A MODEST PROPOSAL
Our current school system is broken and attempts to make it work have never been successful. We have a continual battle between the school board, parents and unions that produce small increments of change and improvement, and we accept the terrible results for graduation and test scores. It's like trying to keep the old car running when it has long past its usefulness. It's time for a 'sea' change that will bring many protests from all sides. I would like to propose a new system of public education that would bring more harmony and better results for students, parents and teachers, and therefore society as a whole.
My proposal is this. All certified teachers are put into pools divided by first and secondary teaching. Anyone who wants to be a principle administrator must run for the position. This may include trained administrators and/or any one who may see themselves as qualified through life experience. They would have to present themselves to the teaching pool and after due process the teachers would vote on them. The highest vote receivers would get the available positions but they would be placed in schools not by their choosing but by lottery. The principals would then pick their administrative staffs and by agreement the teachers that they need. All teachers would receive a base salary considering past experience. The school board would assign and pay maintenance and building upkeep. They would be responsible for school supplies and their distribution.
Students would be assigned a monetary value based on the amount allotted for education from the city, town and state. As each student graduates by passing a State University designed test some of that monetary value would go to the school and to the teachers whose classes the student had attended. Both administrators and teachers would have a financial benefit to educate the students and also to help each other in accomplishing that goal. That will mean that the faculty as a whole will also want to and have to police its own staff, hire new replacements out of the pool of available teachers, in order to enjoy the benefits of higher graduation rates and financial incentives. The principal (and staff) would also be replaceable by election every four years. Each school would be an independent unit, small enough and stable enough to determine its goals and success.
The part that the State University plays in designing the tests needed for graduation is obvious. It has insight into what degree of lower education is needed for success at the University level and for those going directly into the work force. The State University can also advise schools on their direction and curriculum needed to best prepare for final testing.
Parents will also be slightly rewarded out of the 'student value'. They will be compensated for their responsibility to get their child to school and on time for a certain percentage of the school year.
Another part of this plan is to eliminate bussing as much as possible. That means returning to neighborhood schools, with parents responsible to walk or drive their children to school. Cooperation within neighborhoods and policing can help with this problem. The huge savings on bussing to schools, plus the evenhandedness and improvement of schools will outweigh the benefits of bussing.
To accomplish these changes would require a Herculean effort. Almost everyone now employed in the present system; teachers, union leaders and administrators would resist change. Even if the will is there it could require a closing down of the present system, the firing of all teachers preceding rehiring and much planning ahead. Continuing on the present path however will never return the country to lead in education.
A wonderful thing happened on Tuesday, Election Day. We threw the bums out. It’s been a government of secrecy, arrogance and deception, manipulating the facts for their own ends. A not so wonderful thing, but in some ways similar, happened on Friday the 10th. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery announced that it is selling much of its antiquities collection. The “deaccession” of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery antiquities comes as a shock to many in the art community. Louis Grachos has put his ‘secret’ plan to sell off the antiquities of our community art gallery into motion before any public input can be heard. The gallery has the impression that it’s not a part of this community. Grachos acts like many CEOs of today’s business corporations. We are supposed to accept that he knows what is best. The board of directors goes along with the (CEO) director. (That’s unusual?) The oversight committee appointed by Grachos agrees. (No surprises there). Meanwhile we are getting our layoff notices or our pink slips delivered with the morning paper. No more African, Oceanic or Pre-Columbian art for us. We read about it in Friday’s Buffalo News. It’s a done deal, on the calendar for Sotheby’s next March. Grachos says that these collections “are outside of the gallery’s mission” and are rarely shown. An arrogant “appointee” to the oversight committee, Richard Armstrong, considers this “an elegant and open way” to sell the collection. What is open about a coup d’etat? That’s like Bush government transparency. He adds that much of the collection hasn’t been shown for a long time. Therefore the “food chain is getting along nicely without it.” There’s a neat case of circular thought. (If we don’t see the body bags, we can’t object.) We can’t miss what is hidden in the stacks. Isn’t it Grachos who decides what to show and he who fills the halls with interminable, boring minimalist art? Is it this excuse for art, that he’s really planning to purchase with his new endowment and shouldn’t the gallery at least bring these pieces of “deaccessible” art out into the light for public input before the guillotine falls? What about this mission statement? If the gallery wants to show and collect today’s artists does it have to be exclusive of showing other art? None of the past directors had that problem. It’s sad that Grachos doesn’t know that art is a series of building blocks, that the future and present is built on the art of the past. Artists are often inspired by past art, as some of the impressionists were after seeing ancient Asian art. The gallery has also received funding for education. I assume that art history is part of that. Grachos sees the gallery as fashion ramp. Trot out the new designs, live only in the present and ignore history. He’s being presidential but not very wise. We don’t live in New York City where there is the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, one dedicated to the past the other to the near present. In Buffalo we have only this venue to see these priceless pieces. Selling our antiquities is to deprive us, and the future Buffalo generations, of access to the first hand experience of seeing them or any early art. (Many people don’t or can’t make the pilgrimage to the Met.) The African collection was mentioned as one of the parts of the collection to be “axed.” How is that going to be accepted by our African-American community? It was said that the gallery possesses 6,500 pieces of art. Well! Bring it out! Let’s see it for a change. The Albright-Knox is part of this community. Their history is a part of Buffalo’s history. They sit as a shrine in a public park, tax free and partially funded by community tax dollars and by local contributors and members. But the people who run the gallery are elitists. If the gallery wants to be a national or international museum, and aloof from this community, then let them get their funding from New York City or Paris, not the Buffalo and Erie County working stiffs. The county legislature and the city should threaten the AKAG with loss of funding if it doesn’t consider this community before it makes these rash decisions. Instead of axing our great collections, let’s throw these bums out.
October 18, 2014
ANN FRANK PROJECT
Looking back in our history we see the pyramid as the great symbol of ‘ancient’ time. It’s still used on our money and is a great sign of stability with its large base and diminished top. It was used too in this hemisphere as well as in Egypt. That long history is full of conflict from tribal to world wars. There was little that was stable and lives were and are considered cheap fodder for the ambitions of the few and powerful who seek power and hide behind flags and patriotic symbols to line the pockets of themselves and friends.
We do however see some signs of an effort to change the destructive flow of time. These efforts are seen in Africa where Mandela applied forgiveness as a tonic to peace with whites and even earlier when the rebuilding of Germany and Europe broke a cycle of war. Reading Ann Frank’s diary brings home the message of wars waste, and how poor we are to have lost the many casualties that could have brought light into this dark history.
If the pyramid is a symbol of the past, we can turn it on it point and reverse the negative flow of history. We can build a pyramid of air, not stone, using positive messages that flow up to a higher ideal. We lost Ann Frank but not her idealism and her model of humanity. She said “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death! “ She has.
Description of the project:
The project uses messages from the student body to Ann Frank to construct a pyramid hanging form the ceiling to the floor. The messages are tied to monofilament lines hanging from the ceiling and form an upside down pyramid. Each message is folded, simply and hopefully in an origami way to represent a flying or winged bird the symbol of peace. The sculptural shape, precariously balanced, is airy and transparent, yet it derives it’s strength from the form itself.
September, 2016 Ann Frank project Buffalo State College
PROFITEERING IN ART
Charles W. Banta replies for the AKAG Board of directors that the letters of September 11 contain factual errors and serious misrepresentations of the gallery and sale. He laments that strong opinions should be based on facts and I agree. He and the board or directors should also be held to this and higher standards. Even publicly traded corporations have to adhere to some standards of honesty when they deal in the public domain. Corporate officials have recently seen hard time for their ‘misrepresentations’.
But it’s sometimes hard to get the facts from the gallery when their goal is to stonewall us and keep us at bay until the sale is a done deal. Questions are asked but the gallery still won’t answer. It’s hard to keep beating the brush when you can’t get the truth to fly. What truth is obvious is that there is a strong motivation for the board of directors to force their decision on us.
Banta goes on in his letter making several points that circumvent major questions about the sale. He points out that the gallery was established in 1862 not 1875, that Sotheby’s estimate is such and such, that space limitations make keeping some of the collections in storage (not limitations of their imaginations or other motivations), that MOMA’s budget is off the charts, and more and more trivia that has nothing to do with central questions about the sale and how and why it was and continues to be misrepresented.
Some questions that have not been answered are: What other options to increase the collection budget have been considered and why have they been dismissed in favor of this drastic action?
If their state mandate is educational, how does selling the tools of education fill their mandate? How is the linkage from the present to the past made without antique art?
Why has the gallery misrepresented the history of its 'mission', when one only needs to read its own "100", a book published by the Albright Art Gallery to see the truth? I have quoted in a previous letter other past gallery directors and their views on how the ‘antiques collection’ fit into what then was a gallery mission.
These questions lead us to wonder:
How can selling the antiques in order to buy speculatively valued goods in a high market be a wise decision instead of a questionable gamble? What would possess any board of directors of any museum to push a museum collection into buying in a ‘hot’ market? Could there be profits to be made and personal collections that would increase in value as the result of these actions? Would holding positions on art boards give members a heads up on what art to buy for their personal collections? Is the art that we find today in museums a factor of profit taking instead of intellectual discrimination? Isn’t knowing where the art market is going (pushed) an advantage that can lead to ‘insider trading’ as it is known in the corporate world? What ‘higher standards’ are there for non-profit corporations and the people that run them?
January 2007 on deaccession
I hope your time in Italy was great and you didn’t gain too much weight looking at art and eating.
Gerry and I were walking home from Spot and I was talking about the art scene, mostly about how it has changed in the last few decades. It’s sometimes hard to find an art review as the importance of art has dwindled from an already frivolous position in society.
There has been a ‘sea change’ since that little thing called the iPod allowed access and opened the floodgates to the music revolution. Library now means what music you carry on your device, not a place to read or research. Music is now the national pastime but where does that leave art?
Andy Warhol was the last superstar of the art world, a household name. Now no one can name a famous artist or know what the art looks like or how to describe it. Really, music has taken over as the major interest of society with Lady Gaga as the present queen. But it’s not that the quality or message of music is any better than twenty or fifty years ago. But its popularity has soared. We use to look down on country music as déclassé and limited to your dog and bad behavior. Now it’s in. No one could have imagined Rap or Hip Hop. And Blues has soared in spite of its repetitive form and message. And notice NPR, many programs have changed formats to include more music and many more interviews with musicians. Locally we have three hours of the blues every night. Dance to the music, with its heavy beat you can jump up and down all night. Music reduced to repetition. “Put another nickel in, I’ll keep loving you and music, music, music.” Bring back the Beatles and resurrect John Lennon, please.
Yet that’s where it’s at. The News, not alone, has taken to follow the crowd in order to survive. (I think we’re all in the survival mode, even if we don’t know it.) The paper is full of pap, like a recent full front-page piece on the Ice Cream Cone, or some ones garden, you name it. When I was a kid there wasn’t one word of coverage about school sports. Now the paper’s full of Teen’s in an effort to sell papers. Check the front page of the News and compare it to the New York Times front page. What important in depth articles have been missed. But even in papers art occupies the back page of the Arts and Leisure section. Get to the back of the bus, Art, get next to the page on cars. ArtVoice? Call it something else. And in New York City, a city that’s the ‘art capital’ of the world, name-dropping in the Style Section is where the attention is focused for the ‘in people’.
We can’t blame this denigration of art only on the resurgence of music. Seeing is our most important sense and our best information-gathering tool. Would you rather be blind or deaf? I can’t imagine living in a dark world. Artists carry the burden for the importance of their work. It has become decorative on one end and an ‘ivory tower’ on the other. Of all the titles of art movements (pop, op, kinetic, etc.) minimal art is the most descriptive. Less is less in this case. Can this really capture the attention of the public? Can it even capture the attention of gallery regulars? I know how seductive these platforms are to artists looking to forge ‘new’ inroads into the art market. How do we advance the way we see and perceive? But look at how removed this is from the way we live. We live in a world of chaos, climate change, war, revolution, a world of huge disparity between the haves and have nothings, between plastic surgery for glamor and clean water for the poor. We consider that the end of the world may be around the corner, that environmental problems can cause huge changes in migration, water supply, and crop problems. Yet the art world goes on, in dreamland, and clueless.
August 6, 2014
I wake up, 3 am and can’t help but sift through random thoughts. They flow like branches clogging up the stream of consciousness. This night a branch that I’ll call Critic, stuck in my craw, because of a prior short email sent criticizing me for pressing possible donors for my environment project. I replied but that’s not important.
It did get me thinking of the roll of the critic or their history. I’m in Mexico now where art is everywhere and it exists and thrives in spite of a minimum of art critics. Art does exist and has existed without critics writing about it.
There was a lot of time between early artists doing cave painting and the Sistine Chapel and more time until the first art museum was created. During this time and until the development of the press not a lot was written about art, but still art and artists persevered and they were probably more appreciated.
The competition for artists between the church and the wealthy created the first art market, the first opportunity for money to define value, and later an opportunity for museums to develop and galleries to spring up. Then came the art critic, gaining prominence and some power as did the museums, they were able to direct the flow of interest and consequentially with it some money to support the artist. So there were forces in the art market defining the value of art and artists.
But art exists with or without the market. Exists without critics or museums. It exists everywhere, in Mexico and in your backyard. It perseveres because some lucky few are inspired to create in spite of not being supported for their work, not recognized and often taken advantage by schools and systems that pay lip service, but a minimum of support.
A large community of artists exists in Buffalo in spite of some negative factors that work against it. We lucky few persevere because it’s important and rewarding for us to be able to create, the process and feeling of accomplishment is it’s own reward. I can imagine the difference between this art community life in Buffalo, compared to what it would be like to struggle for recognition in the Big Apple.
In the studio we can enter into another world, a world so different from the rest of our lives, where we try to get by, relate to others, and find fulfillment, whenever, that happens. But life in the studio is not all fun and games; it takes work, sometimes repetitiously boring. I remember as a young artist having done a painting that seemed to be very good but was quickly finished without struggle, without the amount of work I felt that should have been necessary to have accomplished it. It was a hollow victory so to speak. I felt robbed having succeeded without the enjoyment of the battle.
“We few, we happy few,” No, we lucky few! Artists, wake up, be gratified when our art is not taken by museums to rot in their storage vaults, probably never seen again. We should appreciate that we can and will survive without museums and the finely crafted words of those who will never know what it’s like to create.
Pick up some sand and run it through your fingers. Consider the long span of geological history and realize that our civilization won’t last. All paintings and sculpture including the great works of art will be treated equally by time reduced to ashes and dust. This recognition puts me in my place but it is also a relief. Accepting mortality gives me the freedom to work without restraint, boundary or expectation.
Now I can sleep.
One must wonder which of the two Buffalo News articles was the funniest. Was it Chicken Little's revolt on the thruway causing a spillover with a rush to freedom for chicks headed to the guillotine, or was it, in my opinion, the even funnier article about an artist amusing the Albright Knox Art Gallery's board of directors by doing a paintings solely of the skin color of Charles Banta and friends. Unfortunately these vacuous paintings in some way reflect the mindset of the chosen few who have sold a history of art to indulge their quirky values. Is not the value of art about content, emotion, craft and history? Recent acquisitions remind one of the story of the 'Emperor's invisible clothes'. The AKAG tries to convince us of the value of blank canvases by throwing money at them but in spite of that we do see the 'naked' truth.
I don’t know for sure, but I was pretty convinced at the time, that your statements in that article were really the way you felt. You were positively giddy about seeing the Warhol museums (somewhere in Pennsylvania) and it’s such an odd thing to say for someone who wants to be taken seriously. I remember talking to Jamie Moses about it and later writing about the whole current art scene including your love, Vito Assconti, (sp) and his trip through the Louvre. I never took you seriously after that and haven’t read any of your published work since.
Don’t blame me for my referrals to your statement on the gallery. John Massier brought your statement into his criticism of me to bolster his argument. I told him that it was he who started this but he claims rightly that I had written the criticism of the gallery and it was fair game for his response. That also applies to you. If you put it in print, it’s up there to be used or criticized. And it applies to the Warhol article. If I was wrong in what I remembered about it, I will apologize.
You are wrong about the art sale basing your views on the display factor. None, none of the prior directors considered that a reason to not show them. Grachos is the person responsible to show the collection and if he can make room for some of the huge pieces that have required extraordinary efforts he could manage to put some effort into showing these small pieces. Museums are often lacking in some way to put on the perfect exhibit, but it’s not a good enough reason not to show them at all or even a worse reason to sell the artifacts.
I feel that you display little soul when it comes to this sale and it reinforces my feelings about you (right or wrong) that you want to be the most avant-garde critic and will never disagree with the art establishment. If that’s true it puts you in a class not of being a critic but a cheerleader. Prove me wrong and you’ll have my apology.….Ben
To Elizabeth Licata, Spree Mag. Deaccession time
FROM FITZ ABLE
We did it. Together, we helped further highlight the quality artists and work abundant in Buffalo (and beyond), that there can be hope for reuse of even the most downtrodden of buildings and that there are fine art buyers and enthusiasts in WNY (and, that Torontonians will come down for something other than the Mall).
Marcus, Tristan, Kelly and I are incredibly pleased (almost ecstatic) with how things turned out. Back-breaking, indeed. However, the palpable excitement in the Terminal on Friday and Saturday made it all worth it.
Nonetheless, we are eager to expand upon echo 2011. You can help us by coming forth with some fresh, candid feedback on your experience with echo:
what worked? what didn't? what would you do differently (on your side and/or on ours)?
what sold? We'd love any information you can share with us (which we will keep confidential) regarding the number of sales you made, price points, etc.
Anything else you want to share?
Feel free to respond to me directly, if you have candid remarks for my eyes only.
Thank you again for believing in this vision-it was a risky endeavor on all our parts...but a fabulous platform from which to grow.
E. Frits Abell
Buffalo Expat Network (BEN)
As you know I wasn't too thrilled with my booth. I know you guys worked hard to make a successful show, but from what I heard the sales were small. That's how it goes with startups. Here are some suggestions:
1, we need to know things earlier in the process and need to know how things are going to work. I know that you had trouble with the site manager and did a great job assembling booths at the last minute. Artist should know how positions are arrived at. The design of layout was poor, the back of the booths should have been lined up against the side walls not facing them. The larger booths should have been in the center with the smaller and more flexible booths arranged around them. At trade shows that I have been at that is the standard. (Also in the future, the longest participants have first choice.) Back to layout, having a large isle circling a center island makes for good flow and everybody gets seen.
If all the booths have a ten foot opening then the fifteen foot booths gain and extra five feet of wall space. It may make layout a little harder but it the fifteen foot booths were all together it wouldn't be much of a problem.
2, How are booths assigned? This should be transparent. What system is used?
3, The booth construction. I've worked in construction and my advice for building walls is to use metal studs, they are lighter, straight, and make moving walls much easier. Also leave a 3 inch overlap on the top to run the wiring in. It also makes it easy to clip on lights. An overlap of 1.5 inches on panels that connect to longer walls can make assembly easier.
Perhaps using a tape to cover drywall joints is faster than painting.
4, More publicity, I'm sure you know. Buffalo, Toronto, NYC. What can we offer to entice buyers to come here. (Free tickets for serious buyers, tours to architectural sites and museums, eats in Buffalo's finest establishments, Studio tours?)
I didn't sell anything but made a couple of connections. I was in it for the visibility, too bad. Feed back form other artist and my own feelings were that we didn't know it we would do it again, even some that sold things.
Better luck and planning next time.
Frankly, Ben, with your attitude, I doubt very highly you would get in. You are the only person with whom I had difficulty and you are the only artist with whom I have spoken (out of over 25) who did not make a sale.
So, best of luck to you with your endeavors in the future.
It's obvious that you can't take criticism. Isn't that what you asked for? That's too bad and speaks poorly for your future. Your dismissal of my chances to be in future Echo shows says to me that you would override or influence decisions of the jury. Perhaps you should make it clear in future prospectus that artists should be fine artists and have a good attitude (even though their booth could face the Berlin Wall and be virtually invisible.) The jury should also be advised that their decisions may be overridden. I intend to share this with other artists and the past and future juries.
Yes, I may have been the only artist that didn't make a sale. As I said I was in it for the visibility. But although some artists had some sales I doubt that many made the low cost of the show. That may be because you were not able to get the VIP buyers that you promised. You were not able to even get a banner across Delaware Avenue as I had weeks before suggested. Publicity was poor. These are only some of the facts.
My attitude is to tell the truth and not suffer fools. I did forgive you for your shortcomings seeing it was your first Art Fair. It's too bad that you can't overcome your primadonna upbringing and face the shortcomings of the show.
Sorry that I can't wish you the best of luck.
2010 ECHO show Fitz Abel
FORTH OF JULY
Quite a few years ago I did a multi-media project at the Burchfield Penney AC called “War Ongoing Project”. It used video, art, music composed by Hugh Levick, stories told by veterans and 10 thousand black paper lunch bags containing the names of wars casualties that were hung at the entrance of the room. Parting your way through a maze of hung bags, you felt like you were touching the dead. The thought of that, its emotional impact, compelled some attendees to refuse to go through. The project was a success if judged by the number of people brought to tears. After the project ended I stored the bags in my studio but finally came to the realization that they would never be used again and I should get rid of them. It was by accident or fate that the 4th of July found me working in a small hot storage space dismantling the containers and crushing the bags, compacting them to go to recycling. It turned out to be an ‘experience’. It was more moving than when the bags were originally strung together, each bag containing a casualties’ name. Today I would crush some with my hands putting them into large leaf bags but in the process many ended up on the floor and I would step on them to crush them. It was harder than crushing grapes in a vat, with no good product at the end. Sometimes the names contained within would pop out, a private or lieutenant squeezing out in a small paper line as if resisting the process, refusing to be dead again, buried in landfill. I know it’s not Veterans Day, it’s the 4th when we celebrate the Constitution, a great document that should have freed us from tyranny and made us a great nation and civilization. But we’re not ‘civilized’ when we continue to send young men and women into war so the military industry can produce tools of destruction justified by jobs. Not when some of those tools are on the street and the street casualties out number soldiers being killed. Not when we continue to advance the idea of our greatness so we can intervene in countries, send more soldiers to die, stoke the wallets of the rich, all this while our countries schools and infrastructure falls apart. When the economy is the most important part of our lives and the rich buy the governing and the Supreme Court thinks that corporations are people, it’s hard to think of us as civilized. The Constitution isn’t a failed document, it’s we who have failed the Constitution. Somewhere along the line we gave up on the importance of education (and now we field ‘the Donald’, a winner from a big band of losers). Does the money go to military bands and thousands of other boondoggles or to failing schools? Where do our values lie? Do we have any or are they lost in a maze of concerns about the details of life encapsulated in our phones. We are a nation of laws but there’s no laws that prohibit us from acting badly, putting our wants and needs above the public good. Hiding behind the Constitution, word for word, to justify gun control or define women’s rights, is not honoring the spirit of the document. It was written to enhance the dignity of man, not to give us a leg up on our fellow citizens. Let’s try to do the right thing it spite of ourselves.
Ben Perrone For the Buffalo News, unpublished
I think that the idea of me wanting to be famous can be confused with my desire to be successful with my art and my project. Of course you can think that they are the same thing, “You can have one without the other”. But you can. I think my art is successful although unrecognized by the larger art world.
How can you think that Illusion/Delusion or the War Ongoing Project shouldn’t have had some attention by the national press (not to mention the local press). They were (great and) successful but unrecognized. Some people were brought to tears as I was by those pieces. I want them and the environment project to be more recognized and seen by many more people. I separate my art from most other artist because I have a social message. It’s not a value judgment it’s a fact. I’m out of step with the art world and that’s OK.
I said that the Grand Canyon teaches us humility. Me included but I recognized that because, and you can laugh, I am humble and humbled by it. Don’t confuse my determination to succeed with my humility. In spite of knowing that we’re all dust in the end, I still continue to make a small effort to make changes in people. Otherwise I would give up all the work I have done (and has yet to be done) and you would find me in Tuscany eating my heart out.
To Gerry Evans 2016