On Tuesday, as I buckled Clementine into her carseat, she asked me, “where we goin’ mama?” and my answer was “City Hall.” We went to hear artist Troy Stanley address the city council, as well as Ed Wilson’s lawyer/artist, Tracey Conwell. It seems lately that a lot of us in the Houston art community have been learning more about the functions of government and power as it relates to artists than we might have ever wished to. (It’s reminiscent of those ugly days back in 2008-9 when we had to learn words like traunch, or what a NINA loan was.) The precipitating factor in all of this was the dubious revocation of artist Ed Wilson’s high profile George R Brown commission. If you want an education on the details, Glasstire and the Houston Chronicle have reported on this story; it was even picked up by Brooklyn-based Hyperallergic and the Associated Press.
The specifics of this situation aside, Mr Stanley did pose an interesting question in that gorgeous deco-paneled chamber. Why aren’t there more artists on the Civic Art Committee? Made up of 15 representatives, the overwhelming majority are collectors and art consultants. In fact, only one artist participates. Of course, collectors and art consultants are important members of the community, but they don’t usually have first hand knowledge of what it takes to create and maintain a piece of art. In the best case, collectors support artists because they truly love the alchemical marriage of idea and form that happens in a truly great work. They see themselves as protectors of culture, not arbiters. But in the worst case, (and this can be seen at almost any art fair in the country) art and artists become property to be bought and sold, a commodity whose value is not just in dollars but also cachet.
Of course I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but it seems to me that there is a vast range of “arts professionals” to pull from for a committee like this. Artists could provide the context and real-world knowledge, academics and historians could offer long-term or philosophical points of-view, and collectors and art consultants the market aspect. Above all, artists should be able to trust this committee, and HAA, too. If I have to go to city hall with a two-year-old I will, but I’d rather leave the politics to the politicians.