The Pocono Arts Council arts council of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania is preying upon the artists in their community.
How? By making artists false promises of “exposure” and offering empty recognition.
Why? So that they can fund their frivolous gala while taking art from emerging artists without paying the artists a dime.
Who? Laura Goss, PoconoArts Executive Director and Jody Singer, PoconoArts Board Member cloaked their selfish intentions inside of a very manipulative message to one of my guest students in FREE Live On-Line Business Training for Artists.
What? “An arts council is a government or private non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the arts; mainly by funding local artists, awarding prizes, and organizing arts events.
They often operate at arms-length from the government to prevent political interference in their decisions. The model has received criticism for being ineffective.” From Wikipedia
Listen to this perfect example of ineffectiveness.
– [Melissa] Okay. You’re coming in
– All right. a little better sometimes, like you become a little clearer and then it garbles, and then it’s like hit or miss for some reason.
– All right, well let’s just do what we can with what we have. And if it doesn’t work we’ll try again. So I’ll start. So my name is Ann Rea and I’m here with a Melissa Bensinger McLynn, and where are you sitting on the planet?
– I live in Pennsylvania.
– You live in Pennsylvania and you came to one of my free online Saturday trainings, and Melissa- Mel’s not a student, but she came as a guest to the training, and she… Man, I was so pissed when she shared with me what had happened to her. So I was– I think I was going over the creed for the new creative class, which talks about– you know, we don’t work for free, we don’t discount our art, you can all grow up, you can all read the eight points of the new creative class at your leisure. But Melissa chimed in, and she told me about a letter that she received from the executive director and a board member of the Pocono Arts Council. Now what’s really fascinating to me is, is it any wonder that the National Endowment For The Arts is about to be de-funded? Because they’re so– they’re going to fund in part arts councils, I don’t know if you even now that, but they do fund in part county arts councils like this one. And what Melissa told me, I was so appalled because the arts councils– their mission is to serve the community as a whole and to invigorate the arts, the local arts. And the reason why that is also true is because there is– well, there are many economic studies that show where there are vibrant arts communities, there are vibrant economic communities. In other words, if you wanna invest in real estate go follow the artist because time and time again… I mean we make it interesting. We make it cool, we make it interesting. So that’s their role, and that’s their reason for being. So I am– do you mind if I read this letter?
– Go for it. Go ahead.
– Great. It was sent to Melissa recently, actually, February 10th, 2017. So it says, Dear Emerging Artist. Oh, I think I may have lost– what’s up? Shit. Did I lose you? Ohh, man… Well let’s see if she comes back. I’m gonna go ahead and read this letter. It said, Dear Emerging Artist, The Pocono– aw, shit. Melissa, where’d you go? Ah, there she is, okay. She’s back. So I’m gonna read the letter while Melissa gets back online. Okay, so… it says: Dear Emerging Artist, The Pocono Arts Council is celebrating– this is all in red and italics and underlined, this sentence. The Poconos Arts Council is celebrating 2015 as the Year of the Emerging Artist. Oh, okay. That’s nice. And then it goes from there. You’ve been identified as an emerging artist. In Pocono Arts we’d like to invite you to participate in a very special show, scheduled for March, that’s this month, in the Art Space Gallery. This invitational show will feature the region’s best new artist, and is a prequel to this year’s Pocono Arts Spring For The Arts Gala, celebrating the next generation of art. So it all sounds good so far, so they probably sufficiently stroked your ego and peaked your interest ’till we get on to the second paragraph. This is where it gets interesting everyone. 15 artists will be selected to show… from the show, to participate in a gala. In exchange for donating the exhibited work, these artists will be invited to attend the gala free of charge. How very generous. The gala is an opportunity to meet local art buyers and have them bid on your work. Here we go. Local collectors are very interested in new art, as opposed to the art work that’s traditionally dominated the local art scene. Pocono Arts is committed to bringing these local collectors to the event. Now, okay. It’s still not clear what they’re up to yet, right? And it gives you the– then starts to give you the details of the kind of art you get to drop off, and pick up, and when. But here’s the part. Judging and selection of the work for the Spring For The Arts Gala will be made by members of the Pocono Board of Directors. Prizes from the show are $100 for first, $50 for second, and $25 for third. So, basically what you’re saying is out of these 12 chumps, the best you’re gonna get is 100 bucks. Now you’re gonna have to pay for framing, right? You get to pay for transportation to and from, but if you’re one of the 15, you can come watch people take your art Where– where does this– it doesn’t… So, what was your understanding? Like, it’s so… They don’t talk at all– they’re not talking at all about you getting paid for your art. They’re not talking at all about you getting a percentage for your art. The best rate you hear is get 100 bucks. Is that right? Am I reading this right?
– [Melissa] Yeah, I had to read it like five times before it really sank in, and then I was like wait a minute. You want– you cordially invite me to give you free stuff.
– Yeah and we have to let you come to the party where you’ll be giving away your art for free. Yeah, by the way, if we don’t wanna take your art, you need to get this shit outta here on Tuesday, March 28th between the hours of 10 and four, right?
– Oh, if you don’t– have to frame it, you can keep that cost, whatever.
– They do this for all–
– This is pretty awful.
– [Melissa] Every year, and previously they would just ask artists to donate work for them to auction off, but this year it just– I don’t think they meant to be so sinister, but she asked emerging artists, so artists that are new and don’t know any better,
– Well they’re cool.
– to come give them their art.
– They’re the best ones to ask.
– [Melissa] It just– I had to read it several times, and then I sent it out to like, some of my local artist friends and I was like, am I reading this right?
– What did they say?
– [Melissa] They were angry. I have one artist friend who’s close with some of the board members, so she was– she brought it to their attention and she was like– you’re giving their art away? They’re forfeiting their art? And they did, and I, I’m just–
– Well it’s not just that, they’re paying for the materials and they’re paying for transportation.
– [Melissa] Exactly, it’s just, I… It blows my mind that…
– And it’s a privilege.
– Yeah, and it’s fucking–
– Small as it is, it’s a privilege.
– Especially for emerging artists who are fresh on the scene. You’re teaching them bad habits, and you’re supposed to be an arts council, who are teaching artists what to do. And you’re teaching them like, oh, just give it away. Just give it to whoever.
– Just give it away, just give it to us. Just give it– we’ll decide if we like it or not. It’ll be a privilege if we do. Um, fuck you, anyway. Not you, I mean, it’s… You can, yeah. What’s your name? Laura? Fuck you. This is wrong.
– How dare you. Melissa is trying to… You know, she’s doing the right thing. She’s coming up, she’s coming to my free training, she’s asking questions, she’s participating. You know, this is wrong, and I’m really… It’s a– let me read the mission statement in the organization. Now I’m really getting pissed, because it says: Pocono Arts mission statement. It’s this like– is this one of the most disingenuous mission statement I’ve ever read. And I hope you people on the board damn well watch this, so you can take a good hard look at what you’re doing, and how you’re treating artists. Never mind artists, you would never– would you ask a plumber to to this? Would you ask an attorney to do this? Is there anybody– any other profession where you would have the damn gall to make this kind of request, and wrap your shit request in such a saccharin sweet celebratory gala notice. I doubt it. I doubt it. Now just take a moment and think if this was you, how would you respond? Let’s just way you are not an artist. And I’m sure you people on the board are not artists, for the most part. So just imagine if someone came to you. Maybe you’re a real estate agent, and someone came to you and said I’m gonna give you the privilege of selling some of my real estate. You won’t be earning a commission of course, but if you do really well you might get a hundred dollar prize. I mean, what? So let me read the mission statement. The mission of the Pocono Arts Council is to build our community artistically and culturally by providing leadership, service, and education. So I’m getting an education, no doubt, not sure where the leadership is, and the service is clearly only designed not to serve artists and the arts community, but to serve yourself.
– Leadership. They have these in depth different sections. The Pocono Arts Council will be leading advocacy organization offering inspiration. You feel inspired by this, Melissa?
– I’m inspired by it because I’m on a different mission right now. I’m inspired by how crazy awful this is. So we’ll be inspired– leading advocacy organization offer inspiration, direction… What kind of direction? And coordination for arts and cultural activities in the Pocono Region. I don’t know what that sentence even means. But let’s go on to the next service. The Pocono Arts Council will foster communication. Well, you might wanna work on your letter writing skills, ’cause it’s not very clear. Your communication needs some help. Cooperation– but you seem to be cooperating between each other, and collaboration between the arts community. And the public, through funding, information services, and support. Massive fail here in the service section. No. Uh, education. Pocono Arts Council will provide art education, opportunities, and nurture growth in individuals. You feeling like you’re growing, Melissa?
– The organization’s offering instruction and participation in the arts and cultural activities. Now to be fair, Melissa didn’t know I was gonna go off. Because– but the more… I start reading this out loud, I’ve got even more and more appall, and I feel even more and more protective of artists who wanna be recognized, they wanna get paid, like everybody else in the damn world does. Okay? We have bills, like everyone else does. Art’s not free. Buying materials, buying framing, transportation, insurance, it costs money, okay? So when you ask an artist for something for free, be real clear on what you’re asking for. You’re not doing them a favor, and that’s the other– that’s what’s so galling about this. So many people think that they are doing artists a favor by allowing the artist to give them something for free! Get off it!
– Selfish people! If you like something then pay for it! But here’s the thing, artists have been really just mystified about how to make a living, how to start a business. And so it’s a gullible and vulnerable population. So cut this shit out. And artists who are listening, don’t fall for this, because when– like, Melissa did not fall for this, and neither did her friend, apparently. And thank God. Because every time you fall for this bullshit you set up all the other artists to fall for this bullshit. So we gotta all stand up and say no, we’re not doing this. This organization receives public funding. All arts councils do. My recommendation is that you write your representative and say this is their stated mission, they got it on their damn website, but boy are they off the mark. So, I hope Pocono Arts Council will receive this clear message, and get motivated to do things right. ‘Cause you can turn it around. Right?
– I remember the number of arts councils who actually offer– who actually let their constituents know about my free online trainings. I do that with Colorado– a number of arts councils in Colorado. I’m not saying I’m the only answer, but it– man, don’t ask people to– don’t ask anyone to work for free. It’s called slavery. And you don’t have eminent domain over people’s art. Come on. Wow. I mean… Yeah. This is bad. Anyway, I’m gonna get off my– I’ll get off my soap box.
– [Melissa] So that’s honestly– it’s comforting to hear your side because it– we’re all just kind of stuck under this council and it’s… People just leave. All the artists that I’ve known in this area who are grown just are like I can’t deal with this. They move away. It’s not a comforting place to be, if you’re trying to be an artist.
– Well thank God for the internet because we wouldn’t have heard your story without the internet. And you wouldn’t have access to the free training without the internet. So that part’s good.
– [Melissa] Oh yeah
– I don’t know about your region, I don’t know what they’re up to, they’re clearly not doing their job, and it’s very– it’s disappointing, and I’m sorry you had to– you know, go through that, but I know it’s common, ’cause I hear from my students all the time, who tell me about the number of requests that they get to donate their art, or to work for free, all under the name of exposure. Well let me just tell you something about exposure, okay? There is no free lunch. You should never work for free unless you’re getting something in return, and it’s your decision to work for free. But if you’re gonna agree to work for free or to donate your art, without a very clear understanding for what you’re getting in return, do not do it, and expect to actually ever be successful, because you won’t be. If you don’t value what you have to offer, no one else ever will value it. I do the trainings on Saturdays, because I’m doing them anyway for my students. So I just decided to open it up to a broader audience, and I’m glad I did it, because I can help new art students who might not be able to qualify to enroll in my program, or might not have the money. So there are circumstances where– but that was my decision. And my sense, Melissa, is you probably think that living wherever you live in Pennsylvania your opportunities as an artist are limited. Is that what I’m picking up on?
– [Melissa] Oh yeah Oh yeah.
– So when a powerful organization like this comes along, it’s easy to sway a population that feels disempowered. It’s bullshit. It’s wrong. I’m calling bullshit on it. So, all right. I ranted. Is there anything that you would like to say, Melissa?
– [Melissa] Honestly I just wanna thank you for doing the free webinars on Saturdays because I’ve learned so much. I can’t always get there in person, but just from sitting in and watching the replays, and then luckily I got in live last week, but I’ve learned so much and it’s just… boosted my self esteem to the point where I could look at that invite and say, what?! No way.
– And I was– in the past I would’ve been like: Okay! Jammin’. What a good idea.
– Really, you know, if you don’t value your art enough that you’re willing to give it away for free, burn it before you give it away for free. Recycle before you give it away for free. Because if you don’t– if you do that, you’re just… You can’t do both. You can’t give things away for free, and it’s not like a small thing. Art takes incredible energy and time and dedication. You wanna give that away for free?! No. It’s not like a taste of wine, right? Where there is a value exchange that’s very clear and it’s not unequal. One taste of wine could lead to… Like, for example, someone signing up for their wine product, they’re buying a whole case, right? Since it’s like you have to be pretty mindful of what you’re doing. I’m glad to hear though that you… Just by attending the live trainings you’ve been able to shift your perspective into a more powerful one, and a more self-respecting one. You deserve that.
– [Melissa] Thank you.
– Artists work hard. Artists are very hard working individuals, and it’s not just talent. You’re not just born with talent and the ability to make art. It’s not the way it works. For those of you who are not artists, listen up, okay? You might have a natural inclination to make art, you might be naturally inclined to be creative, but it’s not– you have to put years of dedication, education. You have to spend a lot of money on art materials that will never result into a finished piece that actually gets sold, so you’re really putting so much on the line as an artist. And we have to deal with some of these cultural stereotypes and disrespectful preconceptions of who we are. It makes it even worse. The fact is is that every single artist who sells their art in the United States is in business. We don’t get a paycheck. We don’t get a W2, right? We actually have to file a profit and loss statement. Either our corporations do, or we as sole proprietors have to file a schedule C. We are in business. We are dealing with small business owners when you send this kind of correspondence out. Just understand that. It’s incredibly important that if you are going to tout this as your mission, then you better– and you’re gonna receive public funding and/or donations? Your donations through your gala? Or donations through other agencies or private individuals? You will damn well better walk your talk. Or I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna do more and more of these. So I think we are– our YouTube connection has gone bye-bye, so I’m gonna leave this just by saying that Pocono Arts Council, I really hope that you get the message and understand why I’m angry, that it’s justifiable anger, and I’m frustrated, it’s because I care deeply about the interests and the welfare of artists, because I am one of them, and I’m asking you to step up and do your job, and take this in the spirit it’s intended, and turn things around. And don’t ever damn well ask anyone, artists or anyone, to work for you for free, or to give you materials and products for free. Shame on you. I’ll leave it on that note.