Far from the madding crowd estimates6/15/2016
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said there are three kinds of lies — “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Mark Twain liked the quote so much he stole it. Summertime in Des Moines gives the lie to some mind boggling “statistics,” mostly in the form of crowd estimates. For instance, the 40,000 who reportedly attend the Downtown Farmers Market on a good day would equal the total number of fans at three different Garth Brooks shows at Wells Fargo Arena.
Next week, we are told that 200,000 will attend the Des Moines Arts Festival over one weekend. That event is situated around the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.
According to the annual report of the Des Moines Art Center, which administers the park, PSP drew 38,000 people last year, over 365 days. If one out of every six alleged visitors to the DMAF cut across the park to get from one side of the festival to the other, the park’s annual attendance would have been reached in just three days, and no one else would have attended the rest of the year.
I asked some local hotel and tourism people what effect the supposedly huge art fest crowd has on business. The answer is “almost none,” meaning it’s just an average weekend. One downtown hotel reported that they set aside 375 room nights a year ago for the art fest, almost all for vendors. By contrast, the same hotel holds 1,500 room nights for World Pork Expo, an event that draws 1/10th as many people as the art festival claims.
“Our hotel has never gotten much from the Arts Festival, but I checked with the Convention & Visitors Bureau to see if that was the case city-wide, which I was not surprised to hear that that is the case city-wide,” said one hotel executive.
Why would anyone overestimate crowd sizes? Some think sponsorships are easier to attract when more supposed people are involved. Do inflated crowd numbers do any damage? At least one gallery owner thinks they hurt business at local galleries because the hype makes people overvalue the quality of the gypsy artist market. One art fan thinks that “investing in art fest art is like investing in lottery tickets. The odds that it will ever be worth more than what you paid for it are the same.”
Reading between brushstrokes
Glenn Brown, the British artist currently exhibited at the Des Moines Art Center, explained a few things about some of his mysterious paintings: “Wooden Heart,” which appears to be a sculpture of Pinocchio, is actually a painting that took four years to complete. Paint was applied, dried and layered until it was done. “American Velvet,” an appropriation of a Georg Baselitz painting, is also a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor as she might look today.
“Nothing says sex like Liz Taylor and horses. I also couldn’t resist the temptation to place Pinocchio with his nose pointing directly at Liz Taylor’s various body orifices,” Brown said.
“Spider Queen,” Brown’s painting after Velasquez’ portrait of Pope Innocent X, is intentionally unflattering.
“Innocent was a terrible bastard,” he said. “Velasquez did not like him at all. My title refers to an episode of ‘South Park’ in which the boys discover that the Vatican is being run by a giant spider.”
Moberg Gallery’s current “Four Solos” show brings together some very different artists. Benjamin Gardner shows abstract expressions based on folklore. Mauricio Lasansky disciple James Ochs shows abstract portraits. Lindy Smith leaves her prairie flora sun prints behind to show some of her earlier work of modern cowboys on the range, including the real life horse whisperer. John Hull leaves his chronicles of trailer park life behind to show paintings of bar room fighting. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.