Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Letter to Lou

Dear Louis,

The 30-minute documentary on Artisan Works has evoked some rather strong feelings in me. Yesterday you were among some of your best friends and most loyal supporters. I was one of them. I held my tongue during the Q&A session because I didn’t want to spoil the celebration and have my house light up like a Christmas tree. Understanding you are undergoing therapy, I will attempt to present my thoughts in the best light possible.

I failed to understand the way you explained Artisan Works as “art for the blue collar” or “blue collar art funded by the white collar.” As I looked around in the audience yesterday I didn’t find Joe the Plummer or Larry the Cable Guy. What I saw were corporate management, retirees, community supporters and young and eclectic minds like myself. To say that Artisan Works is art of the blue collar is misleading at best and offensive and condescending at worst.

Can there be an Artisan Works in a different city? To answer that question we need to closely examine why it has been so successful here in Rochester. In order to establish a facility like Artisan Works it takes a leader with vision and commitment, a team of staff and volunteers with uttermost dedication, a community that cherish art and philanthropy and a net work of talented local artists who believes in their craft. I am honored to call this community home. Artisan Works would not exist without any of those elements. Again, I fail to see the blue collar connection here. The concept of art sells and earning project funding through rental programs and private events is great. However, don’t think for a second that the program could thrive without generous support from local corporations and charitable individuals. To say in the documentary that the program is self sufficient and does not depend on public funding is insincere and ungrateful. As a member I feel deeply offended. My contribution to the facility should be used to fund its further developments and reward the dedicated staff, not to be utilized to further corporate greed by expanding franchises outside of this area.

To take this a step further, your statement that the Artisan Works is not funded through taxes is in fact incorrect. Non-profit status is a privilege granted by the government. Tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is set up by the government to stimulate private donation in place of government spending. Although Artisan Works may not directly receive tax money, any donation made from a corporate or individual under 501(c)(3) receives a tax exemption, which means a reduction in tax revenue to the IRS. This externality is actually captured in the economy as government spending. So consider this when you send the expensive marketing brochures to mayors across America, do they want corporation to fund an Artisan Works or do they want to collect that tax revenue to fund low-income housing , food banks or cancer research?

If commercialism is the route you want to take then let’s do it well. Rather than going after public officials and universities, look for another dictator like yourself. Go to the TED conference and pitch your ideas to industry leaders and entrepreneurs. Rebrand the corporate rental program to “Art Therapy for Corporate Souls” and make it nationwide. Ultimately no idea without passion and commitment will come to fruition.

I am truly disappointed by the documentary. Although Artisan Works may have a complex setup the idea is pure and simple. Rather than focusing on the commercial possibilities as a member and audience I was hoping to see more of its history, revelations, artists and design elements. To me the only difference between the 30-minute documentary about Artisan Works and a three-am-infomercial is lack of fervor.

There is a big difference between Art that Sells and art that is selling out. I believe in Art that Sells. I believe in outreach program for schools, corporate rentals and catering to private events. What I don’t believe in is art that is selling out. What may have started as a pure and simple concept of collecting local art/historical pieces and making it accessible to people from all walks of life is now being packaged like a frozen dinner for franchising. It disgusts me to witness a homegrown passion funded by community supporters to be turned into an artificial chain fueled by greed. I am sad to say that my image of Artisan Works will never be the same again. I will no longer advocate for the independent gallery that I once loved. The only thing I can agree with the documentary is that Louis Perticone is a dictator. As history have showed us time and time again all dictators regardless of their initial popularity eventually falls to their demise for hubris and greed.

- Your ex-supporter