Is Fall for Arts 2023 In As Much Trouble As It Now Seems?


An extended submission deadline and clunky communications involving Fall for Arts 2023 signal trouble. Another shrunken community event may be teetering on the edge.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

A once-thriving event that brought art lovers into the center of town, Roosevelt Island’s Fall for Arts 2023 shrinks in comparison. It may fail, a predictable result of years of negligence and, this year, a dollop of incompetence on top.

Fall for Arts 2023 in Perspective

Prior to the Haynes/Hochul administration at RIOC, the annual festival was the event of the season. Eager artists filled the Rivercross Lawn with original murals. Additional artwork extended across the street around Blackwell House and on down into Southpoint Park.

Art lovers like President/CEO Susan Rosenthal and Community Liaison Erica Spencer-EL paired up with the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association for a show that pulled visitors from across the city. Murals stayed up until rougher weather threatened. And then, a ceremony transferring the best artwork to Motorgate followed in the spring.

A guiding spirit for Fall for Arts and the Motorgate Gallery, Erica Spencer-EL also participated as an artist. Here, she shows off in 2019. A bouncy house set up as part of the celebration in Southpoint can be seen in the background.
Kids in tow, Spencer-EL joined then-RIVAA president Tad Sudol (L) and selected artists for the opening of the Motorgate Gallery.

Both Rosenthal and Spencer-EL were fired under questionable circumstances and are currently suing RIOC.

But the collateral victims, the community and art itself, can’t be as easily dismissed.

What Went Wrong?

In the fallout after abruptly firing Fall for Arts key coordinator Spencer-EL, President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes wanted to cancel the event. Now short on knowledgeable personnel and neither art-loving nor hard-working himself, he was talked out of it by senior staff as too extreme.

So, he shrunk it, reducing promotions and leaning as much as possible on partner RIVAA for doing most of the work.

The late RIVAA founder Arline Jacoby and AnneMarie Dannenburg at work in 2019 on the Rivercross Lawn.

But RIVAA is a small, volunteer organization with its hands full already. Laying all the promotional and preparation on them was a fool’s errand. They tried, but they were in over their heads.

An original email announcement was nothing more than a Fall for Arts 2023 announcement with a call for artists as an afterthought. It lacked specifics as well as focus, announcing a September 8th submission deadline for artists.

That should have been expected. RIVAA does not have a full-time staff of alleged public relations specialists as RIOC does. The negligence showed.

The deadline was moved to September 14th, signaling a paucity of willing artists, not enough even for the shrunken festival.

Then, RIOC “Helped”

In our house with two resident cats, we joke about their “helping” when they jump on a desk or kitchen counter while one of us is cooking or typing or whatever. Their enthusiasm is fun, if not really helpful…

Much like what RIOC has done, absent the fun part.

With a broader but not necessarily effective mailing list, RIOC stepped in with both feet and began sending out repeats of RIVAA’s messaging. All the errors remained intact.

But RIOC did even more.

With a thickheaded strategy that’s painfully familiar now, RIOC regurgitated its message, over and over, to the same people, assuming they were too dumb to get it the first few times.

But here’s the thing, the state agency that never makes a mistake simply copied RIVAA’s embedded message and converted it into text. Ugly results followed.

Sentences overlapped and hot links got buried under the word salad.

Not bad enough? How about this?

The ultra-lazy RIOC staff apparently never even proofread their email blasts, even after they went out. They kept sending the scrambled messes out, day after day, on autopilot while they did whatever they do instead of working.

How optimistic must one be to imagine this sloppiness would attract serious artists or even ambitious amateurs?

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