Not ready for prime time: arts edition

Some years ago, an article in the Washington Post posited the existence of a Surf-and-Turf line running roughly along the Mason-Dixon line. North of this line restaurant menus were likely to feature surf-and-turf and to eschew arugula. Binghamton is a good 200 miles behind that line and, while local restaurants have much improved in the dozen of so years since I moved here, the surf-and-turf culture is alive and well. Case in point: the opening reception of the Annual Members’ Show of Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier (FASST). (Full disclosure: my wife is a member of FASST and one of her entries in that show won a prize.)

Over the years I have been to many receptions at art galleries, the National Press Club, NASA, the State Department, embassies, corporate events, and on Capitol Hill. Without exception they are characterized by people milling about sipping wine and nibbling hors d’œuvres which may or may not be passed about by liveried servers. Chairs are generally few and far between. Such events are not to be confused with wedding receptions which usually involve a sit-down dinner.

Well, confuse FASST did. Upon entering the room where the putative reception was held—not a simple matter since the doors were locked—we were confronted with rows of tables set up as for a lecture with chairs along one side. Said tables were covered with green paper cloths and set with green plastic cutlery. A buffet of sorts offered over-dressed salad, boiled potatoes—ok it is pretty much impossible to screw those up, mixed vegetables boiled to death, sliced ham-like product, and the requisite rubber chicken in over-sweet sauce. And the wine was…well, it wasn’t. The caterer, if one can call him that, was in the corner shouting to his cell phone the speaker of which was shouting back. The cheap paper plates did not detract from the classiness of the presentation. In other words, it was the epitome of a way-beyond-the-surf-and-turf-line wedding reception.

But wait, there’s more! There is the handing out of awards. I have been to nearly as many awards programs as receptions and they also follow an invariable script. Awards are presented in reverse order: honorable mentions first, then third place, etc. until the moment all are anxiously awaiting: Best in Show. FASST had other ideas. First up: best in show. You can guess the rest. And then everyone trooped upstairs to the show itself where the winning artists were expected to attach the ribbons to their works themselves. Oh, and the room where the art is displayed was set up for a meeting, making it impossible to actually see the art from more than a foot away. All in all, the whole thing was downright embarrassing.

Now I do not expect a small city in upstate NY to be as cosmopolitan as a world capital, but I would think that someone organizing an opening reception and awards ceremony would have some basic understanding of how they are done. I wonder whether the person responsible for this fiasco has actually ever been out of Broome County. Binghamton prides itself—justly—on its growing arts community. Century-old FASST, however, is simply not ready for prime time.

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