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The Old Problem with the New Library

May 25, 2012

This morning I had a meeting with my editor which, by mutual insistence, is the last time we officially meet to edit Small Mountain Rambles.  We are both sick of looking at the book and our eyes fog over and our stomachs twist at the slightest mention of it.  It has to be put to bed and retired from our minds.   We have overworked it.  Maybe in a few months our heads will clear we may feel some positive affection for it, but now, we have had way too much of it and we are just plain sick of it.  A good artist knows when to stop and now is that time.

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This editor’s name is Carolyn and as she tells it, when she was going to elementary school, you didn’t just take English class, you took English and you also took a Grammar class in addition.  The problem with Carolyn was she liked studying grammar.  But she was the only one in the whole school who didn’t hate it.  Lucky for me.  She is very, very good.   Half of her edits were residual flaws generated by the many times the manuscript was uploaded and downloaded to the cloud compiler used by the publisher.  Most of the other half of the edits were subtle punctuation enhancements only she would notice, I think there were only three actual minor misspellings.

We finished this last session and she was walking out of the door of the coffee house, I remember one last thing in a flash and hollered out,

“Carolyn, what did you think of the pricing?”  She stops, turns round and returns to my table.  This was something non-editorial.  We discussed a quick survey I had done regarding the pricing of this new revision of my book.  This was brief and terse but she said it seemed OK to her.  Then she adds, “But if you want to make it ten dollars, make it ten dollars not nine-ninety nine. Forget the ninety nine stuff.  I’ve always hated that.”

“Well, hells-bells.  I agree with you.  I’ve always hated that myself but you know what?  I’ve had a hundred people who do nothing but sell merchandise tell me that they will cut my hands off if I round it up.”  Carolyn cocks her head, “Really?  Well, if they are pro’s maybe there is something to it.  Do it their way.  I really don’t know anything about it except that it has always seemed demeaning to me.  It’s like a sleaze-ball playing to your greedy side.”

“I totally agree, but I got tired of arguing.  I mean these folks got honestly riled up about this.  I didn’t get it, so I just gave in.”

“Who knows?” Carolyn says, and leaves for real this time.

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I make it a point to make fun of my intellectual snobbery, and Carolyn has a trace of that too.  She’d have to, after all, as her entire collegiate career was spent at Stanford University.  Didn’t they invent “west coast intellectual snobbery” there?  But with it, they teach “higher levels of discretion” there as well.  That’s the one I missed out on, even with my three semesters at San Jose State.

So, even with such haughty airs, we both still have some respect for experience, real world experience, or as Carolyn had just put it, professionalism.

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Even though both of us bemoaned the necessity of this last book meeting, we made so much fun of our pressing occupation that we giggled through most of this session.  We were giddy and silly.  As I returned to my own pressing work and got more serious, a conversation from the previous evening’s cocktail party started seeping into my consciousness through a very mild, almost imperceptible headache.

At the cocktail gathering, someone had introduced me to a member of the Los Gatos Museum’s board of directors.  I had a few bones to pick the Museum’s oligarchy and since this party had dropped its dinner plans and my cocktails were sitting on an empty stomach and a light head, I really made an effort to keep my wits about me and not broach the subject of my bones to pick.  However, the person who performed the introduction between me and this board member did have to broach the fact that she considered me a successful artist, an author.  And then she walks away from us, leaving me to fill in the blanks about my style of art, my artistic breeding and education, this that and every other thing, things, normally, about which I never need to verbalize to anyone.  Being empty stomached and light of head, I floundered through this interrogation for which I was not at all prepared for.

It turns out that this “director” was really a cool guy.  He wasn’t, as I feared, a dilettante art expert who knew nothing about art and everything about everything.  He seemed to have a realistic attitude about the role of museum.  As we talked and as I got to feel better and better about this fellow, I relaxed and eased into speaking my mind.  I told him about the developing concept of Art Bridge and he listened and comprehended.  As an immediate and recent example of what Art Bridge is trying to achieve, I told him of our frustration with the new library which everyone is so proud of.

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One of my oldest friends in town has been doing “art glass” since before he graduated from Los Gatos High School in the early 1970s.  He started out with stained glass, expanded into etched glass, then glass sculptures, neon tubes — nearly every facet of glass art.  Today, he is a world class artist getting commissions from large corporations and far flung governments all around the globe, commissions for glass work and innovative sculptures in glass, stone and metal.

This friend introduced me to numerous other art glass guys concentrated in our neighborhood of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  I have to believe the reason for this concentration is because they can have large studios, a necessity in their medium, that are fairly cheap to rent, things such as barns or old mills and other such large, enclosed spaces that are cheap when compared to shop space in the urban/sub-urban world.  But also, most of these  people WANT to be in the mountains and not in the hub-bub of the commercial world.  Plus, being within easy reach of each other, they have a “fall-back position” when they need assistance.  Sculptors are usually lone wolves when they work, however, in that they often deal with massive but delicate materials, they often require help, be it to move something or use some specialized tools, it’s good to have someone close by who can appreciate and have solutions for a new, special project that the lone wolf can’t manage by himself.

Well, for whatever the reason for our concentration of glass and sculpture artists, the concentration does exist here, right in our laps.  All of these guys walk into the new library and shake their heads.  They have been around for more than 40 years.  This new library has huge amounts glass all over the place.  A good portion of this glass has been hand worked, but none of our Los Gatos area glass professionals had anything to do with it.

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While helping one of the guys mount a large project last month, he asked me if I’d seen the glass in the library.  I said yes, and asked who did it, expecting to hear a familiar name.

“A chick up in Chico,” he answers.

“WHAT?” I ask.

“Yeah, just like always.”

For all of my noise the last couple of years about making newer town residents aware of us, I had to say,

“I gotta look into this.”

“Forget it.  It’ll never change.  Screw ’em.”

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I called the town and start to track this thing out.  Here are the significant portions of two emails sent to me by town officials:

“In 2009, the Town conducted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for artwork to be incorporated in the new library. More than 20 proposals were received. A Library Public Art Selection Committee interviewed the artists who responded to the RFQ. The Committee was comprised of the Library architects, the Council Library sub-committee, the executive director of the Museum of Art, the president of the Friends of the Library, and staff. The Committee selected two artists to create their proposed art work for the library: Sheri Simons for the art wall and Benjamin Phipps for the Nurdle Nooks. The art is paid for by the funds raised by the Friends of the Library.”

I asked for more information regarding distribution of the “RFQ:”

“The architect prepared the RFQ, which was reviewed by the Town. The architect distributed/advertised the RFQ through public art channels they have used on many public library projects.”

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With this information, I did a little research. Here’s how I see it now:  The town of Los Gatos put out a request for proposal to architects for the new library.  An architectural firm in Berkeley (Noll and Tam) was chosen.  The architects put out a Request for Quote (RFQ) for the art work on the glass in the library and more than 20 proposals were received by the architect.  The person to do the “art wall” work was chosen by a committee comprised of the following:

* The architects themselves

* Several council members (no artists or art experts here)

* Executive Director of the Museum of Art (a bureaucrat for an Art organization)

* President of The Friends of the Library (bureaucrat of a non-art organization)

* And “staff”   (bureaucrats, most of whom don’t even live in Los Gatos)

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In the end, this committee hired a college professor/artist from Chico, California and paid her over $100,000 for her art glass.  Upon casually querying more than a half dozen local glass/sculpture artists, not one of them was ever made aware of the RFQ, not through personal contacts or through the professional media which they monitor for such information.  All of these guys have done numerous projects for all sorts of governmental agencies over the past 40 or 50 years, these guys from Los Gatos or its immediate environs.  And much to my frustration, and their frustration as well, they are seldom made aware of such projects developed by their town during those 40 to 50 years.

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The notable exception to this record is the dearly departed Rick Tharp.  Tharp was a master of promotion, and most of all, Rick promoted himself spectacularly.  Rick volunteered or discounted lots of his work for town, but he was famous among us artists for making his “Tharp Did It” logo so prominent on all  his work, it sometimes competed with the client’s identity on a given graphics project.  To promote himself, he hung around town bureaucrats and notables and he got himself well known, far and wide.  But Tharp was very unique.

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Most artists of this caliber shun self promotion and you can often hear them justify this attitude by preaching “the work speaks for its self” or, even more effective is “my agent speaks for my art.”  While this is true, sometimes it needs a little help.  However, in a town of 30,000 souls, how hard is it to pay a little attention and come to know some very prominent professional artists in the neighborhood.  It seems to me that yes, even a small town has to keep its books balanced but a town is more than a business, it is a community as well.  And in such a small community, with such a great wealth of talent, it is hard to justify not showing off this talent in the most obvious ways, like in your public buildings.

The council members don’t get paid by the town.  The two volunteer organizations on that selection committee don’t cost the town anything, so why not have a volunteer organization to keep track of our professional artists, to make sure that town at least considers them when sending out RFQs for town projects and it won’t cost the town a cent.

No one is suggesting that town necessarily CHOOSE local artists for all of its projects but at least ensure that these local guys at least hear about such projects.  Obviously, the major players (art players) in town heard nothing about this particular project, but the fact they don’t even really care if they were contacted or not, tells the tale, town has hardly ever bothered to acknowledge them and that’s what the artists have come to expect.

In this town we are asked to support dog runs, sports parks, soccer fields, bike and hiking trails and rowing clubs, which are all fine, healthy and worthwhile.  I’m proud of our townspeople bucking the trend of obesity.  People in Los Gatos want to preserve children’s graffiti on the foot bridge over the freeway or senior’s art classes in the community center, swell!  The service clubs and the chamber of commerce are involved with displays of the decorative and folk arts from all over the country and the world, but when it comes to the serious, professional arts, it seems that the people who run this town aren’t even aware of its own professional resources.   Or, if they are aware, then I suppose town is intentionally ignoring them.  Maybe there is a good reason which I’m not aware of, to explain why we sent that $100,000 over to Chico.

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The price of my book is one penny less than what I honestly feel comfortable with because of professional advice, and Carolyn yields to that advice as well, we’ve never done merchandizing so we listen to people who have, people we call professionals.  Maybe we need a university or college in Los Gatos so that our officials might seek out and listen to the professionals who exist right here, under our noses.  Berkeley may have some of the talent we have, but Chico certainly doesn’t.  But they both have higher education and we don’t.  Maybe it makes some sort of difference?

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One Comment
  1. larry arzie permalink

    There were numerous public meetings regarding the Library and your right there was little
    effort to use local resources. I mentioned that I was miffed at one of the meetings by the use of Italian tiles to face the building when we have a local tile manufacturing in the valley who got a State grant for turning used glass into tile………..with incredible debth of beauty. But what do I know. As with most all local politics decisions are made in advance and our opinions are solicited as feel good democracy in action……..a bit of a sham but this is Los Gatos and we can thank our local government for getting things done no matter the loss of local of social capitol.

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