Over the years, I have been widely praised, while at times villainized as a vigorous advocate and promoter for the arts. I stand accused of being a flagrant self promoter. It’s true, I speak boldly about the exhibits at my gallery which feature local artists, along with my own work. I rail loudly about the issues facing local artists and local arts organizations. I am an advocate for an Arts Center to be included as part of the proposed Mack & Moross recreational facility. I am fighting for legislation that would make it possible for all creative artists to receive a fair market deduction when they donate their work to charity. As President of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History and Humanities and Arts/PR Chair at the Scarab Club I am working with others to develop county funding for ARTnerships between cultural and other community service organizations. Sometimes I ruffle feathers while championing opportunities on behalf of artists and those who understand the importance of the arts in their lives. Oh well.
In our unassuming culture, deeply rooted in our puritan heritage, self promotion is considered terribly bad taste. Arts are a hard sell. Though I understand this attitude, it poses a difficult problem for those of us who believe that what we are doing for our community is vitally important. For instance, I have never understood how we, as a society, think nothing of major corporations spending millions of dollars to promote their brand names, literally everywhere we look – even welcoming them into our homes like family.
Let’s take one current example: a new company called Cingular is sparing no expense in suggesting that those who use their phone service will be more “fully self expressed,” as if the two are somehow related. Would anyone deny they have a right to make this claim? No, of course not! Advertising is as American as, well, McDonalds! Meanwhile, we somehow resent the efforts of a few hard working entrepreneurs and community minded individuals, with a shoestring budget, who say we should have a right to expect our children receive a complete education, which includes first hand experience in the arts. Did you know that children who grow up without training in music, art, dance or theatre have less of an ability to think conceptually, spatially and creatively? My stand is for everyone to be truly self expressed and ever more fully alive. I may look like an idiot flapping my wings along Mack Avenue but that is my stand for me AND for you, dear reader.
Did you know that Wayne County alone has about 575 grass roots arts and culture organizations teaming with creativity and working hard to make our lives richer and more rewarding? In fact, the Wayne County Council for Arts History and Humanities is working overtime to bring these organizations to the attention of the county’s more than 2.1 million citizens. That’s a tall order but well worth the fuss when you realize the tremendous impact the arts can have in our community, not only culturally and educationally but economically as well. For instance, did you know that the City of Detroit generated $93 million in revenue from the recent Van Gogh exhibit at the DIA?
My only goal in running a gallery, being President of an Arts Council or writing this column is to bring the arts home to our humble community, which is good for everybody. To do that I have had to barrow a few lessons from the marketing geniuses of our time, people like Jim Seros, Bill Gates, and yes, good ole’ George W., all of whom understand the concept of brand recognition. Too bad for Van Gogh that he never sold a single painting when he was alive, considering how much brand recognition his work enjoys today! What is this fear that drives us always to begrudge the visionaries? Where are the visionaries?
My goal as an artist, an arts advocate, is not to plead for community support but to earn the community’s respect. This is a tall order. Although its an amazing fact that there are over 575 arts organizations active in this county – yes, so much activity is great. But it also says something about the lack of partnerships, or what I call ARTnerships. There is an unhealthy antipathy towards collaboration among arts organizations. Splinter groups vying for attention, competing rather than cooperating. It’s no wonder the mainstream doesn’t take the arts in our community very seriously. This is one issue that is very important to those of us on the WCCAHH.
A strong Council will Provide a central information resource for the 575 smaller, grass roots arts & culture organizations in the 43 communities, serving the over 2.1 million constituents in Wayne County. Currently, these organizations are isolated and fragmented. The Wayne County Council will listen to their needs and respond powerfully. The fact is that important things are happening in Wayne County with regard to arts & culture and yet we do not have a fully funded Council, to act as a liaison between these 575 grass roots organizations, who are being completely overshadowed by “the big 17.” We all know the DIA, Greenfield Village and the rest are important, but they aren’t the only game in town. A strong Council will be able to generate ARTnerships between, say the DIA or the Detroit Symphony, AND the many grass roots organizations scattered across Wayne County. Why not link local artists and organizations with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, COTS, YMCA, Senior Centers, Detroit Historical Society, Libraries throughout Wayne County even collaborations with PBS. A strong Arts Council is Inclusive!
Many in our community believe that “real” art happens elsewhere, say New York City or Paris. It is often the case that most geniuses are never appreciated in their own back yard; I guess it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt. With all the money being spent by corporations, bombarding us at every turn it may be easier to just ignore the arts right here in our own back yard. If artists, or groups like the Downriver Arts Council, the WCCAHH or yes, even the Maniscalco Gallery stopped saying, “hey everybody, we’re here,” where do you suppose that would leave this nice community? I for one can’t imagine living in the cultural wasteland that would remain. Self-promotion? I can think of worse things we artists could be doing with our time. Personally, I’d rather be painting! We live in a world, however, where “if you want to sell you got to tell.”
By the way, did I mention the girlee salon this Saturday, March 31st from 7-11 or that the exhibit will be running through April 27th at the Maniscalco Gallery? Just thought I’d squeeze that in. Anyway, as a way of celebrating the local fair along with Women’s History Month, we got together with girlee detroit collective with an exhibition appropriately titled “Herstory”. The opening reception featured live performances by girlee collective members as well as gave us an opportunity to meet the artists during the opening. Individually and as a group, girlee is making history for women artists. The exhibit will culminate with a closing night party this Friday, April 27th from 7-11 pm.
Also, very important, I want to invite you to the 2001 Recognition Awards sponsored by WCCAHH to honor outstanding cultural programs, institutions and those who support and participate in them with this annual celebration of diversity and dedication. The Awards Ceremony will take place on Monday, May 7th, 2001 from 6-8 pm at the Blue Cross / Blue Shield Building at 600 East Lafayette in Detroit (right off I-375). The WCCAHH is proud to announce the winners of this year’s award recipients, who have profoundly contributed to making Wayne County an exciting destination and an extraordinary place to live, work and play.
The award winners are:
Artist/Performer Award: Robert Jones Blues From the Lowlands, on WDET-FM
Volunteer Award: Robert W. Curtis advancing arts education, locally and nationally
County Executive’s Award: Paul Ganson preservation of Orchestra Hall.
County Commissioner’s Award: Grosse Pointe Theatre 53 years of community theatre
Council’s Award: Edsel Reid late Pres of WCCAHH.
I would urge each of you to get involved in the arts in your community. Our organizations need your respect and are working hard to earn it. I hope you will attend an event, go see a local play, volunteer, write a letter or call your county commissioner, urging his/her support for WCCAHH. Contribute to the mission of the WCCAHH or any of the 575 organizations in the county, where you can make a difference. There are so many incredible people out there, the visionaries, who are working to make us all a little more human. Won’t you join us?
Robert Maniscalco, President of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History and Humanities