That light at the end of the tunnel clearly emanates from those bright individuals on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee. Far from organizing mixers for affection-starved economists, the BCDC is the outfit responsible for charting the biorhythms of the American economy, so when you hear, “They say the recession’s over,” the BCDC is who “they” is.
Indeed, that august group has crunched as many numbers as applicable to conclude that “a trough in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in June 2009,” meaning a recession that began in December 2007 bottomed out last summer, contrary to what your wallet tells you.
Because they are bright individuals, the math mavens on the BCDC would like you to know that “any future downturn of the economy would be a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in December 2007. The basis for this decision was the length and strength of the recovery to date.”
Really? If this recovery were a hospital patient, I think I’d be checking the chart for a DNR order.
I’m sure the BCDC has a vested interest in finite limits. After all, if the committee convenes and a recession is still going on, there’s nothing to do except adjourn till next month, when it might be able to stick a date on something. Doubtless the macroeconomic indicators examined add up in just the way the BCDC suggests, but I’m equally sure the 3,600 people who showed up last week to apply for 400 temp jobs at Mercedes couldn’t agree less. On an average week in July, according to Roy Williams’s reportage in The Birmingham News, there were over a thousand jobs available in Jefferson County, but over 42,000 registered job seekers. Proclaiming a recession’s end based on straight arithmetic seems as capricious as telling the residents of Hiroshima that their problems were over once the bomb stopped exploding. Hard times have their own sort of radioactivity.
This week, we remark the efforts of artists to stay viable when disposable income is in short supply. One in particular, Kevin L. Webster, has not only taken charge of his artistic destiny, he’s giving others a shot at the same opportunity.
Besides being a war veteran and a renowned wildlife artist, the Homewood police dispatcher has now turned entrepreneur, as the founder and exhibition director of a new event debuting this week, entitled The “Small Works of Great Art” Invitational Art Exhibition and Sale. It’s a juried fine arts presentation with a couple of interesting twists: It benefits both the Homewood Police Foundation and Special Olympics, and its entries must take up no more than 154 square inches of two-dimensional space (before framing).
Evidently, the artistic community took the quirks for challenges, for this initial exhibition has attracted 139 entries from 35 artists in 21 different cities. Not bad for something that wasn’t even dreamed up until April of this year.
To hear the self-effacing Webster tell it, the dream was simple enough: “I wanted to build an art show for Homewood,” a suburb long blessed with an abundance of fine artists and quality galleries. When Webster displayed his meticulous canvases at last March’s Energen Art Competition, he was impressed by the business model for the event, focused on Alabama artists, which used entry fees to fund purchase awards for winning works and donated part of the proceeds to the Crisis Center. “Everybody wins,” Webster reasoned, and started devising a way to create similar magic in Homewood.
The key to the “Small Works” show is a big space across the street from where Webster works. The Terrazo lobby of Homewood’s City Hall was just begging for an art show, says the police dispatcher:
“It has great natural light, and I was inspired by what Picasso once said; ‘Give me a museum and
I will fill it.’” He approached the City Council with his idea for a marquee event to debut on their home turf and they approved in short order.
One of the artists invited to fill the SoHo space for the next couple of weeks is making a debut of her own. Her name is Robyn McKee, and she works out of the art program at The Exceptional Foundation, a Homewood facility serving mentally and physically challenged individuals since 1993. She’ll not only be painting her non-representational works at the preview party Friday night in SoHo, but she also gets the chance to exhibit alongside some of the best artists in the state.
“This is an opportunity she might never have had,” Webster says. “I had an aunt who was special needs, and she certainly never had a chance like this.”
A novice at organizing shows, Webster landed some high-caliber help to pull this off. Sarah Brill, for one, a nationally-recognized art appraiser and director of the Loretta Goodwin Gallery, offered valuable advice on staging a museum-style exhibition to differentiate “Small Works” from informal arts-and-crafts displays. Then there’s the famous sports artist (and bane of the University of Alabama legal department) Daniel A. Moore, who’s guest judge for the event. How did Webster manage to corral the notoriously busy painter? “I called him,” is the reply. Moore jumped at the chance to come out from behind the easel for a little while for such a good cause.
The first “Small Works” show is scarcely underway, and already Webster is planning next year’s, which he says will incorporate a city-wide Artwalk-style evening tentatively entitled “Art on 18th.” Meanwhile, he maintains a high ratio of sweat equity in its current incarnation. “Yeah, me and one of the guys in dispatch are hanging the pieces for the show,” he says.
Kevin Webster understands that, in times such as these, artists must do for themselves: “Nobody’s gonna show your art for you. But I think you’ve got to give back a little, too.”
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.