Dear CAC Board,
When members of The Front heard from curator Amy Mackie that we’d be showing our work at the CAC, we were tremendously excited. We’d be showing in a museum! Or almost a museum. Even better to living artists committed to innovation, a contemporary arts center. Recognition by and the opportunity to show at the CAC felt like a reward and a hard sought professional opportunity.
On our own, the fourteen artists of The Front produce, curate, publicize, install and deinstall 30-40 shows a year. We gallery sit for our opening hours and help sell our artists’ work without taking a commission. We have built our audience since 2008, one person at a time, by creating the freshest programming we can and by respecting the calendar– not only of new shows opening every second saturday 12 months a year but also of our regular gallery opening hours (no matter what, if even only 2 people walk in the door). As art air ferns, we are skilled at making amazing things from the least promising of financial situations. Above all, we maintain an absolute commitment to professionalism.
While we are still doing our own programming at our own gallery throughout the duration of our CAC show, we were glad to partner with the CAC. There was going to be a catalog of our show as well as ongoing collaborations, events, and performances that took advantage of the CAC’s expanded venue. This, to our disappointment, is not likely to happen now. We hoped to introduce ourselves to new audiences– art patrons of all types, national and international tourists, anybody interested in the arts who was visiting New Orleans, without a car, for example. Our gallery can be difficult to access for many tourists, but the CAC stands within easy reach of the French Quarter and downtown hotels as a prominent, gorgeous brick and mortar institution of the arts.
Of course we made lighthearted fun of our exhibition opportunity in our collaborative group projects for the Spaces show. Were we being packaged for mass consumption? What does the CAC offer us that we couldn’t pull off in our ninth ward backyard? One key thing is institutional stature and recognition. Another is accessibility to new audiences and a heightened profile. Neither of these things happen without a visual arts department. Or when you are closed for weeks at a time during regular opening hours in order to cater to facility renters.
You sell your arts mission and your status as a contemporary arts center upriver when you prioritize private clients and renters over accessibility to the public and the artists who hang their work on your walls. Artists are not paid by ticket sales to the galleries. Unlike musicians or other performing artists, sales of our work yield commissions to the CAC. We pay to make our own work for exhibit, we come on our own time to install it. We publicize your shows and bring in new paying customers. Per dollar invested, we deliver maximal cultural content.
What commitment does the CAC make to retaining talented visual arts curators? We have seen the rapid turnover over the years and heard how there are entrenched institutionally misplaced priorities that contribute to this. Amy Mackie and her colleague Angela Berry have been an energetic team. We saw Amy’s work ethic and suspect her tenacity, discipline, focus, and devotion to her projects is what enabled her to accomplish what she did in such a short time.
Spaces enabled us- as hard working artists committed to the arts in New Orleans– to pool our efforts and contributions with our fellow Bywater arts collectives, to help raise New Orleans’ profile via exhibition programming at the CAC in the visual arts. Shows like Spaces and NOLA Now begin to reflect the dynamism of what has been going on in the visual arts in this city since Katrina. It could be argued that we brought more to the table than we’ve been given. We’re not making money off the show. We’re still doing our own programming and keeping the lights on at our own spaces. As tired as we get, we don’t close down for periods of time. We are sometimes contacted for space rentals, and though we need the money badly, we consider what we stand for, and that is showing the best art we can to the broadest group of people. For free.
We keep our website updated. We don’t temporarily misplace the price lists for works on display in our gallery as the CAC recently did for NOLA Now: Part II in the midst of a flurry of requests from interested buyers after the SweetArts Ball. When we are contacted by schools, students, journalists, we open up our gallery outside of opening hours because we are committed to showing art.
On the CAC website, Visual Arts is listed last on the web page menu masthead. The calendar of performing arts events listed seems relatively sparse. In contrast, there are nearly 100 visual artists currently exhibiting on the 1st floor, and nearly 40 on the second floor.
There has been no indication on the website of when the CAC has been or is closed during its regularly scheduled hours. This drastically affects scheduling of school field trips (Rachel Avena Brown’s in particular) or out of town travelers who come expressly to New Orleans to see particular shows and events. Do you keep statistics on the numbers of people who try the door handle and find it unexpectedly locked?
The last minute changes to show dates (the NOLA Now landscape show’s extension was announced to artists in the last hours of its last announced day) has a drastic impact on artists who lead demandingly scheduled lives. What if their work is promised to other shows? Artists undertaking installation of work for the subsequent show have taken days off work, made time-sensitive installation plans– and only get told of changes less than 48 hours before. During installation of Spaces, we saw that the CAC’s clear priorities are to event renters. When hanging our show, we were told to stay invisible from all the people in party hats. To use back stairs. We have heard about film crews working in our gallery without notification.
We run a shoestring, DIY, volunteer based gallery, and we respect the calendar. 10 walk-ins a day might not stack up against what you get from a party rental, but respecting your viewing audience, staying open, reliably and regularly, is how you respect your contemporary art mission, the art on the walls and your institutional commitment (for receiving grant money of any kind) to make it accessible to the broadest possible audience.
The CAC was founded by visual artists. We ask that the board take a measurable position towards the CAC’s Visual Arts program. What does the CAC stand for?
How do you address the problems that led to the wholesale exiting of your visual arts department?
Can you commit in writing that there will be no further disruptions to our show than the dates in April you’ve already indicated? As a shift in future policy, we recommend including as part of the contracts exhibiting artists sign any scheduled disruptions, film shoots, changes in viewing hours.
How do you plan to protect the physical integrity of art work on your walls during upcoming event and facility rentals? We have particular interest in how Rachel Avena Brown’s piece will be protected from construction and ambient dust.
How will you support and enable the collectives’ special projects planned for Spaces? If you are going to do a catalog, please commit to a timetable for accomplishing it.
When gallery patrons inquire about prices of our work who will handle them? Without visual arts staff, who will communicate with journalists and reviewers who seek information about the show and its artists?
Is facility rental a permanent part of the CAC’s long term plan or a fixed term response to budget issues that can be resolved by these rentals?
We encourage you to watch the slide show of images from our various galleries’ programming, on view from the sofa in the Spaces exhibit. It shows mind-boggling achievements. Shows after shows after shows.