From the UMVA Archives
Pat and I have a cozy sitting room off the kitchen where we have dinner. The walls are covered in paintings and there are comfortable places to sit. After dinner most nights we move to the sofa and have a glass of wine. Because this is the West of Ireland, we usually have a fire. I say usually, because it rains a lot here. So we talk. Inevitably we wind up talking about art, art and its purpose, our purpose in making art.
We talk about what we have seen and what we look for. What we like and don’t. At times I play the devil’s advocate and question everything. I question the likes and dislikes. We wind up questioning each other’s opinions and the bigger question… why do we do what we do? Is there some fictitious ladder we actually climb? Or is a life in the arts just what it says on the label, a life’s work?.
It comes down to this… these questions we ask are more important than the answers. The questions ultimately wind up informing the art we make, so we inch forward and hopefully find some bigger purpose to it all.
This brings us to the Archive, which I hope will bring the past and the present together, because what is the present without some sense of history?
A few years after it was credited with tax exempt status (granted in 1975) the UMVA’s purpose was looked upon by the Maine State Commission on the Arts and Humanities with a wary eye. The extracted quote below indicates that in July of 1978, the Union was not even viewed as an artist support group, let alone an organized entity, but more a backwoods hippy dream (nothing wrong with hippies!), running with no real purpose. The UMVA’s Arts Administrator at the time (Shirleyann Ratajczak) wrote the following memorandom:
“Since our incorporation in July 1975, the Maine State Commision on the Arts and Humanities has questioned the purpose of the UMVA. In the past twelve months they have rejected ten requests for funds, and the last written rejection stated that the UMVA was not a ‘‘viable” organization. That statement for rejection is vague and invalid, therefore, I requested a hearing before the Visual Arts Panel to answer their questions and to make an official statement of purposes for the UMVA…”
The UMVA had multiple purposes when it defended its cause. How it all played out with the Maine Art’s Commision is anyone’s guess. By all accounts it appears the Commission did give some monies to the Union in the early days, but why it chose to say the Union was not ‘viable’ is odd. I’m sure that somewhere in Augusta lies an underground storage facility, heavily guarded by some of Maine’s finest, and in it is probably a box with the UMVA files. Maybe the answer is buried there, who knows? It’s water over the dam.
Grants or no grants, the Union would carry on. Secretary General Charles Stanley (aka: Carlo Pittore) saw to it. Not long after, in May 1979, the UMVA held the third annual Maine Artists Week. It was a Statewide event, a community event and brought together all disciplines and all artists, UMVA or not. It attempted to raise awareness of the artist in the community. In some ways it was a battle cry, a willingness to expose the purpose of the artists’ existence, the individual who holds up the mirror to us all. Or as one of the organizers (Stephen Petroff) was quoted as saying…
‘The purpose is for artists to show their work in their communities, to their own people, before the tourists arrive.’
At about the same time, Charles Stanley wrote…
‘ Art is not the product of one person but the creation of communal awareness and all artists must be part of this network, helping to breed vision and insight.’
Art has always been like that, the mirror held up to reflect what goes unnoticed. Carlo’s statement that we as artists need to create some sort of ‘communal awareness’, to use our creativity as a form of artistic politic holds true, or maybe it’s nothing more than a view from our own bridge.
By and large we create in solitude, the sanctuary of the mind’s eye. As I write this, Pat is working on a new painting. We are only rooms apart, but it feels like miles. I can’t help thinking that later in the day, when she asks me what I think of her work and I ask her to read this, we will voice our opinions and question the outcome, and realize that there was just enough purpose in this day to be satisfied.
Pat and Tony Owen
Live and Create