Friday, February 19, 2010
By Tom Wachunas
I’m taking my ball back and finding a different playground. Throwing in the towel. Hanging up my gloves. Tendering my resignation…tenderly. In short, I’ve decided to not so much abandon ship as simply surrender to the larger, practical truths of my journey as an artist in Canton.
Interesting word, ‘decide.’ It’s from the Latin root, ‘cide’ (see’-day), meaning to kill. So at its most literal, decide means “to kill the alternative.” The alternative here in question is my membership in the Canton Artists League (CAL). Guess that makes me an excalite. On second thought, that sounds a bit too sinister, too close to ‘excommunicant.’ CAL is anything but an exclusive entity, and likely not an authority on anything except the minutes of its last meeting. So despite its very catholic sense of itself, and the sincere magnanimity reflected in its mission statement, I’m nonetheless completely at peace with being a ‘former member.’
In considering (and I speak here only for myself) whether or not membership in CAL has unique, indigenous privileges or advantages, I’m increasingly at a loss to name them. Fellowship with other creative spirits? I submit, with all the humility I can muster (I can hear your snickering just about now), that ARTWACH is an ongoing testament to such fellowship, and in fact a service offered to not just CAL, but to the entire Canton-area arts community. My membership in a particular arts organization is not a requirement for continuing that service, or for staying connected to the arts scene at large. I nourished that connection long before joining any clubs or organizations, with gratifying results, and will continue to do so as long as I can walk, talk, and write. Exhibition opportunities? I stand by all of my comments made in the September 19, 2009, post entitled “A League of Our Own,” with a few additional observations.
First, at the time of that posting, a CAL group show was on view at Massillon Museum’s Studio M. That show had all the appeal of a train wreck. Fortunately, a following CAL show at Stark State College (November-December, 2009) was of notably higher quality. CAL needs to honestly re-examine its exhibition philosophy, methods, and practices if it expects to build a CONSISTENTLY respectable presence in this community. Here let me point out that in that area there are currently a few encouraging signs that some changes of approach might be in the air. Meanwhile, I’m far from convinced that merely soliciting lots of new members, or offering an expanded array of workshop presentations or lectures, will automatically alter its current malaise. I say this with full appreciation of the fact that simply being a member is in itself a service to the organization, and by no means do I intend to discourage others from joining its ranks. In fact I continue to recommend it to many artists.
Second, and perhaps more important, CAL simply doesn’t provide exhibition venues (with the exception of its biennial show at the Canton Museum of Art) appropriate to the direction of my current work and the still-evolving ideas behind it. I need to step out of the forest, as it were, and re-assess where I might plant some new trees. I can certainly live with that.
So I find myself in the intriguing position of actually wanting to be on the outside looking in, with no regrets. It is entirely possible, and for now preferable to me, to be genuinely encouraging and supportive of CAL (without being a dues-paying member) either as observer/ reviewer/ commentator, or yes, even gadfly – a function which I have, to quote a wise friend, “become damnably fond of.” But seriously, my passion for the visual and performing arts goes well beyond any compulsion to be affiliated with one particular group over another. CAL – and for that matter any other local arts organization, club, class, or clique – can never reasonably hope to be all things to all artists.
In the end, the notion of being a “member of…” – and all the conceptual baggage we bring to the term - is not how I choose to pursue my involvement with, and love for, the arts community. A more expanded, and to me relevant perspective to adopt is that of ‘active partner in solidarity.’ In that respect, then, I’m perfectly content and otherwise fulfilled to remain a lifetime partner with a very special and necessary group of individuals within our culture – practicing artists of all types. Write on.