Tag Archives: scene metrospace

Talking Points Metro

I don’t do many short posts here, but there’s a tidbit worth quickly noting. It’s municipal election season here in East Lansing, with three of the five at-large City Council seats up for grabs this November. Six candidates are running, only one of whom is an incumbent.

Over the last 12-14 months, I’ve taken my political junkie tendencies and shifted some of the focus to the local level. (Hence my appointment to the Arts Commission, the (SCENE) drama, my East Lansing Info work, and more.) Consequently, I attended tonight’s candidate forum sponsored by the local League of Women Voters chapter. To my pleasant surprise, the (SCENE) divestiture was explicitly referenced by a candidate in one round of answers. While I can’t recall the specific question offhand — of course the answers sometimes shifted away from the questions a bit — I believe it had something to do with the city’s overall budget and approaches to development and fiscal responsibility. (SCENE) and the closure of a community childcare facility — both ostensibly for fiscal reasons — were highlighted as poor decisions.

[I should mention that the forum was very well run and moderated and featured excellent questions. The major networks should’ve been there taking notes…]

While I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see (SCENE) pop up in City Council meetings and discussions as an occasional talking point, I didn’t expect it to receive mention on the campaign trail. Interesting. (For the record, I didn’t submit the question.)

Since we’re on the topic: separately, earlier this week, the re-opening and new exhibition were discussed in a featured segment on WKAR’s Current State, the local public radio news program.

(SCENE) Unveiling

(SCENE) Metrospace re-opened to the public last Friday evening with a kick-off reception for its debut show under MSU/AAHD management entitled Place in Proximity. I attended. Given all my yammering on the topic, I felt that it was only right that I go and see it for myself.

I don’t often go to openings unless I’m working them, but I wanted to be there for this one. It was 6:00-8:00 PM and I was there for a little more than an hour (roughly 6:10-7:20). I give the time/duration, because I thought it odd that I saw no one I recognized from City staff, City Council, and/or the press. But I guess that’s understandable. As I reiterated in my remarks before City Council last week, the City wanted to get rid of the space (i.e., “get out of the curating business”) and didn’t much consider the divestiture too important. (In my remarks, I voiced various concerns detailed on this blog before the opening, particularly regarding submission fees and charged “special programming.”) The so-called partnership between COEL and MSU is one in which the City pays and the university plays. After all, not many landlords attend their tenants’ housewarming parties.

[It’s worth emphasizing, again, that my core frustration is with the City. COEL offered this — total control over a rent- and utility-free space — to MSU on a silver platter.]

I would’ve written about the opening sooner but the last week was tiresome. Besides, I was rather curious what else would be written about it first. However, I was surprised to see that no non-MSU entity covered the event. Today a local Fox affiliate ran a story, but it was just a re-post from MSU Today, an online publication. The only other news outlet to cover it was MSU’s State News. (If you look carefully, I believe you can see one of my ears in a photo. Cool.) Nothing else.

Oh well…

Some thoughts on the actual substance at hand, including credit where credit is due:
• The space is much improved. I never thought one would describe (SCENE) as beautiful, but it arguably is now. There’s a nice new floor and the walls are freshly painted. It appeared as if a couple of the standalone walls were movable depending on the show, which could help change things up spatially with each visit. The window graphics are particularly nice. No more paper flyers. As I wrote and stated many times before, I had little doubt that AAHD would run a fine visual art space. (It’s just that the venue was previously more than that.)
• Given the layout for Place in Proximity, if other shows are similar in floor design, I don’t quite see how a performance before an audience of more than ~20 would be feasible. Would such special programming only occur on weeks between shows?
• The AAHD Chair included in his public remarks bits about community engagement and year-round accessibility.
• The show itself was pretty good. Interesting work from a variety of regional artists.
• Simply as an observer with no other context of the politicking up to this point, it was a pleasurable experience.

I consider this post, like last week’s talk before Council, to be the last gasp of my regular “coverage” of this, at least until summer 2016 (when the space should, as I understand it, remain fully operational). I’ll of course be keeping up on new shows, developments, and special programming. It’s sad to see this whole mess go quietly into the night, but so it is. In City politics its spirit lives on through various talking points…



(SCENE) Update

Another brief update. If nothing else, AAHD’s maiden exhibition opening under its new Spartan-branded (SCENE) is almost two weeks away, so I figured it’d be worth maintaining some momentum before what I assume will be a sizable PR push begins.

Not too much has occurred since my last post, save an article in City Pulse that was published days after. (It was set to run before I wrote that entry, which I was informed of between the original post and the next day’s update.) I haven’t posted anything since because, frankly, I became rather disgusted with and disheartened by the whole (SCENE) situation for various reasons both on and off the record, and the posts seemed futile at best. But I’ve accepted that, while I don’t want to be seen solely as “the voice of the opposition,” someone needs to provide some healthy public skepticism. If nothing else, I can take take consolation in the fact that shortly after this post the windows were papered over and signs were posted.

scenerenosign(Photo taken 07.25.15 by yours truly. The sign reads, “Closed for renovations. (SCENE) Metrospace will reopen in September 2015 with a new exhibition. Please direct inquiries to scene@msu.edu.” MSU/AAHD info at bottom.)

After all, I’ve been consistent, clear, and public regarding my wishes for (SCENE) to continue to be a thriving space for all of the arts while being conducted and managed transparently. And, hopefully, for it to continue to be a community resource.

From the aforementioned City Pulse article, some noteworthy nuggets:
1. Much needed cosmetic work is being done to the space. That’s good; it needed the work.
– I’m curious: how is AAHD footing that bill? (I imagine it’s a fair amount.) Beyond the cost of printing promotional materials, I wonder if either the submission fees or the admission charges for “special programming” will go towards recouping these expenses?
2. AAHD Chair Chris Corneal seemed to telegraph an overture regarding non-visual arts programming beyond the six to eight annual performances exclusively by MSU students & faculty.
– I’m guessing this is the call for proposals? Note that it mentions proposals being accepted year-round. (The (SCENE) section of the AAHD website now has more info, though this isn’t on the standalone (SCENE) website.)
– Is this the “special programming” discussed before?
– Notably, the call states, “Please note that at this time we cannot host events in the space that have charged admission.” (If so, how does that jive with the other “special programming” described here that was a focus of my last post and update.)
– This call info is new to me and I have many thoughts on it, but I’d like to sit with it some more.
3. “Community engagement” continues to be touted. Interestingly, the (SCENE) site even now includes a “Community” page.
– Still, to me, the way all the “community” discussion reads, “open to the community” doesn’t necessarily include any aspect of being “of the community” or “by the community.”
[4. The blog was quoted in print. A first. Victory! I saved a copy for my scrapbook.]

Separately, (SCENE) remains an occasional talking point at City Council meetings. A small but noticeable element. I’m glad it wasn’t a fluke.

Needless to say, I wonder how this all will shake out. I look forward to the Sept. 18 opening of Place in Proximity, which I hope to attend (depending on child care)…

IMG_2084(Photo taken 09.01.15 by yours truly. Exhibition poster for Place in Proximity. And my son’s reflection strikes again.)


A very quick update. Since my last post, the (SCENE)metrospace online accounts have, I believe, officially been transferred to AAHD hands. I mention this because, on July 17, it was finally announced that the space is closed for renovations until September. That, and the contact information has been updated on the main website. And yesterday – possibly earlier, but I saw it via social media then – the call for submissions for the gallery’s next/first exhibition was posted. A couple thoughts:

For “hitting the ground running” (the phrase I heard used in meetings this spring), I’m a little surprised that the call for submissions for the first show is now, in the latter half of July, two months out. Although, I’m guessing that’s partially why the opening’s date has been pushed back a week to September 18.

Second, there’s a financial concern. I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised to see an entry fee for submissions. However, I’ll concede that that’s the way it often goes for applications for exhibitions, conference, college and grad school admissions, and the like. So, while I’m a bit surprised by this, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. AAHD’s reasoning, when pressed via Facebook: “Project-related expenses range from the professionally designed full-color catalogs created for our open call juried exhibitions to the recently upgraded lighting and flooring in the gallery.” My immediate thought upon reading this was that in-house printing of promotional materials was touted as one of the cost-saving virtues of having MSU’s AAHD run the space instead of the City. This was highlighted more than once. I wonder if the City charged submission fees? If not, it’s just one more financial avenue not explored before claiming financial stress…

Although, that’s not what really caught my attention. What did is a new facet of the lease agreement slipped into the submission call (emphasis mine):

“(SCENE) Metrospace is free and open to the public, with the exception of some special programing [sic].”

Now that’s a surprise. All discussions and debate centered around the venue remaining free and open to the public with no mention of “special programming.” Rereading the operating agreement last night, the relevant part is even highlighted:

“MSU is operating the gallery independently and in its sole discretion. MSU intends to continue to offer opportunities, at not cost, for the general public to attend the exhibits and events on average of approximately 20 hours per week.”

Does “we [MSU] will not charge” now mean “free opportunities will be available”? Does this mean that “special programming” is anything outside of those standard 20 weekly hours? So, for instance, a special talk or presentation on a dark day or after hours can come with an admission fee? Does a musical or visual performance count as such? If so, that’s curious, considering such performances will be done by students and/or faculty.

We’ll see…

My intention was to stop posting about (SCENE)metrospace after the recent lengthy write-up, however there continue to be curious turns. Considering where things stand, I do hope that this new arrangement works out and benefits the community — it’s certainly better than the space becoming another tanning salon. But things are off to a rocky start…

UPDATED 07.25.15: I’d like to follow up on a couple items and offer some clarification. Since originally posting this article, I’ve been in touch with a number of folks and thought it’d be worth adding to the “public record.”

1. Charging admission for “special programming.” It’s been suggested by a few that by charging admission the artists/performers will then be paid. This of course is 100% fine by me, and something I fully support. I have a long, consistent record of supporting paying for music/art and compensating artists. This is not at all my gripe when considering “special programming.”

When it comes to charging admission, my concern is that AAHD will receive money for their curating the gallery on the City’s (i.e., our property taxes, etc.) dime. In meetings earlier this year, I even suggested, more than once, that, had (SCENE) considered charging more consistently and more often, we may have avoided this current boondoggle. (Unlikely, considering the very weak financial argument from the City — CofEL just wants to “get out of the curating business.”) What’s more, I asked multiple times on the public record whether AAHD had the financial stability and infrastructure to run the gallery with its current budget/funding. I certainly hope “special programming” is unrelated to that point.

Furthermore, regarding “special programming” – a term that right now is vague at best and only really means “not a weeks-long visual exhibition” – all of those will be in-house (AAHD itself or other MSU departments), somewhat academic in nature (i.e., student performances, etc.), and limited to 6-8 per year. If there are different plans now in the works, then that’s a whole different story, but right now I’m suspicious of language from which I infer that MSU will be reaping the financial rewards while CofEL essentially foots the bill. Now, if AAHD brings in a guest artist to speak or present, etc., and charges an admission which then fully goes to the guest presenter, that’s one thing. But if AAHD is going to be skimming off the top for student groups and the like, then that’s quite another.

I know that it seems odd for me to be suspicious of something I theoretically agree with, but right now I’m just seeing the agreement/plan substantially amended in the first month.

2. Submission fees. It looks like (SCENE) didn’t charge submission fees for open calls in the past (h/t to David MacDonald). Again, very curious. And, again, it’s related to AAHD’s financial infrastructure. I know that toner and other print materials can be pricey, but are the number of catalogues and other promotional materials contingent upon the amount of submission monies received? Ditto physical and cosmetic maintenance.


(SCENE) Postmortem, In Brief

And now a couple items to briefly follow up on (SCENE)metrospace. (For my own 4,000-word take as well as a comprehensive collection of links to local news stories, click here.)

First, (SCENE)metrospace officially became the curatorial domain of MSU’s Dept. of Art, Art History, and Design this past Monday (07.06.15). Just see the following stories for more info (all with highly positive spin from the City of East Lansing and MSU, of course):
City of East Lansing press release (curiously released — and buried — on a Friday afternoon that itself was an historic news day, particularly in this city)
WILX (local NBC affiliate, complete with spelling errors in the title…)

Beyond those articles, how else would you know that AAHD officially took control of the space this week? Good question. I mean, for all intents and purposes, the gallery has been shuttered since mid-April. No “closed for renovation” signs or anything. Just occasional articles and press releases. And locked doors and darkness. So I walked by the space today just to see what was going on, since the most recent round of press releases made it seem that MSU would be in there, guns blazing, getting ready for its debut show that is still two months away (09.11.15). (That’s almost five months from the end of the last show, also an MSU exhibition. So much for keeping the space open during the summer…) I saw no signs detailing the upcoming September show or mention of a renovation. In fact, I saw no MSU presence whatsoever. Instead I saw a City of East Lansing van and some folks inside gathering chairs that I assume belong to EL:
scene1(The posters in the window aren’t related.)

If nothing else, East Lansing now has a matching set of dark, empty, (SCENE)metrospace venues, as the original, long-blighted (SCENE) is a mere blocks away:


With much of this now in the past, I can say that there is one “consolation prize” in all of this. As an example, at this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the (SCENE) divestiture was referenced once each by three separate people (one public commenter and two Councilmembers, one of which being the Mayor) in three different parts of the meeting. The Mayor, who championed the divestiture, referenced it as an example of the City tightening its belt (while continuing to subsidize the space). Although, he coyly only mentioned the dollar amount and not the space itself. The other two references, however, were more explicit and done in a context of the City having lost something of value. In that regard, I can say that those of us who aggressively questioned and criticized this deal throughout raised public awareness at least a little bit, at least to the level of it now being a potential talking point and a form of shorthand when referencing the City’s recent fiscal decisions (and not always positively so). It’s a drop in the bucket, but a drop more than what we had.

(Photos by yours truly.)