Dear Toledo Museum of Art….

This is my reply to The Toledo Museum of Art’s reply to my September 3 blog post about what the museum did to our Toledo Area Artists Exhibition this year. My answer is in red.

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”.

To clarify what you are saying here, you claim that the museum wanted to make a more compelling and high quality curated show of our 95-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. That’s how you try to justify taking most of the Toledo area artists out of it and putting in your own employees, etc… what an insult.

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. 

You state that this was a curated show. However, no theme or premise for a so-called “curated” show was given to artists in the CALL FOR ENTRIES. In fact, the only mention of a “curator” in the CALL was in this sentence: “Please consider this portfolio a way of introducing your body of work to the curator.”

Artists were told that “artists would be chosen based on their entire portfolio submitted.”  Yet you now claim that this show is somehow “curated.” Meaning what, exactly? You didn’t bother telling the general public whatever theme it was you were looking for – you didn’t inform the many or all 462 artists who paid $30 to enter, which adds up to be $13,860. 

Artists who entered were informed that Amy Gilman, the associate director of the Toledo Museum of Art, would be one of two judges jurying their work, according to the CALL FOR ENTRY, The Blade, and the museum’s own website. (See, below.) Amy Gilman was the “important” and “prestigious” judge that most artists wanted to get their work in front of. Now you say that it was Halona Norton-Westbrook, a 2013 graduate, who picked the artists. Halona Norton-Westbrook, with an undisclosed notion of a particular curatorial idea for the show, not shared with the entrants, (at least not with most of them.) Amy Gilman, you now tell us, did not participate in the selection. Amy Gilman was just a “sounding board” for Halona Norton-Westbrook, a recent graduate, who was given the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition to do because she needed to “oversee one major Museum project or exhibition” to fulfill her role as a Mellon Fellow.  What a strange project for the museum to give her. What a supreme waste of Mellon Fellowship funding, as it turns out, since Halona Norton-Westbrook has made such a mess of it.

Artists paid $30 each, x 462 = $13,860, collected under the false pretense that Amy Gilman was an actual judge as was stated in the CALL FOR ENTRY and elsewhere. Here are three places that state both Amy Gilman and Halona Norton-Westbrook were the judges. But now you disclose that Halona Norton-Westbrook was 100% responsible for picking the artists, therefore she made all the jury calls, not Amy Gilman, who you say had nothing to do with either adding or subtracting artists, that she was just a sounding board.

 

On Call For Entry.org:

 

On TMA’s website:

In The Blade:

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You state that Halona Norton-Westbrook did not know the museum employees that she picked, nor did she know that she picked the two most recent past presidents of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, even though all the entrants were required to submit CV’s (curriculum vitae, a detailed resume). She had been working at the museum for 10 1/2 months before picking her winners, but you claim she didn’t know Jefferson Nelson or Timothy Gaewsky or the librarian’s husband. And I suppose you want us to believe that she had no idea about the history of this venerable show nor had she any knowledge of the recent changes with the Federation’s involvement in the show. Yet you want to impress us that you picked Halona Norton-Westbrook from “an international pool of candidates,” so it’s hard to believe that this candidate could be totally ignorant about the Toledo Museum of Art’s history or the history of the 95-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, especially since it was a project she was given to fulfill for her fellowship here. Isn’t Halona Norton-Westbrook (recent graduate) a highly educated woman? 

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.

Indeed. The circumstances that The Toledo Museum of Art created make for an ugly show even before it opens. There are countless artists in the Toledo area who do exceptional work who were not lucky enough to be chosen. Undeniably they would have had better odds if they worked at the Museum, were married to someone who worked at the Museum, or were the two most recent past presidents of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, the group that relinquished control of the show to the Museum in 2011. Why did the Federation relinquish that control, was it because the museum demanded it of the Federation?

If you are a Toledo area woman, you had even less of a chance to get in the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition: your odds were 1 in 232 (compared to 1 in 51 for being a Toledo area man). Even then, being a close friend of the Staff seemed to help.

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. 

Discriminate? What a potent word to explain why you would add Detroit and Ann Arbor artists over Toledo area artists in the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, a 95-year old community-based exhibition celebrating the work of Toledo area artists (hence, the name.) Detroit and Ann Arbor have their own museums and their own flourishing art communities. Couldn’t imagine these art communities would ever think they would be discriminating by not featuring Toledoans in their own local art shows. On the other hand, the fact that only two Toledo area women were chosen to be in this year’s Toledo Area Artists Exhibition is a good example of real discrimination.

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.

You are the one who is using the word, “fixed” but now that you mention it, that hits the nail right on the head. I believe that you took money from unsuspecting artists under false pretenses. I think you should give all artists their money back and apologize.

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. 

Most museums do not have the history that The Toledo Museum of Art has. The Toledo Museum of Art was started by artists. The museum has meant a great deal to the city of Toledo as well as to the entire community, because the community built the museum and the community supports it. The museum used to help the art community. Now, there is very little left at the museum for the local art community. Except for the chosen few who happen to work there — you might put them in a show (if they are men, that is, not your women employees). What the museum does have now for the local art community, especially for the women artists, is an overwhelming attitude of contempt, which is all too well being playing out in the way it is handling our very special, unique and historic community oriented tradition, which started 1918, almost as old as the museum itself, our Toledo Area Artists Exhibition.

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

The museum took our name, Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, and took Toledo area artists and Toledo area women out of the show, and instead, stuffed the show with insiders and out-of-towners, while still having the audacity to call it the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. All the while collecting $30 per entry as if it was business-as-usual. Why would anyone think that is a good idea?