Gentrification prefers Blands Pt.2 (The Weakest Link)
November 14, 2016
“Any halfway clever devil would decorate the highway to Hell as beautiful as possible.” – Criss Jani, Healology
It has been a dizzying blur of activity at the Lair of Snarkitude lately. I cleaned out the shark pool, polished up the ol’ Giant Laser Death Ray to a mirror finish, sold some older art pieces, donated some frames to a few fellow artists, and acquainted myself with the joy of programming my newhi-tech TV, but only after setting aside the proper amount of mourning time for it’s predecessor, which finally gave up the cathode ray a week prior.
In retrospect, it’s peculiar habit of freezing whenever religiconist Joel Osteen came on should have been regarded as some sort of warning sign, but as they say- hindsight is always 20/20. A moment of respectful silence please, for a television that came in with Clerks, The Animated Series, and went solidly out with Marvel’s Agents of Shield.
By the way, if you’re going to get rid of a sixteen-year old, formerly state of the art beast as such, take a moment to reflect upon the last and only time you had to move it. Except you’re taking it off the tv stand and going down three flights of stairs this time, and you no longer have good abs, the ability to balance, or a working back, but I digress.
So after bribing a good friend with a free dinner to assist me in it’s removal, and perhaps failing to mention that said set was the reason why when things fall to the floor, I’ve been leaving them there, it was back to knocking out the blessays I’ve become notorious for, but unbeknownst to me, there were dramatic events right around the corner that would require my attention… and possibly the help of some 80’s era mercenaries.
Seriously. You can pick up the services of Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren for almost next to nothing, if you just happen to be at the right Home Depot, at just the right time.
It all started with a simple email:
From: Sophie Gabrielle,
I am writing this mail to you with tears and sorrow from my heart with due respect trust and humanity I appeal to exercise a little patience and read this mail I send to you.
After going through your profile I become interested in disclosing everything about myself to you I am Sophie Gabrielle the only daughter of late Mr and Mrs Evans Joseph Gabrielle.
Please dearest, let us reason together and have trust in God I am seeking your assistance to help me transfer my inheritance money the sum of ($6.500,000.00) (six million Five Hundred Thousand United sate dollars) United State American dollars Into your account please it is more than urgent because of my life is in danger. I am willing to compensate you for your effort after the successful transfer of my inheritance money into your account overseas and I will tell you more about myself when i receive your mail. responds me as Quickly as possible.privatemail:email@example.com
Yours in God love
Ms. Sophie Gabrielle
Wow. A grammar-challenged damsel in distress, a fortune to be had, and the opportunity for an action sequence montage, all while sporting the camouflage pants and black mesh t-shirt that I purchased at Walmart- how could any rational human being refuse? So I boarded my vintage B-29, headed straight to Lome Togo, a city once known as “the Paris of Africa”, fully determined to save the girl, reap my fortune, and dispatch the regional warlord that was threatening the peace with a witty quip and my crack team of ninja ferrets.
You know. Like you do?
Unfortunately, I did forget a few things… for instance, it’s really hard to declare thirty crates of grenades, rocket launchers, and assorted machine guns as “sport-fishing supplies” at Customs, and forget about trying to pass off the previously aforementioned ferrets as actors in a traveling road show production of “Glee”- Lome Togo as it turns out, has both a strong dislike for musical theater and overly furry actors.
Damn you, cruel fate. Damn you to New Jersey.
So, after an awkward side trip to a room outfitted with swarthy men wearing rubber gloves, I killed the time waiting to return home pounding out yet another random screed regarding the obvious problems currently affecting the ol’ PAS, that being the rapidly burgeoning over-development at a pace that would make the Flash look like he’s wading through molasses, while wearing Frankenstein boots.
Sure, there’s public art springing up faster than one can document, as well as a creatively inspired repurposed shipping container development on Grand Avenue, but the rent is as high as a house payment, but thank Odin it’s saving grace is that it’s exceedingly… um… trendy. And all this comes on the heels of even more over-priced condos being built, versus the much more desperately needed affordable live/work spaces for the artists who’ve made the area economically viable.
Speaking of which, it seems that a new ripple has been recently introduced into the waters of the PAS, and it’s kind of disturbing, even if you try to look at it with an unprejudiced eye. Turns out that this year’s Artlink Juried Exhibition had a new dance partner, and its not someone you’d expect to have the best interest of our community at heart.
Is it an arts-based political concern? Nope. Surely, it must be an organization dedicated to directly promoting the Arts and the creators of such, right? Wrong again. Well then- certainly an independent yet focused, group of art-gypsies who live their lives defined only by their artistic aesthetic practiced from the safety of a Volkswagen micro-camper have stepped up to the plate?
Sigh… it’s like you’ve never played this game before. Ok, ok…. I’ll let you all off the hook.
Artlink, our so called local arts advocacy organization, has willingly gotten in bed with a corporation who at best, somewhat resembles a sheep-skin clad wolf who’s allegorically carrying 27 different kinds of venereal gentrification disease- if I had Spidey-sense, I’m pretty sure it would be tingling like a mother*ucker by now, since six of those previously existed only in a Starbucks lavatory.
This new champion of the Arts in Downtown Phoenix comes to us via *Colorado, in the form of a development group which travels these fruited lands under the moniker of Baron Properties.
*[The capitol of which btw, is the birthplace of the cheeseburger. Neat, huh?]
I’m sorry… who exactly, again?
Well, they’re the company that razed the former 307 lounge (AKA:Greenhaus in it’s last incarnation) that contained irreplaceable murals by Ted De Grazia to make way for iLuminate, an 111 unit apartment complex, whose prices will reportedly start at $1000 for an 800 sq. foot apartment. This ugly as sin monstrosity sits right next door to The MonOrchid, and as detailed by MonOrchid’s owner Wayne Rainey, that inherent unattractiveness is allegedly more than skin deep:
“I”ve done everything in my power to be an understanding neighbor but Baron just does not care about this community or even their own future residents. They destroyed access to MonOrchid and plan on having the residents bring in the moving trucks in the alley blocking our access.
On top of that, they’ve completely destroyed our parking lot and although they are re-pouring concrete for the entire alley, they won’t pour the four parking places they destroyed. It’s been a nightmare being next to this and it looks like it’s not going to get any better. I guess the biggest disappointment is the absolute disregard for anything not in their plan. They’ve depleted any good will they would have had. They’ve actually created issues that will go on for years because of cheapskate planning.
They moved power lines across the alley – my building rather than underground them- creating a future expense for me when I want rooftop amenities. Their construction team has consistently parked in our lot and often a trailer blocks half the lot at once.”
And the response from our fair city to these complaints? Crickets… because hey- in order to create a cultural void, you gotta break a few communities, long-term damage be damned. I’ve said it before, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts I’ll be saying it again, this city is needier than a gaggle of nerds trying to score Stan Lee appearance tickets at Comi-con. If allowing yourself to be walked on till you were flatter than a sheet of paper was a skill-set, Phoenix could literally glide under a cockroach doing the limbo with room enough to spare.
And speaking of metaphorical pests, this truly infuriating little tidbit was posted on Baron’s Illuminate Projects FaceBook Page way back on July 27th: “This captivating mural created by artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia was one of two pieces featured at Green Haus Gallery in Downtown Phoenix. Before the Green Haus, this building was home to the historical 307 Lounge, known for being a safe haven for Phoenix’s LGBT community. Legend has it, DeGrazia began painting this 47-foot mural 65 years ago to pay off a bar tab at the lounge!
Though, it wasn’t possible for Baron Properties to preserve this incredible work of art and history, we were able to salvage some of the pieces which have been fabricated into the framework of iLuminate. Along with keeping the memory of DeGrazia’s artwork alive through reconstruction, iLuminate will also feature a plaque dedicated to the Phoenix LGBT community, citing the symbolism of the 307 Lounge and what that establishment has meant to this group of people.
We understand the importance of preserving the integrity of the history and art that embodies Roosevelt Row. Our hope is not to transform this notorious neighborhood, but to enhance and become a part of it.
Thank you, Downtown Phoenix, for welcoming us and allowing us to be apart of your culture!”
A comment or two regarding this oozing with hypocrisy joke of a public statement? I’d like to call attention to the fact that any negative comments left on their FaceBook page were allegedly being removed by Baron as fast as they were posted, so not only could they purportedly be regarded as unethical, one could surmise by those rumored actions that they’re also cravens too.
These carpetbaggers come in, flatten the place, erect metal monstrosities, incubate the cancer of gentrification which in turn, drives the artists out, all while completely making a mockery of their own pledge “not to transform this notorious neighborhood, but to enhance and become a part of it” and then as a closer, smugly note that this reformed landscape was somehow tarnished until they graced us with their presence? While it’s true that none of their efforts to hasten the demise of both the building and the murals contained within were illegal in any sense of the word, their conceited reference to this mostly-transformed-by-artists neighborhood as “notorious” is well… just all shades of faux-rusted cojones.
There is, if one is to believe the obvious PR slant, an upside- according to *Scott Fisher, the principal for the project, the new development will have “space” for local art and “historic” pictures of Roosevelt Row, as well as displaying the brand new and already installed Lauren Lee mural [which is incredible] to replace the previous one that was destroyed in tandem when the building was demolished.
Yep… nothing says “we’re part of a community” like an inset plaque and some historically random sepia-toned photographs depicting what was once a uniquely vital area before it was demolished, bulldozed flat, and had insipid cookie cutter aesthetics erected over it’s corpse.
Granted, I’m being cynical as usual, but if I may, I’d like to call attention to a duo of critical, yet oddly unnoticed points. First: what is “space” as defined by Mr. Fisher? Is it the size of a standard room? A hallway where you can hang three of four pieces? A bathroom behind the maintenance corridor? Specifics trump vagaries, and I’m all about the details. Second; where the new exterior mural is concerned, Baron didn’t seem too interested in providing a wall until the public outcry demanded it, so forgive me if I’m taking their 5k “Baron Prize” at this years Artink Juried Exhibition as nothing more than a disingenuous PR stunt to curry favor among the creative class it’s so far successfully exploiting.
As a long time local business owner and Creative, Wayne Rainey wasn’t content with taking his ongoing problems with Baron sitting down- in fact, he took them on headfirst via this years Exhibition, submitting a work depicting in one vivid image the impact of Baron’s influence.
As described by Lynn Trimble of the Phoenix New Times in her *review of the Exhibition: ” Titled Illumination, it’s a nighttime capture of construction debris from the properties destroyed in March 2015 to make way for iLuminate, which is one of two Baron Properties multi-level housing developments currently under construction at the intersection of Roosevelt and Third streets, iLuminate sits adjacent to monOrchid, Rainey’s arts and events space.
Rainey’s intention with the piece is clear. He’s voiced strong criticism of Baron Properties through social media, and expressed his concern that artists who partner with Baron Properties or other developers who demolish beloved buildings are taking part in the demise of their own arts community.
Within hours of Artlink wrapping up its single-day exhibition, Rainey posted comments on his Facebook page that included the following, and he’s posted additional comments since: “Well that was an interesting night. It had all the components of a good drama with no casualties except perhaps an arts district. If only there were an organization present, that promoted the arts and artists, that could have stood erect and told Baron Properties that we are not the cheap sluts you take us for and what you’re trying to buy is not for sale.”
After Baron Properties demolished a building bearing Lauren Lee’s Three Birds mural to make way for iLuminate, it commissioned Lee to create mural-inspired panels collectively called Three Birds in Flight, which they’ve already mounted on iLuminate’s west-facing façade.
Rainey also called out Artlink in his post on exhibition night, writing, “ArtLink is dead. It died the minute it wed the Dev that tore into our heart.” For Rainey, art took the form of activism. And activism took the form of art.
His Illuminated is a clarion call from an arts district in distress. And its presence in this show shifts the entire exhibition from showcase of Arizona talent to conversation-starter about the relationship of art and commercial interests.”
I literally couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, I didn’t- so nice work, Lynn. Kudos.
However, the drama swirling around Artlink’s decision to ally itself with a developer who’s best interests do not even remotely mirror our own was just starting to pick up speed, aided equally by Rainey’s decision to resign from the organization directly after the event, and Artlink’s amazingly tone-deaf *response to his departure and Lynn Trimble’s PNT article.
As it reads, Artlink structures the non-named Rainey’s discontent as nothing more than the sour grapes of an artist whose work wasn’t selected for award or purchase, a slant that in the eyes of many of my fellow colleagues who talked with me at this years Chaos Theory, was not to be found contained in the article itself, or even within Rainey’s comments online- an outlook that according to those whom find Rainey to be a divisive figure in the PAS, is just flat wrong.
And they’ll inform you of this POV… repeatedly. Half of the time, you don’t even have to ask, truth be told. Regardless of other peoples experiences, I’ve never had any sort of issue with my fellow name-sake, but that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here. If I ate a Ding-Dong for every clash between fact and the concept of ego in regards to the PAS, I’d be in a diabetic sugar coma so deep that I’d need dwarves and a sassy singing princess to wake me up.
And when one considers that the majority of Disney heroines are typically drawn as being between the ages of 13 to 17, it’s going to be quite a long time before somebody shows up who’s truly age-appropriate to rescue me without my having to be registered on a special list afterwards.
Getting back on track, even from an outside scrutiny, Artlink’s statement still comes off as a painfully evident attempt at diverting the focus as to why they and Baron were metaphorically oiling the spawn-hammer in the first place. Put it this way- I’ll stand with those I don’t like, and make limited deals with the Devil, but only whereas the end rewards are concerned- and Baron’s goals are nowhere near in line with where the PAS needs to be as an arts presence ten years from now.
To further clarify my POV, I’m also not suggesting for a second that our artists should be passing up any of the crumbs that Baron is condescendingly tossing our way either- as a mercenary capitalist, it would be duplicitous of me to do so, as I’m all about getting my bills paid in the end. You can’t create if you’re living in what used to be a refrigerator box kids, and careers are fueled by money, whether you like it or not.
What I would add as a snarky disclaimer of sorts is to state that eventually, the offal will stop falling off the table, so stock up while you can, kids- winter is coming, and it’s way closer than you think.
This particular state of being has been partially aided by the curveball Baron threw whilst I was writing this, the latest lyrically salient ode to the clusterf**k that the PAS has become. In yet another obvious PR stunt designed to soothe it’s detractors, Baron has decided to launch the following community outreach, located at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2016/10/14/phoenix-roosevelt-row-residents-get-rebates-buying-local-art/92059190/]
For those of you who hate reading, I’ll give you some edited context:
“Baron Properties and the non-profit Artlink announced Friday a voucher program that will allow residents to purchase art pieces and receive a discount on their rent in return. The organizations said the initiative aims to connect new downtown Phoenix dwellers to the surrounding arts community, and is unprecedented as far as they know.
The reimbursements will start at $250 but could be more based on availability, said Liz Schloss, president of operations for Baron Properties.
Incoming residents who use the art vouchers can find a list of participating artists, galleries and art spaces at artlinkphoenix.com. Options include Roosevelt Row spaces like Eye Lounge and Phoenix Center for the Arts. Tenants will have 60 days from move in to redeem the voucher with a receipt of their purchases, according to the press release. In addition to the vouchers, Baron Properties also sponsored its first “Baron Grand Prize” for a painting that will be installed in iLuminate. Artlink facilitated the competition.
Both Linear and iLuminate feature pieces from local artists, Schloss said. “We did not purchase anything from a store,” she said.””
On the surface, this all sounds f**king great- the artists get to make a few bucks, boost their career development, and hopefully acquire solid long-term patrons, all while the new incoming residents are exposed to the amazing talent and vitality that constitutes the PAS- now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya in praise of our new Artopia, while slamming down a Coke in the old-school bottle.
And as soon as we’re done with our syrupy melodics, I’m going to take that bottle, smash it up against the nearest faux-rusted wall I can find, and use it’s jagged edges to shred this idealistically saccharine vision to dripping atoms of irrelevance. Now, I do know what you’re thinking, and to a point, you’d be correct. It’s kind of dickish to look a gift-whore in the mouth, even if their intentions are (in my pov) obviously and sincerely suspect.
But in my limited defense, I’d also opine that the people who are celebrating this on-the-surface-only “gift” are failing miserably to see the endgame, and are willfully ignorant of what the true cost will be in the end, and that would be the end of our scene itself. Why would I say this? It stems from how the deal is structured, and how fallout from those carefully crafted words will hurt us as a whole.
“This program reflects Baron’s and Artlink’s mutual vision of connecting artists, businesses and the public.New Baron residents will visit the Articipant Directory on artlinkphx.org to find Visual Artists, Galleries, and Art Spaces where they can purchase artwork.
Following the purchase from these directory categories, Baron Properties will provide residents with a rent reimbursement. This leasing incentive is available to all new residents of iLuminate and Linear, with an expiration period of sixty days from the date of move in. Art & Home will be accessible for a limited time and the value of these art vouchers may vary based on availability.”
I’m assuming most of you see the first concern immediately- if you’re not affiliated with Artlink via paid dues or a member gallery, then you as an artist can go pound sand. The second being that this “mutual vision of connecting artists, businesses and the public ” comes with a vaguely and as yet undetermined time limit and availability.
Can anyone at Artlink please explain why they think this will help us in the long run past a few immediate sales, and some exceedingly limited exposure? When one takes into account the marketing demographic, the overpriced range of these hipster quarters, and the (presumably short) time-frame of the “rebate” that Baron is offering, can anyone accurately predict a boost past the razor-thin margin we already possess?
Here’s some personal insight- for the last 23 years, my day gig has been custom framing, a trade that varies wildly depending on how the economy goes. If things are good, people buy new art to replace what no longer fits their life, and if things are bad, they tend to freshen up what they already own, as a means to add a metaphorical breath of air. I once read an industry study that claimed the average person changes their decor every 10-12 years, depending on a slew of various factors- age, financial status, and most importantly- the size of their residence.
Older (IE: retired) people tend to buy less art, as they are usually engaging in a period of downsizing and simplifying, younger people lean (as you’d expect) towards buying more, as they start out on their life-journey. Pretty much what you’d anticipate seeing overall in regards to such a study.
As someone who’s had an intimate perspective on both sides of the industry fence for the last two decades, I’d ascribe to this theory, but propose a counter-question: what happens if you’re just making a lateral move? Unless you’re starting from scratch (highly unlikely given the rent) the odds are pretty solid that you’re already fully stocked up with all the artsy accoutrements, and at best, the thought of buying art isn’t going to be ranking high on your “to-do” list.
If one were to affix an addendum to my query, how wide could the spectrum of potential patrons possibly be? Who exactly, is Baron and Artlink marketing to?
College students don’t have the cash, there’s nothing to attract families, older professionals are going to leave after having to deal with the crowds, inconvenience, and inherent aggravation of First Fridays, and when given Artlink’s restrictions in regards to participating artists and galleries, along with the vague time-frame pertaining to the rebates end, I’m fairly secure in my conviction that this latest attempt by Artlink to appear proactive can be summed up thusly as: “but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Not to mention as the virus of gentrification spreads, driving out both artists and galleries, the marketing of a rapidly disappearing art scene will require a level of ad agency creativity not seen since Frito-Lay introduced it’s “Cheeto Lip Balm” in 2005.
Seriously. It was a real product… Google it if you don’t believe me. Earlier, I noted Artlink and Baron Development’s prior collaboration, the Annual Juried Exhibition, which featured not only a 5K grand prize, but the opportunity to have ones work purchased by Baron for it’s permanent collection, which in my POV, is akin to not only getting in bed with the Devil, but taking some time out in between sessions to decorate his boudoir as well. This year’s “aren’t we amazing” back-slapping farce was staged at the Heard Museum, a venue that according to it’s website (http://heard.org/) is:
“Dedicated to the sensitive and accurate portrayal of Native arts and cultures, the Heard is an institution that successfully combines the stories of American Indian people from a personal perspective with the beauty of art.”
And while the Heard’s staff performs their chartered duty within this description flawlessly, it has as much to do with the PAS as Donald Trump has to do with the modern feminist movement. Speaking as such an outsider, the Phoenix Art Museum would be a more logical choice in regards to hosting Artlink’s showcase, but that’s just my opinion. Sure, common sense agrees with me 100%, but let’s face it- he’s been getting the stuffing pounded out of him during this election cycle, so that just might be the concussions talking.
Or the Kit-Kats. He’s got some serious chocolate addiction issues.
By way of disclaimer, I boycotted this year’s event out of principle, as I felt it would be exceedingly hypocritical to associate with people whom I’ve spent a good part of my energy opposing as of late, even if it’s only to socialize on the most superficial level, the word “superficial” being the truly relevant and I might add, pertinent description here. Various sources have alleged that the three hour extravaganza showcased nothing truly save the multiple ways that certain not-to-be-named members of Artlink’s board could lick the boots of Baron Development.
However, as I’ve already stated, I wasn’t there to directly observe, and I have heard numerous renditions of the evenings events, so take these rumors as you would any that fell into your lap. If I really wanted to split hairs , I could also call attention to the Chinese whispers that the show had to be broken down immediately after it ended, which from an artists’ POV, is not only a huge pain in the ass, but in principle (and I might add, class) more akin to an event held at a VFW hall.
Possibly even more troubling to this collaborative effort, was the angle that Lynn Trimble noted in her PNT article, that being: “Instead of being inspired to create cutting-edge works, it seems that most of the selected artists played it safe, which isn’t necessarily surprising. If you’re submitting a work of art to a panel, it’s because you want it to be chosen. Of course, there’s no shame in artists wanting to be paid for their work. But it’s hard to decipher how financial opportunity might — or might not — dampen creative impulses.”
Now since I didn’t attend the show, I’m not going to say anything decisive about the art itself, nor will I criticize any of the artists who were vying for what was a pretty good chunk of money at the time, as it would be exceedingly hypocritical of me to do so- I’ve taken plenty of money from demagogues in order to pay my rent, and I’ve never felt sorry for doing it. I’ve always believed that if it ever turned out to be a massive amount of cash, I’d have enough left over to buy self-esteem therapy, and a whole new slew of better-looking friends.
Now, while I’ll give the Artists a hall-pass of sorts regarding their contributive efforts to the Juried Exhibition, simply dismissing the actions of Artlink to the same as an uncomplicated example of “the end justifies the means” feels particularly uneasy, especially where the metaphorical greased weasel tango with Baron is to be noted. Simply put, Baron is a concern whose possibly corrosive influence could theoretically lead to the destruction of the vitally collaborative scene that Artlink believes it speaks for as a whole.
But the nagging question remains: how do you benefit an Art scene by allying with the architects of it’s potential destruction? With each new development, rents rise, more speculators pour in, even more sell their lots to the vultures, and in the end, the artists will leave, replaced by corporate insipidness. Is it wrong to ask the follow-up question that if one can’t afford to live in an area, how will they afford to create work there too? This budding situation alone gave rise to the valid query I’ve been asked a lot in the last few weeks, that being: what does Artlink DO, exactly?
It may come as a shock, but I’ve never written anything previously about Artlink, which surprises most people, given my reputation for taking on what I perceive to be roadblocks to progress for the PAS, but to be fair, I’ve never considered them anything but yet another group of overly passionate 602 cheerleaders- not that there’s anything wrong with that. Other than attending a few meetings out of curiosity, or knowing a few people on the board over the years, my interaction with them as an entity has been somewhat intermittent at best, and until now, they’ve basically remained under my radar.
But if I were to speak frankly, they’ve never struck me as an organization that’s got it’s act entirely together- a pessimistic judgment which varies depending on who’s serving on the board at that particular moment, and one that’s kept me from getting more involved, to be brutally honest. And to roughly paraphrase Groucho Marx, I generally wouldn’t trust any group that might begrudgingly have me as a member, given my proclivity for rubbing people the wrong way with minimal effort.
The organization since it’s inception has always been an all-volunteer affair, and the devotion for the cause that being a board-member requires is stunning, as one former President recently confided to me: “it’s essentially another job, 45- 60 hours a week as a rule, and it gets to be exhausting after a while“. Such involvement requires both ardor and fortitude, which as an Artist, I not only “get”, I also honestly respect. Art warrior is a hard road to slog, and in no way would I slander the people who pick up the palette and run with it.
But having dispensed with that sincere piece of praise, I’m also prone to being a cynic of vast and highly acidic proportion, and I’m painfully aware that particular tidbit doesn’t come as a shock to anyone. I’ve been in the PAS since 1991, and while Roosevelt was named a while back as one of the “Top Ten Arts Districts in the US”, our art “scene” is still only open essentially two nights a month, unlike many of our contemporaries. For the sake of our collective sanity, I’m not going to go too
in-depth on this particular tangent, due to my covering it almost endlessly over the last six years, but shouldn’t we be much more established and financially secure by now after so many years of work, whether that’s through individual acts or the backing of a dedicated arts organization?
Granted, Artlink is responsible for the yearly showcase of Art Detour, along with it’s newer and so far, occasionally uneven stepsister, the Artists Ball, which infamously one year, lacked both actual art or attendees which had anything to do with the art scene. To quote a colleague who was chatting with me and my companion at the time: “Between you, me and her, there’s over 45 years of scene knowledge standing here… do you recognize anybody?”
While my answer was a steely “um, nope“, it was a salve of sorts to know that if a bomb had been dropped on the happening that year, it would have rid the greater Southwest of worthless hipsters and a large demographic of AXE body-spray users. A 50/50 deal in regards to winning and losing, I would gleefully surmise. This kids, is not the sign of an organization that’s gonna be bringing home a lot of trophies, if you catch my drift- just something for all of you to chew on, and for me to expect voluminous hate mail regarding.
In fact, due to the cozying up with Baron Properties, Wayne Rainey resigned from the organization after attending this years event at the Heard, which in my humble opinion, was a pure “art gangsta” mic drop, considering he’s been involved with them for almost as long as he’s owned MonOrchid.
See, I’m all about the end game, and so far, all relevant data points to the fact that we’re about to get screwed like Ned Beatty in Deliverance by an entity that currently treats our artistic community as if we’re their Thursday Girl, for the cynical grace of a few measly and wholly condescending crumbs.
Artists aren’t curiosities in a side show to be paraded out so certain people can pat themselves on the back for “supporting culture”- they’re the entire reason these carpet bagging slugs came here from cities where snarky pretension is almost an Olympic sport, and they shouldn’t be allowed to destroy what’s been built just because we’re having some minor codependency issues.
And while I may not know much, I do know that Artlink has done itself no favors as of late, given the litmus test of this years intimate conversations at Chaos Theory. My takeaway was that a fairly large portion of the PAS wants somebody’s head on a pike [metaphorically, of course] for reasons that are both valid and counterfeit. The legitimate issues I’m currently dissecting, with yet one more to be thrown into this mix of snarkiness, and the bogus… well, If I was hard-pressed to be somewhat diplomatic, I’d describe them as nothing more than a feud between ego and futility.
Long story short: haters gonna hate, no matter if it’s justified or not.
I myself have been guilty of this attitude, as I was informed not too long ago by a current Artlink board member who took valid offense to my casually labeling the board as “a bunch of suits”, a flippant comment I did have the luxury of defending via a rather directed [yet pleasant] dialogue regarding the same. In retrospect, I should have been more clear on the topic of the board’s makeup, since as of now, out of 11 members, only two are Creatives. I’d have been better served if I had stated my belief that I think Artlink should be akin to an artsy version of the supreme court- half should be artists, half should be business professionals, and there should be a lone additional member who’s a quasi-mix of the two, who sets the last word in contracted debates.
While that chat went well, one of Artlink’s long-standing weaknesses is it’s inability to attract artists to serve as board members, a state of discordance fueled by the vast sense of suspicion it retains among a certain percentage of the artistic community. I’ve always been prone to dismissively ascribe this judgment to petty ax-grinding at best, but the explanation as to why this perception holds may be far more simple. In regards to some of these cases, complaints range from lack of communication to the more disturbingly insidious issue of being outright ignored in relation to marketing and promotional opportunities, such as being left off of maps and trolley stops.
Such a viewpoint hails from a downtown Phoenix gallery owner who asked for anonymity due to business and social concerns: “I think the lack of consistency with Artlink is an issue. Changing detour dates, w/ trolley routes that do not visit “paid” articipant stops, and visiting destinations that have had no galleries or studios – devastated businesses showing local art at detour. It’s not geared toward galleries or who is showing or the caliber of art…it’s who you are friends with. So if you don’t play in the same playgrounds- oh well. As to what Artlink has done for my business – they run the trolley on first Friday…That’s it.
Pug – the urban guide isn’t the most user friendly…and does anyone see it? Their marketing efforts are pretty much non existent that I can see. Dots on the street? Really? How do we get people to the dots? No one has EVER called to ask how they can improve or help my business. Never.
And I can’t always go sit at those meetings to hear what “they” are doing – with no inquiry as to what they should be doing…”
In addition to the above take on things, there’s this summary from yet another disaffected gallery owner who also wishes to remain anonymous*, due to the fear of professional reprisal:
*[See, there’s that “trust” thing I mentioned earlier.]
Anon: I think my issues are the same as yours. The whole art detour flop, failure, etc. but please don’t drop my name on anything. I want to be a silent witness to these atrocities to the Phoenix arts community.
AB: Well, i can use you as an anonymous source- without people giving me their issues, its just me going at them alone, and this time i need specifics and shadow allies.
Anon: “Anonymous is good. Great in fact. Ok. Most of this crap is Katrina, as you already know. She used Artlink as a platform for that stupid park thing [the Artists Ball] and then had the Gala there. I was called a month before Art Detour and asked to sign up and pay for my share of promotional materials.
However, all of the Art Detour stuff like flyers, posters, postcards, etc, should have been done 2 to 3 months before Detour, not one month before. So, at that time, I did not give any money to Artlink- however, a couple of weeks later [two weeks before Detour to be exact] I did cave in, gave them the money and there was still no flyers, no posters, no signage. No anything.
So the MORNING of Detour, we get signage, not even posters- we get signage and I think it was some maps, but I personally got nothing at all, which is fine because who the hell cares at that point, right? Personally, I think Katrina doesn’t really care about the arts in Phoenix at all- she has really nothing to do with Art, she doesn’t walk around during the First Friday events, and for my part, I’ve never seen her out looking at art.*
*[In Katrina’s defense, I have seen her at shows, but her range of effectiveness appears limited- AB]
I just don’t really understand why Katrina is a part of Artlink she just doesn’t seem to have it together for this kind of a non-profit, and I’m not sure exactly what she does besides her downtown journal garbage and who the hell cares about that? I don’t, and I’m sure a lot of other people don’t, as it has nothing to do with art.
I believe the name of Artlink is the only thing she really has to stand behind. I think you’re doing a great thing, and that Artlink not only needs to be reconfigured, it needs to have a new president- somebody who actually cares not only about the art in Phoenix, but the artists as well. They need the support that they thought they were actually getting from Artlink.
But in my opinion, Artlink does nothing for the artists themselves.”
Given the experiences above, a reliable bridge of discourse that exists between the PAS and Artlink seems to be non-existent, which may be why there’s an “Artist Mixer” coming up this week at The Grand on Central, or it may be just another form of damage control, as the skeptic in me dryly suggests, since I can’t recall them ever hosting one before. Personally, I’m hoping that it is indeed an outreach towards the greater good, but like most dubious tales that are put forth, both time and it’s lasting effect will tell in the end.
Hoping for some transparency, I reached out to Catrina Kahler, Artlink’s current president. Granted, it was right after I had posted on FaceBook that I was “going after” Artlink, so with hindsight, some skittishness was to be expected, but I was also reasonably convinced that my penchant for being skin-shreddingly honest would help soothe any concerns be they real or imagined.
Remind me when all of this is over to fire my Sense of Optimism… he’s really not pulling his weight.
Some background on Mrs. Kahler: she’s the publisher of the Downtown Phoenix Journal, Host of RadiatePHX, and owner of Urban Affair, a marketing and media company, and has served on the Artlink board since December 2011. She’s also allegedly managed to make Artlink financially solvent, which just supports my theory that voodoo actually does work, provided you sacrifice enough art-students.
Or hipsters… I’m not really sure how it works.
But enough with the metaphysical aspects of art advocacy, let’s get right down to the brass tacks, those being some personal observations from past [and I might add, current] Artlink board members in reference to her management style. Catrina, it has been said, tends to play her cards close to her vest, which sometimes has lead to a tangible sense of inter-personal annoyance among her colleagues. The word “OCD” came up more than once, followed very closely by the grumble that she’s perceived to be the whole of Artlink itself, as a generalization.
As one past member confided: “It’s not that I have an Ego, but it would be nice to be publically recognized for what I’ve done, every now and then, especially when there’s an issue within the community- *why the f*** don’t those people ever come to the board itself?”
*[See: “lack of trust”, see: “ax to grind”, see: “everybody goes to the big cheese.”]
So, with all that in mind, I present for your perusal the email correspondence.
AB: “Catrina- I’m working on the new piece now, if you’d like to have a statement to be added into it (non edited of course) it would be great if you could get it to me ASAP.
I’m mainly interested in the recent association with Baron, especially given their problems settling into their community as well as understanding their long-term plans with artlink in regards to promoting the Arts.
If youd rather do a face to face, my evenings are open, but right now my email is literally blowing up over this to the tune of 100+ messages, so id like to hear from the source itself, rather than others whose opinions might, (to be diplomatic) somewhat biased.
Let me know at your convenience of course, and i wish you a good night.
Best regards, WMR”
Catrina Kahler: “Hi Wayne, Thanks for the offer but the board already shared a statement about the Juried Exhibition and the relationship with Baron. It’s posted here: https://artlinkphoenix.com/a-statement-on-the-juried-exhibition/
AB: “Catrina- I’m sorry to hear that, as the official statement reads like a deflection of the actual issue at hand, but thats for the readers and the community to decide, I guess.
On a more personal note and as a member of the arts scene since 1991, I find Artlinks decision to ally themselves with a group undermining us both saddening and ethically disapointing.
But even more sorrowful… not unexpected.
Thank you for your courteous and prompt reply, and in closing, I offer this heartfelt observation:
I hope you know whom you’ve decided to do business with, because if you dont, they’ll show their true selves when Artlink no longer serves their purpose- and I, the eternal skinflint, am willing to put my money that’ll be sooner than later.
Best of luck in future endeavors,
Wayne Michael Reich”
Catrina Kahler: “Wayne, do you mind if I ask you something? Personally and sincerely, I have to ask, why are you choosing to act so forcefully?
I respect your history and intelligence. I’m trying to understand why you feel the need to be strongly opinionated about something that you know is extremely challenging and complicated.
Can you imagine for a moment that there are good intentions involved in the here and now? And there are at least some good fruits as a result of this work?”
AB: ” Catrina- Because I’ve seen first hand what these people are doing, and I see the end game. When the walls are full, and the permanent collection is full, and the building is done and finished, what need or use do they have for us?
They will build, and they will leave. And like an ex-boyfriend, they’re not going to help us in the future. What’s left behind will be an area where artists can’t afford to live, work, or maintain a gallery space. In other words- no cohesive community, no artists, no scene, no center of culture.
The interaction with MonOrchid is a perfect example of how they view us and the community. Referring to us as notorious, white feeding off of what has been built here by people who actually give a damn. And as an aside, where do you think the artists are going to go?
The warehouse district is being decimated by developers, and there are very few pockets left where artists can afford to take root and grow out. The scene is already fractured enough and not under any kind of umbrella of leadership- we’re open two nights a month, that doesn’t really strike me as a successfully built or well maintained artistic juggernaut.
I said it before, and I will say it again- these people are not our friends, and they don’t have our best interest at heart in any way, shape, or form. They’re looking out for their pocket book, and all we are is a marketing / PR opportunity to them.
One example: A fellow artist had taken it upon himself a few weeks ago to show one of the people from the circles development first Friday and the artistic Community. He blurted out to me that he had no idea that this was even here, and that it was quote unquote an interesting facet of our city. But he expressed no interest in becoming one with it, or supporting it.
These developers are looking at the bottom line, they don’t give a rat’s ass about our cafes / art galleries / restaurants / Arts scene. They see a marketing opportunity and that is it. When they are done sucking us dry, they will go back to Colorado or move on to the next city like a gaggle of locusts.
Artlink will come to regret this decision, mark my words, and if I wasn’t 100% sure of that, I wouldn’t be doing the piece that I’m currently writing now. As a means of clarification, I would strongly suggest you sit down with Wayne Rainey and have a chat about what they’ve been doing.
I think he’d be more than willing to share with you his personal first-hand experiences.
Respectfully, WMR ”
Catrina Kahler: “Wayne, thanks for sharing this thoughtful reply. I’m giving it some serious thought of my own. Our respective causes may be more aligned than we think. I’m on my phone which makes for crappy replies. I would like to follow up with you later if you don’t mind. I realize you’re on a deadline but this is personal so I don’t expect it to play a role in your timeline.
AB: : “I’m down for a meet up if you’re interested, timelines can be pushed back, you know.
Hoping to drop the piece by the end of this week. WMR”
Catrina Kahler: “ Hi Wayne, I apologize for this delay, especially after I told you I would follow up yesterday afternoon. My schedule got jammed up and I’m just coming up for air. It sounds like we’re kind of on two paths here. I’m talking with you from a personal perspective, and then hearing you’re posting on Facebook that you’re gearing up to go after Artlink. I don’t remember the quotes people are observing but it sounds kind of…bad.
I believe you’re coming from a place of real concern. But it’s probably not a smart idea for me to meet with you as I would want to have an open and honest discussion.
I believe we would even find points of agreement. In fact, based on your email below, I know we would. But I realize I don’t know you well enough to know whether or not I could trust opening up to you without that conversation becoming fodder for your blog…as it gears up to go after Artlink, an organization I care a lot about.*
* [A small personal note? While these screeds are ultimately my responsibility, they aren’t a true solo effort- scores of people within the community offer up story ideas, and more to the point, they give me the inside track that fuel my literary efforts. That particular relationship is based solely on trust. If you tend to throw people under the bus, they’ll eventually refuse to hang out with you at the local bus-stop, you know. Self-preservation and all that. So not too surprisingly, I tend to find the above assumption to be particularly insulting.]
The Artlink board works very hard on behalf of artists. I know this to be a fact. I’ve literally had to suspend investing my time on my own work so that the organization gets the support it needs, much like other members of the arts community have had to do from time to time, as they work on their work/projects/organizations. So it’s been challenging for me and others to hear so many things being said that are just not true.
As I mentioned in an earlier email, there is a here and now element at play. No one is denying the challenges of what’s taken place to date. And if what you say is true, and they up and leave in the future, a question remains. What about the now? If they truly are fly-by-night, then let’s make sure they spend their money with artists while they’re here – and not a Pottery Barn, IKEA or some commercial design company. We are working diligently to insert arts into current conversations with the intent to benefit artists. We can’t regret trying.
Please consider coming down from that 100%? I’m sure I’m an idiot for quoting Shakespeare to someone of your intellect, but this is honestly the line that comes to mind: “There are more things in heaven and earth…Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Thanks for listening. And for your patience with this reply.
AB: “One more… This is what happens when they (developers) get a grip: “High end apartments”= unobtainable rents for artists.
If you come to Chaos and see me, walk over and let me plead my case for a sit down interview. And if that gambit fails, remember im always carrying rum, so at the very least, I can spike your drink.
Catrina Kahler: “Sorry thought I had replied to this… I wanted to thank you. For the offer of rum, that is. Will keep that in mind.”
Her follow up after running into me at 9 Gallery, the night of Chaos Theory:
“I’m curious about something. You took me by surprise on Friday when you said you wanted to meet for three minutes. I didn’t mean to walk away as you were saying it. We were on the clock, trying to get to Art Haus before 10p. What is the three minutes for exactly? Previously, you had said you had wanted to meet, which I took to mean a full conversation in representation of Artlink. Given the request for three minutes, it sounds like you might have something specific you wanted to share with me. I’m not looking to cut off communication with anyone so is there is something you want to share or did I misunderstand?”
AB: “Metaphorical three minutes- if you want to chat, I’m open.”
Catrina Kahler: “Ah, ok. Thank you.”
And with that, the flow of conversation was over, such as it was. A few days later, the “rebate” press release was issued, and here we are now… up to our necks in an allegorical and literal desert, drinking overpriced coffee as absolutely nothing financially relevant happens.
One could easily make the argument that taking Baron’s money is the smart thing to do, in that it will inspire other corporations to do the same, but with all honest cynicism, why would they? We’re a limited resource with a rapidly approaching “sell-by” date, and once they’ve built their monoliths, they’ll have no use for us, period. All the PAS represents to them is a marketing gimmick- an exploitable opportunity to be discarded when they’ve hollowed us out like a chocolate Easter bunny.
While some might think I’m being harsh regarding this partnership, I’d still uphold the position that a bad deal is a bad deal, no matter how hard the spin on the rationalization that it isn’t. Artlink has become a keen facet of this gentrification diamond, and they’re willingly naive if they believe that a long-standing stability will come of this. We’ve read the book, seen the movie, and know how the sequel turns out- these people may not be our mortal enemies, but they are definitely not our friends, and we need to stop currying their favor over curing the cancer they’ve already spread.
Granted, one bad deal does not a pattern make, but that’s the beauty of the PAS- it keeps offering up a never-ending cornucopia of snark-bait, which when given enough time to ferment, evolves into a story worth tackling, as is the case here. I’ve already dissected one allegedly bad business deal, and I’m about to add another art-frog to the pile, that being the grey bloated carcass of consumerism gone awry, a development also known as CityScape.
I’ve written about my dislike regarding this triumph of concrete over good community before, but this time my contempt goes past simple aesthetics, and instead focuses on yet another artists as fodder collaboration backed by you know who… AGAIN. Besides… I have a collection of all new jokes about CityScape in the next part of this blog, and I don’t want to waste them, so let’s get chomping on the newest bad call.
It comes in the form of an open Artists Call, a request for public art at the aforementioned Cityscape:
From the call: “Artlink and CityScape invite local artists to submit samples of previously completed work to be considered for display on a structure that is a part of CitySkate in downtown Phoenix. A panel will select the top SIX selections.
Each winner will receive a $200 prize. Their works will then be reproduced on banner material and displayed on a chiller structure (two 40’ banners, three artworks on each) within CitySkate and featured in CityScape promotions.
There is NO SUBMISSION FEE for this call. The deadline to submit is November 7, 2016.
A variety of contemporary street art styles are welcome for submission. Artists are encouraged to submit works that reflect a holiday theme. This can include images of generosity, gratitude, hope, celebration, or joy.
Individual artists are invited to apply to this call. Please note that by submitting to this call, artist agrees to permit Artlink and CityScape to reproduce the image of their selected work. Limited edition items may be sold for a limited time (selected artists will be notified of details).”
Now, let’s have a quiz- what exactly are the problems within this open call?
Go ahead… I’ll give you thirty seconds.
[Hums “Jeopardy” Theme…]
Did you guess it? Ok, some of you did, some of you didn’t, and that’s fine. For those who didn’t, let me use my freshly sharpened claws to help turn this art-speak pot roast into a finely shredded and exceedingly yummy snarkchanga- it’s like a chimichanga, but with a fairly tart pickle sauce in place of the red. Trust me, it’s delicious.
The first issue: the amount of the so-called “prize”- 200 bucks. A pittance, given this small, yet critical factoid: the developer of CityScape is also the driving force behind the new high-rise residential and commercial project in downtown Phoenix that will include a Frys grocery store. While the potential jokes that should be made regarding merging living quarters and a place where one buys Diet Coke are laid out like a banquet table, I’ll pass up the chance… for now.
What’s truly interesting about this faux benefactor of the arts is this: recently, the Phoenix City Council approved $18.3 million in incentives to the project, overseen by a company known as Red Development. Let this sink in for a moment- an 18.3 MILLION benefit, and they’re going to throw in $1200.00 split six ways as a “prize”? How noble of them, the cash-strapped babies. Part of me wants to give them a bowl of soup, and the remainder wants to dump it over their custom-made suits.
I spend way more than that in monthly art supplies, so this insolent trifle cuts zero ice with me, and I might add, any Artist who knows anything about the true cost of producing work.
The second matter is one that I actually find more troubling, as it concerns the most valuable thing an artist owns: the rights to reproduce their labors. Once again, from the call: “Please note that by submitting to this call, artist agrees to permit Artlink and CityScape to reproduce the image of their selected work. Limited edition items may be sold for a limited time (selected artists will be notified of details).”
From an outside impression, it appears that submitted works are open to being published just as well as the chosen winners, which I’ll conclude is just a case of literary confusion. While there is mention of selected artists being notified of the “details”, there’s no publically posted guidelines regarding as to how the proceeds will be dispersed among the artists from sales of the limited editions, if at all, and I find that odd.
Seriously… if you’re going to split profits, shouldn’t that minutiae be right up front?
But what truly strikes strange is the fact that Artlink apparently sees nothing wrong with backing what is essentially yet another situation of a gentrifying corporation exploiting artists. They’ll be using the artists efforts widely in their advertising without paying the standard fee for doing so, and I’ll bet you a warehouse full of eggnog-flavored Ding Dongs that the phrase “it’s good exposure” will be tossed at the artists like heads at a zombie skee-ball contest… which, boys and girls, is pure and unadulterated bulls**t of the highest caliber.
And yes, I said it. Egg-nog-flavored Ding Dongs. An Artbitch can dream. Even in Trumps America.
I don’t know who vetted this arrangement as a good thing, but they obviously weren’t an artist, and they clearly weren’t skilled at business, if this deal struck them as fair, professional, and dare I say it, an opportunity to show off our best and brightest. No truly serious career-minded artist is going to scrape for 200 bucks when other art centers actually try to get the best deal for their talent.
But wait… was that a scream through the pixilated world I just heard? A blood-curdling harpy-shriek of rage in regards to my seemingly offering no solutions?
C’mon… have I ever let you down in telling you what needs to be done? No. And I’m not going to start now. First off, I think that Artlink needs to do a few [in my pov] simple tweaks to it’s internal structure, and I’ll rattle them off as they hit me.
To start, there is a definitive need to facilitate a stable source of funding so that the organization can have a full time, five days a week, dedicated staff and more importantly- an actual physicality within the PAS, one that reaches out to other markets and artists. Since Artlink seems to be cozying up to developers with deep pockets, maybe they should use that familiarity to load up their reserves and use it to solidify our artistic presence outside the muddled sprawl that constitutes our scene.
Now, I do realize that in order for them to be able to open up the gates as it were, the issue of financing all of these endeavors will have to be settled long before any action can take place, but it’s also very critical that Artlink needs to embrace and promote all the artists, not just the ones who pay to play as a way to hang out with the cool kids clique. That means everyone gets on the map, the trolley stops at as many venues as it can, and in the end, one and all get to share a piece of the hopefully profitable art-cake.
But if I had to focus on one exceptionally vital issue that I see as the biggest millstone around Artlink’s neck, it would be it’s alleged reputation among the PAS, and that needs to be addressed ASAP, because until it is, there’s always going to be an acidic buffer zone that impedes progress.
True advocacy isn’t limited. Everybody gets to have a voice, not just your friends. And you don’t throw your fellow colleagues under the bus, based on the hope that this time, the metaphorical pretty girl will finally notice you. Many paved the ground, countless others laid the bricks, and scores more poured their blood, sweat, tears, and bank accounts into building something that is worth fighting for, versus selling it out to those who see it as a marketing gimmick or as a chance to finally dust off that brand new PR department they’ve had on the shelf for far too long.
Maybe the mixer will be that first step towards achieving that goal, or maybe it’s just yet another opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for doing a job we’ve never really started, nor will see through to the end, like we’ve been oft to do in the past.
But what do I know? I’m just an artist. That used to count for something…
Especially to those who claimed to respect us.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”- Maya Angelou