Scratch Besser from picture 

“Art Across Arkansas” says no thanks.

TOMA: Another piece of heart, at QQUMC.
  • TOMA: Another piece of heart, at QQUMC.

Sandy Besser, the art collector of some renown who was amassing art for a project to put art in the public schools in Arkansas and, eventually, nearby states, is no longer working on the project.


Rose Crane, board of directors’ president for the Thea Foundation, which is partnering with the Clinton Foundation on the project, informed Besser in a letter dated Jan. 17 that he is out of the picture. “There appears to be a serious conflict between you and the senior management of the  Art Across Arkansas program to the extent that it has been determined that your services are no longer necessary,” Crane wrote. The letter was also signed by Bruce Lindsey, CEO of the Clinton Foundation.


Crane wouldn’t comment Monday on why things went sour between the foundations’ team and Besser.


In December, project collaborators invited the press to the Clinton Foundation offices to meet Besser, see some of his own work that he was donating, and hear about his ideas for the project. Besser announced he would collect 500 pieces of art by April 1 for the project, and that he would curate an exhibit of the art at the Clinton Library in the summer. He also displayed a note written to him by former President Bill Clinton thanking him for “agreeing to serve as our ‘chief curator’ for the Art Across Arkansas” project.


But just as Besser’s participation was announced, conflicts were already brewing. Besser called the project Art Across America, saying that the promise of national exposure would help him gather high quality art. (Clinton, in his letter to Besser, also wrote that he hoped Art Across Arkansas would eventually become a model for taking art into the public schools nationally.)


But Clinton and Thea representatives, in a Dec. 7 memo, cautioned Besser that expansion of the program was a distant dream, and that he should refer to the project as Art Across Arkansas.


Besser’s fairly disgruntled about the turn of events. He said last week in an interview that he quit asking for work — he said he had already gotten commitments from more than 100 artists — when he discovered Crane had “taken me out of the loop in things like the exhibition, the catalog for the exhibition.” He’d taken issue with the way the foundations wanted art shipped, reimbursements to the artists, and plans for the storage facility at the Clinton Foundation offices, and said Crane and Clinton representatives quit taking his calls.


“I feel that a great project has been lost,” Besser said. “I was totally convinced as I got into it and saw the reception [from the artists] we could have put together one hell of a group of art, memorialized it in a catalog and got it out into public schools in Arkansas. ... It’s a crying shame that’s been lost.”


But Crane — who invited Besser on board last fall after she called him soliciting donations from his collection — said Art Across Arkansas is “moving forward,” and that art has been placed in 65 schools in Pulaski County. Each piece of art is displayed in a large case constructed to show the work, an artist’s statement and something about the process of making art.


Is Art Across America dead? “No,” Crane said. But the pilot has to take care of Arkansas first, “and I don’t know how long that’s going to take.” She said she didn’t envision the Clinton-Thea collaborative running a national program beyond providing seed money.


Besser said he feared that Art Across Arkansas, with a staff short on expertise in contemporary art and its curation, would become Art Across Asher.



The “Toma Mi Corazon (Take My Heart)” art auction returns to the Quapaw United Methodist Church at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10.


In its third year, “Toma Mi Corazon” features a preview Tex-Mex dinner (tickets $15 in advance, $17 at door) followed by a silent auction (7 p.m., free) of wooden hearts turned into works of art by artists, students, community activists and other supporters of Tthe Center for Artistic Revolution. CAR is an activist organization that advocates for social justice through art and advocacy.


Some of the participating artists: Brad Cushman, Amy Edgington, Randi Romo, Dan Thornhill, Elizabeth Weber and Byron Werner.


Quapaw United Methodist is at 1601 S. Louisiana. To buy a ticket, call 224-9690 or e-mail artchangesu2@sbcglobal.net.



The announcement from The Arts Scene is provocative: “A Very Sexy Friday Night Art Party” is set for 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, and it will feature “male and female models exposed.” An “unmentionables fashion show” will keep the creative juices flowing for the artists. Guests are invited to wear their own unmentionables, but that’s not required.


The Arts Scene’s once-a-month Friday night art parties allow amateurs and pros alike the chance to paint from live models, lift a glass and listen to music, this Friday by Set Free, featuring Jeff Hall, Shun Nelson, Andy Cummings and Rasheed Mustafa. Korto Momolu, Jerri Warlick and Elena Petroukhina are putting on the fashion show. There will also be a “Revealing Photography Show.”


The $10 admission pays for art materials.




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