Not knowing details of the story of Pawtucket sculptor Donald Gerola, I won’t make any grand pronouncements about his bitter decision to give up on Rhode Island, but I found this paragraph of Mark Reynolds’s Providence Journal story significant:
Gerola says the sculptures that he brought to Rhode Island after moving to the state — “like an idiot” — in 2004 drew praise from various political leaders. But that encouragement never led to the kind of displays and success he wanted, on the scale he aspired to. Exposure from the public exhibits that he did participate in, losing money, did not foster any private sales of his sculpture, he says, and loaning out the pieces for display at sites in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England “was the dumbest thing I ever did … “
Our “political leaders” like to fancy themselves as important people and patrons of the arts, and they spend a good amount of our money on that particular self image, but art can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a responsibility of taxpayers. And unless government is able to fully support an artist’s work, both the government and the artist would be foolish to take action based on limited transactions with each other. This is true not the least because politicians have no proven taste.
The warning about taste, of course, expands to Rhode Island government’s broader economic development strategy, which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has amplified to ontological importance. One can picture Rhode Island politicians finding Gerola’s work to be the cutting-edge future of art, yet that incorrect assessment has apparently led to a loss for the artist and, therefore, a waste of whatever public money has gone to him over the decade he’s been here (if any). The same goes for less artsy businesses.
The best way to ensure that a particular investment has legs is to let people make the decisions with their own money. Of course, that doesn’t give politicians the ability to skim off the top or to feel like they’re the key movers of the art world or the economy.