When I decided to take off my business suits and strike out as a freelancer, I did so with the distinct impression I needed to deliver stellar work on time and as promised. If I wanted to eat and pay my bills, I needed to meet my deadlines in the agreed upon fashion or I would find myself looking at the business end of a desk job. I spent time with like-minded people who reinforced this idea of a work ethic and affirmed the idea that I would be able to feed myself if I kept my promises and did good work. These are the rules by which most freelancers live.
What puzzles me is that these rules apparently fail to apply to artists. Namely, a few of the artists selected to take public funds to create art in Clymer Park.
Let me pause here and say Susanne Vernon and Tom Pitzen have created memorable pieces that make me proud to be the sort of city that spends money on the arts. You two, ignore this column. I don’t mean you. You’re delightful, and I’m pleased to even know you.
The rest of the artists – specifically, Owen Pach and Frank Strunk III -shame on you. At least Jonathan Schork has delivered, although not quite in the manner the city apparently expected. While I freely admit the musical instruments are indeed delightful pieces of art that also make me proud of our city’s decision, I’m more than a little irritated we had to spend money to accommodate your decision to put them in an area other than the one you and the client agreed upon. So shame on you less, but still, I wish you, too, had considered the client – 12,571 other Gulfportians – before disregarding what you promised us.
Art is a business. Yes, it requires talent, but people who want to feed themselves – in whole or in part – by making art understand that talent only carries you so far. Because while art’s worth may be subjective, its cost is not. People use real money, not good feelings, to buy art, and just as you expect Amazon to deliver your books and shoes in exchange for your credit card number, people tend to expect that when they pay you – or when the city uses tax dollars to pay you – for art, you will deliver what you promised, how you promised, when you promised.
In truth, I blame the city for placing its faith in you. I blame the city for allowing members of the selection committee to select themselves to receive city funds for a commission. I blame the city for trusting you and not making you sign a contract. I blame the city for not checking references to see a pattern, at least with one artist, of not delivering on time or at all. I blame the city for handing you any money at all in advance, much less $5,500 per artist.
The portion of my property taxes that goes into Gulfport will be roughly $400 this year. That means more than 20 homes like mine will have to pay property taxes to cover the cost of the two of you who have, as of yet, not delivered. It is the city’s fault, not yours, that they made the poor decision to believe you shared our sense of community and would show us respect in return for our faith in you.
Sadly, the end result will be that all the art, I imagine, will get erected on the artists’ schedule, which is clearly not the one the city explained to me. The real failing here is not that the art is late or that it is not what was promised, but that these artists are making the best possible case anyone could as to why the city should spend its money anywhere other than public art.
I doubt, of course, those who are not honoring their promise to the community thought about that. But I think about it a lot, because I believe we all need art in our lives. I just also believe that the world belongs to those who show up and keep their promises.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.
This column originally published online and in print for the Gabber Newspaper on September 4, 2014.