Merriam-Webster defines a liaison as someone who exhibits: “communication for establishing and maintaining mutual understanding and cooperation. For example, “She acts as a liaison between the police department and city schools.”
The role of Show Director for any of the South University shows – ney, any art show – is a daunting task and responsibility. One that requires a true “liaison”: a voice and representative for the artists that expend substantial monies, time, and hopes in attending the event, being the front person for the organization they represent and being an effective communicator and coordinator with both the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor.
In my personal experience and those of many artists this year with Maggie Ladd, the Director of the South University Art Fair, she showed herself sorely lacking in that role. She routinely showed bad form: angry, aggressive, abusive, boorish, unwilling to acknowledge the reality of situations, not being honest and factual, and assuming the I’m-never-at-fault stance. Also demonstrating a lack of pre-show logistical management and onsite problem solving.
What drove the initial interactions this year was the issue on East University of storage. Last year artists stored along the sides of the loading ramp and along the sidewalks abutting benches and garden areas. As long as storage was kept neat and tidy, not impinging on the gardens, all was well. The loading ramps were not used during the show as access is blocked by the layout of the event.
Whether the University of Michigan has policies that object to use of its property adjacent to the East University during the show, or someone in that building acts as if they have the authority to make that call as a representative of the University and its official policies (as opposed to just being personally annoyed) I can’t say. I do know from my personal experience last year and other artists this year on Wednesday was that as long as we were out of the landscaping on pavement and did not obstruct the sidewalk, we were good to go.
On Thursday during light drizzles and the threat of heavier rain, Maggie apparently received a phone call from someone (presumably in the building?) and immediately went into a frenzy. She began telling artists they could not store by the loading area, they could not store next to the gardens. She angrily pointed at a crack in the pavement saying “this is the dividing line between the University property and the City property”. She added we needed 6 ft. of clearance on the sidewalk between objects like light poles and parking meters and our chairs or any items we keep nearby. When I asked where that 6-ft. line was and how much space we would have, she began walking it out then concluded “very little”. I got a tape measure and it measured about 4 ft. of potential storage. She should have done that herself.
That was just the beginning. She began lifting up tarps covering artists’ belongings, at times grabbing items from underneath the tarps and demanding to know who the items belonged to. That is unacceptable. That is the property of the artists, to which she has no right. She told people that they had to store behind their booth, saying each of us had a foot of storage behind their booths (which as the Show Director she knew we did not have – we share a 1-ft. space with our neighbor, so we have at most 6” which is relatively worthless to store anything). She began going into booths saying “can’t you move this panel and store in back of your booth” or “can’t you shove these things up underneath the lower part of your panel”? If we weren’t able or willing to do that, we were told we would have to cart all our storage out to our vehicles. A staggering demand given how far away artists have to park and that our booths would be unattended for however long and however many trips that would take.
As the Director, Maggie failed on two monumental points. First, such issues should have been worked out with the University and City long before the show. Identifying a person high up in the University that would be Maggie’s “go-to” person would seem essential. In doing so, when someone in the building had an issue, they would call that University person or if they went directly to Maggie, she would call her “go-to” person and they would either resolve it by phone or the University official would come onsite to investigate and come up with a plan. It is imperative that any person that raises any such issue actually have the authority and represent the position of the University, not themselves and that Maggie deal with such issues accordingly, remembering that she also represents the artists in the event.
Second, the results of their pre-show discussions should have clearly been stated in our show information – it was not. At one point while confronted by the issue and a group of artists she angrily stated that this issue of storage was fully explained in the show information. It is not. I have that information, read it before arriving and setting up my booth, reread it twice since. If it is there, I have missed it, my fault, my apology. If I am correct, when confronted with the situation, Maggie “made stuff up” to extricate herself from the problem she obviously did not wish to deal with.
To her credit, Maggie temporarily found a solution. An empty booth facing the street was available. However, the artists on either side began complaining that it looked “messy”, one saying that they needed access to their battery charger the other that they needed to access two flat storage bins. They were visibly and constantly annoyed and whining as artists tried to put their work into the storage area so as not be forced to dolly inventory out to their distant vehicles. Bottom line, that space would not have been available to those two artists had the artist set up in that space. However, that reality seemed lost or unimportant to those two. While one of the artists put a tarp over the opening to hide the “messiness”, apparently that was not enough to placate them. Finally, Maggie said no one can use it – the option was taken off the table. Rather than calling all the petulant and non-petulant artists together and say “Look, you either work together to use this space as effectively as possible or no one gets to use it”, she simply closed it down and that salvation for some artists disappeared.
The personal coupe-de-grace with Maggie was at the end, while breaking down and loading out. Maggie was walking the street, seemingly trying to direct traffic for a few minutes by speaking loudly and yelling angrily at people in cars, not discriminating whether they were artists, students, residents, or visitors to Ann Arbor. Before leaving, she walked down to within about 40 feet and said “Are you about done”? I replied “No, I’ll be another 45 minutes to an hour.” To which Maggie angrily retorted “You’re in my parking spot”. I said “What?” She pointed with her walkie-talkie and said in an even more hostile tone “That’s my parking spot”. I yelled back “Well next time put up a sign with your name on it so I’ll know that!” She was walking away then turned and said “Didn’t you see the hood on the meter”? Implying I had ignored it or perhaps removed it for my own convenience.
The reality is none of the meters on the block were hooded – none. I arrived at 7:00 am to get a metered parking spot close to the show as I could not begin much breaking down until I got my boxes from my vehicle. None of the meters were hooded, then or at any time of the day. I shouted back at Maggie “There isn’t any hood on the meter, Maggie”. She looked and saw that was the reality of it – no hoods on any meters.
There is no way any artist could have known Maggie had arranged with the city to hood a meter for her parking convenience – assuming what she was implying was in fact – the truth. Her initial reaction was completely off the charts wrong to begin with - it could have been handled tactfully. Confronted with the obvious, visible reality that ‘her spot” was not marked and that I could not possibly have known, her reaction was uncalled for.
Did she apologize? Did she show the slightest tinge of remorse? Did she even utter the famous Gilda Radner line (ex-University of Michigan alumini herself) in her character of Emily Litella of “Never mind”? Nope. Just huffed away still angry in search of another personal annoyance and victim to abuse.
There are other issues, hopefully other artists will post their experiences to support this. Issues with wanting a corner booth, not getting one while an artists that did not want one and did not pay for one was given one and Maggie replying to the artist “not her fault – the Committee”. Issues with fire marshals, awnings, and clearances on Church Street that were essentially “made up”. Issues of the same restrictions and rules as Maggie was defining them not being applied to artists on South University. Issues of artists not honoring the "unload then set up" requirement. All issues that an informed Show Director would have done their best to resolve before the event through discussions and coordination with the University and the City and then ensured their staff enforced the rules during setup.
Sadly, these are not qualities that define Maggie. Horrendous people skills, poor management capabilities, abyssmal interpersonal skills – these do. That Maggie is in charge of anything, especially an art event the stature of the South University Ann Arbor event that so impacts artists, her organization, the University and the City is tragic and abhorrent. She is an embarrassment and a black eye for the event. I believe, and hope, everyone associated with the Ann Arbor South University event steps back and makes an objective evaluation of whether she is the right person to lead the event going forward.
Good on you for speaking up Ron, if enough do, perhaps something will happen but if everyone keeps quiet you know nothing will.
Thank you Annette. That is SO the point. Ever since I started doing shows 14 years ago to this date, artist complain and whine and protest what is wrong - amongst themselves - as the comedian Bobby Collins says "On the inside" - not outwardly to those that matter. Nothing changes. Promoters become empowered to not change, to abuse, to do a multitude of things wrong. If artists refuse to speak up to those who matter (in this instances the University, the Alumni Association, the South University Area Association and fellow artists to warn them), nothing ever .... ever ..... will change.
It's like the artist that spoke up here and posted information on Mistura ...... artists have complained and whined "what do we do??". Promoters and directors, the same thing .... "What can we do???" Well, you can and should have done something. Just what she did. She did something. She's making a difference. We all have that power - just need to exercise it. That's not tilting at windmills, that just reality. Things sometimes can change. If artists just want to keep scratching off shows, eventually they won't have much of a show schedule left.
That artist who outted Mistura - maybe we should all pay her a fee rather than NAIA. She DOES stuff that makes a difference. I believe everyone victimized this year and in previous years by the grandfathering of booth spots, abysmal booth layout on the side streets, lack of traffic flow on the side streets, lack of storage on the side streets, abusive and ill-tempered director, apparent lack of cooperation amongst all the people involved - I believe we can make a difference, that it can be better. I'm going to try far beyond AFI. I'm not doing this for my silent fellow artists - I'm doing it because its just plain wrong. The bridge with Maggie is long since burned. I've nothing to lose on that point.
Ron, I hope you had some good sales to make up for all the annoyances that you experienced. Did you have a chance to fill out a questionaire about the show? I hope others voiced their feelings as it has a bigger impact when you aren't the only one willing to speak up. Next year try to get into another part of the show. I think you may have a better experience.
Thank you Jacki. No questionnaire was passed out - at least on our street. I hope there wasn't a questionnaire, otherwise she doesn't want to hear what people think of her. I haven't ever had an impression she cares one way or the other.
I did ask for another location, but was told essentially - no way. Those position on South University are grandfathered I believe. If you ask the artists up there, they have been there for years and years. I know artist friends on these side streets that have asked to be up there and despite being there for 3, 4, 5 years or more, never get up there. While it might happen, it is unlikely. And if they do get up there, it is likely a situation of personal choice by Maggie, not tenure in her event. We all have to admit there are some that are just fantastic and schmoozing! There is another term that comes to mind - but not allowed in print here.
I am certain I and any artist who dared question what Maggie was doing is blacklisted. I will not waste $50 ever applying there again unless Maggie is removed. I don't wish to pay $50 for an obvious rejection outcome.
Like you Jacki, I hope others do voice their opinions. Nothing ever changes unless people speak out. I don't care about those on South University who will pay her homage because they routinely have great spots, great traffic, lots of storage, and don't have to deal with Maggie in such situations and won't risk their position. For most there it is an issue of money and success, not what is right or wrong. Unless they were to say "hey, to solve this dilemma, how about we support randomly assign booth spots each year?" The concept of "when hell freezes over" comes to mind thinking about the likelihood of that happening.
I DO hope all those on East University and Church Street that have had to deal with her and such situations this and in past years do voice their experiences. The South University Area Association, University of Michigan, and City of Ann Arbor need to learn of this situation, of her failure of leadership. It's just unacceptable. Each artists and the community has too much vested in this event.