Monday, July 20, 2009

The wide world of bad information on Columbia art

As someone in the business of gathering information and passing it on to the public, and I hope doing a few other things, I’m sensitive to lousy sources of information.

Columbia has way too many lousy sources of lousy information online. As someone who recently set up this site I have a little more and a little less sympathy with others who create and maintain online sites. More because there are a lot of quirky little things you have to know, and less, because if I can do it anyone can.

You paid how much for this web site?

Maybe no one would ever do something stupid like look at the city of Columbia website for information about the arts here. I stumbled upon it by accident – and was delighted that it was there. At least until I looked at it. (It’s on a drop-down menu under About The City.)

Theaters included are the Actor’s Theatre of South Carolina which decamped to Charleston a decade ago. (That's AT director Clarence Felder, right, assuring a young actor she won't have to move to Columbia.)

If you click on the S.C. Shakespeare Company you will be spirited to a site for Scholarship, Criticism and Performance of the works of William Shakespeare” and a review of “Romeo and Juliet” in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Wish I had gotten that assignment.)

You’ll also learn that the Historic Columbia Foundation is a music and dance organization. Does the guy at the left look familiar. He shouldn't. Nicholas Smith hasn't been conductor of the S.C. Philharmonic for two years, but the city doesn't know that. They must have missed all those banners lining Gervais Street bearing the image of Morihiko Nakahara, who just completed his first year as music director. The biggest classical-music making organization in the city – the USC Music School – isn’t even listed.

Trustus Theatre, according to the city, is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Math has never been my strong point, but the company was founded in 1985, which I believe makes it more than 10 years old.

This is a web site that was chosen late last year when the city mistakenly had two city web sites created at a cost of about $30,000.The city has known about the problems since February. The city public relations office said at that time they'd try to fix it. What is looks like now is the product of a city that doesn't know and doesn't care.

The Culture Council or Arts Fund or Get Cultured

If the city isn’t up to date, maybe that’s because neither is the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties.(The city website link for the Cultural Council is a dead link.) The Cultural Council is an umbrella organization that raises money and distributes it to local arts groups. It’s often seen as the city’s arm in the arts.

Just what art groups exist in Columbia and which ones belong to the Cultural Council is unclear from the Council’s web site. In fact, it’s pretty tough to even find the Cultural Council on the web. If you look for the Cultural Council you will find a site, but that's not the organization’s site any longer. The Council has started calling itself the Arts Fund of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties at some point. For some reason the group's website is you won’t easily find that by searching for Arts Fund of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties either.

If you do make it to the site, you'll find a list of “affiliates.” From what I understand anyone or any group that asks to be made an affiliate will be made one. It has nothing to do with getting funding from the council.

“Affiliates” include the Columbia Museum of Art, The Columbia City Ballet, several school districts, the Dale Mastro School of Art, S.C. Export, Elite Framing, The Riverbanks Mozart Festival (you ever heard of it?), Gallery 701 (but not the 701 Center for Contemporary Art) and the USC Office of Media Relations that has a hyperlink that takes you directly to USC athletics. There's no listing for the USC music school, but is one for the marching bands. At least two galleries and two theater companies that have been out of business for years are on the list.

The main main item under "News" is a holiday market by an art guild that took place in November - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume November 2008.

The Council isn’t even very good at promoting its own events. This is the total of what its website said about “Palette to Palate” - Mini art festivals with tasty food for the palate and local art created from a palette in Richland County, Forest Acres, and the City of Columbia.” No dates, times, place.

Cultural Council Andrew Witt says a new site will be up by October. Regarding what groups are on the site, he said non-art groups are on the site because the council is tied to economic development and that it's up to the arts groups to notify the council they exist.

He suggests Carolina Culture write something asking artists and arts groups to submit information. Consider it done. But consider me baffled that this is the way the primary cultural organization in the Midlands gathers information about the groups it is supposed to serve.

The worst-looking award

The most embarrassing arts web site belongs to the University of South Carolina’s Koger Center for the Arts. If not terribly inaccurate it is often incomplete. I challenge anyone to come up with a more useless and uglier website. You can actually find three photos if you really dig around. This is the work of THE performing arts center run by THE university. The plumbing in the building isn't so hot either.

How not to attract students

Another university site that ranks high on the low scale is for the department of art website. This is the sort of place students, parents, those interested in the visual arts, usually go to get a feel for what the place is like – the feel you get is it is a mess. Click on the department gallery and you get an odd new window. There’s no listing of events taking place

Among the highlighted events on the main page you find information about kids art classes which ended two months ago, a faculty member’s film screening which took place two years ago, a notice of the annual art auction held in April. Just one click away you can learn who won the Media Festival Awards in 2007 and the atelier which hasn’t existed for more than a year. I’d bet a lot of people would like to know about these things going on with art department faculty members: Laura Kissel in China working on a movie; Virginia Scotchie teaching and lecturing in Australia and New Zealand; Sara Schneckloth showing in California and Texas and just idd residency in Georgia; Dawn Hunter an artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center; David Voros, Bob Lyon and their students had a local show recently.

The department also has trouble adding new faculty members to the site or removing those who quit or retired several years ago. You can find a picture of art historian Laura Voight on the site (right) - she left the department more than a year ago.

Department chair Cynthia Colbert says the department doesn't have the person on the money to do anything with the site. Maybe not, but the art departments at every other college in the state, as well as various departments all over the university, seem to be able to do this.


  1. Hey! You've hit the nail on the head with what always bothers me about arts calendars in Columbia. One of the biggest gripes in the Talent Magent survey was that there wasn't a "one stop" shop for events. A decent substitute is a public google calendar that I create and manage called "Columbia South Carolina Arts, Music, Entertainment, Dance and other events Calendar". You can reach it at

  2. Sorry, that was wrong, Here is the new address.

  3. Yes, yes and yes. All true…...and you could substitute Columbia for Spartanburg or any other number of cities and towns and the material will read the same. I can sympathize with Cynthia Colbert’s point about the lack of skilled individuals and monies to support informational technology for educational departments and non-profits. As director of the Curtis R. Harley Art Gallery at USC Upstate I end up managing the web page because students come and go and often get better paying jobs that overshadow gallery needs. Reworking the web pages has become so labor-intensive that I now have moved information to FaceBook where it is fast, much more user-friendly, and I can send announcements to member followers with the click of the mouse. It is of course not perfect since everyone that might be interested in our gallery activities does not use FaceBook. As for city-wide arts and cultural information Spartanburg suffers from the some of the same issues as Columbia. From my experience with various organizations it appears there is a need in each city or region for a body or organization that collects current monthly information and then posts it in a clear, coordinated manner, and in a timely fashion to be maintained on a daily basis. Obviously this calls for skilled individuals and dollars, but even larger is the issue of the willingness of various organizations to contribute their activities in a logical and timely manner. It is an unmanageable amoeba-like problem that will continue to flounder but may some day, down the road, initiate the development of a mechanism that can be effective for organization and audience.

  4. Sad but true. Thanks for drawing attention to this.


Post comments under the anonymous listing if you do not subscribe to one of the services listed.