The Political Portrait

A lively election throws local artists from the palette to the ballot--revealing the true color of politics

"I'll tell you what was difficult," she says as the other panel members watch her with wide-open eyes. "We need slides. So get your butts in gear and send slides in....We need slides in order to pick new shows!"

Frank Gaard, meanwhile, insists that the current space that the MAEP occupies is too centrally located, and too big and impersonal for some shows that might be more intimate or controversial. This line of argument seems odd on the face of it: Isn't exposure what the MAEP is about, getting local work seen by as many people as possible?

"There are school children walking through," Gaard says with a near sneer. Audience members shift impatiently in their seat. Gaard suggests that the panel look to move the gallery around the museum to more obscure spots, depending on the character of the proposed show. This is the closest anyone will come to mentioning the "Acre of Art" show or censorship.

But then, as with the broader presidential election, the electorate is not as agitated as in past years. All the big issues--race, gender, sexuality--seem a thing of the past, and no one seems willing to argue his point. "Let's move on," cries an anonymous voice from the audience, and so they do.

Nominations are taken fairly quickly. Program assistant Karen Harstad scribbles the names on a piece of acetate, and an overhead projector casts them up on a screen behind the stage. Ten names appear on the ballot for the metro-area slots: Erica Spitzer Rasmussen, Jan D. Elftmann, Bruce Tupola, David Monson, Carolyn Swiszcz, Alexa Horochowski, Kate Whittemore, Bernice Ficek-Swenson, Maija Morton, and Leslie Gerstman. Someone from the audience, perhaps the same voice as before, moves that the nominations be closed--there will be no filibustering at this congress--but Cynde Randall has to point out that there are not yet any candidates for the one slot for an outstate artist. A few more names are mentioned then--Dave Beauvais and Billy Curmano--and the candidates, who according to the rules must be present for the nomination to be valid, accept in a good-natured, "Sure, why not?" kind of way.

It is getting late now, close to when the meeting was originally scheduled to close. So Toscani informs the dozen wannabe politicians that they will be strictly held to the two-minute time limit in their speeches. One by one, they each amble up to a well-lit podium, hesitantly give their pitches, and return to the audience.

Overall, the addresses are rather unpolished. Some candidates talk about their careers as artists, others about their experiences in arts administration. One tells how he has run in the past but lost to "all these pretty girls up here." Very few of the candidates present any concrete proposals or mention any practical ideas for what they'd like to see happen on the panel over the next two years.

While the chickens rule the chatter in the auditorium, they will prove a taboo topic at the rostrum. "It's a bit of a surprise," says Cynde Randall, after the speeches have ended and ballots have been collected. There is a lull now, as a small coterie of ballot-counters gather onstage. The audience, meanwhile, returns to the atrium to drink more coffee and chat while waiting for the results.

Randall is excited about the people who ended up running. "There's a great range of ages and experiences," she proclaims. But later, she will admit to being surprised at the election results. The winners will be David Monson of Minneapolis, who cited an interest in public art works in his speech; Bruce Tupola of Minneapolis, who teaches at St. Cloud University and mentioned his love of painting; and Billy Curmano of southern Minnesota, whose eccentric performance work brings attention to environmental issues.

"When I heard which three won, I thought, 'Wow! Three men. That's kind of unusual,' Randall continues. "But afterwards I realized these three artists are very different types of artists. They'll each bring a unique sensibility to the panel."

A few of the candidates are surprised too. "It's a numbers game," one woman says, consoling her friend, a candidate who has lost.

And in this vague discontent, the crowd of artists indulges in that most widespread of electoral traditions: complaining about the results.

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