Chris Drew on Tue, 21 Mar 2000 05:20:48 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] ART-ACT Notes 17

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Check out Brian Dailey's submission to ART-ACT at

Also check out the new additions to our Screen Print Workshop for Artists at

The latest art submission page above is a different design from those going
before. It puts the art at the top of the page. It places our logo and
titles at the bottom. Is this a better design? Should we make it our
template and apply it to all our art pages?

I had an interesting time at the "Building Democracy Conference" put on
by the Center for New Community ( ) this past March
10-11th. I debuted "comment fliers" inviting the public to make comments on
eight images from ART-ACT submissions or to visit our site to comment on the
other art submissions posted. It was a mailer that folded to enclose the
comments. It is another opportunity to promote our site. It is also a way
that someone not connected to the Internet could contribute to and
participate on the World Wide Web. This is another small way we are bridging
the digital divide! If we can't bring the Internet to them - we can still
bring them to the Internet.

CONTINUED FROM ....The Beginning
We nearly died on that highway together but as you can tell - it was not
meant to be. So how did Alvin Carter, the oil painter whose murals
dotted the landscapes of African American communities around the Twin
Cities, and I meet?

When I left the University of Minnesota in 1975 to move to St. Paul
Minnesota a counterpart of mine at the Art School, similarly filled with
the spirit of adventure, sought association with a collective dominated by
Arts Institute (of Minneapolis) graduates. They exhibited in community
places - shopping malls and had perfected their techniques of on the fly
exhibits. Retail centers in refurbished factories that needed artists to
give them an image boost, in community centers, at colleges - where ever an
upwardly mobile audience could be accessed and/or their mailing list could
be encouraged to visit - they put on shows.

They were the avante-guard of the Twin-Cities art scene and they practiced
their brand of community art by busting out of the museums - by putting art
out in trendy and not so trendy - accessible - locations. These young
artists supported by activists attacked foundations and government funders
alike in the 60's and
early 70's for funding mainly major institutions. They demanded these
institutions be accountable and serve everyone more equally. They made
"community art" a buzzword in funding circles. Throughout the 70's small art
agencies and groups found fund raising much easier than now. Twenty years of
cutback to the community sectors of our national life have left community
arts activitiy unencouraged.

A few of the collective were great proposal writers with some connections
established at the Institute. They were ready to share some of the wealth
and knowledge with other artists struggling to show. This says much
about their belief in the "community arts" because as blessed as they seemed
with respect to others and to today, they still had to create their events
and art largely in a vacuum of support with liberal elbow grease to make
events happen. They held their arts group together for well over a
decade and presented a number of new artists. They built themselves a niche
in the youthful twenties something, thirty something's crowd, on the edge
but with a foot in the mainstream. They earned the title - survivors!

They were business slick. They knew how to use developers who used them for
gentrification. They advanced their cause of community art in the cracks and
corners of society. That was and remains simply a reality artists deal with.
For many a businessmen the role of an artist in society is as a tool to
gentrify a community - to move poor people elsewhere and to move upper
income people in. They see artists as a dime a dozen and the art as an
investment - like a bond.

Once artists, who invest their sweat equity over a five to ten year period
to build their art business at a location taking advantage of the low rent,
are successful at attracting their audience to the community being
gentrified then the rents rise. When the rents rise and the artists must
move they lose the business value to the location they advertised for so
long. It is not a good deal over the long haul for most artists .

In the ethnic communities in urban America - the artist - who becomes part
of a community - can experience a social role that is much more meaningful.
In the ghetto, an active artist is a leader able to create cultural visions
that inspire and for this draw support from the community. This can
encourage an artist to pursue directions outside forces (mainstream art
circles) would never patronize. If the artist is from outside a community -
involvement in that community's arts life is an entrance to acceptance in
that community. The arts create an atmosphere conducive to communication and
people are primed to relate with one another. Artists can not onlyn make a
community attractive to outsiders, we can make it attractive to anyone and
raise everyones cultural standard of living without any change in wages.This
is another reason small community
art centers are so important.

The community artist slugs it out in the inner-city alongside the local
residents. Life in the big city is not always kind. It is well known that
those that fight a war together tend to bond. The spirit of
creativity in the midst of depression that an artist exudes tells others of
an indomitable streak that runs through us all which we can be
access in times of need. No matter how often many of these artists are
excluded, belittled or berated for defining their own aesthetic by art
circles of society - these artists have a home in their community and they
have an audience.

They create a cultural foundation for their audience by producing art with
without condescension and expressing pride in who they are, without

Yes, there is such a thing as a community artist. There would be many more
and our urban quality of life would be better if support were encouraged.

I met Alvin Carter at Inner City Youth League when I hired on to teach
photography to teenage youth-at-risk in 1978. What I had to do to
get this job is a story.

This was a very rare period in our urban arts history. Another person named
Carter was President. President Carter had re-organized the Comprehensive
Employment and Training Act (CETA) putting artists on the top of the
priority list for employment in community related ventures. Non-profit
organizations from the most prestigious to the lowliest benefited from this
wise decision. Ronald Reagon reversed all this in 1980, just as the arts
were beginning to make great strides in improving life in urban areas of
America. His policy slashed funds for to inner-city communities.

I found out about President Carter's action when two artists hired through
CETA showed up working at the Summit-University Free Press. I was suspicious
and a bit jealous. For over two years, I had volunteered at the Free Press
while working a part-time night job for minimum wage. I had paid dues
but someone else was getting paid. I swallowed my pride for the
sake of the Free Press and resolved to investigate this.

The artists were both writers, a man and a woman. The man was several years
younger and just out of college by three months. The woman was about five
years older - just turning thirty. Both were caucasian but any closeness
ended there. He was a preppy suit and tie guy. She was a radical lesbian
feminist. She proved to understand our community much better than he did.

The editor, Hardy Wright, assigned me to shoot photos with the guy. He was
to interview the Executive Director of the Inner-City Youth League, an art
center serving the African-American community on Selby Avenue about the role
his institution played in the area. At the interview the Director accepted
the weak questions my partner offered and with little trouble turned the
discussion around to make his points.

He stated that African Americans have been systematically excluded from the
visual arts - on TV and from other "mainstream" forums with possible the
exception of musicians. We need institutions like Inner-City Youth League
for our community to build our own cultural directions. The youth in this
community have no where else to go. Where else can they can study
oil painting, photography, boxing, videotography and theater in one place
with instructors sensitive to their needs and culture? We produce art
comparable anywhere, he assured us. Film projects coming out of these
workshops have
won awards in national festivals. We do the art and work wonders with youth
the schools can't handle. Yet - it's the "blue blood" arts that gets all the
We work wonders with troubled youth and produce excellent art but still
struggle over just the crumbs...." The Executive Director presented a view
of St. Paul and its institutions that my partner was not eager to hear.

After this session my partner came away confused. Nothing prepared him to
hear this attack on his exalted system. He felt great work and great acts
rose to the top like cream on milk. Racism? Exclusionist? Political
Considerations? He admitted none of these.

"I can't get a grip on this story," he said when I returned with printed
photos from our visit. He never wrote the piece. I did. The guy did not
last. He went to COMPAS the prestigious downtown "blue blood" arts agency
where access to the important people in the city - where the big cultural
funds went. When his time was up on the CETA program he accepted an
assistant editorship of the Public Radio - statewide magazine. His career
track was set for life.

I learned about the way CETA worked from the lady. She respected me for
remaining a
volunteer - willing to help her in her job even though she was paid and I
was not. When the paper went to bed -I would do the all-nighter with Hardy
Wright and his new assistants, laying he type out and sizing the photos. She
described how the program was set to start three months after college
student graduated in the spring. The requirements were that an "artist" be
under or unemployed for 90 day or longer. To be underemployed required that
an artist not work more than 15 hours a week. The problem is that any artist
trying to make it by working a typical low paying part-time job could not
pay rent without
working more than 15 hours a week. Most of those eligible were college
graduates living with parents for their three months after graduation. That
was my short lived partners case.

My guard job paid minimum wage. I kept it because it was flexible and I
could write on the night shifts I worked. My hours varied between
20-36 hours per week. I was not eligible. Always I had worked with great
pride in paying my own way. Now, at the age of 27, I considered a drastic
change. I was considering quitting my job as a Security Guard and moving to
Duluth to go on welfare for the first time in my life so I could become
eligible to work as
an artist in a community that needed my services. I wanted to be paid, too.

(to be continued).

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