career skills, including studio visits from important critics and curators, and feedback on how to better present and package work. Going to Columbia or Yale may not make someone a better artist, but it gives an artist access to the people who can give him or her that all-important first break.
But Cooper's contention aside, there are plentiful examples of creatives who defy that "right MFA" requirement, many of them local artists. Graduates of Atlanta art schools who have crafted impressive careers despite never having attended the big-name art schools include Chris Verene (MFA, Georgia State University), Roe Ethridge (BFA, Atlanta College of Art), Kojo Griffin (BA, Morehouse College), Radcliffe Bailey (BFA, Atlanta College of Art) and Matthew Greene, the artist profiled in Cooper's Artforum article who, ironically enough, graduated from the Atlanta College of Art.
Meanwhile, the Percent for the Arts debate rages on. The Metropolitan Public Art Coalition and artists are demanding that Mayor Shirley Franklin find a place on her busy dance card to figure out why the 1.5 percent of municipal construction budgets earmarked for public art projects isn't being collected on a regular basis.
On Feb. 1, local art activists held a rally at the intersection of Boulevard and Freedom Parkway to build public awareness for the issue.
Some have suggested that the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition should play a role in the public art funding issue, but Executive Director Bill Nigut says his plate is full with his fledgling organization's own agenda. With the Metropolitan Public Art Coalition leading the charge, he says it would be presumptuous of him to get involved.
But Nigut suggests his organization could play a role in assisting "communication between artists and the City Council, which I've at times thought needed some facilitating."
Despite the bad news, every encounter with great work by local artists tends to silence doubting, divisive voices. On Jan. 18, PushPush Theater debuted its first local film night featuring impressive short works by Atlanta film collectives like POP Films, Item 6, Fake Wood Wallpaper, Itaki Film Design and filmmaker Kevin Patrick. While most feature films favor conventional storytelling, this collection of short films demonstrated the form's potential for artistic experimentation, political commentary and anarchic silliness. PushPush hosts local film night every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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