a flashcard for a secret language: meat and candy.12 x 9, oil on shellacked paper. (c) sioban lombardi 2009
Friday, organizers of the Art Loop Open (ALO) revoked the eligibility of one of its 10 announced finalists, due to alleged cheating. The integrity of what started as an exciting event, promoting the unique and gifted artists of Chicago has now been called into question, and again at stake is local support for artists in the community.
The ALO is a first-time competition, similar to the ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. The organizing committee is a combination of the Chicago Loop Alliance and the Chicago Artist’s Coalition. The competition offers substantial cash prizes totaling more than $50,000 to winners selected from ten finalists. The finalists were selected by public vote. In hope of encouraging public interest in and attendance at the event, votes could only be cast by text message or smart phone tag scanning. Artists were prohibited from emailing, texting or publishing their identifying number on any social media network.
In the spirit of full transparency, I was one of the artists selected for the first round of the competition. It was a tremendous honor to be selected form more than 700 submissions by a credentialed, astute and noteworthy jury. There was a lot of very good art in the competition that was scattered throughout a number of venues in Chicago. I returned home to Chicago in June after two years away. The ALO has been a great way to meet other artists and see their work. The scope of the project was enormous. What the organizing committee was able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time was remarkable. Kudos too, to the countless volunteers who have worked so hard to get and keep this event running.
I was not one of the ten finalists, nor did I expect to be. The majority of my friends and family, whom I invited, either did not understand the nature of the competition, didn’t bring their phones, are not tech savvy or live in the suburbs and could not venture down to the city. If anyone did promote my number via text message or social network, I am unaware of it.
And I’m not going to lie, had I been chosen, I would have been ecstatic.
All of that being said, the ALO is now being called into question. The events, as they have unfolded since Friday, appear as follows:
The ten finalists were announced on the afternoon of Friday, October 22, 2010. I received the emailed announcement at 12:55 pm. I was pleased that I had predicted two of the finalists.
Sometime around 7:30 pm on Friday, one of the finalists was contacted and informed that his submission and status as a finalist had been revoked. (This finalist was one I had predicted). Another finalist was announced in their place. Apparently, someone had produced a flier, allegedly circulated in student mailboxes at a local college.
The artist has denied knowledge of this and has not seen the flier in question.
The ALO, through their page on a popular social networking site explained, “It was brought to our attention early in the first round of public voting that some artists were unfairly benefiting from third party promotion. Seeking to guarantee an even playing field for all artists, we took the position that publication of specific artist ALO numbers is grounds for disqualification. Accordingly, artists were disqualified from the public voting process in Round 1.”
This last statement by the ALO demonstrates one of the inconsistencies that have become apparent. If they disqualified such artists early on, why did they publish that artist’s name as a finalist on Friday, only to change their list of finalists later in the day? This lack of professionalism reflects poorly on everyone connected with the event.
ALO organizers also explained, “We created Art Loop Open with the intention of showcasing Chicago’s artistic community. We are proud of this competition, which in its first week, engaged an audience of thousands and provided invaluable exposure for artists. As with any first time event, we encountered unanticipated issues.”
The event did successfully engage the public and of course, errors happen with any event, but the stakes were very high with this one, perhaps too high. Artists, already undervalued in American society have particularly felt the effects of this long, drawn out recession. When large sums of money are involved, irrationality can prevail and loopholes attractive. Look at our nation’s financial crisis if you need proof. Grand Rapids’ Art Prize requires voters to register, in person, with ID. This may be the only way to prevent overzealous friends, family and students from promoting their favorite artist.
Indeed, there should also be a process in place, through which an artist can respond to accusations before being summarily dismissed. The fact that this flyer appears to have been produced after the finalists were announced seems a bit wonky and smells of sour grapes.
A more astute and experienced committee may have been better equipped to identify potential problems in advance. With so much at stake, management of this competition must be beyond reproach, and of the highest professional level. Good intentions fare poorly, and reputations can be ruined.
Eventually I imagine, the legal profession will settle this issue. How unfortunate. The cost of this may prohibit future competitions, damage the reputation and perhaps even end the existence of at least one of those organizations that seeks to promote the talents of local artists.
As I’ve stated before, it’s time for those larger institutions with deeper pockets to promote local talent. Art Institute? MCA? Where are you? Have a spine and bring back the Chicago and Vicinity Show, or a meritorious, equally credentialed version of it. Let the prize be inclusion and start supporting local artists as they have supported you.