The David Smith Story: Sharing the Arts
This tale really begins with David Smith working as the registrar with the Avery Brundage Collection of Oriental Art in San Francisco. While managing, cataloguing and organizing the collection, David convinced the board that a six city tour to begin in January of 1968 was far more economical than a one-time showing. Mr. Brundage agreed with the stipulation that David see to it his "children" got home safely. Another member of the museum's staff told Smith, "Registrars simply don't organize national tours." David's response was, "This one does." He's been doing so ever since.
In 1973, David joined the staff of Mid-America Arts Alliance. David and Jerry Kramer had been working together at Mid-America Arts Alliance for about seven and a half years, when they decided to branch out on their own. In part, the new company was formed out of the frustration of dealing with a quasi-governmental institution which was dependent upon so many outside resources and the other bureaucratic practices which seemed to handicap so many projects. However, their enthusiasm for the arts was not diminished. Rather, this frustration spurred them on.
After dicovering a need for quality visual arts projects while working at Mid-America Arts Alliance, David and Jerry founded Smith-Kramer in 1981. The National Endowment of the Arts had been giving grants to Mid-Western Museums, and art lovers in the region were anxious to enjoy more artistic treasures. David and Jerry secured a single contract doing the necessary field work for projects developed at Mid-America Arts Alliance.
While delivering an exhibition in the early years, David and Jerry were having dinner with a museum director and his wife. During dinner, the anecdotal conversation prompted a chuckle from the museum's director who told Jerry and David they reminded him of the old circuit ministers who would come to town with news and gossip of their previous adventures. Like the ministers, Jerry and David always wove the sermon of "sharing the arts" into the dialogue.
Soon, David and Jerry began to generate their own exhibits for Smith Kramer. The menu of available projects was quickly diversified to meet the demand for stimulating exhibitions at a reasonable cost. Smith Kramer began to focus on assisting mid-sized museums and galleries which could financially share the costs involved in bringing exhibitions to their individual communities. This is still the major objective of Smith Kramer, although Jerry Kramer has since left the company to pursue other interests.
David Smith and his staff continue to "share the arts" nationwide. Collections are borrowed from larger institutions and private collectors and shared with smaller institutions. In return, Smith Kramer offers reasonable financial returns for the work and organizational efforts of the lending institutions. This also helps recirculate funds for the arts in general. Creating a national tour helps spread the expenses of developing, marketing, crating, and transporting each exhibition. This allows smaller institutions to have access to quality art exhibitions with minimal financial investment.
Each project starts with a concept or theme. Often, the exhibits have been developed by clients for display in their own museum and received such great response, the museum staff feels it has potential for national interest. The contents of a national tour are finalized, budgets are formulated, and costs are divided between the target number of institutions on the tour. Once enough museums commit to a project to cover the costs, the educational brochures are produced, the crates are built to keep the artwork safe during transport, and shipping arrangements are made.
Each exhibit can also prompt new projects. Private collectors lend their treasures for national tour and often become infatuated with another artistic genre. This new interest often leads to another themed collection with potential for touring. In addition, many institutions are inspired to share their collections after taking Smith Kramer projects, or are so pleased with the response to materials they have lent initially, they want to share more of their collection. The sharing becomes contagious. For art has no meaning if it is not seen. Like any treasure, it is enhanced by the appreciation it receives. "Sharing the arts" helps us gain insight into other cultures and learn about ourselves as well.
Click below for examples of brochure covers for recent touring exhibitions, featuring American representational art, that were handled by Mr. Smith's firm.
We thank David Smith and his team for sharing his story with us. Wherever we are and whatever our position, with vision and persistence, like David Smith, we can enrich people's experience of art through our efforts.
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This page was originally published 2000 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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