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High Brow Art VS the Marketplace and the Maine Juice Conference


Continuing with my story from HERE...(and incorporating a few paragraphs from this earlier but incomplete telling)

Finally, after a year of receiving stimulus fund notices for non-profits only, in the fall of 2009, I received an email from the Maine Arts Commission about a competition for small businesses for what I took to be, a modest grant for the sum of 30000.00 from an "anonymous source". In a moment of hopeful delusions, I imagined that the Maine Arts Commission had come to its senses and realized that they needed to support the private sector.

The competition was called an "elevator pitch competition" which means a pitch delivered in five minutes. Even the written answers to questions on the application were required to be answered in a minimal number of words, brevity being stressed as being so important that if your couldn't explain a business idea in five minutes, then one's business idea is simply not worthy. So important was brevity that  at no time during the application process was one required to authenticate any information- or at least that is the only explanation that I can think of for such a glaring omission

The competition was presented by a large panel of Maine's economic development movers and shakers

The introductory speaker was  Jayme Okma Lee of what was then called The Small Enterprise Growth Fund- today known as the Maine Venture Fund.. Ms Lee spoke about how thrilled she was to have a competitor  doing a film and another doing something else equally glamorous- perhaps it was the Soho Grand type hotel that a group of competitors wanted to establish in Portland. I saw this as evidence of a fundamental disconnect to the audience filled with many Main street business competitors.

There were five judges and so the contestants were divided into five groups  so that each contestant presented to only one of the judges.  I encountered only one other contestant coming out of the interview. She was very discouraged and said she had received no response to her presentation, only silence.

My presentation had to do with financing new molds made for our ceramic line of designs which have maintained their marketability since the fifties. At the time there was another slip cast production in Maine which was wanting to expand. Our business would help that company to expand and their expansion would help us to continue as an American made ceramic product, outsourcing our production to another Maine company. This would be a start for my vision of a Great American Ceramic Designer Craftsmen Network.

We had five minutes to make our presentation. I was presenting to Mr John Burns, director of the Small Enterprise Growth Fund (Now called The Maine Venture Fund) -  a likable man. I was quite surprised when Mr Burn's response was an enthusiastic,”Excellent !", and even more surprised by his next question, which was, "could I say more about the network ?"  I couldn't imagine how I could say anything of value in the half a minute which must by now be the remaining time. In retrospect I realize that he was fishing for one simple sentence, “For an exit strategy, we will sell the network” I cannot imagine why anyone would make such a promise in exchange for an investment of $30000.00, not even enough to do a complete mold project of Andersen Studio's inventory of designs, The award was of a size appropriate as a grant or a loan but pitiful low-balling for a deal in which one promises to sell the business to “anonymous” investors.

It was my under-standing that the semifinalists would be announced at a specified location after lunch and  so I decided to spend the break time at the  library park  overlooking the sea.
When I returned to the location where I thought the semi-finalists were to be announced, I learned that the results  had already been announced at the ballet performance. I was astounded. Why would the judges assume that after giving their presentation, the contestants are going to want to watch a ballet, which by the way meant another $20.00 ticket price? Apparently the judges felt they could  dictate all decisions which should be the choice of individual participants, as if we were students required to attend classes to get a degree, yet another instance of Maine's overlords class disconnect from reality.

Previously, as I had watched the promotion for that Juice Conference unfold in the email news letters delivered by The Maine Arts Commission, I had witnessed that initially it was promoted as an an event for the elite of elite of the movers and shakers in Maine, After a while it came to be promoted as an event that all kinds of people might enjoy and sought the participation of the general public but it was an expensive event with a hefty fee for the entire weekend.

At first there were no separate admissions for separate events, the assumption being that the entire public would want to attend all the events, As the date drew nearer, the Maine Arts Commission offered a reduced fee to those participating in the competition- and so we already had to pay once to compete and supposedly again to find out who made it to the semi-finals, by obediently attending the ballet!

Charging fees for just about anything and everything is a common practice in the non-profit circuit, case in point being the Maine Crafts Association which partnered with the Maine Turnpike Authority  to produce a retail store of Maine Crafts on the Maine Turnpike. The MCA sent out a schedule where in craft makers could present their merchandise. This all took place during one of the iciest and coldest winters in recent Maine history. At the time I had been looking at legitimate juried shows and was familiar with the standard jury fee. I was also aware that it was common practice to submit images of one's work on line.

This is the medium sized bowl in our Brown tree Salad Bowl Series

The fee being charged by the MCA was double the standard and it was not a legitimate jury fee, which by long established standards, applies to gallery or museum shows, intended to be displayed for a short amount of time. Retailers do not charge jury fees to vendors. To do so breaks long established rules of private sector retailer-vendor relationships. The jury fee to the Maine Crafts Association did not guarantee that one's work would be sold in the store- and there were no clear terms of agreement stated between the vendor and the merchandiser, which implied that terms would be determined later by the Maine Crafts Association, where as in the private sector, terms are negotiable between parties, in advance of money being exchanged. Even if one was accepted, one might not necessarily find the terms agreeable after paying to fee to the non-profit organization. The application process for showing one's work in the public-private-non-profit-retail store functioned as  a fundraiser for the non-profit organization.

The Andersen Sandpiper

Andersen Design has been wholesaling for over half a century. Our Large Salad Bowl with the brown tree motif was the number one seller at The America House, which once existed across the street from the Museum of Modern Art In New York City. Our sandpiper was a number one seller at a certain well known government gift catalog, that I am told I am not supposed to mention- so I won't . We are currently working on a reorder of our Small Western Mountain Bluebird for the same catalog- which means many seconds available at our own retail store and on line at

Small Western Mountain Blluebird

Andersen Design is quite used to hearing from new accounts that our product sells exceptionally well. None the less, the Maine Crafts Association required that we make a long trip on icy roads and pay an exceptionally large jury fee for an inappropriate use if we wanted to have our work "considered" to be sold in a store on the Maine Turnpike, all without assurance that the terms of doing business would be acceptable ones. The Andersen Design product line is identified with Maine by our collectors, and should be a natural seller at a Maine Turnpike store, but the vendor-seller terms were unacceptable to our free-enterprise sensibilities.

I asked the phone receptionist at the MCA why MCA was charging an art gallery jury fee to retail store vendors? I was told it was because the MCA exists to serve the public good. The receptionist sounded so gullible and naive that I saw no use in pointing out that the segment of public which MCA purports to serve is synonymous with the public which MCA exploits by transforming standard free-enterprise fair practices into a non-profit fundraiser. The policies were specific to designer craftsmen. Authors and musicians were offered conventional business terms, perhaps because they often have larger companies publishing their work, while designer-craftsmen tend to be micro-economy entrepreneurs.

It is not for the Maine government and non-profit organizations to recognize success achieved in the free enterprise system, which takes us back to this justification for the existence of the National Foundation For The Arts:

Robert Brustein--"It was never the function of the Endowment to subsidize popular taste, because the cultural demands of the democratic majority were thought to be adequately represented by the market--by Broadway shows, best-selling books, platinum records, Hollywood movies, by mass art and popular culture. No, the Endowment was designed as a counter-market strategy, in the hope that by subsidizing cultural offerings at affordable prices the works of serious art could become available to those normally excluded by income or education.
The MCA is financed in part by the NFA but it is not enough. The Maine Crafts Association needs to be subsidized by marketplace earnings.

Robert Brustein's justification of the use of public money to fund a system of indoctrination of one class of people by another is antithetical to the American constitutional principal that government exists to serve the common good. If education is required to appreciate art because it fails to speaks directly to the viewer, then it should be privately funded by the special interest faction which it serves. Art is, after all a business. It is not an enumerated power of the United States federal government to capitalize business or to indoctrinate the people about the meaning of art, any more than it is the purpose of the United States government to indoctrinate the individual to state approved religious or spiritual views.

Mr Brustein's line of reasoning rejects the free market place, the economic system emergent from the American political philosophy, as an arbiter to the question: "what is Art?", to be replaced by a government board which will indoctrinate the public on the answer. Central management of the economy and the concentration and redistribution of capital by the State is the political philosophy of Marxist-Fascist totalitarian systems. Mr Brustein justifies the National Foundation for the Arts by rejecting the free market as the voice of commoners. This takes us all the way back to what the colonists rebelled against and institutes a new version of nobility. Central management is deemed, by its creators, to be "for the public good", aka, noble.  In practice it is state grown classism, regressing society toward the social norms of 19th century Europe, at best, and early twentieth century Europe, at worst.

Story continued in next post.....

Back to Part One

Ahead to Part Three:

On Being An Anomaly In The Age of The Creative Economy 

Another post describing Andersen Studio's relationship with the over class of the Maine economy


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