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An Old Problem with the New Library, a repost

November 15, 2012

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.

Many years ago, 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 down below. 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, let alone have any claim to know much about local art talent)

.

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.  At least, they are frustrated by such negligence, . . . probably, some are even resentful.

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 artistic 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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But for all of my efforts and clamoring about promoting local art, no one has bothered to tell me, another artist here in town, what the special reason might be for us to send the $100,000 out of this town.

 

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