Two Hoots for the Inquirer: Answering the Why?

My favorite cultural story from this past week was Caroline Tiger’s article “Art in the Office” in the Friday, February 12 edition of the Inquirer. Tiger’s report is pegged to the second auction of the Lehman Brothers collection of art, handled by Freeman’s auction house here in Philadelphia, which was held on February 19.

Tiger uses this peg as a window into corporate art collecting in the Philadelphia region. She interviews Aimee Pflieger Dolby, a fine arts specialist at Freeman’s and Anita Heirot, head of appraisals at Freemans, about the Lehman auction. She also quotes Sheldon Bonovitz, chairman emeritus of Duane Morris; Paige West (who assembled art the financial services firm SEI, where her father is CEO); and arts consultants Maxine Manges and Nancy Shear about how and why art collections are assembled and have been assembled by local businesses.

[As an aside to illustrate how nobody in the cultural world is that far removed from each other in Philadelphia: Aimee Dolby is a friend of a friend, and we’ve played quizzo together; Sheldon Bonovitz, in addition to being chairman emeritus of Duane Morris, is a trustee of the Dolfinger McMahon Foundation, which gave a grant for a project I worked on—one that was given largely because of connection to him from my organization’s board of directors.]

The findings, perhaps unsurprisingly, are that for these companies, art is about decor—filling blank walls and lobbies—and image. But for readers who wondered how and why companies fill their offices (and spend their money on) art, Tiger’s article is reasonably insightful.

Nonetheless, there are a few missteps. The caption in the photos of work from SEI states that much of their holdings are from “relatively unknown artists.” Frankly, most artists are relatively unknown, but the artist of the work whose description follows is rapidly becoming less so: Alex Da Corte, who is a former Philadelphian, a current Yale MFA student, part of a group show at New York’s PS1 right now, and had a fairly major show at the Fleisher Ollman Gallery, probably the best private contemporary gallery in the city.

And that the article is the centerpiece of the Home & Design section is a little sad and a little honest. Despite a major Percent for Art Program, and despite
annual attendance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that approaches
nearly one million local mainstream media (including the alt-weeklies) do not treat visual art—especially local art—as worthy of much more than brief
reviews. Which is a shame, as Philly’s become a hub of new and
interesting work. But you wouldn’t know that from the papers.

– Nick Gilewicz

My Hoot for this week comes from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It is a story about how Americans tend to turn on the one group of people who tend to get hit hardest by an economic downturn, the poor.

Alfred Lubrano’s story takes a look at how the middle class tends to view poor people as a drain on the system when the economy takes a dive. While middle class people are usually willing to donate to agencies that help the poor when times are better, they see the poor as people who are taking money that could rightfully be going toward helping them when times get harder, according to the article.

What I thought was good about this story was that it didn’t necessarily try to appeal to your emotions to make its point. While it’s hard to be unemotional when a story like this includes an interview with actual poor people, it didn’t try and trade on that alone. Lubrano used statistics from the Pew Center and interviewed sociologists on all sides of the debate (meaning on the left and the right) to get their take on this subject.

Another part of the story I liked was that it didn’t shy away from some of the comments or issues that are connected to poverty. This article talks about out-of-wedlock births, unemployment, a lack of education, and even marriage rates among the poor. While these topics can sometimes be hard to broach, and can sometimes lead to hurt feelings on all sides, they are important to talk about when we talk about poverty and what causes it.

– Denise Clay

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