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Spin City

by Judith Ann Moriarty

“Movers and shakers on the local arts scene.” What does that mean? Are they the 35 who attended a panel discussion/luncheon way back in the spring of 2003 at the esteemed Haggerty Museum of Art on Marquette’s campus? Call them “knights of the art table” if you will; their intent was to brainstorm about how the visual and performing arts can improve the quality of life in our city. In writing about the event, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel art critic James Auer, in April 2003, went a step further in calling our city “divided.” A year later, one wonders what, if anything, came from the discussion/luncheon. So let’s take a look back at the brainstorming. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, he of Blue Shirt infamy, offered information that some “fairly significant” art was soon to be installed on a county owned building at N. 12th and W. Vliet Streets. Does this mean it is superior to the Blue Shirt? It says a lot, doesn’t it, when a County Executive, with little or no experience in judging art, steps up and deems something “fairly significant.” It should be added that Dennis Oppenheim’s Blue Shirt project has recently been replaced with another Oppenheim work, lovely, but installed inside the airport where it is notably less visible. So where were the “movers and shakers” when the Blue Shirt chips were down? Michael H. Lord, a longtime supporter of Oppenheim, seems to think they crumpled like tissue paper, i.e., what was a great piece of art got lost in bucket of political whitewash. Additionally the Haggerty lunch bunch included a Bishop from Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ. He pitched for at-risk kids whose “lives can be altered by art.” Since then, many such pitches have been pitched. Did the good Bishop simply ignore the programs already in place? Indeed, there is a barrage of stuff for kids at risk. The Greater Milwaukee Commitee got into the act by saying what we need is an arts service agency to spread the word on grants, media bonding, marketing, and communications. Good grief. We don’t need anymore arts spoon-feeding do we? Artists aren’t dumb. A year ago, Marvin Pratt was an alderman. He claimed at least part of the solution would be increased funding for art and music programs in our schools. Another alderman, Michael Murphy, whacked the business community for not supporting the arts. This is par for the course, unless of course, a pol is seeking monies to fatten a political coffer, in which case, guess where they go for a handout. The business community, it should be noted, is very generous in giving to the arts, but is often the first to get bashed during tough economic times. There are only so many pieces of green-bucks pie. The suggestions rolled on. Who would step forward with an endowment to support the arts, particularly the smaller groups who don’t benefit from the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF)? Actually UPAF is getting tough on people who feed at their trough. They recently announced that recipients of monies would be held “accountable.” Would smaller groups feeding on endowments also be held accountable? The next time you write a check to a non-profit art venue, shouldn’t you first ask to see their books? How much is spent on marketing, salaries, rents, utilities,, etc.? Are these venues sticking to their original mission, or have they morphed into mere venues for entertainment? How do they educate those they serve? March blew in at the Milwaukee Art Museum with a “healthy arts industry” forum. Hopeful mayoral candidates came to spin. In late April at a free Breakfast Forum at St. Matthew’s C.M.E. Church, the future of the arts in the central city was discussed. The press spin said “brainstorming.”