To the editors:
Re: "Group Efforts: the art world observes a day of the dead" [November 24]
Jeff Abell and Catherine Edelman are to be congratulated for their great efforts in alerting Chicago's art exhibition community to observe, in some form, the December 1st Visual AIDS' "A Day Without Art."
However, in all fairness to the Visual AIDS organization in New York and to the others of us who actively participated, I must take issue with the statements Ms. Edelman was quoted as saying in the Reader's feature article on the subject.
Namely, according to Edelman, once again "Chicago was left out" of being in the know, in this instance about this nationwide day of observance to memorialize the artists and others who have died or are dying of this virulent disease. Ms. Edelman's statement is, quite simply, inaccurate, and unnecessarily belligerent.
While it may be true that Ms. Edelman was left uninformed (in spite of the many published accounts of the proposed observance in national arts journals since September), what we take exception to is her tone which implies that no one else in Chicago was doing anything but her, when in fact many of us were involved early on.
This past June a staff member and I participated in a meeting at the annual convention of the American Association of Museums where we met with Phillip Yenawine and Ileen Sheppard, both spearheading the Visual AIDS activities. It was then that we volunteered to disseminate the information to our non-profit visual arts constituents in Illinois and to every other state arts agency in the country . . . which we did when the materials arrived in August.
Hundreds of Visual AIDS Flyers were sent out to museums, arts centers, and galleries (including Randolph Street Gallery) in Illinois. My attached cover letter requested responses to inform us of any proposed activities and plans.
These mailings were our primary thrust. Beyond that we had hoped that the information would get passed from one venue to another. As well, we understood that the commercial gallery community might also be informed through the Chicago Art Dealers Association and other sources. We may have assumed too much. No matter.
What I feel this strongly points out is the need for a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary organization which can act swiftly, when such a huge undertaking is proposed, as an information network and clearing house to bring the entire arts community together as a strong, unified body of mutual support.
Finally, for the record, it is puzzling at this late date to still hear that tired cliche that Chicago, lost somewhere in the midwest, is still the cultural step-sister to New York. Since members of New York's arts community made a concerted effort to inform us all early on about a subject so painfully close to each of us, such unbridled criticism does a disservice to all of us concerned.
Alan Leder Director Visual Arts Programs Illinois Arts Council
Mark Schoofs replies:
No doubt Mr. Leder did send out fliers, which means that the midwest was not overlooked. My apologies.
Still, all of the representatives from Chicago's galleries and museums interviewed for the article said they had not heard about "A Day Without Art" until Edelman or Abell called them. And even Phillip Yenawine, the New York organizer with whom Mr. Leder says he spoke, did not mention Mr. Leder's efforts.
The moral of this story? Effective organizing lies somewhere between creating "a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary . . . information network and clearing house" and doing as Mr. Leder seems to have done--dropping notices in the mail and leaving it at that. What is required is for a couple of determined people--like Edelman and Abell--to work the phone and do some old-fashioned legwork.