Monday, November 8, 2010

Sending out an S.O.S.

Got message in a bottle? Actually, more like message in a box? Time and technology changes all things. However you define it, the mystery and magic of the “found” message in a bottle is something that has captivated me since my youth. Forever young, a romantic by nature, I am awed by the limitlessness of the universe. Nurtured on the milk of mystique, venturing in the realm of chance, I am a proponent of casting aside limiting notions of predictability. My mother, a firm believer in reaching for the stars, would say “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Always with intent, the dynamics of releasing a bottle are never isolated. The surrounding circumstance under which a bottled or boxed message is released intensifies the need for a receiver/finder. And, in being rescued, there is a profound resulting relationship established between sender and receiver.

Traditionally, the message in the bottle was sent out of desperation from an individual stranded amidst some unforeseen circumstantial island experience. A cry for help, as it were, is a vulnerable yet powerful acknowledgement of the human experience. Unfortunately, only the daring, those adventurers caught up in the vicissitudes of living life to the extreme can truly understand the undeniable divine appropriated power of the “rescue.” I have firsthand experience releasing the bottled message.

When I was in third grade I released a large helium balloon that I had purchased at the Apple Blossom Festival, back in my home town Bethel, Connecticut. I attached a letter to the string with my return address. Remarkably, a little girl, my same age found the balloon at the edge of a pond near her home in Nova Scotia, Canada! For “Show and Tell”, I was the hit of the school. I went from classroom to classroom sharing the return letter and photo I had received. So, it is no wonder I believe in the unbelievable. Speaking figuratively, I have been releasing balloons ever since. I have developed a way of being and living that challenges life and its possibilities. I make a clear and definitive distinction between my word use of possibility and not potential.

Though often confused and misused as similar ideals, contextually, these two divided hemispheres are opposing and governed by divergent values. Specific laws of physics govern the conditional realm of potential, while its faith-based counterpart, possibility, exists apart from and beyond our ken. Ruled by givens, preexisting variables, parameters and/or experiences, potentiality represents limited outcomes. Conversely, free of fences, possibility heralds notions of limitlessness.

A Jack of many trades, I know little bits about many things, some things more than others. Experientially, I know a great deal about exercising the power of possibility. There is something profound to say in defense On- the-Job training. I am the last person to talk about the “impossibility” of accomplishing something. This word no longer exists in my vocabulary. The totality of my life evidences the veracity of living outside of status quo; perceived limitations and understanding. Along this circuitous and meandering path we call life, I’ve learned with varying degrees of success an alternative reality that challenges standard notions of predictability.

Biblically speaking, the aforesaid circumstantial island experience is akin to the proverbial fighting of David against Goliath. Dogmatically, we are conditioned to accept the linear equation of “what you see is what you get.” Most interestingly, and what is often overlooked in this epic story of “against all odds”, is the overriding circumstance of this confrontation between the giant and youthful contender. Mano a mano, experience against naiveté, everything was on the line; nation against nation - winner take all. We are told that Saul, then King of Israel, had his personal armor put on David. Too cumbersome for Saul’s imminent replacement, David faced Goliath only with what he knew, sling and stone. Living within maelstrom of possibility, facing the Goliaths of the unknown requires an affirmative sense of self. As Director of the Knapp Gallery, amidst a downturned economy, I too am up against my own personal Goliath; the proverbial Philistine army stands off in the distance desiring my demise – winner takes all. With only sling and stone, my confidence in the realm of possibility, I stand virtually naked against the elements. However, this battle is about so much more than the surviving and thriving of an art gallery in a bad economy.

Far beyond the visible horizon here in Philadelphia, is the writing of history; our viability as a world class “Fine Art Community” is at issue. Despite a remarkable armature and infrastructure in place, a world class Art Museum, The Barnes Foundation, a significant concentration of the country’s finest Art Schools, we are still without a commensurate reputation as a stalwart exporter of Philadelphia made Fine Art. This existing and disproportionate imbalance hinders requisite collector confidence. A resulting and pervasive chronic anemia saps our “body” of its want for oxygen; doubled over listlessly by the side of the road we wait to regain our composure. Meanwhile, the remedy of our sluggishness exists on hand, literally in our own back yard; no need travelling to OZ. We need only tap into Philadelphia’s MFA contingency, which currently suffers exponentially from post graduation attrition. The Knapp Gallery, in its attempt to highlight and harness the power of this fallow resource has launched a contest. Winner takes all.

2011 City-Wide Graduate Student Juried Exhibition/Contest

With quarter final, semi final and final round eliminations, the winning finalist receives:

• post graduation solo show at The Knapp Gallery
• year supply of art materials
• partial living stipend

This high profile competition will afford Philadelphia’s graduating MFA students a high visibility opportunity and platform to jumpstart and promote their careers.

The Knapp Gallery acknowledges Philadelphia’s opportunity and potential as a World Class “Fine Arts” Community. Presently, New York City’s Art Community, because of its concentration of artists, career opportunities and unlimited exhibition spaces keeps the lion’s share of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s visibility and notoriety. Conversely, Philadelphia, obscured in New York’s shadow, is known only for its concentration of the country’s finest Art Schools. And like in a small College town, Philadelphia suffers from significant post graduation attrition. Lacking sufficient career and growth opportunities for graduating students to live and nurture their craft, Philadelphia is left remotely barren and devoid of its growth potential.

Philadelphia trains artists but lacks a suitable continuing support network to retain its young graduating student artists. At issue here is the notion of sustainability. Sustainability requires sowing seeds of growth and nurturing these seedlings through to harvest. The Knapp Gallery believes a highly visible and publicized MFA graduate student juried exhibition/contest will spotlight and quantify the value of the student artist, while simultaneously calling attention to Philadelphia as a viable resource for quality Contemporary Art. A desired by-product of this promotional event is the nurturing, cultivating and creating of a plausible demand for Philadelphia-created art work.

The Knapp Gallery, since its inception 5 years ago, has been a champion for the emerging and student artist. We have sought to edify the Philadelphia Fine-Art Community of its ample student and emerging artist contingency as a significant and pivotal resource. Our efforts are but one cog in the larger gear needed to redirect current post graduation relocation and attrition trends. In providing Grad Students a place to show their art, we hope to entice Philadelphia’s student contingency to remain and develop their careers.

Contestant requirements:
• Graduating from a Philadelphia based MFA program in Spring 2011
• Winning Finalist must remain in Philadelphia to paint their exhibiting body of work.

For entry application contact Tereza at 267 455 0279

This however is only an initial step towards ameliorating said deficiency. Highlighting the value of one life, one artist helps only to create awareness. Retaining Philadelphia’s graduating MFAs requires a significantly larger effort. Accordingly, I have proposed to Philadelphia the following:

The New Philadelphia Fine-Art RegistryLong Term Proposal: Accommodating MFA post graduation attrition

Philadelphia’s significant concentration of Fine-Art Schools lacks sufficient back up in career building opportunities for its MFA graduates. Consequential loss of potential “professional” artists has stymied growth and tainted the reputation of Philadelphia’s “Fine-Art” Community. At street level this translates into limited art buyer/collector confidence.

Remedy:• Establish and promote the “Philadelphia Fine-Arts Registry.”
• Establish and publicize an annual Economic Development Grant funding source-based on a “Training” initiative.
• Create 5 municipally owned or business cooperative “Exhibition” spaces for Registry members called registrants.
• Create a self-contained registrant managed and marketed City-Wide industry with “Genuine- Philadelphia – Made” branding.

Philadelphia Fine-Art Registry is an internet searchable repository of MFA graduates and houses the components of a new municipal self-contained and self-sustained industry. Operating funds from exhibition admissions, membership dues, painting sales and printing sales maintain employment generating opportunities for registrants. The registry increases undergraduate and post graduate art school enrollment.

As an Economic Development Tool, Philadelphia Fine-Art Registry qualifies for federal and or state training funds/grants. Training funds entice relocating firms, offset costs of workforce training, provides registrant employment opportunities and generates municipal publicity.

Registry Galleries guarantee registrants’ exhibition space, employment opportunities, additional municipal revenue, increased First Friday traffic, a wider commerce perimeter and increased tourism opportunities. Alternative Registry exhibition spaces are developed through participating businesses.

Introducing “Genuine- Philadelphia – Made” branding /marketing establishes significant registrant employment /revenue generating opportunities, promotes the MFA initiative, increases municipal publicity and promotes tourism.

Consensus requires collective buy-in. Buy-in requires high visibility. High visibility fundamentally is found at the core of a noteworthy Cause. An altruistic and substantive promotion of a cause requires having a personal stake in that Cause. Nearly thirty years ago, my mother died from complications associated with Lupus. To date, no cure has been found for Lupus, an immune deficiency connective tissue disorder. Like finding the cure for our present Philadelphia Art Community’s anemic condition, I am also an ardent supporter of finding a cure for Lupus, a disease that historically slays women of African American and Hispanic decent. To raise funds for Lupus research and fund our City-Wide Art Contest, The Knapp Gallery is hosting a Black Tie event, a Lupus /Art Philadelphia Fundraising Gala, to be held at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia – At Penn’s Landing, May 21, 2011; Lupus Awareness Month.

Lupus / Art Philadelphia Gala Fundraiser

The Knapp Gallery is partnering with the Lupus Foundation of America in a fundraising Gala to help celebrate Lupus Awareness Month. This $500 per plate “Black Tie” awareness event will be the culmination and Award Presentation Ceremony of our City-Wide MFA Juried Art Contest. With four guest speakers representing the Medical, Business, Political and Art communities, a significant goal of this is to create an inclusive dialogue that promotes within Philadelphia a renewed sense of collective responsibility. Proceeds from this fundraising event, split with the Lupus Foundation of America, will fund the Knapp Gallery’s 2011 City-Wide MFA Contest awards.

Historically, the arts have been solicited to support non-profit fundraising. Ever accustomed to the donated art “for auction” scenario, there exists an inherent and profound acknowledgement of Art’s value. And while we need the help of our non-profit partner to bolster confidence of investors, our larger intent at the Knapp Gallery in partnering with the Lupus Foundation of America is not an attempt to piggyback this sentiment, rather to raise awareness of what we perceive as a life threatening issue to The Philadelphia Fine-Art Community. Like the life threatening affects of systemic Lupus, similar anemic symptoms plague the welfare and growth of Philadelphia’s Fine-Art Community infrastructure.

The Knapp Gallery is currently soliciting Philadelphia based businesses, firms and medical facilities as first and 2nd tier partners. For Gala tickets and/or additional information contact Tereza at 267 455 0279.

Like John the Baptist, preaching the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God, I too have met significant resistance. Two weeks ago, realizing I was going about this in my own strength, living within the realm of potential, it became clear that it was time to release another balloon into the stratosphere. And just that I’ve done. And like sharing in “Show and Tell”, back in third grade, I am letting all who are willing to listen and read that I have sent up another balloon. In this particular instance, however a box, to the White House! Why the White House? In my mind, fundamentally, it represents the infinite and limitlessness of possibility. The larger reason is that First Lady Michelle Obama, as a figure head, represents the idyllic importance of women of African American decent. Never before has such an important woman of color been attached to the need to find a cure for the disease.

I am not the best businessman. Running an art Gallery is not what I do. I am a furniture maker by profession. The Knapp’s knew this when they installed me as Director. They did know that I possess a tremendous capacity and desire to win. And while winning is not everything, a significant portion of my character MAKE-UP is driven by a desire to win. I have not done a lot of winning yet. Fortunately, I am still above ground and while breath remains, I will press towards the mark. Winning in this instance would be to have Michelle Obama as my Keynote speaker at our LUPUS / Art Philadelphia May 2011. So, I sent a letter to the White House attached to a painting donated by Philadelphia artist Alfred Ortega in a custom built crate; the aforementioned message in a box. This is how much I believe in Philadelphia and its Fine Art Community. Despite significant reticence, I have been able to get others on board with my vision like Jane Golden of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. My hope is that an involvement by the First Lady will cause a rallying around an event/cause I believe to be of historic proportions.

First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

October 26, 2011

Dear First Lady,

My hope and prayer is that this letter finds its way safely to you. Like a message in a bottle, albeit with an address, I release this correspondence out into the ocean of hope. Anointed with love and faith, this letter represents a life lived with a fundamental belief in miracles.

I need your help. Philadelphia needs your help also.

Nearly thirty years ago, my mother, Marie C. Slocum, died from complications associated with Lupus. An African American woman, a pioneer in Head Start and Special Education in Fairfield County Connecticut through the late 60s and 70s, she blazed a heroic trail laden with travail and resistance. Like you she epitomized integrity. Despite her personal health struggles, she fought for the lives of her special needs children. She will always be my first lady, my example of courage, selflessness, fortitude and life’s limitless possibilities.

In my attempt to raise awareness and funds for Lupus research and a special arts-based need here in Philadelphia, I, too, have met significant resistance. A voice crying out in the wilderness, few ears are open to my call to arms. The economy has preoccupied us with needs closer to home.

Lupus, an immune deficiency tissue disorder, slays predominantly female victims of African American and Hispanic decent. To date, there is no cure. Despite recent Public Broadcasting Announcements, there has been limited high visibility of an African American or Hispanic Woman associated in promoting research towards finding a cure. Now, you are the most prominent black woman in the world. My mother would be so proud of you and your work.

Tangentially, the Philadelphia Fine-Art Community, weakened in its trend of post graduation MFA attrition, suffers dramatically in part to its close proximity to New York City. Promoting a City-Wide MFA art contest, I am attempting to raise funds to for the contest winner (a living stipend and year’s art supplies) and also raise awareness of the substantive art community that Philadelphia itself has offer. The contest winner will receive their first post- graduation solo art exhibit at Knapp Gallery, in Old City, nearby the Betsy Ross house where you visited last year. I was in the crowd for your arrival.

Partnering with LUPUS, the LFA “Philadelphia-Tri-State Chapter” has approved the motion to participate; I hope to align the seriousness of our art community “anemia.” Traditionally, the art world has been solicited to help raise money for non-profit fundraising. Now, with a personal stake also, I solicit the “high visibility” help that a Lupus fundraising event can bring.

Your participation as my keynote speaker at a black-tie event planned for May 21, 2011, Lupus Awareness Month, would ensure success and convince prospective patrons “buy-in” to our vision.

Please afford me the opportunity to discuss my vision with you and your people in its entirety. I would be honored to travel to DC and meet with you. I am convinced, within a short lunch, you will discern my sincerity and commitment to both of my causes. Of course, if your lunch schedule is impenetrable, the telephone could work, too.

Please accept this painting as a token of our thanks for your consideration of our invitation. This is the quality of art and life of an artist that we are attempting to promote and preserve. Born in Philadelphia in 1956, Alfred Ortega studied painting and sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Ortega’s work is currently represented by the Atlantic Gallery in Nantucket and the Knapp Gallery here in Philadelphia. Ortega has exhibited at the Woodmere Museum and Twenty-two Gallery in Philadelphia. The artist’s work is represented in the permanent collection of the Pennsylvania State Museum and in private collections.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

With my fondest regards,

Karl Slocum, Director