Posted by pancho from ? (22.214.171.124) on Thursday, February 28, 2002 at 4:25PM :
The difficulty in San Jose is that no one has ever given the city a sculpture like this before...the Shumirum I mean.
Whereas San Francisco and Chicago, certainly, had a procedure in place for evaluating Art, San Jose works differently. As I was waiting for the art commissioners to gather, I asked one of them if their commisioners were made up of professionals in the field. he replied that they were not.
The San Francisco Arts Commission is made up of one member from each of the Art fields...there is a commissioner for sculpture, for photography for music and dance etc. In Chicago I don't think they have it set up quite the same way. But Chicago has an unparalled collection of recognized masters in the field of sculpture at least. They've been accumulating public art from the very beginning, even trumping New York because Chicago was the great Western experiment...the energetic and humping city that wanted to prove itself. It's called America's Second City, but in public statuary it is the first. Their Arts Council therefore has professional curators and a staff of highly paid experts all of them from this field of study...that's why it was so damn embarrassing to watch Nimrod tell them he was going to go above their heads and generally act like the boor he is.
In San Jose I don't know exactly how one qualifies as an Art Commissioner. It seemed to me that aside from having some background certainly, there is a heavy reliance on community support and outreach. If I heard one phrase more than any other it was "community input" and community this and community that. Nothing wrong with that at all, and it reflects the reality of San Jose, that it is going through its first rapid stage of development, certainly of cultural growth.
That means however that they have a procedure in place for installing public Ar...a procedure that doesn't as yet have a place in it for what we did...for what our own brief experience with the other two cities led us to believe would be the case in San Jose.
Even in San Francisco and Chicago there can be no final acceptance of an art project without a site already approved. In our case especially they can hardly accept a gift statue, then find they have no place to put it, or no place suitable or acceptable...as we found out in Chicago when ONE MAN said "no". So having an approved site becomes the sticking point.
The way the San Jose art commission works, I think, is that they have a pool of money from re-development grants or a one percent for the Arts or somehting. These building projects usually have a stipulation built in that a certain amount must be spent on art to beautify the location of the project...and the city has a set amount of time to spend that money.
They have a pool of artists and they select four or five or so who they think might do and ask them to suggest something for a particular site. these artists submit their proposals and the committee, together with the community as a whole and the neighborhood directly affected...choose which project gets the nod. On the whole a very sensible approach.
But...here we come with a bronze monument already made and paid for through donations from Assyrians all around the world...and all we ask them for is a piece of real estate to put it on. This is ass backwards from the way they are set up to work. The sites they have available, that they are even thinking of, already have a building project planned for them with a budget that forces the city to seek bids and ideas...or they have a specific art project initiated by the city, or by a neighborhood or ethnic group or something.
That's why they don't have any designated sites to stick something like this on. On top of that, the style and even subject matter doesn't quite fit their bill. And that presents them with another problem. Where do they put it so it doesn't clash...how do they figure out if it has any merit...I mean the San Francisco Arts Commission voted unanimously to accept the Ashurbanipal, something the director Claire Issacs said she had never seen happen in the fifteen years she was there. And it isn't as if San Francisco has unlimited space, if anything the Pacific Ocean on three sides kind of limts "sprawl". And Chicago...the city that warned me they were tough to please...gave us a most pretigious location, and they are indeed picky.
Naturally we all assumed San Jose would treat us along the same lines. It may not be that they don't care for the Shumirum as "art"...and I don't see why they would hesitate to install a representation from our culture when they have so many from their own and other cultures. If nothing else, we are also tax payers there and we have politicians and businessmen and women and judges etc...why can't we be represented...as we think best? Why offer to set up an open competition and maybe select a non-Assyrian? I don't think they mean to do anything to offend us...it's just that this is the first time, I gather, they've been confronted with something like this.
What we all realized at the meeting I attended, was that a site was the first issue to be agreed upon. But they also implied that at some point they were going to have to figure out how to evaluate this monument, artistically...and I'm not sure they feel themselves qualified...or want to be put in the position of deciding if one single piece of art is 'worthy" art. What they are set up to do and feel qualified to do is select from four or five choices, and with the input of the neighborhood etc.
Let's say they choose the ones they will get the community to help them pick ONE from. Whereas we already "chose" the artist and chose the subject matter and style and content and design and paid for the damn thing too. To ask them to merely "give" us a pice of what they say is extremely valuable property...with an implied "or else" thrown in for good measure...is NOT the way these things are done...not here...no yet, and maybe never.
Back when Jackie tried this, they had suggested a site near the kitschy Rosicrucian Museum, a sort of plaster mock up of some Egyptian temples. We aren't "Egyptian" at all...and they don't mean to offend us...but I am beginning to think, that THEY might be thinking there might not be a way to proceed without offending us...or instigating some sort of protest from whatever neighborhood they stick this monument in...and of course there is the "precedent" thing...what do they do when every other ethnic group comes looking for some piece of land to stick THEIR monuments on? They expressed just that concern...and I sympathsize, I wouldn't want to be in that position unless the city charter gave me that obligation, and I had some formal training or standing to decide what is "good" Art and what is not.
I gave them one location. in the area they told us we could look. They will go out and see if that spot is okay. I got the feeling that they're a bit concerned about giving us too prominant a spot. They also said they would look for some alternate locations.
That puts ME in a tough spot too. After getting what has to be one of the two or three best spots for a monument in San Francisco, and after Chicago took the Shumirum to heart and put us near the Oriental Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago...do we accept a site for the Sumirum that is ,perhaps, obviously less than comparable?
This will not be an easy thing...for any of us.
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