Longform

How Dare They?

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That's one of the reasons Dial Corporation is contributing to the new museum, says Nancy Stern, a vice president in charge of managing the company's giving.

"Our customers are usually younger families with kids," she adds. So, what are we going to focus on: kids and education. What ties kids and education together? The arts."

Like many other corporate contributors to SMOCA, Dial contributes to the Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Science Center for the same reasons.

But corporations, like politicians, have found that contributions to the arts, especially contemporary art, are not risk-free.

"There's no question that corporations are increasingly timid and wary in terms of what they want to be associated with," says Hugh Davies.

Several years ago, Davies' San Diego museum sponsored a project called "Art Rebate," in which three artists distributed a large quantity of $10 bills to undocumented workers, a theatrical gesture that shared some foundation and corporate wealth.

"We once calculated that we lost $250,000 in a foundation grant and a corporate gift as a result of the project. But most of it has since come back. Some people respected us for not backing down," says Davies.

But in a municipal government, the pressures tend to have a way of working themselves to a conclusion. "I was always willing to take the heat for any of my shows," says Armstrong. "Problem with that is the people who complained never came to me. They went to the mayor, the city council members, or the guy who was acting director. And they were ill-equipped, at best, to handle it. So they always felt uncomfortable." Armstrong resigned from SCA in 1980 after the city council reversed several recommendations from art juries.

But that was in the 1970s, before the SCC came along to insulate the art from the politics.

Since then, Scottsdale's arts administrators have gained the trust of corporate and city supporters. SMOCA has raised about $7.45 million of its $9.6 million goal. And it hasn't had the kinds of cultural flare-ups that contemporary art has brought to other communities. Councilman Richard Thomas says that he trusts that the city's arts administrators would not "bring things into our community that would harm the values that our residents put on this sort of thing."

Richard Hayslip, a Salt River Project executive who sits on the SCC's board and has been a longtime supporter of the SCA, says that there's no question that some contemporary art may not be for every audience. But he says that SCC administrators have always been sensitive to the community's sensibiities about art.

"From the corporate point of view, the fact that the city plays such a substantial role in the museum is also reassuring," he adds.

That's one of the reasons SRP has supported the SCA and the development of SMOCA.

Several years ago, it withdrew its funding from the Phoenix Art Museum as a result of the "flag show." Hayslip wasn't involved in that decision. Museum sources say SRP has not resumed its funding.

Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana attributes the trust that Jacobson, Knight and other SCC staff have earned for the new museum to their willingness in the past to warn officials when tough shows were coming along. She doesn't think the new museum will be showing anything like Mapplethorpe any time soon, if ever. Jacobson is less committal. But he thinks that when the inevitable art ruckus occurs, as it surely will, SMOCA will manage to do what the Phoenix Art Museum did after the "flag show."

"Could we weather something like that? Sure. Would it take a toll on us? Sure, just like it took a toll on the Phoenix Art Museum, but, boy, did they bounce back. That's part of what I'm sure we'll probably face in the years to come."

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: [email protected]

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow