Is Public Art ‘Going to the Cats?’

Miles Davis Banner w/cat

Miles Davis Banner w/cat

By Marcia E. Gawecki

You’ve heard the expression, “Going to the dogs?” Which means whatever it is is going to hell, but they didn’t want to say it.

Well, art submissions in California are pretty close. They’re “Going to the cats!”

The California Arts Council has a web site dedicated to artist call for entries (www.cac.ca.gov). It’s open to any group that wants to post a job for artists. Generally, entries are split into northern and southern California. But it’s a nice bag of goodies for artists to pick from, including online magazines, murals, and a variety of shows from miniatures, to all nudes to landscapes.

When I first came upon it, I thought it was an artist’s gold mine! Here, I could apply for juried art shows. My Pop Art Portraits would win a monetary prize and I’d be famous! Well, not so fast!

Wwhen you sign up, you realize there’s always a submission fee. Generally, it’s $35 for 3-5 JPEGs.

Art commissions generally don't include travel time, gas, hotels and meals.

Art commissions generally don’t include travel time, gas, hotels and meals.

When I entered a juried art show in Chicago, I thought the $35 fee was a little steep, but doable, if I could  win. But then I realized there would be shipping costs to and from Chicago, and then the gas, hotels and meals for Opening Night (a mandatory requirement).

And then all artwork had to be for sale, and the gallery would get half.

Then I got the rejection email. “Thank you for your interest, but we had as many as 400 entries, and it was a tough decision. We hope that you will still come to the show.”

I did the math. At $35 a pop, that institution made $14,000 on all of us hopefuls.

“Don’t you know that’s how these places make their money?” said a photographer friend of mine. “I wouldn’t enter any more juried shows unless the juror is someone who can help your career.”

I was dumbstruck. No wonder the Chicago gallery could afford to give out $1,000 worth of prizes. They just made a bunch on us!

Every now and then, on the CAC web site, there’s a listing that doesn’t charge an entry fee. In fact, the one I applied for in September at the New Mexico State University art gallery was also willing to pay for shipping–both ways!

It was a show that I really wanted to be part of because it had to do with race relations. Ever since the Trayvon Martin case, I’ve been disgusted with our legal process. How can a black teenager who was minding his own business end up dead? And the shooter goes free!

To add insult to injury, there were a few Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman pairs on Facebook during Halloween. And several dumb white people got caught with “Blackface.”

It’s really never OK.

Jazz banner of Etta James by Marcia Gawecki

Jazz banner of Etta James by Marcia Gawecki

Anyway, I have several large banners of jazz greats, including Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. I also have a smaller banner of President Barack Obama that I made after one of his speeches in 2008. It still hangs on the back of my front door in Idyllwild.

I’m not sure what I submitted, but I was so happy to be part of the juried show.

Well, I never heard back from the art gallery at New Mexico State University, so I don’t think that my banners made the cut. But that art submission stands out like a beacon.

It seems like all of them require submission fees. I can understand the cost of doing business, but do they really need to make $14,000 on one show?

After all, the artwork that artists submit are the meat and potatoes of their show. Without their art, there would be no show! Furthermore, there would be no online magazine without art. And no public mural or festival.

So why try and gouge the artists who are making the show possible?

I don’t bother with online magazines. They aren’t even giving you a real, walk in the door and look at the paintings and sculptures show. It’s all online, and has to do with the number of hits they’re bragging that they get. They talk about making your art famous somewhere in the stratosphere, but they want your money first.

The Los Gatos Art Project sounded great to a cat lover like me!

The Los Gatos Art Project sounded great to a cat lover like me!

The one that really took the cake this week was the town of Los Gatos, near Santa Cruz. I am a big cat lover. I have five cats at home that consume about $20 in canned cat food and treats each week. But you can’t put a price on my sanity! They keep me grounded and make me laugh every day!

Anyway, Los Gatos is hosting a Cat Walk art project. Artists are encouraged to submit 10-15 drawings of sculptured cats that would be displayed in trees downtown.

“The proposed project would celebrate the town’s namesake through a creative and integrated display of 3-dimensional cats in downtown trees,” it states. Sounds really great until you read the fine print.

The cats can’t be made of wood, but of metal or fiberglass to withstand the elements. The town is willing to pay $533 to $800 apiece for the 15 cat sculptures. The total budget is $8,000.

And there’s a possibility that they’ll split the commission among two artists, who will get $4,000 each.

Wow, it sounds like a lot of money until you break it down. The artist has to make the 15 glass or metal sculpture, and then make it big enough for passersby to see. It has to be 10-15 inches tall, and only weigh about 10 pounds.

I don’t know much about making sculptures, but if you cast or create a cat with metal, it’s going to cost a lot and weigh a lot.

I’ll bet there’s no metal sculptors on the reviewing committee. Otherwise, they’d be screaming, “Foul!”

The guidelines state that the artist also has to pay to have it mounted to the trees, so there’s no theft, vandalism and damage. (There’s also a part about making sure that the mount doesn’t damage the trees. How is that possible? Is an arborist going to test the tree for stress?)

OK, so the artist gets a great commission to make some metal cat sculptures of several different designs, and then pay to have it mounted. But then there’s travel costs.

The Los Gatos commission didn't include travel expenses.

The Los Gatos commission didn’t include travel expenses.

As a matter of perspective, Los Gatos is closer to San Jose than Santa Cruz, and is about 450 miles from Idyllwild. That would be a two-day trip that includes gas, meals, and hotels. Not to mention you have to bring along a helper (if you’re not married), and all of their expenses. You also have to spend a couple of days in Los Gatos mounting those 15 cats to the trees.

Gotta make sure that they look good from all angles.

For the Los Gatos project, there’s less and less for the poor sculptor (who may not even break even) and more for the town. That might even be OK if the sculptor became famous, or got some side work out of the deal.

More than likely, it’ll just be an article and a couple of photos in the paper during the installation.

And maybe another one down the road when one of the cats gets “tagged” or stolen by some punk kids.

Public art projects need to focus more on the artist’s needs, and fully compensate them for their time, talent and efforts.

Gallery artists who are loaning their artwork to make a show, should not have to pay to be considered. They should not have to pay to ship their artwork back and forth.

Starving artists are often taken advantage of in the name of art.

Starving artists are often taken advantage of in the name of art.

I’m convinced that “starving artists,” who are looked upon in our society as those who can’t manage their money or career well, are taken advantage of in the name of art. All you have to do is look closely on the CAC web site.

It’s time to waive the entry fees and give fine artists the respect they deserve. Because without art, all the art shows, festivals, online magazines, and public art projects would just be empty rooms and  parks.

Whomever submits the winning entry for the Los Gatos Art Project should also mount a tip jar.

Copyright 2013 Marcia Gawecki Art. All rights reserved.