Coming Events Events Archive Home
Current Newsletter Newsletter Archive Links
Members Contact Info Members Bios

Page One Page Two Page Three Page Four

May 1999, Volume 2, Number 1, page 4

Critics and Ethics, the Newsletter and Money
Part One: History and Questions

by Michael Bulka

Early in the meetings that led to the formation of C.A.C.A. and this newsletter, we decided that taking ads from galleries could constitute the appearance of a possible bias, a conflict of interest. In the first issue, we experimented with an ad from CopyMax, in exchange for some free photocopies, but later I thought that it wasn't really a good value to the advertiser and didn't want to appear to be asking for favors, especially from parties with no particular interest in our goal. So, no ads from friends, no ads from strangers. Who's left? Enemies?

The first issue also carried a notice, intended mostly as a joke, that we would accept "anonymous donations of untraceable cash." Well, we have received donations, but unfortunately not untraceable-a check from a relatively well known artist, and another from a relatively well know collector and curator. At the same time, another artist liked the first issue well enough to create a web site for it.

Suddenly, things became interesting-flurries of heated e-mail, endless conversation at meetings and privately. While we had intended, someday, to discuss professional ethics in a calm, abstract way, the issue was certainly thrust upon us now. The box was wide open.

How clean do we really have to be, as an organization or as individuals? How clean is it possible to be? An under-the-table pay-off for a favorable review is clearly out-of-line, but most of us have been paid by artists and galleries for catalog essays in which we are generally more positive than we are in the back pages of a magazine. How are we different, ethically, from a commercial magazine that relies on ad revenues, or from a not-for-profit one which takes both ads and donations? What does it mean to acknowledge a contribution with a display ad, or with a subtle list of benefactors, or with anonymity? Does operating out of our own pockets make us a vanity publication with the lack of credibility that implies? Should we charge for the newsletter, standing on corners in front of galleries like Streetwise vendors? Would we then be more ethical, writing what we think would sell more papers?

Is allowing us to hold a meeting in a gallery, or distributing our newsletters there, less compromising than hosting a web site on a server that also hosts artists and galleries? Should we assume that, like public officials, we must rigorously avoid even the possibility of compromise, or is that assumption itself a form of hubris? And this doesn't begin to address our individual behavior-who we choose to write about, what we say about their work, what kind of relationships we have with artists, galleries.

As things stand, the web site has been deactivated, soon to be replaced with one of our own creation; donation checks remain on my desk, not cashed but not returned either, pending yet more discussion; and this paper is funded by the members, according to their means and inclination.