Toledo Museum of Art: Repair the Damage

Adam Weinberg in 1979. Adam was a truly great, forward thinking, community oriented Toledo Museum Fellow, and is now the Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. I photographed him in the corn field adjacent to his house. We need more like him.

Toledo Museum of Art, repair the damage you have done to the community of artists.

In 2010, perhaps when the museum was between directors, the acting director and Amy Gilman of the museum made a proposal to the Federation, that they would get great jurors with their museum connections and make Toledo artists famous. Maybe not in those exact words, but that’s what the Federation heard. Whatever the exact words were, the museum’s “intention” of commandeering the show was to help the community by making a better Toledo Area Artists show by getting more prestigious jurors, an intention reported in The Blade in 2010 and 2011.

The museum judged it themselves the first year, in 2011, saying that they were introducing the new director, Brian Kennedy, to the community. They used a Mellon Fellow and New York artist and writer Joe Fig the second year. Everything went fine, in fact because of that show, my daughter’s career was launched. (see, Toledo Area Artists Matter)

This year, instead of making the show for the community, the museum extended it to cover a population 15 times greater than the population of the Toledo area. They had their Mellon Fellow, Halona Norton-Westbrook, judge it all by herself. She put in only 11 Toledo area artists, including two museum employees, the husband of a museum employee, one former employee with former contentious museum relationship, the two most recent past presidents of the Federation, the group that had charge of the show when the museum took it over in 2011. Hence, most of the Toledo area artists chosen by the museum were insiders. 17 other artists were from other cities.

The population of Greater Detroit alone is 5 times that of the Toledo metro area. So you can see that a show that was highly competitive in our local area, has become instantly 10-15 times more competitive by adding a 150 mile radius encompassing 4 cities much larger than Toledo, plus several other cities with more advantage than Toledo, such as Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Michigan. And why is this good for our community? For countless area artists like my daughter, the odds are they will never have a chance.

Toledo Museum of Art, is it necessary to take our community show away from us to get a grant? Get Fellows at our museum like Adam Weinberg, the current Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He was a very charismatic, community oriented Fellow, who worked at the Toledo Museum of Art in the late 1970’s, and I had the honor of working with him when I was a teacher of photography at the museum. Put an incredible, dynamic community-respecting Fellow, like Adam Weinberg, in charge of the TAA show, with supervision, so he gains professional museum experience. Make the jurying process fair again with objective, outside jurors having no connections to the community. The Adam Weinberg-like Fellow can appoint whatever community committee he needs or wants to work with if he thinks it’s helpful. Make it professional, and make it for Toledo area artists, because that is the legacy of Edward Drummond Libbey, and that is the legacy of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Break it off completely with the Federation. Most of the artists groups dropped out of the Federation after the museum took over the show in 2011, leaving mainly universities and college groups. The Federation has no resemblance now to what it was when it was formed. It used to be composed of groups of artists, not schools, and we don’t need to debate to know that educational institutions do not serve the interests of individual artists — they serve their own institutional interests, and so these institutions do not deserve a seat at this table.

For the previous 94 years, the Toledo area artists have been good enough to be in their own namesake Toledo Area Artists art show. Look at what you are doing to our community! Respectfully, please understand that even though some people may appreciate your leadership contributions to our museum, we all know, you are not from around here, and it is likely that your time at the Toledo Museum of Art will be temporary. Don’t mess with our traditions as if they have no value. It’s like poisoning our water and then skedaddling.

The Toledo Museum of Art was voted the most beloved museum by its community recently. People today donate to the Toledo Museum of Art believing in a community memory of a community oriented museum. How can the museum literally nurture so many artists within its mission and its history, then just hang us out to dry, replaced by artists from other cities? Our area has so much potential for the growth of the art economy in this area. We don’t mean Cleveland or Detroit or Columbus, we mean Toledo! Yet the museum is communally dumbing us down by taking this great opportunity away from the majority of Toledo area artists and handing it over to anybody else in the 150 mile radius, for what, for a more impressive population “line item” on a grant application?

Toledo area artists have always been good enough for the show for the past 95 years. This year the museum throws us under the bus. For a shallow, very shallow, empty purpose. As if to say we are not as good artists as other artists living 150 miles away. Reconsider saving the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition for Toledo area artists. It’s good for us, and as you know, as the museum made it its motto, “art matters” to us.

Give us another Adam Weinberg. He would never have thrown Toledo artists under the bus.

From The Toledo Museum of Art’s mission statement:

COMMUNITY RELEVANCE: We will be an integral member of our community and will be responsive to issues of community concern and importance, particularly as they relate to the arts.

VALUES: As individuals, we pledge that our relationships with one another and with our audiences will be governed by: Integrity; Respect; Trust; Cooperation; Positive Approach; and Self-Discipline.

Brian Kennedy’s slide presentation of the museum’s mission, at the 2011 TAA Jury Dinner. Artist Craig Fisher and his daughter in foreground.

STRATIGIC OBJECTIVES — Working with artists.   Work with us. We are your offspring! The Toledo Museum of Art made us! Aren’t we good enough for The Toledo Museum of Art, Papa?

Another suggestion is to make the gallery off of the Community Gallery for Toledo artists, instead of for babies. Up until 1970, Toledo area artists used to get monthly one-person shows. Now they have a gallery for baby art. Literally. (Toledo Area Lil’ Artists Exhibition — gee thanks, TMA, adding insult to injury.) This nicely lit gallery at the back entrance to the museum. For babies? Seriously, you can do better for us, can’t you, Toledo Museum of Art?

The New Twisted TAA Show

New in the past several days, The Toledo Museum of Art has completely rewritten its 95th Toledo Area Artists Exhibition webpage. Why did the museum feel the need to rewrite a webpage that it posted for the show in July after the winners were chosen?

Maybe the museum doesn’t want people to have the facts about the show, that out of 28 accepted artists, only 11 are from the Toledo area comprising the 17 counties in Northwest Ohio and two counties in Southeast Michigan, and that of the shamefully low number of area artists chosen, only two are women. Last year 64 Toledo area artists were in the show and 39 were women. Of this year’s lucky 11 Toledo area artists;  two are museum employees, a spouse of an employee, a former employee, the two most recent past presidents of the Toledo Federation of Artists, as well as a close friend of museum staff.

Mention of the history and great tradition of our 95 year old TAA show has been exorcised from the webpage as it had appeared a week or so ago, including the details that the 95th TAA “continues the Museum’s tradition of celebration and recognizing the best work by artists in this region” and that “it is one of the few remaining shows of its kind organized by an art museum nationally.”

Also removed is the statement that 28 artists were chosen from 462 entrants, with the link to a page listing the artists and their resident cities. This page is still on their server, but you have to search for it. Good luck finding it.

Some time before October 9, their statement that TMA associate director and curator of contemporary and modern art, Amy Gilman was one of the judges (along with Mellon Fellow Halona Norton-Westbrook) that picked the artists was removed from the page.  (see, my October 4 blog post in regard to Amy Gilman.) In total, since the museum first posted the page in July, the page went from having four paragraphs down to one.

All of this informative history has been shoved down the memory hole. The museum’s new TAA webpage has transformed (twisted) our wonderful TAA show into a new Frankenstein. The new TAA show is described with mysteriously fluffy verbiage such as, “tension between the urban vs. suburban” and “class struggle in Middle America and war.”

Also, The Toledo Museum of Art disclosed for the first time in their public announcements that the “money awards” judge, Christopher Knight, has worked at the museum. Draw your own conclusions.

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:

o

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?

 

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?

 o

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.