Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Art Gossip: When Getting the Scoop is Jumping the Gun

A recent post by Michelle over at the excellent Curating.info reminded me that I should get around to posting some of my thoughts about the mini-media-frenzy that erupted earlier this month over news that David Franklin, a curator at the National Gallery of Canada, had suddenly left his position. Once the story was broken by the Ottawa Citizen, summaries of same quickly appeared at CBC.ca, globeandmail.com, (most notably for all us shy Canucks) American blogger Lee Rosenbaum's CultureGrrl.

This whole episode left me—even though I am an arts freelancer myself—feeling a little puzzled about the parsing of story priorities in the newsroom.

Why? There simply didn't seem to be enough in the story to get excited about; it was unclear what made it newsworthy. Someone going on leave can come about due to family tragedy, personal illness, stress or related (and understandably confidential) factors. The Ottawa Citizen did an okay job of making it seem like a relevant event in relationship to the Gallery's past labour-management trials, but the recaps that followed left me with a question mark not just about Franklin, but about the editors who ran the story in the first place without having something juicier on hand than standard office workplace dissatisfaction.

It's not that I don't love gossip, 'cause goddammit, I do. (And I've got the dogeared Us Weeklies and massive Artforum Diary internet history cache to prove it.) I just wish this had felt more like, well, gossip, and less of a case of editors going "Damn, we missed the scoop on that one... Well, we'd better run something on it too to make it look like we're on top of the art world news."

On a related note about "being on top of the art world news," it occurred to me that it's always easier to report on comings and goings of this sort (provided, er, you can get someone to actually talk about it!) than it is to investigate the more nebulous tensions between fundraising, donations, staff, renovations and the like that affect how museums and galleries deliver (or not) on their missions to the public.

When I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario earlier this year to preview their new exhibition design, I was struck by a sticker on a staffer's swipe badge. It was a parody of "Art matters," the AGO's one-inch-pin-popularized slogan for expanding and renovating their space. The sticker said, in bright green sans serif, just like the original, "STAFF matters." Knowing that the gallery had laid off a number of security guards, ticket sellers and related workers for the duration of its renovation, it certainly made me think twice. I'm almost more interested in that than the David Franklin stuff.

And for one final thought, I guess part of the surprise for me was that I didn't think the national mainstream media cared all the much, period, about goings on like this in the art world. After all, there's been nary a peep in the national press about what are to my mind bigger do's—like Kitty Scott leaving the Serpentine for the Banff Centre after just a year on the much-vaunted job, all this happening shortly after a tense time for Scott at the National Gallery, or the Power Plant's longstanding staff retention problem at all levels of responsibility.

Where be all those much-needed dirt-shovellers on these kerfuffles?

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