Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Art selection process draws protest from two

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Should publicly-funded state art projects be awarded only to New Mexico residents?
That’s the controversy emerging as internationally- known Las Cruces artist George Mendoza protested a decision to choose five out-of-state finalists to vie for a $171,000 large scale art project commissioned by New Mexico State University.
“It’s horrible, especially with the economy and the art market the way it is,” said Mendoza, a legally blind abstract artist who has been the subject of a movie and documentary, had national touring exhibitions of his paintings and created works used in an international lime of fabrics.
Medoza said he was inspired to protest the decision by David Boje, whose NMSU marketing class helped him with an application for the large scale work in a three-story glass atrium at O’Donnell Hall, the home of NMSU’s College of Education.
“When he heard about this David (Boje) just screamed out, ‘How can they do this? With 36 New Mexico artists out of 359 artists who applied, doesn’t New Mexico have any artist good enough to do this?’ I know if I was chosen, I would use local people and spend money here to do this,” Mendoza said.
Boje confirmed he was upset with the decision.
“I think of the five, at least one should have been from New Mexico,” said Boje, who added that he is “investigating” issues that include “possible conflict of interest, violations of mission statements” and changes in selection criteria after the application deadline.
“I’m not saying there is a conflict of interest, I’m just saying it should be investigated,” Boje said.
None of Boje’s charges are valid, said Wynn Egginton, director of NMSU’s Education Research and Budgeting office and a member of the seven- member selection committee who chose finalists.
“It’s sad that this is putting a cloud over what has been a very exciting and exhilarating opportunity. I think our selection committee is very professional and conscientious. We went looking for the best art we could find for the space in an award-winning building,” Egginton said.
“I think the art kind of falls above all this. Art is more universal and we selected the top five people that would best do the project,” said Sally Cutter, also a member of the selection committee.
In addition to gallery owner Sally Cutter and project director user/agency representative Egginton, the selection committee included NMSU’s University Architect and Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Michael Rickenbaker, architect Jim Vorenberg, artist Tom Gerend, and community members Sheryl Parsley, an NMSU alumna, and Liz Marrufo, Director of Elementary Instruction, College of Education at NMSU.
“I was looking at the art. I don’t think I even looked at where (the artists) were from until late in the selection process. There were some wonderful submissions and the quality of the art was just unbelievable,” Cutter said.
A New Mexico state law stipulates that one percent of public money for building and renovation programs must be allocated for art, but there is no stipulation that all commissions must be awarded to artists who are New Mexico residents, said Chuck Zimmer, manager of New Mexico Art in Public Places.
“Commissioned projects are done on a case-by-case basis. We offer a number of projects that are for New Mexico artists only. It’s up to a selection committee to decide the scope and whether to open it up to nationwide searches,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said that Boje’s charges were unfounded, that selection criteria had not been changed from 2-D to 3-D works and that the processing of choosing the selection committee involved no conflicts of interest.
The criteria never changed and if any of the artists (who submitted proposals) misunderstood the criteria, that number was relatively small,” Zimmer said.
Egginton agreed wih Zimmer that there was no indication of conflict of interest.
Egginton said selection committee members were initially chosen by an NMSU group seeking representatives of the arts and educational communities.
“Our selection committee list was vetted and approved by New Mexico Arts,” without changes in recommendations, Egginton said.
Boje implied that there is a conflict of interest because Glenn Cutter serves as a New Mexico State Art Commissioner, and the selection committee includes his wife, Sally Cutter, and Dr. Tom Gerend, who has exhibited at the Cutter Cutter.
Glenn Cutter said Tuesday that he had “absolutely nothing to do with the selection of the committee members or the committee’s selection of finalists. Sally and I never discussed any of it.”
After learning that Zimmer and Egginton had confirmed the independent processes in committee selection, Boje said,“Well, I’m glad you investigated. I guess I was wrong about that, and I’ll tone things down on my website.”

In a Tuesday e-mail he wrote: “Still there is for me the issue of process, and representativeness. Still it’s not clear how the mission of the university or the state agency, the Department of Cultural Affairs, is being served by this particular use of taxpayer dollars.”
According to the New Mexico Arts website, “Since its inception nearly 25 years ago, the (Art in Public Places) program has placed more than 2,500 works of art in all of New Mexico’s 33 counties. Our goal is to reflect the diversity of the arts in New Mexico, the Southwest, and the nation while building a dynamic public art collection for the State of New Mexico,”
Cutter and Zimmer both expressed concerns that if New Mexico limited eligibility to state residents, other states might decide to bar New Mexico artists from vying for projects in their states.
"I don’t care. The main criteria should be how are we’re helping New Mexico artists compete for these commissions. At least one candidate (among the finalists) should have been from New Mexico. We need to change the process and see that people on the selection committee reflect the artistic and demographic diversity of the community,” Boje said.
“It should be noted that all of the local selection committee members are residents of the Las Cruces area. The selection process that New Mexico Arts has in place is a fair and equitable process and the Art in Public Places staff would never second guess a local selection committee nor dictate art choices from Santa Fe,” Zimmer said. “While it is a tempting idea to limit the public art competitions to New Mexico artists, that would be short-sighted and could actually hurt New Mexican artists in the long run as other states would respond by not allowing New Mexico artists to compete for public art projects in their states – and we do want our New Mexico artists to be competitive in getting public art projects across the country and around the world.”
Zimmer said the state’s research “has shown that contracting with out-of-state artists brings a significant economic impact to local New Mexico businesses. The selected artist will stay in a Las Cruces hotel, eat at Las Cruces restaurants, and buy supplies and rent equipment from Las Cruces area stores. On average, our research shows that an out-of-state artist spends about one third of their project budget in the community where the art is being installed.”
Zimmer said artists interested in information about New Mexico Art in Public Places programs and upcoming projects are invited to visit online and click on Art in Public Places, Current Opportunities and Commissions.
Among current opportunities is a $278,800 commission for “a site-integrated project” for the New Mexico State University Center for the Arts Performance Hall. Application deadline is Sept. 30.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

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