Friday, April 16, 2010

Fazal Sheikh

From our review of Fazal Sheikh's “Beloved Daughters” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery:
Activist-photographer Fazal Sheikh’s tales of women from the Indian holy city of Vrindavan are devastating. One woman recounts how her husband beat her when she failed to get pregnant. But after he took a second wife, she became pregnant after all, twice, giving the man two sons. When the husband died, the second wife set fire to a bed in which she slept with the younger boy, killing the baby. She survived with burns over half her body.

Another woman tells Sheikh: “I was at home alone one day when a neighbor forced himself on me and raped me. When I told my husband what had happened he said he could no longer accept me as his wife and I would have to leave.”

A third woman tells of choosing never to marry after a friend entered into a rare love-marriage and her husband burned her to death because he was upset because her family declined to provide a dowry.

So, as Sheikh tells in his exhibit “Beloved Daughters” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery, these ostracized women — mainly widows — move to Vrindavan, where they survive by begging, living their lives in devotion to Krishna, and yearning for moksha (heaven) — final transcendence of the cycle of rebirth. “I don’t know why this has happened to me,” a woman says. “I cared for both my sons, but neither of them has done anything to care for me in my old age. I ask myself, why has God given me this great pain?"
Read the rest here.

Fazal Sheikh's “Beloved Daughters” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, Providence, March 27 to May 30, 2010.

Pictured from top to bottom: Fazal Sheikh's photos "Manita" from the "Ladli" series; "Pramila Satar" from the "Moksha" series; "Malikh" from the "Ladli" series; "Jamuna Sarkar" from the "Moksha" series; "Simran" from the "Ladli" series; "Suniti Chatterjee," "Sita Dasi" and "Shaila Wala" from the "Moksha" series.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yaeger named director of New England Museum Association

Dan Yaeger has been named director of the New England Museum Association, the Arlington, Massachusetts, nonprofit announced today. He began work there during the first week of April, filling the shoes of Kate Viens, who is moving on to a part-time job at the Massachusetts Historical Society doing writing, research and editing projects.

Yaeger has been director of the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts, which has shut down temporarily after suffering flooding during the recent storms. Some have been concerned that the water damage would close the museum for good. “We’re going to be stronger than ever," Yaeger told the Globe on March 18. “We’re planning on reopening more in a manner of a few months rather than way off in the distance."

Previously Yaeger was a marketing and communications consultant to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Cleveland Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, Old Sturbridge Village, John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth. He was formerly executive director of the Massachusetts Tourism Coalition, a statewide group providing advocacy for the travel and tourism industry, and served as director of administration for the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.

Oct. 7, 2009: New England Museum Association director stepping down.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Schupbach leaves MA creative economy for NEA

Jason Schupbach, Massachusetts's first creative economy industry director, is leaving that post to become director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts at the end of May, the federal agency announced today.

Schupbach is expected to manage "the NEA's grantmaking for design and the NEA's design initiatives," the agency said.

Schupbach was appointed to Massachusetts creative industry director – billed as the first such position in the nation – in June 2008. The NEA touted his accomplishments here growing "new industry cluster groups, such as the Design Industry Group of Massachusetts (DIGMA), and launching a Design Excellence initiative, an effort to improve procurement processes in Massachusetts in order to build more sustainable and longer-lasting buildings and communities, and increase the number of designers being offered contracts."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Globe: The revolution begins with Harvard

A Yokelist response

Note: This expands upon a three-paragraph letter we submitted to the Globe on March 23 that the newspaper has not printed.

Harvard should lead a local art revolution.

That’s Dushko Petrovich’s bold proposal to wake up the “sleepy” Boston art scene in his essay “How to start an art revolution: A manifesto for Boston” in the March 14 Boston Globe. He proposes a top-down rebellion lead by our august nonprofits – a new Harvard art degree program, new local satellite venues for the Museum of Fine Arts and Institute of Contemporary art, as well as offering grants, housing and free tuition to local art students to keep them around here after they graduate.

These ideas have promise – including the notion of focusing on a “less market-dependent approach to creating art” with “less commercial and more experimental work that pushes culture forward.” And certainly our institutions could do more. But the ICA just erected a new building in 2006 and the MFA is scheduled to open a new wing this fall. Why would they immediately want to start opening satellite venues? And if they wanted to, could they gather funding to launch them?

More significantly, Petrovich’s focus on major institutions and academia has a major blind spot: What about locally-made art?

To criticize the practical details of Petrovich’s proposals may be missing the point, as his aim seems really to make grand, long-term, pie-in-the-sky proposals to spark discussion. I think.

But how can we become, as Petrovich says, “a real engine for the country’s creative life” if our boldest plans can be summarized as waiting for our august institutions to ride to our rescue? Petrovich’s proposals let us off the hook from doing hard work ourselves. His institutional focus reflects a common – and mistaken – notion that power and possibilities in Boston reside almost exclusively in our institutions. We need more do-it-yourself attitude – and more ambition.

Instead of waiting for Harvard, make our role model “Honk,” the festival of activist marching bands founded by a group of Boston area musicians, puppeteers and activists in 2006. The festival frames a significant trend in the arts, asserts Boston’s place as a leader in this movement, brings together artists from around the world to share their music and ideas … and is an awesome community party. It has inspired imitator festivals in Providence, Seattle, Montreal, and – yes – New York. It’s an example of local creative innovation that is leading the nation.

Other New England role models include AS220 in Providence, the Boston Cyberarts Festival, Bread and Puppet Theater in Vermont, Fort Thunder and Dirt Palace in Providence, the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham and Somerville, Massachusetts, Coleman Burke Gallery in Maine, and, ahem, The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research in greater Boston and our New England Art Awards.

Petovich sees things through a New York lens. So when he talks about the Art World, what he’s really talking about is New York. “Within the art world, a once bullish and even rowdy scene has become decidedly more circumspect, its members nervously hoping — some might say fantasizing — that some good can come of hard times, that the market’s crash might give a new, more humane shape to the art world.” He argues that Boston, “a sleeping giant,” has “a rare chance to develop a new model for American artistic life.”

That new model? “A European model, where universities, museums, and other public institutions — including the government, which can help with health care and rent stabilization — combine to encourage a different, less market-dependent approach to creating art.” “What if one of the universities helped the ICA secure a satellite location in a cheaper neighborhood, the way New York’s Museum of Modern Art runs the dynamic P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens? Imagine ICA Lower Allston.” “An annual art fair that attracted top collectors and media to the Hynes convention center in search of emerging talents.” A new Harvard graduate art degree program that would lure cool teachers – and their cool students – to Boston to “put the school on par with Yale and Columbia universities.” And this could “rouse the city’s other players into action.”

Massachusetts already offers health care. And rent control would be great. But the ICA should be like New York’s MoMA and P.S.1? We should have an annual art fair like Miami or New York? And Harvard should be more like Yale and Columbia?

Isn’t this just New York lite? We don’t become “a real engine for the country’s creative life” by creating our own smaller, lamer knockoffs of New York. We become a leader by inventing new things that other people make smaller, lamer knockoffs of. Like "Honk."

Petrovich’s (that's him above) focus on New York and academia may be a result of his own New York focus (he writes for and edits the New York-based contemporary art journal Paper Monument) and being ensconced in academia (studies at Boston University and Yale, a scholar/artist in residence at London’s Royal Academy, teaching at Boston University).

Which is probably why Petrovich is most perceptive about graduate students. He correctly identifies rent and school loan debt as major difficulties for young artists. His most original idea is “eliminate debt from advanced degrees in the arts.” He also proposes temporary exhibitions by recent grads around the city with prizes of “a year’s workspace and stipend.” But these ideas have limited potential for building a more exciting Boston, because the first idea doesn’t guarantee students will stay here after graduation. And the second idea is a one-year fix, not a sustainable long-term solution.

Better perhaps is his proposal for universities to work “together with the city and local museums to establish a network of post-graduate residencies for their outstanding students.” But how long would former students qualify for these benefits? And why focus so exclusively on students? What about the rest of us?

Petrovich’s central idea seems to be that more museums and more MFA programs produce more exciting art communities. But except for student work, Petrovich’s revolution generally ignores locally-made art. His proposals for the MFA and ICA don’t call for the museums to incubate local artists by showing more locally-made art or organizing traveling exhibitions that showcase our artists’ work elsewhere.

And he never considers how the Globe or Paper Monument might help. Wouldn’t it be dandy if the Globe’s top critics – the Pulitzer winners and finalists – paid more attention to local art? A quick scan of Globe and Paper Monument archives suggest that Petrovich himself may have never written about any art made in New England. (Correction: Turns out this is not quite right, as Petrovich informs us that he wrote a two-paragraph review of the ICA's Foster Prize show in 2008.)

Petrovich’s revolution is a revolution of the museums and universities, not a revolution of art-making. It’s a revolution that could mean expanded local institutions that continue to pay little attention to art made here. How can Boston be “a real engine for the country’s creative life” if we continue to ignore our artists?

Yokelist Manifesto Number 1: Boston lacks alternative spaces?
Yokelism at the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 2: Montreal case study.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 3: Hire locally.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 4: We need coverage of our living artists.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 5: We need local retrospectives.
Yokelism update: Coverage of our living artists: Sebastian Smee responds.
Yokelism update: Dangers of Provincialism.
Yokelism update: Re: Dangers of Provincialism.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 6: Could the CIA help?
Yokelism at the 2009 New England Art Awards.
Re: “Yokelism with your wallet out."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Boston pressures nonprofits to pay more
after tax breaks for big business

A Nightlight Team “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” Investigation

In December 2008, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (in the center above) told the Boston Chamber of Commerce that he planned to form a task force to look into “disparities” in what local hospitals, colleges and other tax-exempt nonprofits pay the city as a sort of voluntary tax. “Menino called on the need to create an equitable PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) system so that these relationships are fairer and generate more value, both in payments and in programs,” the mayor’s office then reported.

Last week, the nine-member PILOT Task Force, which has been meeting since January 2009, called on local tax-exempt nonprofits to increase their voluntary financial contributions to the city to 25 percent (pdf) of what they would owe if they had to pay taxes. Right now most nonprofits voluntarily pay less than 5 percent of what they, uh, don’t owe. (More details at bottom.)

As the city is pushing mid-sized and large nonprofits to pay more than they actually owe in taxes, the city and state continue to approve special million dollar tax breaks for big local businesses, allowing them to pay less than what they owe – like the $38.5 million in city and state tax breaks over two decades recently bestowed upon insurance giant Liberty Mutual to help it build a new office tower in Boston.

Tax revenues have become critical for the city as it – like government at all levels – continues to struggle financially in the lousy economy. For example, on Friday, April 9, the city’s Library Board of Trustees announced belt-tightening plans to close four public libraries and cut 94 jobs across the library system. (The announcement from the mayor’s office accentuates the positive: “Twenty-two BPL Branches to Remain Open with Current Hours.”)

Local nonprofits should pay their fair share of the city’s costs for fire, police and other services – but our laws say their fair share is nearly nothing, because we as a community have decided to subsidize hospitals and schools’ good works. In the “spirit of partnership,” the PILOT Task Force doesn’t push for a law changing the tax exemption for nonprofits. Very kind of them.

But why are we subsidizing big business, while Boston closes libraries and begs nonprofits for cash? Once the mayor’s task force finishes pressuring nonprofits to pay money they don’t owe, perhaps the committee can study the equity of the city and state’s special tax breaks for big business. These handouts have to be made up for somehow. It means some of us (in this case nonprofits) must pay more while all of us receive less of the services we pay for via our taxes (libraries, police, teachers, arts grants, etc.).

How much do Boston nonprofits voluntarily pay the city?
The city of Boston reported that it collected voluntary payments of $15.8 million from tax-exempt nonprofits in fiscal year 2008. A year ago, the city reported that: “In Fiscal Year 2009, the tax-exempt property owned by the educational institutions was valued at $7.0 billion, which, if taxable, would have generated $190.2 million in property taxes for the City of Boston. Tax-exempt property owned by the medical institutions was valued at $5.7 billion, which, if taxable, would have generated $154.8 million in property taxes for the City of Boston. Educational institutions will contribute an estimated $8.7 million in PILOT payments in fiscal year 2009, representing 4.6% of what they would pay if taxable. Medical institutions will contribute an estimated $5.8 million in PILOT payments in fiscal year 2009, which represents 3.8% of what they would pay if taxable.”

Previous Nightlight Investigative Team “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” Reports:
April 1, 2010: MA, RI subsidize millionaires, cut the arts.