The Struggle for Survival Part I (1979-1989)

     Earl Saunders wrote this letter to Irina Gronborg, Guild President, on January 12, 1979:
     "This letter is a rather delayed response to your request for opinions and information relating to the Art Guild's future.
     Frankly, I cannot imagine any future for the San Diego Museum of Art that does not include the Art Guild. Two reasons are:
     1. Historic - The San Diego Art Guild preceded the organization of the Fine Arts Society of San Diego by 10 years. Some of the members of the Society were members of the Guild who felt the need for a permanent collection of art to be placed on permanent display for the city. San Diego needed it and didn't have it. We are an integral part of the museum's history.
2. Current - The San Diego Museum of Art is not just an institution devoted to preserving and exhibiting various forms of art; it also educates about art and nurtures the production of art. This last aspect of its program includes the Art Guild.
     I have been told that in other cities art museums have not been as supportive of local artist groups as here. Or is it that other museums have stopped having such a committee as our Art Guild? At any rate, we might be rather unique. This is no reason to feel threatened or be fearful of a continued relationship with the museum.
     We have a very definite role to play in the life of the museum and the art production of the city. We represent current productivity. We are the doers of art, those who produce that which the museum is dedicated to preserving, exhibiting and educating about. We might not be such a singular creative force that there is enough of us creating in the same thought pattern as to produce a 'San Diego School,' but that doesn't matter. We have those among us who have obtained some sort of national reputation, and that is to the city's credit and their own. We can be pleased.

     Our future rests in strengthening our own role as a part of the nurturing program. Not only should the museum see as an important segment in its program the nurture of local artists, but it should feel that without this segment, its program is incomplete. San Diego Museum of Art is partially tax supported. It is not a privately endowed institution. Therefore, it has a responsibility to the citizens of San Diego, including the tax-paying artist, just as it has to those taxpayers who are not artists.
     Under Henry Gardiner's directorship, I think the museum has done a fine job of recognizing this responsibility and providing such nurture. The providing one-two-three artists exhibitions to winners of the Art Guild's annual all-media exhibitions is evidence of this. (One of the first events that Henry attended upon coming to San Diego was a dinner meeting of the guild which concluded my time as president, where we strongly promoted this form of prize rather than cash awards. I'm really gratified to see that it has continued and that our fears that some really dud-type artists would be given shows had not occurred to any frightening degree.)
     However, the Guild needs to do its job of nurturing much better. I think the bringing in of such artists, as Charles White Jr. and now Peter Plagens, is a good idea. We need to see ourselves as a support group for the Contemporary Arts Committee and in various ways we so support that committee as some members overlap loyalties, etc.
     With the changing of the name from gallery to museum, the society had assumed for itself a growing responsibility as an institution to be more comprehensive in its scope. That's good.
     Some years ago, I prepared a paper to define the unique functions of the Art Guild - it, like the Roman God Janus has two heads, facing in two directions, having two functions, two sets of membership requirements.
     One is its role as a committee of the society. A committee, by definition is organized by a larger association or society to perform a specific job for the society. We promote the work of the living, creating local artists, and an understanding and appreciation for their work. This is our special field of concern, just as the Asiatic Arts Committee does its thing for Asian art, etc. We face toward goals of the Museum and support them in whatever way we are expected to. Membership requirements is the payment of dues. The other is its role as a guild. A guild, by definition, is a group of artists or artisans banded together to promote itself and provide for the well being and acceptance of its membership. In this we face ourselves, our needs for acceptance of our creative endeavors. Membership requirement qualifying as an artist.
     Fortunately, neither direction is mutually exclusive, for as we succeed as a committee, so we will succeed as a guild and as we succeed as a guild, so we will succeed as a committee.
     Because the Art Guild exists within the framework of the life of the museum, we are able to add a dimension to the cultural community that does not happen in cities where such a group does not exist within the program of other museums. We need to explore what the facets of that dimension can be. Therein lies our future."

     Peter Plagens, juror for the all-media show, gave a lecture in the Museum at 7:00 on February 1, 1979.
     It was recorded in the March 1979 Newsletter that the slide file in the Sales and Rental Gallery was discontinued.
     The Guild worked closely with Artists Equity and several members were part of the local chapter. In the minutes of the April 17 Board meeting: "Irina Gronborg reported that affiliation with Artists Equity met with approval of Museum administration. Affiliation was then approved by the board."
     On April 17, 1979 Irina Gronborg wrote to James R. Mills, President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate about the Guild's support of the California Arts Council budget. She received a courteous reply from Mr. Mills, who said, "As a former museum curator and educator I understand the role played by the Arts in society." The Guild was active along with Artists Equity in several legal attempts to aid artists throughout the region.
     Throughout 1979 the Guild and Artists Equity were involved in the passage of several Bills being brought before the State of California's governing bodies, the Senate and Assembly. They were "The California Art Preservation Act, SB 668, which would enable artists to bring legal action to prevent a work of art from being intentionally injured or destroyed or to collect damages when the art has already been harmed. SB 669, which would enable professional artists to deduct for state income tax purposes the fair market value of artworks donated to charitable organizations. Previously the artists were only allowed to deduct the cost of materials used to produce the art, whereas the rest of the taxpayers could deduct the fair market value of the art. SB 670, which would bring California inheritance tax law into conformity with the 1976 Federal estate tax statute by allowing the family of an artist to defer payment of state inheritance taxes and pay the tax over an extended period of time, allowing for sufficient time to liquidate the art works before having to pay the tax.

     The Guild received this request in the spring of 1979 from a group of Progressive Artists:
"An artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery." - Paul Robeson
     "We are a small group of people involved in the process of compiling a resource directory of progressive art and culture in San Diego, and would like to know if you are interested in contributing information about yourself for this purpose.
     The directory will include all areas of cultural work - visual art, poetry, mime, music, dance, criticism, writing, arts organizing, etc. - and will serve three main functions:
     1. It will help progressive artists and cultural workers to identify with each other by providing each of us with contacts with people who are conscious of both artistic and political development.
     2. It will help community groups to connect with artists and cultural workers when desired for events, programs, etc.
     3. It will hopefully stimulate discussion about the relationship between politics and the arts in San Diego, both on a theoretical and a practical level
     We are distributing these questionnaires by mail, through personal contacts, notices in the media and word of mouth. If the idea of this directory appeals to you, please tell others who might be interested…
There will be no selection process for entries. By agreeing to the following statement, each contributor is therefore opening her/himself to critical review by the community.
     Inclusion in the directory is limited to those who agree with the following:
'Most art and culture in our society serve to reinforce its dominant values, such as elitism, sexism, racism, individualism, competition, and classism. A progressive cultural worker is one who recognizes that neutrality in art is a dangerous myth, and that by refusing to deal with the political context in which art exists places that cultural worker in the position of supporting the status quo.
     In response to this situation she/he is committed to directing a substantial portion of her/his artistic work towards the elimination of exploitation and oppression in peoples lives. She/he recognizes that, far from compromising the arts, a combination of artistic expression and critical outlook can result in far more creative thought and expression than 'art for art's sake.' Thus, a progressive cultural worker is one who is community-based and actively engaged in working for political change at the same time that she/he strives towards higher artistic and political consciousness." (Note: the Guild did not follow up on this request and was not included in the directory.)

     On May 15, recorded in the Guild minutes, the name change to Artist(s) Guild from Art Guild appeared. (Note: The name Artists Guild was the idea of Irina Gronborg.) Recorded in the June 19 minutes, the name change to Artists (plural) Guild from Art Guild appeared. Also recorded was a discussion on which artist would be invited to give a lecture.
     "It was reported that Henry Gardiner had stopped the check to Artists Equity for affiliation. Irina felt that affiliation would make the artists groups stronger and that it was a consciousness raising, and that she had approval before submitting it to the board for a vote."

     Henry Gardiner was ousted from the Museum on June 22, 1979. After that the Director no longer attended Guild Board meetings, an appointed Museum liaison was in attendance.

Henry Gardiner - 1979

     The July 1979 Guild Bulletin reported: "Those of us who have known HENRY GARDINER personally have enjoyed his charm and wit and all of us have benefited from his excellent taste in art and are grateful for the high standards he held for the Museum. We are sure his talents will continue to be useful whatever he does in the years ahead."

     It was recorded in the July 17, 1979 minutes that: "The check to Artist Equity went through." And Judy Chicago was selected to speak at a Guild sponsored lecture.
     Steve Brezzo attended the Board meetings, as liaison, after Dennis Komac got a new job in August 1979.

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