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Artists of Toledo

But will they bring back our show?

A critique on the museum’s 5-year plan for growth
as reported by The Blade
The last paragraph in the above article.

In the spirit of community involvement, I’m compelled to offer some feedback on the recent article in The Blade about the museum’s future. But first a discussion about the last paragraph in the article, “The Toledo Museum of Art was founded in 1901 by Mr. Libbey and his wife, Florence Scott Libbey.”  That’s incorrect – The Toledo Museum of Art was founded by a group of artists.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say that Libbey was not important in the establishment of the museum – he was by far the chief benefactor in establishing the Toledo Museum of Art. But to say that he and his wife founded it is like throwing the museum’s populist history down the memory hole.

There are many near-contemporaneous accounts of how the Toledo Museum of Art was founded by a group of artists.

In the book, Memoirs of Lucas County and the City of Toledo from the earliest times down to the present Vol. II, published in 1910, which includes biographical sketches of prominent Toledo men, there is no mention of Libbey founding the museum, but there is mention of Edmund Henry Osthaus being “one of the founders and incorporators” of the museum.

This is how Osthaus is described in the Toledo Museum of Art’s own collection:

The Blade, October 29, 1926. Obituary of George W. Stevens, the museum’s long-time second director, founding member of the Tile Club, the group of artists responsible for “procuring a museum of Toledo.”

The Blade, September 30, 1922: “Museum Idea Takes Form” In 1893, the painter, Thomas Parkhurst formed the Tile Club, a group consisting of artists and architects in 1893. In 1900 the club had its first exhibition at Parkhurst’s store on Superior St. Out of that event grew a movement.  After the exhibition, the group of artists and architects was so enthused and fired up with the idea of establishing a home for art in Toledo that they got together with George Stevens as the leader, and talked art museum day and night. Robinson Locke, son of David R. Locke of Petroleum V. Nasby letters fame, helped through The Blade. Finally, George Stevens, “in an inspired moment” elicited the co-operation of Edward Drummond Libbey, who gave them the use of an old building on Madison Ave. and 12th Street to use for the museum, but they needed money…

The Blade, March 27, 1923
The Blade, March 27, 1923

Edward Drummond Libbey was the biggest benefactor, and he encouraged community involvement because everyone wanted a museum that belonged to the people. Libbey matched donations, and children collected pennies to contribute to the building fund.

The Toledo Museum of Art was always OUR museum….

Nearly all cities of any size in the country have their museums and galleries, which are fast becoming a necessity….We owe it to ourselves, to the school children of Toledo, and to the future generations to see that our good work shall continue, that we lay a foundation so solid and so complete that the future citizens of Toledo will look back upon this, our pioneer work, with praise and appreciation. — Edward Drummond Libbey. First annual report of The Toledo Museum of Art.

By the Seventies, the museum was in high gear: it was a leading teaching museum, providing annually about eight Educational Fellowships, training museum professionals from all over the country, who also helped with the free children’s Saturday classes that drew around 2,000 children per week. The Toledo Museum of Art ranked in the top 10 American art museums for popularity and assets. It was the center of the community art scene, with not only Saturday classes for grade school and high school students, but for its small but superior college art program in the basement of the museum, the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design, which extended to adult classes. That really brought in the community.

The museum also had monthly shows featuring local artists from 1933 to 1970, 540 in total, for both men and women artists. Beginning in 1918 it hosted the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, celebrating the local art community. The museum was alive with community involvement.

The Blade, February 15, 1993

In the 1990’s, the museum’s School of Design and much of the adult education ended when the Frank Gehry building was built, which was connected to the east side of the museum. The University of Toledo’s School of Visual Arts occupies the space, taking over for the museum’s School of Design. The extensive children’s Saturday class program slipped away. The Saturday class program that had served the community for many decades became a sorry shadow of what it used to be.

What have they done to OUR museum?

Director of the museum from 2010 to 2019, Dr. Brian Kennedy at the Toledo Museum of Art Halloween party, October 28, 2010

In 2014, under the new director Brian Kennedy’s watch, the venerable, 95-year old tradition of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition came to a shameful demise when the Toledo Museum of Art opened the show to entries from Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus, populations nine times the size of the Toledo region, while simultaneously limiting the show to only 27 artists. To add insult to injury, they stuffed it with Toledo Museum of Art insiders, mostly men. Additionally, the show was totally devoid of diversity, the absence of which is not the norm and has never been the norm for our TAA show.  See a full account of the 2014 show on this website, in the tag cloud in the footer of this page.

In 2011, Brian Kennedy presented his five-year strategic plan. I remember him saying that if art classes were available at one place in town, they were not necessary in two places because that’s redundant, we should save resources. Kennedy’s “basic principles” projected on the screen contradicted what he was saying there, as would his subsequent actions to what was projected on the screen.

An overhead slide projected at Brian Kennedy’s presentation of his “5-year Strategic Plan.” at the 93rd TAA jury dinner, August 2011.

In 2015, a few months after the 2014 TAA show debacle, I was at the museum attending the senior curator Larry Nichol’s gallery talk about a particular painting we were sitting on front of in the gallery, when at the end, he asked the small group of people before him, mostly age 45 and up, how to bring younger people in. I raised my hand and said, bring your children’s classes back. Bring the TAA show back. Bring the monthly local shows back.  He said, “noted.”

What did they expect would happen to attendance at the museum, when they take everything away that enlivened the art community, from classes for children and adults to lending a wall for a local art show?

Yoga on the steps of the museum if you are between 24 and 45. July 2014

The exclusive, discriminatory “Circle 2445” membership effort designed to bring in the museum’s desired younger members was short-lived. The overt ageist discrimination insulted many people.

click on letter to see more…

In other ways too, the Museum became unresponsive to the Toledo community. For example, here’s a story having to do with Toledo’s first artist, William H. Machen, who died in 1911. Over the years, his descendants have approached the museum for advice, once in 1941 and again in 2015 — see the contrast in responses between the third museum director, Blake-More Godwin and the ninth director, Brian Kennedy…

In 2019, Brian Kennedy resigned after only eight years to become the director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. (Which might be a fine historical museum that is owned by Harvard University, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the great Toledo Museum of Art.)


Now then, back to the subject of this post, a critique of the new 5-year plan as outlined in the above screen-shotted March 9, 2021 Blade article…

the new 5-year strategic plan
  1. to continue to build on its diverse collection...   Well that’s good, because Edward Drummond Libbey’s bequest stipulates that half of the money taken from the fund in any given year must go to buying new art.
  2. working more closely with local artists through a more active outreach and engagement strategy…   Does this mean they will bring our Toledo Area Artists Exhibition back? Have they forgotten the relationship they used to have with local artists? I hope they will read my blog post, it’s outlined above!
  3. becoming an employer of choice through support and retention policies…   Hasn’t the Toledo Museum of Art ALWAYS been an employer of choice? Or are they talking about the museum guards, whom for many years were hired from our community of senior citizens, but about 10 years ago the museum started replacing senior citizens with young people, who just aren’t sticking with the job like the seniors did, because being a long-time museum guard is a dead-end job… Are they using young people for their ageist young image?
  4. creating a platform for operational excellence through the upgrade of visitor amenities, making museum access a priority, growing the museum’s financial base and becoming more efficient…   
Are we doing great?

Culture of Belonging
and Authentic Integration
of great art and everyday community

As if words, regardless of deeds, will make it so.

That’s exactly what the Toledo Museum of Art used to do. The Toledo Museum of Art didn’t have to try to be authentic — the Museum oozed with authenticity and community involvement. That’s because it was our museum – it belonged to the people of Toledo – it was Edward Drummond Libbey and the artist founders’ intention – funded in part with the pennies of the children who have since become our forefathers.

Will the Toledo Museum of Art bring back our venerable, prestigious Toledo Area Artists Exhibition? Will they bring our classes back? Will the Museum ever be the center of the working artist community again? Or will it continue to be a place for yoga on the front steps for the 24-45 crowd, and “baby and me” looking-at-art classes in the galleries for bored (but sufficiently young) parents?

The artists of Toledo can’t wait to find out.

The last authentic Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, 2013, and the 94th TAA Awards Ceremony at the Peristyle. Brian Kennedy and Amy Gilman handing out awards. The prestigious juried exhibition has launched many a young artist’s career.
Categories
Artists of Toledo

The Museum in the Seventies

Stevens-quote-2


Welcome back to Roger Mandle, the fifth Director of the Toledo Museum of Art, from 1977 to 1988. He spoke at the museum’s Little Theater on June 8. It was a wonderful talk, about working with Otto Wittmann, the 4th museum director of the museum, and then as the assistant director at the National Museum of Art in Washington, DC, and then as president of Rhode Island School of Design from 1993 to 2008, and then how he helped develop two new museums in Qatar. Now he is starting a new museum for art and technology in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

It was a great era when Mandle was at the Toledo Museum of Art, because the museum had meaningful art community involvement. The museum was built on meaningful art community involvement, in fact it was built by artists. Beginning in 1916, the museum offered grade school through high school classes, then university classes, and always adult art classes. Local artists had monthly shows at the museum. The museum hosted the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition (TAA). Who would have thought that the TAA Show would have been extinguished, just four years short of its 100th year celebration next year, what was the oldest, most venerable exhibition of its kind in the entire United States.

I benefited from the classes at the museum from age 9 to 21. I taught the first kids photography class that the museum offered, in 1979, with the darkroom right below the Peristyle stage. I exhibited in a few TAA shows, and in 2013, my daughter’s photography career received a huge boost, perhaps even a complete launch, as a result of her prize-winning entry in what was to become the final local Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. This year, four years later, my daughter is showing her photographs in Venice, Italy in a show at the European Cultural Center in the context of the 57th Venice Biennale.

My daughter spent the summer of 2006 at Rhode Island School of Design in a high school program, and that’s where she fell in love with photography. Because I knew Roger Mandle from the museum, we sent him the photos she shot that summer.  He was sincerely impressed and without our even asking, sent her photos to the admissions department with a strong recommendation. To be encouraged by such a knowledgeable and important person so early on was a great formative experience.

Kids classes as well as adult classes have nearly disappeared at the Toledo Museum of Art. The local art community is no longer tied to the museum that the artist-forefathers of Toledo had so progressively formed. It used to be our museum and everybody understood that — it belonged to the community of Toledo — but today for the first time suddenly it is no longer our museum.

Today it’s all about the grants. A Mellon grant brought down the TAA show, along with a bamboozling by the museum to the Toledo artist community, as if our community artists would benefit by expanding our local art show 10-fold to 13 million people and a 300 mile diameter.  At least it looked good on the grant application. That was three years ago, and it was the last show. Judged by Halona Norton-Westbrook, a Mellon Fellow employed at the museum, the eleven local artists who were accepted into the show happened to be closely associated with the museum (including two employees, the husband of an employee, a past employee, and two past presidents of the Federation.) Only two of the Toledoans were women.

Our current director, Brian Kennedy, tells people openly that Toledo artists are not good enough to show at the museum in any show, even our annual, 100-year old show that’s always been at the museum. So unbecoming of our museum, which had such a progressive, community oriented beginning!

Rejecting local artists is an elitist spin on Toledo’s communal inferiority complex and famously poor self-image. Museum supporters don’t care. They buy their art in New York. Thus, the ax has come down on this fine opportunity and tradition for artists in Toledo. Our deceased museum directors must be rolling in their graves.

It is a shame that the artist community that was once centered around the museum has disappeared and opportunities no longer exist at our most magnificent and inspiring cultural center, the Toledo Museum of Art, that was built by artists, educated artists, and for many years, was led by artists (including Roger Mandle.)

Roger Mandle and the museum directors who preceded him kept the local art community alive and well at the Toledo Museum of Art for more than eight decades. And while accommodating the community, they had blockbuster shows, bigger and better than we see today.

Enlarge

Screen-Shot-2017-06-05-at-3.25.34-PM
1967 was the 50th anniversary of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, Otto Wittmann was the 4th director of the museum.

Brian Kennedy tells people that Toledo area artists aren’t good enough for the museum to continue hosting the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, an important, century old tradition started by the museum with the Federation formed for that purpose. Leslie Adams, past president of the Federation, tells Toledo area artists to trust that with the change in the show, that the museum has their best interests at heart.

The museum gave Adams a one-person show in 2012 as a new Toledo Area Artists Exhibition award in 2011 (the first and only recipient of that award) and the museum even acquired three of her pieces in 2015.

You just have to wonder when they kill our show and profess that no local artist’s work can ever be good enough to show at the museum, but they buy Leslie Adam’s work.



Categories
Artists of Toledo

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.

Categories
Artists of Toledo

Children of the Museum

 I am a child of the museum. There are thousands of others like me. When I was in third grade, my mother enrolled me in the Toledo Museum of Art Saturday classes, and I took them all through high school. In college, I continued at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design for my art major through the University of Toledo. This education was huge for me. I went on to have a successful career in photography, thanks in no small part to the Toledo Museum of Art. I was in and won a prize in the Toledo Area Artists show, and my daughter after me, and that recognition goes a long way in propelling an artist forward.
 
The Toledo Area Artists Exhibition is a Toledo area artists show that has been going on at the Toledo Museum of Art for 95 years. All of a sudden this year, the museum curators decided that they themselves would be the judges. They opened it up to artists in Cleveland, Detroit, Columbus, Grand Rapids Michigan and beyond, encompassing a 150 mile radius from Toledo. They put 27 artists in the show but only 11 artists are from the 17 counties considered the Toledo area, the way it has been for 50 years. Out of the 11 Toledo area artists, the Toledo Museum curators chose two museum employees, the husband of a museum employee, and a few other insiders. This was a competition for which artists paid $30 to enter. I am shocked, appalled, insulted, angry, and very disappointed. My museum, which was recently voted most beloved by its local community, is betraying its roots, and is turning its back on the artists and residents of the city.
The museum must see that they have a profound influence on artists. They should never turn their backs on area artists. The museum should have more interaction with its local artists and nurture a reciprocal relationship that would be beneficial for all.