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Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum May 1994

KCAC Forum Magazine May 1994

THE UPHILL BATTLES AND VICTORIES OF THE KANSAS CITY ART COMMISSION – OR BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE (ALMOST) A DIME?
by Chris Coulson

Public art is good for the economy, bottom line, bottom line, bottom line.
– Heidi Iverson Bilardo, Kansas City Public Art Commissioner

Outside the City Hall office of Public Art Administrator Heidi Iverson Bilardo is a Kansas City Star cartoon pinned to a wall. It is a drawing of the four columns of the Bartle Hall project, each topped off with a different sculpture…one of them a sculpture of a Kansas City taxpayer drilled with a screw. Someone, you’d assume an ally, has written something across the bottom of the cartoon…”Welcome to Kansas City, Heidi!”

In spite of criticism from some of the local citizenry, from some of the editorial Staff of The Kansas City Star, Bilardo remains excited and optimistically determined about the future of public art in Kansas City.

Criticism of the administrator, and of the Municipal Art Commission, seems based mostly in the vague notion that they are part of an “elitist,” maybe even secret enterprise whose members choose art only they like or understand, with no community involvement or representation, and do all this in a couple of days, or overnight, somewhere else, and all at great taxpayer expense. According to Bilardo, nothing could be further from the truth.

“All members of the community are represented,” said Bilardo, “The process of selection involved a year-and-a-half discussion review for the Terry Allen project alone, which ‘lay-people’ are very much a part of. And we try to make all the review panels as culturally diverse as possible.”

The funding for the projects Bilardo and the Arts Commission develop comes from what is known as the one percent for art program, which began in 1970. The program in Kansas City was one of the first of its kind in the United States, and has since branched out and flourished in cities like Phoenix, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Those cities all have one percent for art programs, the one percent seeming to be the decided upon fair percentage (Bilardo said that in certain Japanese cities, it can be five percent).

The Kansas City program, however, lay mostly dormant after it was introduced by municipal ordinance in 1970… until 1990 when then-mayor Richard Berkley created the Public Art Task Force to enliven the program. It was even more enlivened some months later when the Kansas City Council provided the financial backing for the 20 year-old program whose goal is reserving one percent of the cost of the construction, reconstruction or remodeling of any municipal building for aesthetic ornamentation and adornment.

The Process
The process of selecting each public art project is, according to Bilardo, carefully and inclusively carried out. Here is the (official) step-by-step plan the Commission follows with each art project:
1) The Coordinator recommends to the Municipal Art Commission the establishment of a project.
2) The recommendation of names and the establishment of a Review Panel.
3) The Panel convenes, reviews the project, holds first review of artists.
4) The Panel finalizes short list of artists, and materials sent.
5) The Panel interviews short list of artists, and selects an artist.
6) The Artist studies the selected project (materials sent, Artist visits Kansas City); a “first phase” contract is drawn up.
7) The Artist develops and reviews project plans with project planners, revisions are made.
8) The Artist presents proposal to the Project Panel, more revisions.
9) The Artist and Panel present proposal to the Municipal Art Commission.
10) The Artist, Project Coordinator (whose role is to communicate, organize, implement all  aspects of the project) and City Official finalize fabrication, transportation, implementation and budgetary issues; a “second phase” contract is made.
11) Implementation of the project begins.
Terry Allen

“I look for artists reflecting the issues of our times. I am looking to push the edge a little bit.”
-Heidi Iverson Bilardo

Misplaced, Misbegotten Art”
-title from a Kansas City Star editorial

The most controversial project lately is the selection of artist Terry Allen’s sculpture for the new Fire and Police Communications Center. The sculpture will be of a man in suit and tie, his fingers in his ears, a shoe in his mouth, and his wind-blown tie lashed across his eyes.  And again, the criticism seems to run from the hysterical to the humorless to the altogether inaccurate. A Kansas City Star editorial writer started a recent lead editorial deciding of the Allen sculpture: “It not only sounds silly, it looks silly.” A few lines later, in a piece that mentions THE TAX-PAYER thttp://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/5721610.jpghree times in six paragraphs, the writer goes as far as to say: “This is not great art in the traditional sense. To some, it is even offensive (our italics) art. The Board of Police Commissioners in particular is upset by the piece; it likely will be placed only a few dozen feet from Police Headquarters.”

That last bit of information is the altogether inaccurate, mentioned above.

According to Bilardo, the Communications Center will be built between the police station and the Municipal Court building to the north. The sculpture, placed in front of the center, will not be a few dozen feet from Police Headquarters, but, as Bilardo said, “50 or more yards away.”

A few lines later, the editorial makes this accusation of Bilardo and the Art Commission: “Taxpayers are being forced (our italics) to finance ‘art’ that ridicules the institutions that confiscate (our italics) their wealth to pay for the public art.”

And this is the hysterical, mentioned above, Public Art Administrator Bilardo has described the selection process as well represented. Here is the list of members of the artist selection panel for the Terry Allen project:

  • Deborah Leveton, 20th Century Curator, Des Moines Art Center
  • Bruce Hartman, Director, Johnson County Community College Art Gallery
  • Lester Goldman, Artist, Kansas City Art Institute Faculty Member
  • Corky Pfeiffer, Community Representative
  • Captain Vince McInerney, Commander of Media Relations, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Police Department Representative
  • Vic Miles, Superintendent of Communications Kansas City, Missouri Fire
  • Department Representative
  • Bruce Palmer, Interim City Architect
  • John A. Bell, Bell/Knott Associates, Project Architect

Advisory Group:

  • Robert Holzwarth, City Architect’s Office
  • Stephanie Jacobson, Chair, Municipal Art Commission
  • Leonard Pryor, Municipal Art Commission

How Much?
So, we’ve covered the official selection process step by step, and we know who’s on the  election panel for the Terry Allen project. There is one other question, and it’s a fair one.  What about the cost of this project, which is operating on a $78,000 budget, to each Kansas City taxpayer?

“The economic impact,” according to Bilardo, “shared by taxpayers of the greater Kansas City area, is about 9 cents per person. That’s the reality of this project. And if anyone in Kansas City wants their money back, we’ll be more than happy to refund it.”

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Nov 1993

KCAC Forum Magazine Nov 1993

EMBRACING THE UNFAMILIAR
by Deanne Pearson

Exhibitions of art from distinctly different cultures, such as “Gods Guardians and Lovers” currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art bring up an interesting question. How do you approach art that is so unfamiliar?

Looking at art with a European history, we know what to expect. We recognize the stories, understand the symbols, and can grasp, at least at some primary level, the nuances in the works.

Think about it. As Americans, most of us share a certain level of cultural literacy. We all have had an elementary exposure to the culture and history of ancient Egypt Greece, and Rome. We all know the basic timeline of European history and should be aware of America evolution as a nation. And we all are part of the modern era of music videos, Rodney King, and car phones.

Einstein once said, “It is not possible to make an observation unless the observer has a theory to bring to bear on what he is looking at.” In other words, we tend to see things in terms of what we know.

Doesn’t it follow then that the primary key to understanding the unfamiliar is education. In order to understand art produced by unfamiliar cultures such as that of India, Australia, even Central America, we must learn something about the cultures themselves. We must educate ourselves through reading, exploring, asking questions. We must begin to understand the purposes and meanings behind the work.

Regarding “Gods, Guardians and Lovers,” the Nelson-Atkins has presumed our lack of cultural familiarity and has built into the show several experiences with Indian culture. The show includes a short video tape focusing on Indian temples, their purpose, and their history. The exhibition’s chat labels and wall plaques are brimming with information about the Indian religion, culture and symbolism. If you’re a patient and persistent reader, you can broaden your understanding of the works immensely. Additionally, the museum has arranged for several live performances of Indian music and dancing to further educate and enlighten viewers.

Beyond all that, we must rely on our own understanding of humanity to provide us an “in” to unfamiliar art. Generally speaking, art is a direct manifestation of man’s (and I use that term to encompass men and women) desire to create and communicate his or her existence. It is born out of the need to say “I was here. I did this. I mattered.” Whether the resulting creation is a bull on the wall of a cave in Lascaux or a portrait of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, art can be enjoyed and understood at the most fundamental level purely as creation. We may not agree with the presented interpretation of beauty, or
understand its intended message. But we can appreciate the fact that some one created it, regardless of the reason.

Nathan Knobler sums it up well in his book The Visual Dialogue: An Introduction to the Appreciation of Art. He writes, “The meaning of art does not lie exclusively in its function as a mirror of life; for some it serves primarily as a source of sensuous and intellectual satisfaction that needs no external referent.”

So when faced with art that is unfamiliar, relax. Revel in its simple existence. Appreciate what aesthetic qualities you can. Simply enjoy it because it is art. Then, if you want to understand it, educate yourself. Ask questions. Read. Broaden your horizons, so next time that which is unfamiliar, won’t be.

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Fall 1993

KCAC Forum Magazine Fall 1993

ART COMMUNITIES MOURN DOUBLE LOSS
On July 26, 1993, the Kansas City area art community lost an incredible talent to a tragic accident. On August 17, 1993 another incredible talent died of complications from leukemia. Both deaths are untimely and left family, friends, and students stunned.

DALE ELDRED
by Deanne Pearson

On July 26, Dale Eldred was working in his West Bottoms studio with a group of friends,  trying to move his art work from the first floor, where it was threatened by the rising waters of the Kaw River, to the safer second floor. In July 1991 he had lost countless works and records in a studio fire, and he was determined not to lose everything again if he could help it.

In the midst of the moving and the commotion, Eldred accidentally stepped through an opening in the floor of the studio’s second story and fell some 20 feet to the first floor below. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Bethany Medical Center. He was 59 years old.

An internationally recognized talent, Eldred had worked as an artist in Kansas City for more than 34 years. Shortly after graduating with a masters in science from the University of Michigan in 1959, he came to Kansas City to take a position on the faculty of Kansas City Art Institute. In 1960 he was named chairman of the institute’s sculpture department, a position he held at the time of his death.

A scientist at heart, Eldred rejected the more traditional sculptor’s path of carving stone or casting bronze and instead chose to manipulate more ephemeral elements, like light and time. Working with concepts plucked from his fascination with science, Eldred created massive outdoor installations that demonstrated the action of the earth’s rotation around the sun, the way light fractures and refracts, and the visible traces of the passage of time.

The innovation and spirit of these massive scientific works earned for Eldred a myriad of awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and built for him an international reputation as a sculptor. Locally, he staged a sculptural exhibition called the “Time Light Incident” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in 1979. Another of his works was permanently installed in the courtyard of the Johnson County Community College. During his career, his temporary solar  sculptures have been seen in cities as diverse as Houston, Texas: Phoenix, Ariz., Minneapolis, Minn., and Helsinki, Finland. He also had major permanent works commissioned by many private and public institutions throughout the world from Portland, Ore., to Herning, Denmark.

Eldred’s death came at a time when he was exploring other, more intimate avenues in his art.  His most recent show was lat January at the Jan Weiner Gallery. It featured smaller, more intimate works, which were a distinct depature from anything Eldred has created before.

Wanting to work out his thoughts in a more immediate and manageable scale, Eldred’s most recent works were smaller manipulated creations that incorporated miniature models of familiar sculptural monuments like Michelangelo’s David, the Statue of Liberty,
and a Roman portrait head. Each monument was enclosed in a Plexiglas box, where it
appeared to be overcome by a symbol of nature and time sand, vines, liquid mercury.

These works dealt more with the concepts of art than the concepts of nature. About them Eldred wrote, “These intimate pieces are very important to the way I think. They give me the chance to work out, on a manageable scale, what’s on my mind right now. And right now I’m thinking about monuments….To understand the visual world you have to appreciate the truth inherent in erosion, irony and accident.”

So we are left with a career’s worth of work and a handful of quotes to appreciate, analyze and use to remember one man. An artist who tried within his work to harness the most ephemeral and fleeting forces of nature. And who died trying to outrun another.


 

TIMOTHY F. MITCHELL
by Stephen K. Smith

Dr. Timothy Frank Mitchell, professor in the department of art history at the University of Kansas, died August 17, 1993, at a Lawrence hospital from complications of leukemia, which he had battled for one and a half years. He was 49 years old. Mitchell was chairman of the department of art history from 1986 to 1992, director of graduate studies from 1984 to 1986, and president of the Midwest Art History Society from 1989 to 1991. He was a gifted teacher and lecturer, knowledgeable, interesting, and entertaining. An example of his popularity throughout the university was his nomination by students for the university’s H.O.P.E. award.

As well as being a skilled teacher, Dr. Mitchell was a significant contributing scholar. His book, Art and Science in German Landscape Painting 1770 to 1840, is scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press this fall. He was also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles and Modernism: Art in the Age of Historicism, a book-length study currently under consideration for publication by Cambridge University Press. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, his masters degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctorate from Indiana University, Bloomington. He had been a professor at KU since 1980.

Far beyond all these kudos and accomplishments, however, Mitchell was a valued advisor and friend to those of us who worked with the art history department at the University of Kansas. Despite his illness and the pain associated with it, he retained a sense of humor about himself and the world around him. His unfailing dedication to teaching and research kept him working until just a few weeks prior to his death.

His friend and colleague Professor Linda Stone-Ferrier spoke for all of us who knew or were associated with Mitchell when she said, “It’s a tremendous loss for me both personally and professionally.”

Mitchell was buried at Grand Center Cemetery in Waldo, Kansas the kind of landscape that he both loved and studied throughout his professional life. On October 22 of this year he would have been 50 years old.

Plans for a public memorial service to be held this fall are being discussed. It is suggested that those who wish to do so make contributions to the Leukemia Society of America or to the Department of Art History at the University of Kansas. Mitchell is survived by his wife, Nancy, and his two daughters, Kristina and Sarah.

Throwback Thursday – KCAC Forum Magazine Summer 1993

KCAC Forum Magazine Summer 1993

ARTS ENVIRONMENT N THE CLINTON ERA

“Hostile and Violent.” That’s the way George Thorn, co-director of Art Action Research and Director of the Graduate Program in Arts Administration at Virginia Tech in Blackburg, Va., described the current environment for the arts in our country during his presentation to the recent Missouri Arts Council conference.

After spending four days with artists and arts administrators at the Missouri Arts Council Conference “Next in the Arts” (held May 16-17 St. Louis, Mo.) and the National Association of Artists’ organizations of the Midwest Conference (held May 21-22, Chicago, Ill.) I’d have to say most the participants agree with his assessment.

Even the most optimistic feel that change for the better is still a long way off. The economy of the 1980s and early 1990s has taken its toll with many art organizations caught in the fall-out of severe cuts in state and local funding to the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA’s) willingness to censor artists rather than support freedom of expression and its own panel process has created an overwhelming in the field about the future role of this once revered federal agency. And while no one expected President Clinton to make culture his number one priority, it was hoped that the “bully pulp” of the presidency would be used to lift the air of hostility and suspicion that has settled around the arts. Instead, Clinton has delayed appointing a strong chairperson to lead the NEA through its re-authorization this summer, and what is worse, has chosen to appeal Judge Tashima’s 1992 ruling that found the NEA decency clause violated the First and Fifth Amendments. The fresh air we had hoped for turned out to be more of the same.

And in Missouri, the state legislature’s recent move to ban public nudity is another indication of the desire of government to regulate and abridge our civil rights rather than protect and preserve them.

Perhaps, as artists we have grown a bit cavalier about the suspicion and disdain our chosen profession brings us, relishing even in the outsider status it affords. But the status quo is every bit as hostile and damaging to individual artists as it is to arts organizations. Today most artists cannot expect to make a livable wage, or have the luxury of health insurance, sick leave, or retirement benefits. It is not surprising that many leave the field, taking their unique expression out of the public dialogue forever.

But artists want to have a positive impact in their communities and in the nation’s culture and demonstrate leadership and courage when the arts and artists have been attacked. When the Corcoran Gallery bowed to political pressure and would not exhibit the Mapplethorpe retrospective, the Washington Project for the Arts exhibited the work. To bring attention to the AIDS crisis, Visual Aids started the red ribbon campaign. And the National Association of Artists’ Organizations initiated the lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the decency clause of the 1990 NEA re-authorization legislation. These are just a few acts by artists and their organizations, many other choices in defense of
culture and freedom of expression are made daily.

The artistic climate in our country is not going to change to one more favorable to arts and culture unless all artists and supporters of the arts take an active role. We must use every means available to us to inform the public of the life-affirming value of the arts. We must tell them even difficult expressions inform and enlarge our understanding of what it is to be human. Judge Tashima stated, “The right of artists to challenge conventional wisdom and values is a cornerstone of artistic and academic freedom.” Unless we support that freedom, the arts will lose their ability to illuminate our lives.

When I go into artist-run spaces around the country I see vibrant viable works of contemporary artistic expression. We must protect this expression, these venues, our culture.