We want answers to our questions, Erin Palmer Szavuly, president of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies

Erin Palmer Szavuly, president of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies photo by Penny Gentieu

For the 95th Annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, the Federation sent our local awards out of town. (See, blog post dated October 8, 2014.) All but the Potter’s Guild Award, which the Potter’s Guild withheld this year. These historic local awards were established for local artists and have been given to local artists for decades: the Israel Abramofsky Award of the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award, the Roulet Medal Award, the Athena Art Society Award, the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award, the Toledo Friends of Photography Award, the Toledo Area Sculpture Guild Rose M. Reder Memorial Award, and the University of Toledo Award and Lourdes University Art Department Award, both of which were combined into a new award along with the new Bowling Green State University Art Department award. The Federation collectively and as individual groups, not just the Potter’s Guild, could have withheld awards in protest of the change in radius and in acknowledgment of the community’s widespread negative reaction to the Toledo Museum of Art’s new Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. But the Federation deliberately let our awards go out of town, thousands of dollars of awards.

Erin Palmer Szavuly, why did the Federation do that?

The Federation is a group formed in 1917, comprised of delegates from art societies and the Toledo Museum of Art, for the single purpose of putting on the annual Toledo area art show at the Toledo Museum of Art. The show is for our 17-county local community of artists. At 95 years old, it’s the oldest local art competition hosted at an art museum in the country. It’s very meaningful to our community. However, the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, a group that has held the trust of local artists for 95 years, has been corrupted and the show no longer serves the local art community.

Erin Palmer Szavuly, president of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, delegate of, and associate professor at Lourdes University, should step down, along with her Federation cohorts, because their actions violate the mission of the organization.

Erin Palmer Szavuly, why haven’t you answered my questions? They are legitimate questions and as the president, you have a responsibility to the Toledo area artists to answer their concerns.

Not only has the Federation been complaisant while the museum has taken the show away from local artists, the Federation has been pathetic in response to the public’s negative response to the jurying results.

Is it because the Federation is working with the museum to kill the show? Does the fact that the museum put the two most recent Federation presidents in this year’s show have anything to do with it?

Erin Palmer Szavuly’s Oct. 14 Facebook post to me:

As you discuss this exhibition with artists in the community…the expectation of support for the show from “our” museum, please also discuss how the area artists can support “our” museum. The number of artists that were rejected from the show that were members of the museum is pretty disappointing. If we have expectations of support from the museum for the local art community…well the local art community can at least help show support of the museum. A reciprocal appreciation would be nice. 

The museum gave Erin Palmer Szavuly membership status information on TAA entrants. Really?

What is the breakdown of the winners’ membership status, Erin Palmer Szavuly, since you make an important issue about the membership status of rejected applicants?

Erin Palmer Szavuly, are you one of the two full-time art teachers at Lourdes University? Are there nine adjunct art teachers working at Lourdes? Are adjunct teacher wages per class approximately 20% of what you are paid to teach the same class? Are most of the TAA winners from out of town adjunct teachers? How many of the winners who are adjunct teachers are also members of the museum? Do the adjunct teacher-winners make a lot less money than the full-time professor-winners? Are all of the full time professor-winners museum members?

Is the average income of a professional artist 65% of the average mean income of all occupations total? Do you expect applicants to be members of the Toledo Museum of Art, even when they struggle to put food on the table, when they have children to feed, or not?

Considering the low wages of adjunct teachers and the average income of professional artists, is it a fair estimation that artists make about 50% of what most workers make?

Do you think it’s discriminatory for the museum to track membership status of TAA applicants? Do you think it’s fair to judge TAA show applicants by their membership status? Erin Palmer Szavuly, is it really anything that you should be looking up and bringing up? But as long as you have done this research, Ms. President of the Toledo Federation of Artists Societies, can we have the answers?

Erin Palmer Szavuly’s remarks to The Blade in the Oct. 31 article, Changes to artists’ exhibit draw criticism:

The selection for the exhibition, she said, is exciting to artists whose works will be featured, but she acknowledged that not being selected can be threatening for some…. “If the show is allowed to stagnate, it does not say very much about our community for that to occur”….

Erin Palmer Szavuly, what exactly do you mean by saying that “not being selected can be threatening for some.” Do you mean that those who are protesting the show are doing so because they were rejected? Do you not get it that the protesters are voicing their disapproval that the majority of the chosen artists are from far-away cities, not from our 17-county area, as it has been for 95 years? Are you hearing us? Why are you not supportive of the Toledo artist community that you represent? Do you seriously believe that the work of Toledo area artists in the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition would “stagnate” the show? Do you really think it is a step forward to give our show away and our awards away to a far-away population 15 times greater than ours? How is that good for our local economy? Why did you sell us out, Erin Palmer Szavuly?

Is it true, Erin Palmer Szavuly, that you tell your students to create because they cannot live without creating and enter shows to fill up their resumes, but not to worry about anything in between because it’s out of their control and it’s the world they live in?

Should artists leave the business aspect up to you then, and people like you? Is it easier for you, and people like you, when artists don’t pay attention to business?

Is your handling of the TAA show this year your idea of looking out for the best interests of your students and the Toledo area artists, Erin Palmer Szavuly? Have you read the mission of the Toledo Federation of  Art Societies?

As president of the Federation, Erin Palmer Szavuly, how can you think it’s a good thing that 61% of the artists in the Toledo Area Artists show do not reside in the Toledo area? Do you think it’s fair for the museum to have judged the show itself and put in so many insiders, no local glass artists, and only two area women? To me, as a member of the Toledo community, it’s embarrassing that the museum would conduct the Toledo area art show by picking their own employees, a spouse of an employee, an ex-employee, and the two most recent past presidents of the Federation, not to mention a good friend of the museum director, while putting in very few other area artists and filling it up with out-of-town artists. How could you think that the public would not become aware that the few artists the museum chose from the community were insiders and favorites of the museum?

Ms. President, isn’t it a conflict of interest that two Federation presidents are in the show this year when so few local artists were picked? Are these the successes that you, the President of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, feel the need to support and celebrate — that the two most recent Federation presidents were put in the show, at the expense of the Toledo area art community as a whole? Is that a conflict of interest?

Erin Palmer Szavuly, what work do you do with the museum director that is “many levels way beyond TAAE,” as you recently told an area artist? As the president of the Federation, do you think it is a conflict of interest to be working with the museum on “many levels way beyond TAAE,” when the radical changes the museum made this year to the TAAE go against the Federation’s mission to show Toledo area artists in the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition? Does the extra work you get from the museum constitute receiving favors from the museum, Erin Palmer Szavuly?

We deserve answers.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the museum spent $80,000 as they did this year – $60,000 more than usual, to freshen up the TAA show for the real Toledo area artists? Our show and our community would have been reinvigorated and Toledo area artists would have been promoted, as promised by the museum when the museum made their proposal to the Federation in 2010 to take control of the show in order to get high-caliber judges that would put the Toledo area artists on the map.

Instead the museum spent over $80,000 to promote outsiders from far-away communities this year, in the name of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. The museum took our 95-year old tradition, our legacy, and our monetary awards and made a mockery of us, while the Federation did nothing to stand up for the rights of the Toledo area artists and our historic show. The show belongs to our community, the Toledo area artist community. It’s called the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition for a reason.

Museum ruins artists’ tradition

Every community needs to support its own, or else it will lose them. The Federation has been an accomplice to the museum’s demise of our local art show. We, the local artists, think it’s dishonest of the Federation to violate its mission, while getting favors from the museum for doing so. We want our show back, at the Toledo Museum of Art, for our 17-county area, with fair and impartial judging.

Museum’s art show draws ire
Exhibit loses sense of community

Read more comments by community members here: artistsoftoledo.com/contribute.html

Statements in the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition catalogs from the past three shows regarding Toledo Museum of Art’s commitment to Toledo area artists: