Commentary: How did the city wind up in the art business?

By JIM SCHOUT
Commentary

I seem to always be confused with the operations of this great city of ours. The Sun Journal ran an article last week announced the grand opening of the new art gallery on South Front Street. This group, now called “Community Artists Gallery and Studios” is the same one that was forced to abandon their previous location on Broad Street due to water issues.  But, isn’t this also the group the old Firemen’s Museum is being modified to accept? I recall our Board of Aldermen voted to spend $25,000 to update the city’s building on Metcalf Street to accommodate this identical group.

It appears the artists have already found an alternate place where they may actually operate as proposed when they offered to lease the old Firemen’s Museum. It was never clear to me why they offered to pay just $500 per month for the city’s space, and that figure sounded much too low to me. I recall the Mayor mentioned a more rational rate might be closer to $2,500 per month. Then, for reasons I never understood, the Board of Aldermen voted to look into a scheme where the city would take over the operation of the building and make spaces available to the artists. They would also make space available to other artists not a part of the original group on Broad Street.

So, what went wrong? The impression I got from listening to all of this was the city assumed the original CAW group would take the majority of the new spaces and extra spaces would be made available on a first-come-first-serve basis. I could be completely wrong, but it seems to me that the solid base of artists the city expected to participate has flown the coop. And, quite frankly, that doesn’t surprise me. I thought at the time all of this was evolving that the city was trying to usurp the whole idea that was the basic design of the CAW group.

Instead of renting the Firemen’s abandoned building to the CAW and allowing the group to sub-rent and manage the space as they proposed, the city decided to turn the whole idea to the city’s advantage. Now, I do not know what actually happened, but I would have been really upset if that happened to me. I would take my marbles and go elsewhere. And, that appears to be what has actually occurred.

So, the real question today is, “Are there enough total paying artists in this area to fill the available spaces on South Front street as well as the spaces in city’s building on Hancock?” If the answer is “Yes” then we have no problem. If the answer is “No” the city seriously needs to rethink this whole idea of becoming the owner/manager of an art gallery. I hope this is on the agenda for the very next BOA meeting. It is very possible we are wasting a pile of tax payer dollars to build something that is unnecessary.

The real question I would like to have answered is, “Why did the city fail to negotiate a reasonable rent and accommodate the artists?” I cannot believe the artists are renting the building on Front Street for $500 per month. But, is the rent $2,500 per month? You see, there was a correct rental amount that would have satisfied the city and the artists. But, we never got to that point because everyone went off half-cocked and failed to work this out rationally. At least, that is what I think I have witnessed. Please tell me I am wrong. Better yet, please tell me this is going to end well.

April 12th, 2018 by
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