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North Texas Museums' Prestige for Sale

North Texas Museums' Prestige for Sale

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Published by John A. Viramontes
Senior Staff of Two North Texas Museums Curate Artwork for Dallas Cowboys Stadium
Decision raises questions about the use of nonprofit employees to manage art-related profit-making ventures
Senior Staff of Two North Texas Museums Curate Artwork for Dallas Cowboys Stadium
Decision raises questions about the use of nonprofit employees to manage art-related profit-making ventures

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Published by: John A. Viramontes on Aug 01, 2010
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08/08/2010

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Council for Artists Rights
 
Museums’ Prestige for Sale: Senior Staff of TwoMuseums Curate Artwork for Dallas Cowboys Stadium
 
Decision raises questions about the use of nonprofit employees to manageart-related profit-making ventures
 March 30, 2010 Dear ally of artists' rights: Here is a copy of our open letter which was conveyed today to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram /DFW.com. Open Letter to Ft. Worth Star-Telegram/DFW.com Re: "Cowboys Stadium calls for artwork on a grand scale and team delivers" March25, 2010, DFW.com article by Gaile Robinson (reporter for Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) Dear Ft. Worth Star-Telegram/DFW.com: Given the restraints a recession imposes on businesses of all sizes, it is wonderfulthat despite the economic strains on North Texas, a new Dallas Cowboys Stadiumcame to fruition. However, the Council for Artists Rights has a two-pronged concern.Our first concern is about the heavy outlay of nonprofit human resources usedto support a private enterprise via the stocking of the Cowboys stadium with newartwork. We disagree with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth letting its employees spend significant amounts of their time to managethe Dallas Cowboys Art Program (DCAP). This issue is about museum staff usingtheir expertise as curators to benefit the DCAP, a private venture. As employees of nonprofit museums, senior curator Michael Auping and lead curator Charles Wylie--aspart of an art council created by Mary Zlot--used their knowledge to advise Zlot how tospend the big bucks on 19 artists. Having museum curators directly involved accruesthe museums' reputation to the Cowboys Stadium. The museums' prestige--gained atpublic expense--should not be for sale at any price.Is it not the purview of art dealers, independent curators and artists to earn their 
 
bread and butter from commercial ventures like the DCAP? If Auping and Wylie do not have enough work to keep them occupied at themuseum, perhaps the museums' board of trustees needs to take a hard look at thosepositions and consider making them part-time jobs with the commensurate reductionin salary and employee benefits. This issue--museum professionals' ties to art-relatedcommercial ventures--is the subject of a New York Times article dated November 18, 2007"Museums Solicit Dealers' Largess," concerning the Los Angeles Museumof Contemporary Art. That article caused art lawyer Sérgio Muñoz Sarmiento towrite an editorial called"Private Contributions and Public Institutions," which waspublished on Clancco.com November 28, 2007. He references the NYT article in it.We are not legal scholars but it appears that these North Texas museums' seasonedcurators are serving private interests rather than the public. Is that behavior a classicexample of having a conflict of interest? Their actions--and by extension, the museumsthemselves--strongly intimates of having violated Internal Revenue Service rules.The IRS code states that not-for-profit museums must be operated exclusively for thepurposes which gave rise to receiving its tax-exempt status under code Section 501(c)(3), namely, serving the public, and not private enterprise. In other words, the privateenterprise has already received a private benefit via their 
tax deductible
contribution.Museum resources ultimately belong to the public; the public is the museum patron viabeing a taxpayer. Is it time to blow the whistle on these museums' policy by getting nonprofit ethics andaccountability investigator US Senator Charles "Chuck" Grassley (R-Iowa) involved?His campaign to clean up nonprofits is legendary and well-covered by the press.Secondly, for over 150 years this country had an organized national system toeducate, through exposure, the entire art community and the public, including artcollectors, as to what was regularly being produced by living artists and how artists wereranked by many of the top professionals in the field. This was done without favoritismand was a system availableto all artists, professionals and the public, including collectors, without compromisingor jeopardizing the tax-exempt status of public institutions. It was called the juriedexhibition and it occurred at the local, regional, national and international level. Such asystem may or may not have produced the same artists hand-picked to stock the DallasCowboys Stadium. As itstands, only few people chose those 19 artists which is a tremendous concentration of power. Is this method of choosingartwork really fair to the rest of the artists who werenot given the opportunity for their work to be seen by the DCAP? 
 
Texas art historian Sam Blain Jr. echoes our last point. He recently posted thisresponse on a social networking website after receiving a query about whether or not a certain "credentialed" Texas wildflower artist would get any mention or "ink" intextbooks:“John, it appears the only contemporary artists who do get ‘any’ ink at all, appear to get it as a result of their dealer/gallery/collector promotional handiwork or throughtheir publicity agents. With the absence of true juried regional exhibitions, as were heldthroughout the country up through the early to mid 1960s, our American artists have ...lacked any honest means by which to become ‘credentialed’ as professional artists. Agood example of this is the Texas art scene.When the Texas Annuals were in-place,Texas artists were juried by highly esteemed professional artists and well respectedmuseum professionals brought in from across the the country. In turn, those prizewinners from those juried shows receivednational (and, in many cases, international) ‘ink’ in newspapers and periodicals. Thoseprize winners from those ‘feeder’ exhibitions went on to enter the larger multi-stateshows and the press always followed...as did all the museums across the country. Thencame the Nationals and Internationals. It was a much healthier art scene, all the wayaround! When the TexasAnnuals were done away with, the investor-collectors, private dealers, etc....took over and proclaimed who the professional artists were....and, in many cases, private artcollectors became private art dealers. The 1930s and 1940s were the ‘ideal’ time, itappears. From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Jerry Bywaters of the DallasMuseum of Fine Arts kept the state scene ‘alive’ by bringing in the other major Texas artmuseums as co-sponsors of the Texas Annuals... up until the DMFA's board of directorsreplaced him with Merrill C. Rueppel, who can be credited with turning the DMFA into aprivate showroom for private-collectors who had become private dealers.” Regarding our first concern at the top of this letter, perhaps at the next DallasCowboys home game President Obama and his Cabinet will personally provide valetparking for stadium cars. Why not? The Council for Artists Rights is based in Chicago, IL USA. Its thrust is to educatethe public about artists' rights and advocates for artists whose work is in distress. CFARwas spontaneously born in 2004 when devotees of public art learned a city park districthad irrevocably altered--without its creator's permission--a 20 year old work of public art. Recognition of CFAR founding member John Viramontes:Honoree, Huffington Post blogger Esther J. Cepeda'sChicago Latino List 2009. Make a Tax-Deductible Donation

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