Sometimes when you look in the microscope you see the whole thing.

Photo by Steve Coffin of John Botts and his Big Peony painting. Corte Madera, California

This photo came today in my email — a photo of John Botts, my painting teacher at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design. Wow. I owe so much to John Botts — he made me see what I really was, which is a photographer. When he saw the first photographs I took, he gave me a book — the first edition of Robert Frank’s book, The Americans. I sold it last year on eBay for $1,000 because I’m not sentimental.

It is probably fair to say that the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition this year is the most controversial Toledo Area Artists Exhibition there has ever been, and not for the art either, because we don’t get to see the art until November.  The show is controversial this year because of the circumstances created by the Toledo Museum of Art and the questionable decisions that the museum has made that put the show and the museum in a bad light even before it opens.

excerpts from the press release about the 95th Toledo Area Artists Exhibition on Toledo Museum of Art website

Were they really? Pleased with our region? Doesn’t seem so.

Out of all those entries that they looked at — 4,175 images, 44 videos, and two audio entries, the museum curator in-house judges could barely find any artists for the show who didn’t work at the museum, or weren’t friends of theirs, etc. or the most recent presidents of the Federation, to put in the show who live in the Toledo area.

And then the curators had to go beyond the Toledo area to fill it in with out-of-town artists from Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Grand Rapids Michigan, Muncie Indiana. Our Toledo Area Artists Exhibition.

We have so many artists in the Toledo area, yet in a show that has only 28 artists this year, cut down from a show that had 76 artists last year, a show that historically ranges anywhere from 70 to 120 artists — of 90% real Toledo area artists, the museum this year  has to go 150 miles out in all directions to pick out 17 artists who live outside of the 17 counties that comprise the Toledo area – the 15 counties of NW Ohio and the two bordering counties in SE Michigan?

Then, with our show taken over by metropolitan areas that are not our own, over half of the meager remaining 11 artists chosen actually from this area, from all the 4,175 images that they got to select from, are artists within the “Museum nucleus?”

Is that okay with you?

Do we really have to drink this water?

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Is it fair that 435 artists paid $30 each thinking that they were entering a fair competition (435 x $30 = $13,050) when they never had a chance because the museum judged it and got to put in their employees and friends, then fill it up with a pick of artists in big metropolitan areas not our Toledo area, that the museum has the audacity to call the 95th Toledo Area Artists Exhibition?

The reason why the annual TAA show started using outside jurors after eight years into their history was so that the show could be judged fairly and without conflicts of interest.

So this year, 2014, for the 95th annual show, why did museum staff members make themselves the jurors of the 95th Annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition? Was it so they could unfairly get to pick fellow museum employees and friends, for some unknown reason, or maybe it was because they got Christopher Knight to be the money judge and they wanted to make themselves look good?

How does that make you feel, big vibrant Toledo art community? Are you ready to trade in your chance at entering the TAA show every year, along with the chance of winning and getting recognition for your creativity at the great white marble pillared Toledo Museum of Art, for the condescendingly concurrent series of workshops run by the Federation to teach you how you can be more professional like those “full time” “professional” artists who are supposedly so much better than you, that are showing in your place, in your TAA show?

This show belongs to us, the Toledoans, to help “us all” be better artists, as well as, in return, for “all us” artists to contribute to and continue the artistic cultural history of Toledo that is and can only be us. And why don’t we clean up our water too.

Please keep the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art and for the Toledo area artists. It’s our legacy and it belongs to us. It’s our tradition.

The Toledo Area Artists Exhibition for Toledo area artists is the oldest regional art competition affiliated with a museum in the United States. It gives the art community a great sense of pride to compete and get in to the prestigious museum show, that features and celebrates the talents of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. It’s 95 years old.  Must it go so soon, so young in European terms, just a baby in comparison.

4 Replies to “Sometimes when you look in the microscope you see the whole thing.”

  1. Well said, Penny. I wasn't even aware of the full extent of the circumstances, which seem egregious. Has there been any form of explanation by the museum in response to concerns raised such as this? I know you aren't the only one who feels this way judging by the many comments on fb. I'm sharing this!

  2. Ms. Gentieu-
    Your passionate devotion to Toledo artists is certainly evident in the exhaustive research, time and effort you have put into artistsoftoledo.com. However, that passion, when applied to this year’s Toledo Area Artists show, had led you to some conclusions that are simply false.

    It is your right not to like this year’s format. It is your right to criticize that format and the decisions Museum staff have made in the interest of creating a more compelling and high quality curated exhibition. However, I must clarify some of the information that you are providing as “fact”.

    This is a curated show. The curator, Halona Norton-Westbrook, was selected from an international pool of candidates to be the Museum’s third Mellon Fellow. Part of her role here is to oversee one major Museum project or exhibition. At the time she made artist selections she had been in Toledo less than one year.

    Yes, she selected two museum employees for the show. She did not select several others who applied. Yes, she selected former TFAS presidents. She does not know those people personally nor was she aware of their connection with TFAS. She did select an artist or two that have had contentious relationships with the Museum in the past. Again, she did not know the background, nor was it relevant to her selections.

    It was about the artists, their portfolios and her vision for the show. Period. Ms. Gilman was part of the process as a sounding board, but did not insert any artists into the final selection nor veto any.

    The show is about celebrating artists. The artists were selected because their work spoke to Ms. Norton-Westbrook. On another day, with another curator, some of the other great artists who applied will be selected. Your criticism of the selection process is also a criticism of the artists selected because of the inference that they were selected for who they know, rather than their exceptional work.

    The geographic location of the submitting artists was not a consideration in the selection process, other than they met the 150-mile radius requirement. We felt the original 17-county model discriminated against our Michigan patrons by not including Ann Arbor and Detroit, Ann Arbor being our largest source of visitors outside of Toledo and surrounding suburbs. Just because something has been done for a long time does not make it fair.

    Your insinuation that this was “fixed” is just wrong. Your other insinuation that the Museum is somehow profiting from entry fees is also wrong. The total investment in TAA by the Museum is approximately $80,000. We never have, nor will we ever, make money on the show.

    The opportunity for local and regional artists to have their work displayed in a world class museum is one that is not widely available. Most museums have discontinued their local artist shows. The Toledo Museum of Art remains committed to local artists, through TAA, our Community Gallery shows, selling local artist works in our store, glass residency programs and much more.

    Love it or hate it, we hope people will come to TAA and judge for themselves.

    Kelly Fritz Garrow
    Director of Communications
    kgarrow@toledomuseum.org

  3. When I inquired about the selection process, I was informed that work was selected to "fit" the show as a whole, not as individual artists. That told me that the "curator" was looking for a specific show as a whole, not looking at each artist individually. Had I known what the curators were looking for as a theme or subject or unity for a show, perhaps my entries could have fit what their needs were. It was very vague. This was the first time I applied to the show, so I was not expecting to get in. However, as an artist whose work was accepted into the reknowned Corning Museum of Art Museum Store, I was a little surprised that I wouldn't be selected as an area artist. While I am certain that those selected are top notch and well deserving, I feel like the abrupt and vast changes to the show will not be well received. I likely will not apply again unless changes are made.

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