ACC Conference - An Opinion from Wendy Rosen
October 30, 2009
Only one person has taken me up on the offer to use my blog to continue a conversation started at the 2009 ACC Conference. Wendy Rosen requested that her response to Garth Clark’s lecture be posted here for your review and commentary. You are welcome to post your comments in response.
Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Wendy Rosen, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.
10/30/09 An Opinion from Wendy Rosen.
Garth Clark's 2008 lecture, "How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement," inspired him to deliver an encore presentation at the recent 2009 ACC Conference, “Creating a New Craft Culture,” in Minneapolis.
Clark changed the name of his lecture, originally titled “The Case for Conservatism,” to “Palace and Cottage,” and then launched into a brutal and comedic post-mortem of the American Craft Council, which concluded with thunderous applause from the attendees, many of whom were current ACC trustees and fellows.
While Clark’s presentation may have been the first “formal” slam targeted directly to the ACC’s trustees and fellows, what he addressed has actively been discussed in back rooms (and yes, even ACC exhibitor meetings) for at least the past 20 years.
In no uncertain terms, he accused the “AARP ACC board” for its nearly 30-year history of misguided efforts and accumulated lack of relevance to the entire crafts community.
Given the title change, Clark clearly recognizes and even embraces the (not so recent) democratization among disparate contemporary craft communities ranging from the DIY, ETSY and Steampunk crowd all the way to the museum acquisition/one-of-a-kind sector.
His recognition of such nonjudgmental craft equality may come as a surprise to those who know him as a major New York gallery owner, dealer, and critic. I’m sure he is not the only insulated New Yorker who had yet to recognize other arts organizations that decades ago began expanding to fill the ever-widening void created by the negligence of the ACC. Yet it’s wonderful to see what happens to someone when he finally steps outside of his New York art world bubble.
Now permanently transplanted to new digs in Nuevo Mexico, Clark has declared his personal appreciation for all sectors of the movement, from amateurs to production artists and beyond, and now proclaims that the Council has indeed outlived its usefulness.
Clark’s visceral critique of the ACC and its victims (at an ACC-sponsored event, no less) was received with both shock and awe by the audience as his arrows hit the most misguided ideals the Council has fought to defend and protect.
Clark’s lecture made me realize my own neglect, that I should have reached out to him years ago with an invitation to the Buyers Market of American Craft in Philadelphia, where he could have discovered a democratic marketplace where $45 million in quality production craft is regularly sold in just a few days.
Ironically, Clark’s vision of “the future” is actually a reality to the 1,000-plus production artists who have left the Council over the last three decades as the Council abandoned its best programs and services in lieu of dancing with the twin devils of elitism and arrogance.
Garth Clark’s career has been rich and deep, at least in the rarified air of dealing in museum-quality craft, but now he’s trying to catch up with what he’s missed (or ignored) and to expand his understanding of the real and ongoing marketplace for professional production and functional makers.
He can obviously name the entire list of 1970s Rhinebeck artists who took the glittering path from production to prosperity, but there is a huge gap in his knowledge about the diverse paths and opportunities available to so many successful artists in the production marketplace.
Many of the “needs” Clark outlined in his lecture are fulfilled in the “middle marketplace.” Yes, Garth, there is (and has always been) a world outside of the ACC and its New York duchy. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of other arts organizations provide business education, mentoring, guild co-operative support, wholesale markets, magazines, and online wholesale websites. And yes, AmericanStyle magazine even has well-established tourism economic development programs and websites for cultural travelers.
Clark may be a newcomer to the crowds at any one of a thousand small town First Friday events. He needs only to read the annual Top 25 Arts Destinations issue of AmericanStyle magazine or “Google” the words “arts walk”, “gallery crawl” or “studio tour” to find our new craft culture.
While the integrity of the jurying process and the best practices of the ACC may well become part of our past, we in the production/limited-edition sector of the arts marketplace are at peace with all of that.
If years ago, the Council had provided an umbrella support system, the development of a new progressive marketplace would have been a much less painful process for the thousands of artists and organizations we’ve lost due to recessions and the lack of business education and resources.
The Council could still create an “information hub” for every arts organization and thus receive as much financial support from groups as it receives from individuals. The successful community of for-profits including SOFA, The Rosen Group’s Buyers Markets of American Craft, ACRE, ETSY, NICHE, AmericanStyle magazine, Artful Home, and dozens of regional guilds, could become loyal, generous, and grateful supporters.
The ACC could still become a leader, just not THE leader, providing the necessary “glue” and services to help us all move forward so we can grow in smarter, more pragmatic ways. But its pre-Glasgow strategy was always “all or nothing.”
Over the past 30 years, the ACC has been struggling to find its way. It finally hit on the “right” thing to do when it hired Andrew Glasgow, a member of our own tribe, as executive director. It was a short, glorious time for the artists, academics, leaders of other artist organizations, writers, and the media. His recent illness is only one of ACC’s great losses.
Today the organization is faced with finding new headquarters, new staffers, new leadership, and a new vision, as well as coping with the problems of a smaller and rapidly aging membership base.
In these sunset years, the ACC is worn down by staff turnover, diminished resources, and erosion of membership support. It faces issues that few, in this condition could overcome (and only a completely delusional new executive director would be willing to take on.)
A Board of Trustees filled with affluent collectors and upper-crust professionals will never understand the needs of working artists in the trenches. The by-laws set forth by Mrs. Webb clearly provided for a balance between the “classes” on the board. It’s sad to see so few Trustees attending more than one day of any ACC show. Had they stayed for a few days, they might have learned what their member artists really needed.
I know I’m not the only member that has offered solutions and assistance (more times than I could recall). But, it seems the ACC board may be too proud (or arrogant) to accept help. The everything in “them and us” culture prevents them from embracing new ideas or partners. If they had only seen the bigger picture... Now it may be too late.
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This post was updated on January 5, 2022, to provide current links.