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: 

Letter to the Editor of The Blade

In the October 15, 2014 Toledo Blade is my Letter to the Editor:

The upcoming Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, Nov. 21 through Jan. 4 at the Toledo Museum of Art, will have only 11 artists from the Toledo area.  The previous exhibition had 64 local artists.

Seventeen artists outside of our 17-county regional area got into the TAA show from as far as Cleveland, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Muncie, Ind.

I am a member of the local art community and operate a Web site that details Toledo’s art history (artistsoftoledo.com). I applied for the exhibition but wasn’t accepted.

Of the 11 Toledo area artists who were chosen, most have inside connections to the art museum, which gained control of the exhibition from the Toledo Federation of Art Societies in 2011. I question whether the jurying was ethical.

It is unacceptable that only 11 Toledo area artists were picked out of 462 total entrants. The museum should not be entitled to use the TAA name because it is a misrepresentation.

TAA is the oldest regional art competition affiliated with a museum in the country. Obviously, the museum has no respect for Toledo’s traditions or its artists. Toledoans donate to the museum, believing it is community oriented. Donors may want to rethink donating to a museum that treats the present-day community this way.

Penny Gentieu

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?

 

Herral Long Photographed the Pulse of Toledo for Sixty Years

Herral Long, beloved long-time Blade photographer passed away on Saturday, June 14.

He photographed every United States president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as day-to-day newsworthy events in Toledo for six decades. He was forever curious and experimental as a photographer and often said that taking a great picture was like catching a butterfly.

He was an award winning photographer and named Ohio News Photographers Association’s first Photographer of the Year in 1967.

He was a free spirit and founding member of Joyce Perrin’s Any Wednesday, a gathering place for poets, artists and musicians, a Toledo art scene tradition which has been going on since 1964.

He played a dulcimer and wrote songs for his wife, Marcy, who had Alzheimer’s disease, believing that one’s sense of hearing is the last to go.

He began photographing for the Blade in 1949 and retired in 2009. Herral Long arranged the timing of his retirement so that The Blade would have to keep on a recently-hired photographer, Amy Voigt, whose position was about to be eliminated. Herral felt that she was very talented and by his stepping down, it would give her an opportunity.

In a 1969 Toledo Museum of Art Catalog for a show he was in, it is reported that he was interested in mountain climbing, sailing, photography, palm reading.

He was a wonderful, charming person and friend to all.