“It’s a sad, sad situation. And it’s getting more and more absurd.”
– Sir Elton John re: Cancellation of FLUX. Nucleus show at City Hall
I touched upon a few of these reasons in my letter to “John Doe”, but I wanted to flesh out the specifics of the Nucleus project so you had a better understanding of the exact issues and roadblocks I was up against in trying to execute this exhibition.
These bureaucratic hang-ups are not isolated to Nucleus, my experience points to a larger issue in the City and fills in some of those unknowns as to what might be holding us back when we evaluate the concept of “How do we keep creative talent in Boston?” and pushing forward future Arts initiatives.
Last Fall I met with “John Doe” who works in the Mayor’s Office and is involved with the curation and exhibition of shows, special events and the likes for the City.
I told him about the work I do on FLUX. and he asked if I would be interested in exhibiting the work of local artists within the City Hall space. I began working on a formal full-blown proposal and spoke vaguely of the project here.
The proposal was for a show I called Nucleus, that evolved from two main concepts:
1.) People are doing amazing things in Boston. This city keeps talking about “how do we keep creative talent in Boston..” etc and I felt that by having a show in the city’s center, its nucleus, City Hall would be sending the message that we are a city that takes the Arts seriously and are looking to celebrate the talent in our own backyard.
On a visual level..
2.) City Hall as a building is very linear/stark/severe/imposing, so I was hoping to create a show that imbues some organic qualities into the space through architectural wrappings, new media, traditional canvas works, sculpture and kinetic work etc. I wanted to transform the space, and take the time to make a show that worked with and against the building’s form.
Shortly after the proposal was submitted, I received notice that it was approved. After much back and forth, I was given October 1st-November 16th for Nucleus, and was excited to move forward with the planning of the exhibition.
I met with John and asked him the tough questions about what I could and could not do within the civic building. I was painted a picture of City Hall being a venue of limitless possibilities and I could transform the space however I chose as long as it did not impede wheelchair access, block stairs, cover exits with paintings, and all that other regulatory goodness. Once that was squared away and I knew my boundaries, I set fourth on sourcing artists and working to develop a cohesive theme.
Over the past few months I had been emailing with artists and bringing them to the space during lunch breaks to see where they might be able to best lend their talents. Every meeting with an artist lent a different perspective to the exhibition and how best to utilize the space. For me, the curation of this show was a bit different than choosing a series of paintings for a standard white walled gallery. It was more of an endeavor that involved the collective energies and creativities of individuals working in a variety of disciplines. The result of which, I envisioned, would culminate in a cohesive and engaging show.
Unfortunately, after speaking with the City on multiple occasions, and re-imagining the show to circumvent red-tape issues, I had reached a point where it did not seem feasible to proceed with the Nucleus show at City Hall.
1.) This post is not intended to be a “damn the man”/Art v. City kind of post. I will keep my explanations factual and do my best to point out where things were left up to interpretation. There is little embellishment needed for why I have elected not to have a show at City Hall.
2.)”John Doe” is a huge supporter of the Arts, and an artist himself, who spoke candidly to me about issues with working with the City on intiaitves. And as my letter to him acknowledged, I recognized his hands are tied to the point of stagnancy in many respects in attempting to develop programming for the City. I am extremely grateful he extended this opportunity to me.
The Juicy Bits The Issues
The floors are dirty and scuffed, the columns have been kicked by muddy feet and the bricks have cement splashes upon them in places that one artist understandably mistook for a leak running into the gallery space. I asked how often the areas are cleaned, hoping to possibly line up a scrub down before the opening reception, but was met with a shrugged shoulder and remark that implied once every blue moon. Never expecting anyone to roll out a red carpet, and no stranger to grunt work, I explained how I wouldn’t mind putting a little elbow grease and Swiffer action into the space to ensure it was in tip top condition prior to the reception..
..Until I was informed I was forbidden to clean. “Even paper towels and water?” “Even paper towels and water.” No exaggeration. I then learned about Union issues(only unionized labor can clean the space) and other factions of the City that would act as the backdrop for the future derailment of my efforts to curate the space.
Look up in the main atrium. Those lights have never been changed because no one can reach them. Therefore, the enormous grid of blown out bulbs, some hanging by wires, is one of the first things you notice upon entering the space.
Told I could create work on the windows, I brought an artist on board who specializes in traditional sign-painting to see what he could make of the space. While essentially begging for my ability to Windex the site prior to his painting, I learned the windows “may have never been cleaned before”. Now, I don’t know if that’s a fact, but I can assure you the layer of dust implies that this maintenance activity is not occurring on a regular basis. I was also told that my very seedy cleaning activities would have to be carried out under the radar.
This whole thing makes me sounds like a cleaning Nazi, but I’m sure my Mother would be more than happy to reassure you otherwise. If the gallery space is unclean, I feel like it is a poor reflection on myself, the artists, and the work exhibited in the space.
Every element within the Hall falls under a different jurisdiction. One part of the atrium, illustrated by a seemingly haphazard hand gesture, was managed by my representative, while other areas were assigned different divisions and vendors that would have to sign off on every aspect of the show. This signing off would of course follow a formal proposal process written up by myself or the artist for every intended action. At which point I learned that to get someone to sign off on even the smallest of tasks can take months or even years. Even if a piece were approved, this did not guarantee its installation.
One group of artists, who knit architectural wrappings, would need to use a ladder in order to reach their installation site. This action raised red flags and I was informed there would have to be a City representative installing the work due to liabilities re: artists falling off structures. Apparently no waiver is available? On top of that, this unnamed City worker who would help climb a step-stool on the artist’s behalf may not even exist. And if they did, I learned they may be unwilling to help because its outside their job description. I didn’t even bother getting into the fact that the fictitious city employee would also need to know how to knit in order to secure this particular piece. Details. Details.
The art receptions at City Hall are normally held midday ~2-4PM during the week. They are advertised through an internal listserv that is sent to city officials, meaning you will never see them in the papers. And I certainly don’t know of them to include in the Wrap-Up unless a participating artist sends me the information.
I even dedicated a separate section of my proposal outlining the necessity of an evening reception, since essentially no one can get downtown during the day. Pesky jobs and all that. I received push back on the reception because they don’t have money to pay for after-hours/overtime security which equates ~$320 total. While I don’t have discretionary income to spare, I explained I was willing to pay the security fee if that was truly the hang up behind having an evening reception.
This is a good time to mention that the City has virtually NO money allotted to promoting the Arts in Boston. And in regards to this exhibition, I think it goes without saying that myself and the artists were not receiving $ for curating, purchasing site specific installation supplies, etc. Not that I was anticipating compensation for my role, but I’d like to see us reach a point where we can pay artists stipends for their initiatives. Especially initiatives INSIDE City Hall.
I digress. I recently learned the show was scheduled for 5-7PM on Friday October 12th. I explained that this time slot might make it difficult for participating artists(for starters) to reach City Hall for the beginning, and suggested 6-8PM as an alternative. John said, “But everyone lives nearby, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get here”. I replied, “I am just thinking logistics for artists who live in Cambridge, or work out in Natick, or..” to which he said “Wait, lives out in Cambridge? That’s a problem in itself..”
Artists that show in City Hall are technically supposed to live AND work in Boston. This was a fact he was willing to overlook, but I felt uneasy about any aspect of this show being fudged. It would only come back to bite me. Apparently, Bostonian taxpaying folk in the past have been up in arms about Cambridge and Somerville artists in the space alongside Boston artists. They believe these hooligans over the river should get their own spaces and that City Hall is reserved for true blue Bostonians only. (Warning: Snark alert)My apologies for not sourcing artists solely from Southie, Dorchester and..the Financial District?, but I consider Boston and the surrounding areas to fall under the same umbrella of “local artists”. It never even crossed my mind that this curation would pose a problem. It’s as if I was sourcing New York and LA artists which was never my intention and strays from the notion of celebrating the work of artists in our own backyard. I had a great cross-section of emerging, mid-career, and established artists from communities across the area.
The actual logistics of reception night became a nightmare in itself. Attendees would have to enter from the BACK entrance of City Hall, because the front door is locked at night. No way around that. They would then head through security, removing all belts, purses, cellphones, keys, loose change, tamagotchis, glocks and the likes and placing them on an airport security conveyer belt, walk through a scanner and then proceed into the Main Hall to grab a drink after that ordeal.
(Aside, I am all about the safety of attendees. I just hoped the other aspects of the reception would go smoothly and make up for this inconvenient entrance.)
And by drink, I mean assorted Juicy Juices. There used to be a bar IN the City Hall atrium that officials would congregate at after work, but a few drunken tumbles have led to a strict no alcohol policy. Employees of the City were not permitted to even have a beer at their own Christmas party. Bottoms up.
Well at least there will be ambiance. A good friend from college who DJs events at the Corcoran, Shakespeare Theater Company, and other Arts related events in DC agreed to fly to Boston and provide background music the evening of the reception. Oh, music in City Hall? That’s a problem. Attendees have to use their indoor voices because
Dad The Mayor works late sometimes and might be disturbed in his office.
That’s fine. Back entrance. Cavity search. Sounds of silence. Prohibition. I can overlook all that as long as the art is exceptional.
You are not allowed to drill, nail, use most types of adhesives in City Hall and have to work with the pre-existing concrete structure. At one point I found a stray eye hook drilled into a surface underneath a ledge and said “Great! Does this mean we can add another one further down to secure the piece?” My wrist was essentially slapped. “I am not.allowed.to drill.” One eye hook, securing a 50′ piece that would be installed on a ledge ~20′ above visitors, does not make me feel comfortable.
I want to be in the Press because of the quality of my work, not because a Bostonian was beheaded by a 50′ tumbling solo-cup spore.
The nail in the coffin was really when I learned that the City reserves the right to pull any work for any reason at any time. I immediately had nightmare-like visions of an artist, who had worked on an approved installation for the better part of a year, could have their labor of love removed immediately at any point. For any reason. And you know how these things go, all it takes is one curmudgeon who doesn’t “get it”, and then the emails start flying. I am unwilling to take that sort of gamble with the artists who have so graciously agreed to be a part of this exhibit. The safety and security of the artists and their work remains my first priority, and the venue was just proving to be an impossible location for such an endeavor.
On top of all this, I saw and learned MUCH more than I ever needed to about how the City operates. Unfortunately, I don’t think FLUX. is an appropriate place to delve into such an exposé.
If you buy me a drink, I’ll tell you everything.
Basically, I now understand how the City views the Arts from the inside out. This coupled with my recent immersion in the whole Artists v. Military Helmet Manufacturer ordeal leads me to the conclusion that if we are waiting for the City to make some sort of top-down change with regards to the Arts..it’s not going to happen.
“Where do we go from here?” is the next logical question. I am working on organizing my stream of consciousness into a future post.
Bottom line. I was thrilled about the show. I gave it my all. I never anticipated for this to happen. I had to make a responsible decision as a curator and ensure the safety and proper exhibition of artist’s work. City Hall was just not the right place for such an exhibition.
Marchons, marchons ! ♥