|AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PHANTOM|
|Tell us about the birth of The Project.|
I had been living in Tucson, Arizona for a period of time - 1989. I had discussed this idea out there hanging in the 6th Street Pub with Bob and Shy, sketching people which they then up up on what became dubbed as the "Beam Supreme" and Bob had this slogan that he used, "We value your mug."
|Did you have previous experience in organizing exhibitions?
|In the 80's, I organized quite a number of exhibitions for the Nepenthe Mundi Society including a show called "1/4 Mile of Art" which got some national attention, so the level of previous experience was in place. I was up to the possibilities presenting themselves.|
|So how did you begin?|
|The first challenge was to identify the owners of the vacant buildings. This required some pretty good detective work on occasion. Once identified, owners were contacted and The Project was pitched to them. It didn't cost them anything, they just had to allow The Project access so artwork could be installed and rotated. A waiver was drafted absolving the owner of responsibility for the artwork and to establish some legal parameters for access to The Project by those implementing it.|
|What came next?|
|The recruiting of artists, of course. For The Project to work, artists had to participate. The Project could supply display space for large works of art, which were deemed preferable anyway considering the size of available windows. So a number of artists with whom I was familiar were presented with an opportunity to participate.
After the project took off, there was some difficulty in finding enough large works to fill the sudden demand that developed. I also had requests to do other art installations like providing an internal office exhibition for the State's Social and Rehabilitative Child Enforcement Division and an installation for a shopping mall, but the participating artists rallied and art spread all over the place - a cultural mecca of sorts.
|So far, you make it all sound so easy.|
|In some ways it was, but a lot of hard work was involved. The logistical ability to display large works of art was one such difficulty. The Project contemplated using easels, but it would have required quite a number of them. The cost factor alone was rather discouraging, even if we had made them ourselves. Easels would have placed art farther in from windows. There were just a lot of additional considerations if easels were to be used. Transporting easels and artwork seemed like too much to do. There had to be a simpler way.
I'd used fish line in past exhibitions - like the way pictures were displayed in old classrooms, using a picture rail. Considering the environmental challenges, a fish line solution was both practical and very cost effective.
So fish line was used to suspend artwork in the windows. It made the paintings appear to float, lending the art a different level of presence than what people are accustomed to, work relegated to walls.
|Did you have a lot of funding for The Project?|
|(Laughs) We had none to speak of. We were working on a "shoestring" budget, or a "fish line" budget as we later referred to it. The Project was launched with "sweat equity", we did what needed to be done and inspiration found us a way. By the time I wound the project down in 2000 far less than $1,000.00 in cash had been spent to do the 10 year endeavor. But there was a tremendous number of volunteer hours expended by the participants and the value of the exhibit at its apex exceeded a million dollars - a lot of bang for the buck is what Wichita got. There was certainly the glamorous element as well: washing block after block of windows (we had to tote our water, buckets, sponge mops, squeegees to do the jobs); sweeping up sidewalks, especially ares where pigeon admirers tended to gather; creep around in dark, ghost-infested building with flashlights to get to many of the window access points. Ah, it was high adventure, indeed!
I think the budget worried some folks. They needed big budgets and secure salaries to do what they were doing, which some felt wasn't much, and here we were doing the world's largest exhibition with pocket change. At its biggest point, the equivalent of about 10 city blocks, half a shopping center and several auxiliary exhibits' worth of art was a lot of art!
|You have mentioned waivers, what kind of paperwork was necessary?|
|There was a great deal more paperwork involved than I, as an artist, would have wanted to deal with. Waivers for both the real estate involvement and for participation by the artists was quintessential. Since participation was all on a volunteer basis, everyone needed to know where they stood. A lot of legal research went into creating those waivers. That was before the Internet had become such a great research tool. We did it the old fashioned way: in the libraries, with books, and using typewriters and "whiteout" to correct mistakes.
The good part is that there weren't a lot of meetings required or months of talks and negotiations needed to get the Project underway. It was a "get going" kind of undertaking.
|You got a lot of press over this Phantom Art Gallery, didn't you?|
|Yes, but it wasn't like we were looking for it - sending out press releases or calling up reporters. It sought us out - like a reporter calling while I was in the shower. The Project even got a great deal of television coverage which was remarkable because local art at the time didn't generate much interest from television news. This was something different, we were definitely daring to be different, so it came to the media's' attention. Personally, I shy away from having my soul captured by the camera so it was a difficult situation for me since I had to do interviews at times.|
|This Project also found its way onto the world wide web. When did that happen?|
|In 1993 a used Macintosh became available and there were some free web hosting places so a web site was worked on. I think it finally made its debut in early 1995. It was another way to provide some good exposure for the participating artists and to make the overall concept available to other places where it might be implemented.|
|Was there ever a downside to the Project?|
|Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. The City or Wichita - meaning the municipal government - purchased several of the sites for their own projects including a State Office building, a pocket park and a car lot. Every time the City got hold of a property where we had artwork some was suddenly damaged or stolen. That was very upsetting. The losses came to well over $100,000.00 and we never got an apology, much less any recovery - and we never got any formal recognition for what we had done for the community - in the way of any kind of appreciation from City Hall. Very sad.|
|You use the term "we" a lot, but the truth is it was mostly you doing all the hard work, wasn't it?|
|Well..... I won't blow my own horn on this....|
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