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Street art has an image problem.  This is of course nothing new.  The spirit of renegade vandalism is inherent to the medium, just ask any graffiti artist.  Often an integral part of the street artist's palette- right alongside the can of spray paint and a stencil or two - is a concern for tweaking the status quo.  Or to put it more bluntly, it helps to have a loose, freethinking state of mind to ponder: "How much can I get away with here?"  It is a case of the freedom of artistic license bumping up against the boundaries of civic obedience and property rights laws.  The more covert and riskier the work, (skirting the borders of the law especially) then the more street cred is bestowed on the entire undertaking if it's pulled off successfully.  This is very important stuff for an art form that occurs outside of the system of art gallery and museum contexts.   


Back on May 30th of 2009, Joseph Carnevale, a 22 year old history major at NC State University, garnered more such urban acceptability than he probably imagined that day.  Earlier that morning he had an idea for a street sculpture created from ubiquitous orange and white traffic barrels (numerous around the NCSU campus right now due to major street construction along Hillsborough Street bordering campus) and as he put it to the News & Observer newspaper, "it kind of grew in my head, until it was something I had to do."  And do he definitely did.  After pilfering a few barrels from a local construction site, he sawed, snipped, and reassembled them into a startling, larger than life visage of a 10' tall figure standing alongside the construction zone and making a gesture with an outstretched 'arm' seen as either (a) pointing traffic to the adjoining lane to avoid the construction zone or (b) extending a thumb as if hitchhiking. The "Monster's" moment of streetscape glory was brief however as by the next morning, Raleigh police had already dismantled and removed the work and embarked on a search for the perpetrator/artist.  Their break in the case came through investigation of NCSU's student newspaper the Technician whose reportage on the Monster made mention of Carnevale's website.  Quicker than you can say 'traffic safety' his anonymity was undone.  Carnevale was arrested and now faces a court date in July for misdemeanor charges of larceny and property damage.  The case is now entering testy territory.  While the construction company has asked to drop charges (grateful for the plentiful publicity they have received for the piddly cost of a few plastic barrels) Raleigh police are having none of it and plan to continue to pursue prosecution.


The story has extended beyond that initial Technician piece and has been reported in the local Raleigh based News & Observer, at blogs such as, and now extends out to the national media including the Associated Press and MSNBC.   The largest impact is probably being felt online where web chatter is popping up in favor of the Barrel Monster and Carnevale.  Three separate Facebook groups alone have already been established with rapid daily growth over the past couple of weeks and the tweets are already flying as well.  

I see all of this as a healthy dialogue for the city.  It is well known that Raleigh has a tenuous history with public art and while this story is centered in the university community of NCSU, it in fact provides a tremendous opportunity for discussion and discourse about the role art in the public realm can play in the Triangle area's metropolitan life.  While public art with any hope for official sanction and embrace by the civic powers that be cannot justifiably operate outside established legal boundaries, Carnevale's barrel monster shows that artistic ambition, originality, and consequence should not be discounted or underestimated when undertaken solely by personal initiative.  It is, if nothing else, a learning opportunity for the city.   


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June 18, 2009 9:17 PM | | Comments (1)
It's so tough to get new plays on the stage, especially in a small town like Charleston. Even tougher when they originate from Charleston. Fortunately, we have a courageous theater company that doesn't wait for new work to trickle down from New York. The ensemble is called PURE Theatre and the new play is called *Sheep's Clothing* by local playwright Spencer Deering. The occasion brought to mind Mike Daisey's controversial one-man play about *How Theater Failed America*.

About a year ago, Mike Daisey staged a one-man show in New York called How Theater Failed America. The acclaimed monologuist made the case that regional theater sucks, because it aims for business more than art.

Regional theater typically obsesses over growth, Daisey claimed, focusing on building bigger buildings more than developing better actors. It caters to the wealthy, marketing itself like a luxury item. And it relies too much on importing actors from New York.

Daisey, who is a 2005 Spoleto Festival alum, wasn't saying anything really new, except this: that the usual problems regional theaters cite as their main obstacles -- such as competition from movies and television, drained government subsidies, strained philanthropic communities, and audiences that just don't get it -- are basically hokum.

None of that would matter, Daisey argued in his play, if the focus were on actors and playwriting, not business. In How Theater Failed America, Daisey calls for a return to the repertory model in which a dedicated group of actors hones its skills and creates new work. That means an acting troupe that's smaller, leaner, and more aggressive artistically. If that sounds like a description of PURE Theatre, that's because it is.

[the whole story here]( [And you can read *City Paper*'s review here.](
May 10, 2009 7:35 AM |
The executive director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra announced last week she was resigning at the end of the current season. Jan Newcomb, who had been on the job for just 18 months, said in an e-mail sent to the orchestra's musicians and administrative staff that she was retiring after 30 years working for arts groups to "take the time to do and enjoy other endeavors." She cited spending more time with her family and getting to know Charleston better. Newcomb added she may stay on as a consultant during a search for a suitable replacement. Her retirement came about a week after news emerged that the CSO's resident conductor Scott Terrell took a position in Kentucky as the artistic director of the Lexington Philharmonic.

Full story . . .
April 27, 2009 3:06 PM |
There's a pretty thorny mess sprouting in Montana these days, concerning the way the state expects venue managers and promoters to deal with musicians and other performers. Some say the issue could literally shut down live music and other types of performing arts across the state, if not rectified. You can read about it here
March 27, 2009 12:56 PM |
We already knew the management of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (S.C.) was at odds with the orchestra's musicians over how to cut spending in order to stave off the threat of bankruptcy. Now we know which side was stronger. The musicians received just 20 percent of their normal pay on Friday, the day before one of its Masterworks concerts featuring a guest violinist and guest conductor. The orchestra's administrative staff took the same percentage cut. Insiders say the difference will be paid in December when the orchestra's fund-raising is in full swing again. Meanwhile, the musicians have figured out a way to downsize their ranks in compliance with management's goal of reducing the budget by $500,000.The downsizing is by attrition and there are only a handful of musicians affected.
March 16, 2009 6:54 AM |
Thanks to Jane Remer, a guest blogger on [Dewey21C](, for inspiring me to cast my two cents on the arts funding issue. I might also thank Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma for giving us a platform on which to debate whether the arts are worth being a part of President Obama's massive stimulus bill. Coburn is leading [the charge against arts funding]( for public schools as well as $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. Remer says that the "arts are fundamental to the cognitive, affective, physical, and intellectual development of all our children and youth. They are a moral imperative." I agree. But Coburn is one of the many whittling down the bill on the basis that it's not stimulus, it's spending -- a distinction that presents an interesting rhetorical challenge. How do we make the case that the arts are a stimulus? There are two implied strategies that I find interesting. One is by Christopher Knight of the LA Times. Funding culture stimulates job creation, he says:
Collectively [the arts] employ almost 6 million people. Crisis is a time for boldness, not timidity, and few recall an economic crisis quite like this one. So art museums, symphonies, theaters, dance companies and other cultural centers should get a huge infusion of funds.
The other strategy comes from [Chris Jones]( of the Chicago Tribune. The arts have an implicit value to Americans, Jones says. Yet ...
... [s]omehow it has come to be broadly accepted that concrete, asphalt and medicine for the body (as distinct from the heart and soul) have greater moral worth.
More arts means more jobs. The arts are morally good. The arts advocacy community has done little to press this case, even though it would challenge conservatives' own rhetoric. How can Coburn et al. not support jobs and morals? Maybe this is a generational issue that's slowly changing as the definition of the arts has changed and as the economics of America change. For a long, long time, the arts have been categorized as enrichment, something extra to be added to an education curricula whose objective was to produce good workers. That period has passed and the role of the arts has changed too. So much research has been done to show that arts are more than enrichment. They are vital, like math. It makes sense that a stimulus package with sights on long-term affects would set in place mechanisms that serve our economy and our souls. Younger people know this intuitively, because they are "creative" all the time. The modes of Web 2.0 require people to create -- blogs or music or remixes or what have you. These of course may be of dubious quality and worth, but they are nevertheless creative and those who engage in the of Web 2.0 -- meaning millions of people -- understand the arts, that they are more than "pork," that they are the center.
February 11, 2009 7:13 AM | | Comments (9)
Lindsay Koob, the *Charleston City Paper*'s music critic, reports that the board of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra wants to cut $500,000 from its 2009-2010 budget, probably more. Ultimately, the proposal might mean cutting musicians from the roster. Here's part of Koob's [report]( this weekend. More tomorrow:

It's too early to itemize the exact consequences - but it's probably safe to say that we can expect a smaller core of musicians (currently around 46) and fewer concerts. What about glamorous soloists? Staff cuts? Venue changes? Educational efforts? Right now, there's no telling.

What won't suffer, according to the CSO's powers-that-be, will be the CSO's vaunted quality and reputation. We're talking bare survival, folks - and the CSO (and Charleston Stage & Ballet Theatre) are far from the only American artistic entities that teeter on the brink of collapse in these desperate times.

[Full story . . . ](
February 3, 2009 9:09 AM |
I had the pleasure of interviewing the only woman to be named twice combat photographer of the year by the U.S. Department of Defense. [Stacy Pearsall]( has seen two tours in Iraq, been wounded twice, and seen many close friends killed. She believes in duty. She loves her band of brothers. But it's time to leave, she says. At the same time that the Obama Administration is poised to set a timetable for withdrawal, Pearsall offers a showcase of her war photography at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, here in Charleston, called *War on Terror: Inside/Out*. We wrote a cover story about the exhibition, but mostly we talked about Pearsall, an exceptional woman whose frames captured hidden and intimate moments between soldiers. More importantly, her portfolio conveys emotions felt by her subjects, men who are ordinarily self-conscious and mindful of appearing (and feeling) tough.

Stacy Pearsall has never been good with words. What she saw in Iraq during two tours only makes them harder to come by. She knows what John McCain meant by leaving "with honor," but feels Vietnam has little bearing on the War on Terror.

We sent volunteers to Iraq, for one thing, who didn't know who the enemy was. Her friend Donny lost his head to a sniper. Her friend Katie lost most of her right hand to one. Soldiers feared their throats would be slit in their sleep. Food was often poisoned. Pearsall herself was wounded twice in combat, once while carrying a man to safety.

Pearsall is proud of doing what her country asked of her. A soldier doing her duty, and leaving Iraq in decent shape, defines "honor." But she has doubts, perhaps the deepest wound of all. Right and wrong get lost in the fog of war, as when an 8-year-old girl tried to give her a live grenade. It's hard to sleep when memories of what she experienced in that country keep her up at night.

"I hope I left with honor," she says.

A former combat photographer who retired from the Air Force in August, Pearsall is now director of the Charleston Center for Photography, a new local nonprofit. Her work has been used by The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, and CNN. And she was twice named military photographer of the year, the only woman to achieve such distinction.

Words aren't her forte, but Pearsall has her pictures. She hopes the work on display at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, one of Charleston's most high-profile venues, will tell the story of what it felt like to be "down range." There's no better time than now.

One of the campaign promises of President Barack Obama was to set a 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. The Halsey show, called The War on Terror: Inside/Out, has been timed to open with the ascent of the Obama administration. She shares the show with documentary photographer Christopher Sims, a professor at Duke University.

Pearsall comes from a military family. She was 17 when she joined the Air Force. She broke into an elite corps of combat photographers, a macho bunch where chicks are suspect. She loves her band of brothers. They fought for her; she fought for them. She thinks the invasion was a good thing. She saw how badly Iraqi women had it. But the time has come, she believes, to leave Iraq. That's why she cautiously voted for Obama.

"I hope he keeps his promise," she says.

[Full story at *Charleston City Paper*. . .](
January 29, 2009 8:29 AM |
Yesterday I wondered aloud if the breach of trust between art donors and Brandeis University's trustees might send a chill down the spines of art donors in small cities and college towns in Flyover Country. The Brandeis trustees want to sell off the contents of the Rose Art Museum, some 6,000 works of art valued at about $350 million. I said this keeping in mind that philanthropic circles in cities like Charleston, where I live, are very small, very intimate, and can be very volatile if bonds of trust are called into question. So I emailed Mark Sloan, the director of the [Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art]( at the College of Charleston. Sloan is highly regarded here and for good reason. His exhibitions are generally excellent and he almost single-handedly found, commissioned, and acquired the 850-piece [Contemporary Carolina Collection]( housed at the Ashley River Tower, a new hospital just built by the Medical University of South Carolina. I wanted to know what Sloan thought of my question. He said the breach of trust is a concern in all cities with no unique threat to smaller cities and their social and philanthropic circles. He was on deadline to finish a grant proposal when I caught him, but he did send me this quick but thoughtful response:

I think it is the same everywhere. I think all donors, whether in small towns or big cities, often develop long-term relationships with institutions in their midst. Even though there are more donors in bigger cities, they all seem to know one another from various board affiliations and social gatherings.

So it's just a bigger group, but no less intimate. This was brought home to me when I attended a fund-raising event at Harvard (I did a book about their natural history museum a few years ago, and I was up for a book signing). Many of the people there were sharing stories about the Boston Ballet, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Gardner Museum, etc.-- all of which they supported to one degree or another.

Donors talk to one another. If I were a donor to Brandeis, I would be furious, and I would withdraw from future donations. I feel certain this will be the reaction of a portion of their donors. There are many people who love the Rose Museum.

This decision brings into question the whole notion of the role of a Trustee. You'd think it was to protect and defend -- not divide and conquer.

I would add it brings greater light to the role of any person acting in the public's trust. That includes volunteer board members of orchestras who view their stewardship not as a civic duty but as a social obligation. Or worse, as a duty discharged in the name of business, as the Brandeis trustees have done, and not in the name of community, legacy, and cultural heritage.
January 28, 2009 6:34 AM |
Journalist Scott Jaschik, over at [Inside Hire Ed](, provides another view on Brandeis University's surprise decision to sell off its entire 6,000-piece collection housed at the Rose Art Museum. He interviews David Robertson, president of the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries. Robertson says that the sell-off is in violation of the organization's code of ethics and that it will make acquiring works of art by colleges and universities much harder in the future.
"This puts all of our roles at our institutions in jeopardy. ... And it puts in jeopardy our relationships with our donors with whom we have built our collections," he said. The ethics codes cited by Robertson are vital, museum officials say, because donors will not make gifts to university collections if they believe that their donations could end up in an auction house sometime in the future."
I'd imagine Brandeis is going to face quite a few pissed off donors. I can imagine this sending a chill down their backs in communities across the country, even, and perhaps especially, in the small cities and college towns in Flyoverville. Jaschik did some more good digging when he found a profile of the Rose's director in the university's alumni magazine. In it, Michael Rush brags about the value of his collection.
The article cites Rush as saying that by "eyeball," he could tell that the collection was worth at least $300 million, but that he planned to have a formal appraisal done to draw attention to the significance of the art museum. In a quote he may regret, he says: "I'm confident that, after its real estate, art is the university's largest financial asset, and I want everyone to know it."
[Full story]( . . .
January 27, 2009 10:55 AM |

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