August Issue 2001
by Tom Starland
The Numbers Game
Here is hopefully some final comments about
the numbers game started by several articles in The State
newspaper written by arts reporter Jeffrey Day, who at one point
in the last years wrote that art museums in SC and the nation
as a whole were attracting more attendance than sporting events
- which is a crock, and then later writes that the attendance
numbers of these same SC art museums was embarrassing. Day reported
the attendance figures for three major art museums in SC to be
roughly 100,000 for both the Columbia Museum of Art and the Greenville
County Museum of Art and 40,000 for the Gibbes Museum of Art.
These numbers represented more disinformation than fact. Day also
compared these numbers to sporting event numbers where people
pay admission to attend, where ticket prices are sometimes two,
three, and four times the amount of admission to an art museum.
The numbers he gave for SC art museums did not reflect paid admissions,
especially since the Greenville museum charges no admission for
In a recent article in Free Times in Columbia, SC, entitled, Parting Words From Columbia Museum of Art Director Sal Cilella, Cilella states: "Today our numbers remain around 100,000 people served per year. In itself, that number is remarkable, because it represents the equivalent of 20 percent of the Midlands population. Although the number has not changed ("from previous years at its old facility"), it is important nonetheless for two reasons. First, it is entirely an "art museum visitation" number - not a double count of people attending the planetarium, or a class in the art school or a combination of all. It is now a sum of three exclusive elements: (1) all front door admissions, (2) school group usage - a very important number for continued public support, and (3) rental usage." Cilella later states in the article that during the month of Mar., 2001, 2000 school children attended the museum. Imagine the total for a year.
What's the point of all this number crunching? The point is, numbers lie or people make numbers lie. Numbers are used to make points - one way or another.
I can only guess that Jeffrey Day was trying to point out that leaders in SC and Columbia (and the US) seem to give more funding and importance to the number of people attending sporting events (or any other event) than art museums - especially when it comes to funding. I can only assume that Day thinks that's wrong and would like to see better funding for our arts institutions, but reporting fictional numbers won't get that point across.
You can't fool politicians with numbers, especially
unrealistic numbers. Saying that more people are attending museums
than sporting events is alarming! Who would believe that in the
Carolinas? Saying things like that won't get more funding for
Politicians give money to people who cry the loudest for it and who represent the largest block of voters - that's all they care about. That's how they stay in office. Until people in Columbia and SC or anywhere start telling their local and state officials that art matters - it won't - no matter what a third party tries to tell them.
The fact is - reality is - in the US, SC and Columbia, the majority of people don't care squat about the arts. Most people can't imagine how dull their lives would be without the arts - not the arts you find in art museums, but the kind of art which fills our media, decorates our environment and is used to sell us products. But, regardless of that fact - most don't care and they won't give up one trip to the race track, stadium or gym to go to an art museum - unless you show them something they're interested in.
If you're interested in getting the average
person into art museums, you have to start having exhibitions
which show artworks covering race car drivers, fishing, wrestling,
football, soap opera icons, fast food, and sex. Give the masses
what they want - if you want the masses to attend art museums,
but if you just want more funding to serve the few who care about
real art - that's another thing altogether. Be realistic - be
The best way to get more funding for the arts is to convince politicians that it's the right thing to do - the smart thing to do - for the people. They know people don't know what's good for them. They make those kinds of decisions everyday. Sell the arts the way the chemical companies do. Better living through chemicals! Better living through the arts!
Sell the arts the way the real estate developers sell politicians roads, waterlines and sewers leading to their undeveloped property. Taxpayers don't want these things, but politicians keep funding them.
Sell the arts the way college and university officials sell research studies on why cows fart and what that can mean to the economy.
Sell the arts as if your job depended on it!
And, don't waste the money when you get it! I can't defend the way all funding is used by art museums and arts organizations. For many, free money is money to burn. If they had to earn it the way most people do, art museums, arts councils, and arts institutions might not spend it the way they do. For all I know, many of these facilities might be over-funded as it is.
If people in the arts want more public funding, they're going to have to do a better sales job - to the public and the politicians..
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