23 No. 7
publication of the International Sculpture Center
by Leslie Kaufman
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chatting over dinner almost 10 years ago, fellow sculptor Knox Cummin
and I discussed the possibility of starting a sculptors group in Philadelphia.
I had become aware of the growing number of such groups around the country
and thought that the time had come for Philadelphia sculptors to make
a more visible appearance on the sculpture scene. Six months later, I
saw Knox again and he asked me what progress I had made. I hesitated,
then admitted, none. I then realized that if we really wanted
this to happen, we had to act. By the winter of 1995, a group of energized
Philadelphia sculptors had begun to meet. We were seeking a form of community
that would allow us to get beyond the isolation of our studios. We didnt
realize it, but we were responding to the same needs motivating other
founder and first president of Tri-State Sculptors expressed a similar
inspiration: We just wanted to get together and be like the old
arts guildnetwork, ask each other for help. Other groups,
including Sculptors Inc. of Baltimore, also developed as support networks.
They could provide a haven for artists to share aesthetic, technical,
and career concerns. People could speak the same language and exchange
information about practical issues like tools and materials, as well as
about educational resources and technological advances. Some groups were
founded as societies, with juried admission to their ranks.
This tradition still exists, generally among groups focusing on more traditional
and figurative styles of sculpture such as the National Sculpture Society.
But most others have eschewed this approach in favor of a more democratic
system, accepting anyone interested in joining. That was our decision
Sculptors may bond on aesthetic, technical, and social levels, but the
real glue that holds groups together is the opportunity to exhibit. Sculptors
groups create exhibition opportunities for their members, either by providing
their own venues (a relative rarity) or, more commonly, by sponsoring
shows. The Pacific Rim Sculptors Group is very fortunate in having an
arrangement whereby it can mount group exhibitions in an expansive atrium
gallery and courtyard in downtown San Francisco. Other groups may need
to be more creative, but there is never a lack of opportunity. Sculptors
can participate in juried or non-juried indoor, outdoor, traditional,
and alternative venues all over the country. Grounds for Sculpture, in
Hamilton, New Jersey, has been hosting sculptors group exhibitions annually
since 1998. Groups have initiated traveling exhibitions, some of which
have been accepted at so many venues that their originators have contemplated
putting homing devices on them so they dont get lost.
Collaborative ventures among groups have allowed for increased visibility
for members works around the countryand the world. Struggling
through bureaucratic snafus, Philadelphia Sculptors and the Hungarian
Sculptors Association managed to find common ground and hold joint exhibitions
in both countries. KOA (Kinetic Art Organization) doesnt worry about
the details of finding venues and installing work. It hosts virtual exhibitions,
which cuts cost and allow it to offer free membership for any artist whose
work fits the definition of kinetic.
Some groups are more loosely structured than otherssome by intention,
and many by circumstance. Most have by-laws and organizational structures,
and many have received their nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 designations.
Most require dues, generally in the $30 to $50 range. For a majority,
membership dues are the only source of income. A lucky few have long-term
patrons, and a number of others seek grant funding for special projects.
Some have regular, organized elections of officers and Board members and
have been able to maintain workable systems for years.
The reality for other groups can be rather different. Sculptors groups
consist almost exclusively of volunteers who have limited reserves of
energy and time, no matter how high their level of commitment. Interest
waxes and wanes, and members tend to leave when their needs or circumstances
change. Continuity is a real problem, but the challenge of staying alive
and vital also brings new leadership and inventive solutions. Sometimes
in order to survive, groups have to find new and younger blood. In New
York, Robert Michael Smith and Michael Rees have transformed the Sculptors
Guild with their focus on digital technology. Still remaining exclusive
in membership, they have nonetheless been successful in attracting younger
emerging artistsa coveted population. The Pittsburgh Society of
Sculptors has dropped the membership requirement for its annual juried
show. Lynden Cline made use of her advertising background to shake up
the Washington Sculptors Group by reconfiguring its artist-only Board,
organizing successful social events, appealing to members interest
in the larger sculpture community, and injecting a high level of energy
that appealed to younger sculptors.
The quest for younger members is essential to keeping sculptors groups
alive, but demographics indicate that older members represent the core
of many organizations. In addition to artists who have been long-time
members, there are significant numbers of people who left or retired from
other careers and have embraced sculpture in their later years. They often
bring with them a different kind of enthusiasm, or maybe a feeling that
they need to make up for lost time. Terry Mollo joined more than one sculptors
group because she came into this late and had the need to go everywhere
and do everything that had to do with sculpture.
in agendas between those considering themselves professional sculptors,
whether emerging or mid-career, and those referred to by some as hobbyists
can create schisms. Destiny Allison, herself a professional sculptor,
returned to New Mexico after a 10-year hiatus in New England. She found
that the New Mexico Sculptors Guild was all but moribund, with the remaining
members duking it out. The professionals wanted the group to have clout
and to further their careers, while the hobbyists were more
interested in showing and felt excluded when their works were not accepted
into juried exhibitions. Contention became her motivator, and she took
upon herself the task of guiding a contingent of volunteers to meet the
challenge of addressing conflicting needs.
As sculptors groups mature, it is becoming apparent that there is room
for a wide range of goals and programs beyond the sponsorship of exhibitions.
Many groups have moved their interests into educational programming, including
lectures and presentations, technical demonstrations and workshops, and
symposia and conferences. The Northwest Stone Sculptors Association addresses
a specific audience and has been presenting stone carving symposia since
1987. For over 20 years,
Tri-State Sculptors has sponsored annual conferences, sometimes alone
and sometimes in collaboration with other sculptors groups or arts organizations.
Students are being courted by many groups who sponsor exhibitions of student
work (usually at the college level) and present awards and reduced membership
rates. Sculptors who are also college art faculty members recruit members
and help students enter the world of professional art. Innovative projects
and exhibitions help to attract new recruits and to capture the interest
of continuing members. The Sculptors Guild is developing a video archiving
project to interview older members and preserve their comments for future
generations. For its 20th anniversary, Washington Sculptors plans a collaborative
event in which teams of artists will be put together for a few days, provided
with materials, and then left alone to see what gets produced. The entire
process will be videotaped and shown to members at the annual dinner.
Most groups now see themselves as information portals, and, with the expanded
opportunities provided by the Internet, information about all kinds of
opportunities flies quickly to interested parties. Groups may not have
street addresses, but only
a few lack Web sites. Still, the traditional form of communication, the
newsletter, continues to inform members about a groups activities.
The sculptors who join sculptors groups probably represent only a small
fraction of all the people involved in the world of sculpture. Some artists
dont join because the idea of being part of any organized activity
is anathema to them. Others just dont see how membership will benefit
them. Some sculptors who join local groups do not look further to see
that there can be an even larger network.
Paul Hubbard, Philadelphia Sculptors Vice-President and chair of the Sculptors
Groups Task Force (organized by the International Sculpture Center), believes
that the ISC can play a significant role in the ongoing viability of sculptors
groups. They should be the mother ship, a resource to tap into which
can also tap into ours, Hubbard explains. They provide support
and expertise and opportunities on a larger scale. They make things available
for students through their programs and are supporting the next generation
of sculptors. They need us and we need them.
He is not alone in his views. Robert Michael Smith, a recent addition
to the ISC Board of Directors whose new position includes representing
sculptors groups and their interests, emphasizes the importance of the
networking factor. Many sculptors want to feel more connected
to a larger sculpture community, but at the same time they want to be
recognized for what they do on the local level. Smith believes that the
ISC can provide a larger perspective and access to more extensive opportunities,
while local groups can serve more individual needs like exhibitions. He
is also interested in strategic alliances between smaller groups,
which could be facilitated through a centralized identification of groups
in an ISC network. This could allow for smaller, more affordable regional
conferences. The Sculpture Community, accessible through <www.sculpture.org>,
is a new on-line community that provides some of the same opportunities
for interaction among sculptors.
For sculptors seeking a larger sense of community, membership in a sculptors
group can offer just that. With continually expanding resources available
to them, sculptors can recognize that joining a sculptors group provides
much more than just the addition of a line on their résumés.
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