Wayne Dolcefino, Art Critic

A TV reporter tries to take on the Houston Arts Alliance in a sensationalist, inaccurate series

It's your money!" went the refrain of Wayne Dolcefino's ABC 13 "exposé" of the Houston Arts Alliance last week. Dolcefino's four-night investigative series "The Color of Money" not only targeted the Houston Arts Alliance, it targeted art in general.

There are real issues surrounding public art in Houston, but in Dolcefino's tangent-filled series, he tackled a meandering range of subjects that did and didn't have anything to do with your money! Dolcefino's often snickering you call that art? tone reminded a lot of Houston artists of the Jesse Helms years. The series was more about Dolcefino's opinions on art rather than issues surrounding public art.

You can find a lot of people in the Houston arts community who feel that the public art process is flawed and absurdly bureaucratic. The nonprofit Houston Arts Alliance was established in June 2006, combining the former Cultural Arts Council of Houston Harris County with the Municipal Art Commission and the Civic Art Committee to supposedly address some of those problems. HAA works in "public/private partnership" with the City of Houston to manage Hotel Occupancy Tax funds for art, as well as the Percent for Art program, in which 1.75 percent of the eligible funds of a building's construction costs are put toward art.

The series is more about Dolcefino's opinions on art than the issues surrounding public art.
The series is more about Dolcefino's opinions on art than the issues surrounding public art.

In his series of reports, Dolcefino kept using "your tax dollars!" as his rallying cry. But as often as not he was referring to money from the Hotel Occupancy Tax, and unless you are engaging in daily nooners at the downtown Hilton, these are not tax dollars you are paying. This is money paid by tourists and businesspeople staying at hotels in the Houston area.

Dolcefino tried to get downright artsy in his series, projecting interviews on easels and on a palette surrounded by some tubes of paint. The artiest part of the segments came when dollops of yellow and blue were mixed to make the green paint used in a dollar sign, while Dolcefino cried, "Green is the color of money." I'm just sorry ol' Wayne didn't don a beret for the series.

The constant in each one of Wayne's pieces was a shot of a startled-looking Jonathon Glus, the director of the Houston Arts Alliance. Glus, who started the job 16 months ago, was interviewed while spotlighted against a blank wall. One only had to imagine a bare bulb hanging over his head. He was presented as if he was being interrogated for crimes against humanity.

According to Glus, Dolcefino's investigation of the HAA took place over the course of three months. Dolcefino and his staff dug through nearly 300 HAA grants from 2006 and 2007 to find damning material for his piece. For the first segment, he found somebody who said one of the benefits of a project would be an increase in "lesbian puppet tourism," some seemingly inflated attendance numbers on some grants, and a poet who apparently hadn't fulfilled the final part of his grant.

I'm sure "lesbian puppet tourism" reflects an undoubtedly small demographic and I don't doubt people sometimes inflate attendance numbers on grant reports, but these revelations don't seem to warrant a lead slot on the local news. As for the poet, he received an individual artist grant to create a collection of poetry during a grant cycle in which artists were, according to Glus, "encouraged to make the piece public, but it was not obligatory."

When I spoke with Glus over the phone concerning the Dolcefino series, he seemed competent and knowledgeable; not so in the "Color of Money" series. Dolcefino's piece featured Glus's responses to questions about grants awarded before his arrival at HAA in which Glus seems to struggle for an answer.

"My interview was an hour and 15 minutes," says Glus, "but there is more airtime of me pausing than of me talking."

Dolcefino's money shot came when he somehow convinced Glus to read aloud an excerpt from a play by Crystal Jackson: "I'm not a queer, but I want someone to fuck me in the ass pretty much as soon as possible." On Jackson's Web site, she includes the excerpt from her grant with the section Dolcefino chose to highlight.

"This monologue features a character from a town about 50 miles outside of a large, southern city. The man grew up with a homophobic father who constantly told him to 'watch out for the queers.' Though the character cannot admit it to himself, he is gay. His opening line (I'm not a queer, but I want someone to fuck me in the ass pretty much as soon as possible) was intended to surprise the audience and set the tone for the rest of the show. It did so, very effectively. The monologue was not written to shock or be titillating. Instead, it showed us a very conflicted man who grew up bashing gay men but who now desperately wants to be loved by a man. He cannot admit this to himself, so he creates an entire 'queer conspiracy' to explain away his actions."

Context doesn't seem to be especially important to Dolcefino.

In the next two segments of his investigation, Dolcefino focused on works created as a part of the Percent for Art program. Margo Sawyer's Synchronicity of Color at Discovery Green came under fire. Sawyer's piece creates a multicolored exterior for the parking garage exits. For the project, the artist fabricated and powder-coated approximately 3,000 individual interlocking metal boxes of various sizes and depths. "What purpose does it serve?" says a parent visiting the park. Dolcefino tries to evoke horror at the work's cost. When he asks a visitor to estimate how much, she guesses $3,000. "Try $352,000 for three!" Dolcefino crows.

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