Friday, January 30, 2009

Nasher Sculpture Center Appoints New Director

Obama Ain't Got Nothin' on the Nasher Sculpture Center

As a rule, I try my best not to report arts-related conjecture, unless it is substantiated by relevant and related facts, which would point me to come to a solid and well-informed conclusion. However, I feel that I should, at the very least, comment on the MoCA situation, especially given the fact that the short-term financial side has been resolved and I can finally make sense of the facts, rather than just speculating on an outcome.

Recent History 101

Many Americans, including myself, believe that Timothy F. Geithner was a poor selection, as President Obama's pick for Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. The mere idea of appointing a tax evader to run and oversea the Internal Revenue Service is like calling 911 because your house is on fire, only to have the arsonist sent to the site instead of an actual firefighter. Sure, Geitner made "an honest mistake" by not forking over almost $34,000 in owed taxes to the Federal government, but at least he was forced to pay the government back every penny. Given the present state of the economy, that's just the kind of leadership we need to run the IRS, right? I'll let you be the judge of that.

Well, in an all too similar move, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas announced today that they have hired former MoCA director Jeremy Strick as
the Center's new director -- yes, no joke! Given what we now know about MoCA and his stewardship of that institution over the past nine years or so, one would surmise that Mr. Strick's executive headhunter would have had a difficult time placing him anywhere? I guess I was wrong.

So, as a resident (and avid museum goer) of Los Angeles, how should I feel after hearing such news? Disgusted? Angry? Hurt? Or, perhaps, all of the above? Yes, I'd probably select all of the above. It seems so unfair that unchecked power and outright failure should be rewarded with a six-figure salary and directorship at another museum. The job losses, which were announce almost in lockstep with Strick's appointment to the Nasher Sculpture Center, compounded with the measly $6 million MoCA endowment will, indeed, seal Mr. Strick's legacy. I think that many good, competent employees will now have a very difficult time finding employment in this malnourished economy, as a direct result of his financial incompetence and lack of concern for the institution he led. For me, it seems like 2009 will, undeniably, be quite a year in politics and the art world. It's turning out to be a year where greed and poor leadership continues to flourish and be rewarded. And loyalty, hard work and dedication, continues get the shaft. I don't know how the vetting process for the director of the Nasher was conducted, but I can tell you that after reading about Mr. Strick in the L.A. and N.Y. Times, he would have not been at the top of my list.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January is L.A. Arts Month

Los Angeles, "...the Venice of the 21st century."
-- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

At a press conference held this morning at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a cadre of civic and arts-minded leaders, designated the month of January as "L.A. Arts Month." When I learned about this announcement, I did a double-take. I thought to myself, 'Hmm, where have I seen and experienced such an event before?' And then, like the 'pop' of a champagne cork on New Year's Eve, it hit me! Back in February of 2007, the mayor hosted a similar conference at the Getty Center where he designated March as "Creative L.A." month. The initiative, which exalted the various creative enclaves of this city -- from art to entertainment to science -- delivered a lot of excitement and fan fair on the day it was announced, but now it is all but extinct. I don't even think that there's a website devoted to it anymore (or was there ever?) But there is still an old press release on the Town Hall Los Angeles website -- read it here.

So, where exactly did "Creative L.A." month go? Did anyone celebrate it last year and will it be celebrated this coming March? My hunch is that it was nothing more than one of those politically motivated and meticulously calculated photo-ops, rather than a serious manifesto lauding the importance of L.A.'s creative industries. I think that designating one month of awareness, whether it be for the arts or any other program, over a long period of time, greatly diminishes the spirit of the cause which you are trying to promote. That's not to say that assigning a specific day or month to draw attention to an important cause is bad, but rather an inefficient way of promoting, interpreting and infusing the visual and non-visual arts as a natural phenomenon and integral part of our daily lives. Arts awareness should be designated a year-round initiative, as should Black history, AIDS and cancer awareness, or any other noteworthy cause which, under the present guidelines, gets 31 days or less to make its case.

If Mayor Villaraigosa is truly genuine about his commitment toward promoting the arts in this city, and I most certainly would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, then why is he declaring "L.A. Arts Month" in the last year of his first term? One can't help but question the prioritization of this administration and whether or not it has a truly genuine commitment to the arts? It seems more like a well-calculated public relations move to bolster votes for the upcoming general election in May, rather than a passionate plea to populate L.A's cultural destinations. Sure ticket giveaways and free radio airtime is great. However, art appreciation should be more than just a gimmick to increase attendance and stimulate revenue. It should be treated as a valuable lesson in understanding the diversity of thoughts and ideas through visual and non-visual means -- a process that takes way more than a month, if you want it to really be effective.